Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Laidback Luke - "Focus" (2015)

Electronic music has gotten huge over the past decade. With an oversaturation of new producers, some prodigies even achieving big label signings at 15 years old, it is increasingly difficult to climb to the top and stay there. Electronic dance music is evolving faster than ever thanks to the new opportunities presented to us by YouTube tutorials, big festivals concentrated only on dance music popping up all around the world and the constant search for something new. Laidback Luke is no newcomer to the scene: having achieved success as an international techno DJ some 20 years ago, he is still continuing with the times, evolving his sound and working his hardest to stay on top of the game. Last year, he finished 64th in the DJ Mag poll without campaigning at all and despite a rigorous tour schedule he managed to release his first album in 10 years: “Focus”.

Born Lucas Cornelis van Scheppingen, the Filipino-Dutch DJ and producer has captured the attention of people through his great technical skills on the decks as well as being an all-around nice guy and answering every tweet shot at him. At the same time, he is also a Kung Fu world champion and a family man. You can take a peek at his life behind the scenes on his YouTube channel.

Kicking off the album is the lead single “Let It Go”, with vocals provided by Canadian singer Trevor Guthrie, who also sang on Armin van Buuren’s international hit “This Is What It Feels Like”. In the context of this album, this is a great single: it has a nice, positive melody and mood and it seems like it has been created with the festival mainstages in mind. Compared to other recent progressive melodic house tracks however, it is not memorable, surprising or a potential radio crossover. Being a big fan of Laidback Luke and his music, it was quite disappointing to hear this particular song as the lead single.

Never judge a book by its cover, however, as the rest of the album evolves into something different, showcasing some very different styles of Luke’s production. Next up on the album is “The Chase” featuring GTA and Aruna. EDM has been taken over with a craze for future house and a more bassy house sound and “The Chase” is a great example of a future house anthem. Taking a quick sample from French future house heavyweight Tchami and great vocals from Aruna, it is a cool and semi-bassy song that does not take itself too seriously, but it makes you feel good and makes you dance. Tracks such as “KillaSound”, “The Rut” and “We Party” are also rather similar to the sound that has been taking over festivals lately. And showcasing a so-called Nu Dutch sound, he collaborates with trap/hard dance duos Yellow Claw and Dirtcaps with “Mic”, combining together three genres: the energetic Dutch house, trap and hardcore. The same melody runs through all the genres, gluing the track together rather masterfully and it is guaranteed to get a reaction on the biggest stages in the world.

Among the festival bangers and future house anthems are hidden slow-tempo gems such as “Never Forget” with More and Killa Karma. While it kicks off with a predictable house beat and a simple melody, it continues to a funky, relaxing slow sound with vocals comparable to Duke Dumont’s “Ocean Drive”. And then an uncharacteristic guitar, which could easily be on a Daft Punk song, kicks in and takes you by total surprise. Here one could think that “Focus” is not quite the word to describe this album. Robotized daft-punk-like vocals and guitar sounds also describe his effort with Luciano Martina “Won’t Break This Feeling Down”, absolutely suitable in a relaxed hipster bar atmosphere. Laidback Luke’s incredible production skills and ideas shine through the tracks as one is used to associating him with big main stage bangers and not music that could be worth playing at a small soulful party. 


Worth a mention are the melodic “Tell Me That You Love Me” with Marc Benjamin with powerful lyrics that are easy to associate with and a simple message. Luke also collaborated with legend Benny Benassi for “Neon Sunrise” with Amba Shepherd, a melodic, but groovy and slower than an usual recent progressive house song. “Wudang” takes Luke back to his roots in techno and is very much suitable in a small, sweaty underground club.

So what to make of “Focus”? The album consists of many different genres and is not focused (heh) on just epic wait-for-the-drop bangers. It is a true showcase of Laidback Luke’s massive experience in the world of music production and I am very happy that he made it absolutely clear on the album that he can do so much more than just generic festival bangers. Now the whole world can hear it and while this album will probably not have much radio play, the effort and heart put in it is clearly visible. Good job! 4/5

Listen to "Focus" on Spotify.
Simon Suviste

No comments: