Sense of sight
2020Vision's Ralph Lawson takes the long view.
Mon Nov 24 2008
“I can clearly remember going out one night in the early ’90s and thinking, Man, I better have fun tonight because this won’t last much longer,” Ralph Lawson recalls. “We didn’t even think house music itself would last; we figured it was a six-month fad. Now, I guess it’s pretty clear it’ll never go away.” If house is here to stay, Lawson deserves a big part of the credit: The Leeds, U.K., DJ and producer has been one of the music’s leading forces for the better part of two decades. In 1991, he kicked off the seminal Back to Basics bash, where he holds a residency to this day; in 1995, he and Carl Finlow founded 2020Vision, which after nearly 200 releases remains one of the scene’s most respected labels; and since 2003, he’s headed up 2020Soundsystem, roundly hailed as one of the best live house-music acts in the world. The veteran will be working overtime when he visits NYC on Saturday 29: 2020Soundsystem will be making its Gotham debut at Studio B’s Fixed fiesta at 11pm, after which he’ll speed over to Cielo to man the decks at the Paradizo party, his first deejaying stint here in years.
JDH from the Fixed party caught 2020Soundsystem, which also include Lawson’s labelmates Fernando Pulichino and Julian Sanza (together known as Silver City) and Danny Ward (a.k.a. Dubble D), when they performed at Berlin’s Watergate club this summer. “I liked their records, but I really wasn’t expecting too much,” JDH recalls. “But it seriously blew me away. It was really fully live, with drums, keyboards, bass, and Ralph doing DJ cuts and stuff, and it was a long, three-hour set of nonstop music, like a DJ set. And it was amazingly tight. They either practice an extreme amount or are supertalented—I can’t really figure out which.”
It’s probably a bit of both. But when the band (currently putting the finishing touches on its second album) was in its embryonic stages, just getting some songs together seemed like an accomplishment. “We worked back to front,” Lawson says. “Most people have some records, or at least some tracks, before they play live, but we started playing without worrying about the songs. The songs actually came about as a result of playing out.” It was that jam-band mentality that brought them to the attention of the upstate New York “jamtronica” festival Camp Bisco, where Lawson’s combo made its U.S. debut this summer, alongside the likes of the Disco Biscuits and Shpongle.
Unlike the vaguely hippyish tendencies of those acts, however, 2020Soundsystem’s sound is linear, chugging house, though of a sort that manages to be dub-informed, techy and pleasingly chunky. It’s a style that’s mirrored by many of the acts on 2020Vision, though Lawson dismisses the idea of the label having any one sound. “We had a pretty broad vision from the start,” he says, “which is why we called it 2020Vision in the first place. We wanted to convey a perfect vision of music, one that wouldn’t just be focused on one particular niche. Just this yea, for instsance, we put out a Paul Wolford album, which is straight-up techno, and a mix from Greg Wilson, who’s known for classic electrofunk.”
That range might help explain the 13-year-old label’s longevity, even if it’s probably never experienced an economy as sour as the present one. Lawson appears unworried about 2020Vision’s future in such uncertain times. “We’ll just sell our asses on the street every night,” he explains. (Okay, maybe he’s a little worried.) “When it’s boom times, house gets very commercial and the whole superclub, mix-comps-from-Ibiza mentality takes over. But I like it when things aren’t so good, and when everybody on the scene really means it. If the sales aren’t there, that’s kind of okay—these are creative days. There’s tons of absolutely mind-blowing stuff right now, and I’m really buzzing.”