What’s On pals Hype preview Ralph Lawson Dubai gig for Shibuya at The Basement, Boutique 7 Hotel in Tecom. Get tickets for the DJ in Dubai.

It’s fair to say that Ralph Lawson is an underground dance music stalwart, report our pals at Hype. Coming up in Leeds in the chilly north of England, he formed a friendship back in the ’90s with the legendary party figure that is Dave Beer, and it is one that continues to this day. As such, when Beer decided to start his own party – the now 23-year-old and truly seminal house party that is Back To Basics – Ralph was given the honour of playing the first ever record.

From then until now, he has remained the night’s core resident alongside an ever-rotating assembly of yahoos and it led him to be declared as “Britain’s best-kept secret” by dance music boffin Bill Brewster.

Eventually though, word got out, arguably at the point at which Ralph was asked for his entry into the hallowed fabric mix series, and since then he has continued to grow in stature.

During those crazy days back in the ’90s, Ralph also launched his own record label, 2020 Vision. He ran it out of a Yorkshire farm, complete with an on-site studio, and had the likes of US deep house pioneer Chez Damier and close pals and Basics regulars Dominic Capello and Carl Finlow in there with him on a regular basis. It led to a select few yet standout releases such as their Sheltered and Shielded EPs in 1995 and 1996, respectively, as well as some collaborative projects as Chuggles, Urban Farmers and Wolf-N-Bear. Before long, Ralph began to focus on DJing and running the label more and more, so whilst his own productions dried up, 2020 Vision went on to become a much loved label that had a terrifically diverse output.

In the 20 years since, there have been countless essential EPs from disco dazzlers Crazy P, quality house outings from legends like Alton Miller, Fred Everything and Inland Knights and career launching EPs from Paul Woolford under his earliest Bobby Peru guise. Nowadays, 2020 Vision is home to fresh young talents carefully A&Red by Ralph and the label can boast being one of the first to put out the music of now globally established stars Maya Jane Coles
and Huxley.

He has also given great starts to local artists like Simon Baker, PBR Streetgang and Audiojack, all of whom have gone on to become real forces in their own right. One of the first to support the label (via fax, apparently, if you remember such a thing) was Detroit’s Stacey Pullen. He, along with Ralph and many others, has mixed up one of many label compilations that prove just how varied the 2020 sound has been.

“I think it’s dangerous to be proud, complacent or content,” says Ralph when we ask if he ever sits back to assess his career and work to date. “I avoid all of them. My kids jumping on my head every morning at 6.30am is what gets me out of bed mostly, because I am motivated by family and music far more than I’m motivated by money.”

With three young children, Ralph admits it can be hard to find time for everyone, but he has his own self-imposed rules that have always stood him in good stead. “The time away or travelling is the toughest, especially for the wife,” he says. “My rules are: don’t take the mickey and catch your flight home!”

Now that his label has made it to 20 years young – no mean feat in this age of here and hyped today, gone and forgotten tomorrow – Ralph has been evaluating its place in the world. “After 20 years I decided we needed a totally fresh look and to re-think everything it means to put out music in 2015. We also have a new team of young, highly motivated people. So we haven’t re-launched, we’ve re-designed, re-branded,” he says, promising that this next chapter will offer “more diverse, eclectic music. Some bigger artists you won’t expect. Fresh new talent and some great parties. It requires constant thought and energy. It has been a labour of love. I have huge amounts of energy and a lot of it is thrown into the label and DJing. I think we kept it fresh by never being content. We’re always looking for the next thing. It’s a buzz for us.”

Another buzz for Ralph, and for fans of his small but perfectly formed musical output, is that he is now back in the studio and really enjoying it. “I’ve been involved in a lot of studio work over the years, but not under my own name, as a solo artist. I never saw myself as a big producer. I do feel I make a good contribution in the studio, but I prefer making tracks with other people as part of a band or crew. Now it’s time to explore my own imagination and push myself to see what I can do in the studio. I’ve recently completed the first remixes and tracks I’ve ever put just my name to. I’m looking at producing more in a dub style, like the great King Tubby or Scientist, where they made tracks by dubbing musicians’ parts into something new. This is something I would like to do.”

Another one of his many accolades was being in one of the most authentic and genuinely live dance music acts of recent times. Way before it was trendy to do so, Ralph formed 2020 Soundsystem, a band that saw him playing loops and beats alongside Danny Ward, Fernando Pulichino and Julian Sanza on keys, drums and guitars at festivals and clubs around the world. They also released a brace of great studio albums before recently parting ways.

Since then, Ralph has poured his efforts into chronicling the hallowed early days of Back To Basics and the Leeds scene on his own personal blog. Every post is a fascinating insight into a different aspect of his early years and if you haven’t already checked them out, you really should.

Ralph laughs when Hype puts it to him that this might be like some form of therapy for him. “Yes maybe, or old age, or both! We tend to want to document the past but we were too busy having fun to do it at the time. But seriously, I have always loved history so it was also a desire to get the history of this amazing club Back To Basics down on the blog both with words but also with the music [many posts come with specially recoded mixes that showcase the sounds of the day]. I want to leave the story as a catalogue of music.”

He has done that already, but continues to do so with new ventures in the form of his Lost In Time project (EPs to come soon on No.19 Music), as well as some collaborations with Tuccillo, Carl Finlow and Debukas. Something tells us that Ralph is not likely to give up on his vision any time soon. And that’s good news for everyone.

May 28
Shibuya, The Basement, Boutique 7 Hotel, Tecom, Dubai, Dhs100 for gents, 9pm to 3am. Tel: (04) 4345555. Taxi: Boutique 7 Hotel

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