I remember the first time somebody introduced me to a joint was when I was 12 years old I already knew about it because my parents and my uncle was involved with all that, so I kind of knew about cannabis from an early age. I was 12 when I started smoking then when I was 13 my Mum took me to the Dam and bought me Space Cake.
The Dam Layo Paskins mother took him to in the 80s was Amsterdam and the space cake, one of the citys well known pastries, though as he looks back on his apparently wayward youth, its striking how lucid the uber-successful DJ, businessman and star has become.
My parents were quite open in that kind of way, but although I had a very open upbringing, it was quite a tough one, my mum wasnt always there in my life as I was growing up so I became quite independent and used to being on my own, he muses. And I think that as a result I threw myself into a lot of social situations and probably lived very much on the edge as a teenager, considering that I came from a background where I was meant to go to university. Nothing too super-dangerous, but I was very much involved in every youth scene that was going.
Chatting in his office above the hugely successful club he co-owns The End, hes also charming, polite and friendly and refreshingly candid about his Bohemian roots.
I was quite druggy in my own way at the time, he admits, Nothing serious, just magic mushrooms and puff and things like that.
Two decades on hes practically a model 21st century citizen, having applied his curious and risk taking penchant towards transforming The End into one of the worlds best known clubs, simultaneously cementing his own reputation as an equally top notch DJ. And right at the top of his high achiever portfolio, is his recording career with long term production partner Mathew Bushwacka, which includes highlights such as their Brazilian themed breaks anthem Love Story and 2002s 100,000 selling album Nightworks. 4 years later the duo are about to enter a new phase with their third studio album Feels Closer a decidedly Latin sounding album ((parts were recorded in Brazil as well as Brooklyn and London), which has just come out on their own new label Olmeto Records.
Skrufff (Jonty Skrufff):The last time we spoke you were about to release your second album Nightworks and said we live or die by its success, how do you feel about this new one?
Layo: I have to say Im very confident about it, certainly in terms of the work weve put in and how I feel about it, though whether its going to be successful, I dont know, I have no control over that. The reality is that when youre doing something creative, the first person you have to make happy is yourself, because after that you cant control whether another person likes it or not. What makes us confident is that when we listen to the album theres nothing wed particularly change; we feel there are a lot of different aspects and highlights to it. In feeling that and listening to it as a piece of work, we are like is it as good as it gets? No, but its close and its close to what we feel we can achieve together. We could go on and do lots of different dance stuff but if we just gave you ten dance tracks I dont think that would be so interesting, maybe for other people but not for us.
Skrufff: Just a handful of dance based albums have ever become classics, what makes an album more than ten dance tracks?
Layo: Weve personally always started with the perspective of wanting to work within different realms of electronic music than just the ones that we would DJ in. So for example, weve always done a few downtempo tracks because we like the space and the feel of that style of music. And while I might DJ a little bit of downtempo at the beginning of a set, Im not going to play three hours of it. Also with dance tracks there are thousands of them out there, and its not very easy to write a totally original dance track. You can write great dance moments and thats fine, but its hard for sound very dynamic and striking putting together ten of them.
And because you can make dance music quite quickly, some people like to knock out an album quite quickly and to write a good electronic music album takes a long time, because it even takes longer than writing as a band I think, because as a band you are each doing your own part, writing songs, you are rehearsing together, it comes together in a different way and you are each doing different bits, but when you are producing in the studio and you have to get different musicians in to do different aspects, take it in different directions, take different influences, Its quite a time consuming process and a lot of people shy away from that for loads of understandable reasons, but thats definitely not something we shy away from.
Skrufff: What areas of music do you find particularly interesting at the moment?
Layo: For the last eighteen months Ive been influenced by that electro-house thing thats been fundamentally German led, thats been a major influence because its the sound of the hip dance floors which is generally where we play, but what we definitely didnt want to do was do Layo and Bushwacka does electro house.
Skrufff: You recorded part of the album in Brooklyn, always one of New Yorks edgier Boroughs, what was it like for you?
Layo: The bit where we were recording was definitely a bit like that but its coming up, I suppose its a little like how the East End has come up in London. I think Manhattan got so unaffordable and they gentrified it so much that for young people wanting to live in New York, Brooklyn is nowadays a realistic alternative, because its also five minutes away on the subway. We found the studio through a couple of people that we knew though it took us a while to find the right kind of studio; it was modern in some respects, but the look of it was quite old school in another, and they always had tons and tons of different musicians just hanging out and dropping by, so we were meeting a whole different level and a whole different people that we would never meet here.
Skrufff: How did that translate to the album?
Layo: Wed say to the guys who ran it we are looking for a slow, laid back drummer who plays like Oscar Peterson and theyd go OK, weve got two guys, ones like this, ones like that. We stayed in Soho in Manhattan and took the subway across to Brooklyn everyday to do the recording. It was amazing, it totally gave us exactly what we were looking for in making the album, because it opened up an avenue of a way of working that we had sought but we didnt really know how we were going to get there. It was the most enjoyable experience which I think is reflected in our vibe on the album because everything about the album worked out, from sample clearance, to the people we worked with, to getting things done. When you have a project that is beset by problems, you start to feel a bit separated from it, whereas with this one, everything came together in a smooth way. I t happens in life like that sometimes and sometimes it doesnt just doesnt and youre not quite sure why.
Skrufff: A lot of people romanticize New York, do you?
Layo: Its one of those places in the world I always have a very good time, whatever Im doing there, whether its Christmas shopping with a girlfriend, or going to parties, eating in restaurants or working. But I dont have any romantic notions about ever living in America, Im very much a European, in fact Id probably live in South America sooner than I would in America, but in terms of doing what we did for the album it was amazing. Probably not repeatable actually, because youd probably never get it in the same way, but it was amazing.
Skrufff: Brazil is one of your biggest markets, how did that happen?
Layo: There are a few reasons, firstly I think our music appealed to the Brazilians very early on, because weve got quite an energetic style of DJing and from our very first trips there our gigs were really successful. Wed also made Love Story and named it after the most infamous after hours club in San Paolo not the one in Rio, which then became like a massive track there. Weve been there so many times Ive also now learnt Portuguese in fact I have more email correspondence with friends from Brazil than from anywhere else in the world. I like Brazils approach to life, the country itself and the social aspects; its a place that I really love. People say but what about the poverty and of course thats true, but its there in every place in the world, its just in Brazil youve got it in very stark terms, one side against the other. Im not here to solve the political social economic crises of the world, its just that I do like the place and Ive always liked it. I must have been there twenty five times and nothing bad has ever happened to me. Sometimes walking around London late at night feels more edgy.
Skrufff: Going into your youth in London, I understand you worked at Camden Market when you were a teenager?
Layo: Thats right, I worked a few summers there at the weekends and I remember being ripped off terribly. Wed get paid twenty pounds for thirteen hour days, but at the same time you could nick the 501s (jeans), there were all sorts of ways it balanced out. It was a really nice lifestyle at the time, because Id predominantly do it in the summer and there was a really good vibe between all the people working on the stalls. It provided me with my first experience of having my own money and freedom and it was a hip place in those days. Camden in the mid eighties was probably at one of its heights, so to be there and be that young was all quite cool plus you were mixing with a lot of people who were a lot older which was interesting.
Skrufff: Were you following the youth cults then?
Layo: Massively and I still have very clear images of those days and growing up. I remember the first time somebody introduced me to a joint was when I was 12 years old and I already knew about it because my family were all involved in it. The first time I started smoking was when I was twelve then when I was 13 my Mum took me to the Dam (Amsterdam) and bought me Space Cake. My parents were quite open in that kind of way. Plus a lot of the people I was hanging out with had older brothers and sisters and one of my best friends older brothers worked in a recording studio and everything just opened up for me. When I was 12 or 13 I was into electro then I veered off into the hip hop such as Public Enemy.
Then I got very into psychedelic music because I was quite druggy in my own way at the time; nothing serious, just magic mushrooms and puff and things like that. Because of my parents influence Id always been into a lot of late sixties music then I started getting into music like King Kurt and The Cramps, then I went from that towards early Dr And The Medics and Zodiac Mindwarp. That led me to Gaye Bikers on Acid, then at the same time Acid House began to come through and there was the duality of the squat parties and the early Clink Street acid house scene. Then the two merged and the two social groups came together and the acid thing exploded.
Skrufff: You didnt go to university then?
Layo: I did go to university, to the University Of East Anglia where I studied English and I ran a Monday night club up there where people like Mr C used to come and play.
Skrufff: I imagine you dropped out of college?
Layo: No, though I took a year off and lived in Thailand for about seven or eight months when I was eighteen. I lived in Bangkok for a couple of months and I was in Koh Pan Ghan for about three and a half months - in 1989.
Skrufff: What took you to Koh Pan Ghan in 1989?
Layo: Well as soon as people were talking about it I immediately went there. In fact, in 1989, the full moon parties were only for about 250 people. There were a few chalets on the beach, but you couldnt get to Had Rin (the legendary beach that now holds the 10,000 strong monthly raves) by road, you could only reach it by a small boat and you could only arrive on the sunset side and not the sunrise side. There were no police, no roads and no cars and it cost one pound a night to stay in the guesthouses. In the morning Id wake up and have my porridge and banana and Id also sign for puff (marijuana). It was totally and utterly open; and great.
Skrufff: But you ended up going back to University?
Layo: Yeah. Unfortunately for me, I experienced a tragedy there, my best friend died there, in Had Rin. so I came back to England for the funeral. He died in an accident we had split up for two weeks because I wanted to go to the North of the island, but he hadnt been in Had Rin for so long, and he had an accident while I was up north, That changed a lot of the direction I was taking because I think it sobered me up quite a huge amount. Wed been best friends since I was five years old so it was quite a traumatic time. After that happened, university was great because it came at exactly the right moment and I was able to throw myself into university life. I went to the UAE not knowing anyone there which I have to say was also great, it gave me a clean break. At the time I really wanted that because I wanted to escape everything from before. Id still come back to all my old friends in London in the summer holidays, but at that point I wanted some space and it was really good for me because I started doing the clubs on a Monday night. Thats when I started DJing properly.
Layo & Bushwackas Feels Closer is out on Monday March 13 on Olmeto Records.