In our Sound Evolution series, we take a look (and listen) at the back catalogs of some of the world’s biggest DJs.
Electronic music culture was once a confined space of sorts; your musical lanes and party cliques were easy to define. A rave would have two to three stages if you were lucky—as well as possibly a chill-out tent, where you could lie around on beanbags while a DJ played ambient music or even low-key drum & bass.
DJs very rarely changed direction or style, as fans were accustomed to that DJ playing the genre they were supposed to play. If DJ Sneak showed up to a gig and played anything other than house music, there would be raver pandemonium and bad press; the scene might tip on its axis slightly.
In other words, a DJ switching up their sound was not exactly a move many were willing to make.
As we enter the era of EDM around 2009, the musical paradigm and all the rules of rave yesteryear disappear. DJs start using aliases for different genres and changing their styles to suit the rapidly evolving tastes of the new fans lining up at the gates.
For many established artists, evolution was essential to rise in the ranks of the new superstar DJ who was now sharing the limelight with pop music and earning seven-figure annual incomes.
Many of the DJs saw the writing on the Palm Pilot (an ancient device used for keeping track of your life) and threw their productions into a different gear. If they were going to survive and prosper in the EDM era, things had to change—or some Dutch teenager was going to take their slot on the mainstage.
One of the DJs who made this evolution rather flawlessly was Laidback Luke, who started out as a tech house and techno DJ. This musical heritage might be surprising to his new fans, who know him only for his big festival bangers. But yes, it is true: Laidback Luke used to be underground.
His discography is deep, so if you want to take a closer look, jump over to his Discogs page for the full timeline. Below are some track selections that show his evolution from hard-raving techno to tech-house to big festival jams.
Laidback Luke has plotted his evolution like a master chess player, thinking three to four moves ahead. Take a listen, and suddenly his strategy becomes obvious.
Laidback Luke “Act the Fool”—Touché Records, 1995
This record represents the era of hard-driving rave techno. The scene was just taking shape in the States, and Europe was already pushing these sounds into the mainstream.
Laidback Luke “Music’s Always on My Mind” (Laidback Luke’s “French” Remix)—Touché/Plastic City, 1998
The housey side of Laidback Luke starts to emerge as the UK and much of Europe start to go nuts for funked-up disco house. Luke follows suit and begins to evolve.
Laidback Luke ”We Can Not Get Enough”—United Records, 2003
Here we start to hear the migration toward the bigger side of house music, with more of an anthem vibe and hands-in-the-air flair. The festival scene in Europe is starting to take hold, and Luke again masterfully moves with the trends.
Laidback Luke & Gregor Salto & Mavis Acquah “Step By Step” (Big Room Mix)—Stealth Records, 2010
As 2010 closes out, the sounds of guys like DJ Gregory, Martin Solveig, and Bob Sinclar are starting to wind down, and the EDM era starts to emerge. This is coincidentally called the “Big Room Mix,” although it’s not what most of us would refer to as today’s “big room” sound. This track has all the familiar percussion and vibes of hits like Junior Jack’s “E-Samba” and many of the Africanism records on Yellow. It was the end of a great era in house music.
Laidback Luke ft. Trevor Guthrie “Let It Go”—Mixmash Records, 2015
There you have it: We are at full EDM-era pop music with silky vocals, more song-like, radio-friendly production, and mainstream appeal.
From hard-driving techno DJ to international pop star, Laidback Luke has successfully navigated the evolution of electronic music into the mainstream. His ability to grow and change his sound with the culture has made him one of the world’s most formidable DJs, and his talent on the decks leaves many new jacks in the dust.