“I spent years learning to scratch and beat juggle because I thought that was all part of being a battle DJ. A bit like a rite of passage and so when I transferred those skills around 1997 to techno and house, some people thought “Wow, how the hell do you do that”? Though today technology has made most of those skills defunct I do see A-Trak trying the same routine.”
12 years after he embraced techno, underground techno-house producer Bruno Lawton admits he still loves ‘the old skool hip hop DMC scratching mentality’, which is one reason why he remains one of the most technically gifted spinners in the UK. A frequent (though often
unannounced) guest at the likes of (now closed) Turnmills, Heaven and Koko, he’s also won numerous DJ competitions including Refresh and Point Blank/DJ Mag’s prestigious contest, though victory was something of a mixed blessing, he reveals.
“On the one hand, winning put me on a great path to warming up for people like Paul Oakenfold but when I was told by promoters to drop the skills I thought ‘I’m not doing that’,” he reveals.
“I am not here to become another factory run-of-the-mill DJ. I am embarrassed at the name ‘DJ’ as it’s become synonymous with so many cheesy things.”
DJ battles aside, he’s also a talented producer as evidenced my new single Shakin’ Down, out now on Mixtape Records. The house flavoured techno dance floor production includes remixes by Brown and Canadian based techno legend Angel Alanis though it’s Bruno’s original which works the best.
“Shakin Down is about dancing and having a good time and I made that coming straight from a club where I was bored of hearing bleeps and squeaks all night long,” he explains.
“I like Trevor Rockliffes’ style of techno and this was a nod to that.
I know some chin-strokers (especially the minimal heads) may not like it but music’s not about pleasing other people,” he says.
“I’ve also got family in Mozambique and I’ve been influenced by their traditions. Basically everybody forms a circle then takes turns to dance.
The bottom line is I have to be able to dance it, once that’s happening then I know a track is going to work.”
Skrufff (Jonty Skrufff): I know you usually work really quickly in the studio, was that the case this time?
Bruno Lawton: “Yeah, pretty much so, I like to work fast and get the idea in there as soon as I can. I’ve been making music since I was a 14, when I first started I used an Atari with an old Roland keyboard, but when I discovered the Akai sampler it all made sense thanks to a mate named Simon Mills. In the past I used to sit and watch people fiddle around, which can be annoying, especially if you’re hiring a studio for 300 pounds a day. That was in the late 90s, but now I’ve recorded most of my sample vinyl down to my hard drive so if I need to tap a sample from a record it’s already in there. I try to stay away from sample libraries generally and just do what most of my peers did in the 80’s and 90’s which is to find random vinyl and use synths like the DX7.”
Skrufff: What is it about techno that caught your interest initially: and has sustained it for so long?
Bruno Lawton: “Open mindedness, acceptance, exploration and a bit of anger. If I am going to fit as a square peg in a round hole then so be it. Techno for me was partly about anger. Whenever I played it to my friends back then, their reaction would be ‘What the hell is that?
Turn it off’ and then I’d turn it up.
808 state and Colin Dale on the old Kiss FM were also a huge influence but I had no idea what kind of music it was. I didn’t actually realise that I liked techno until I was in Camden in 1994 buying a Billy Nasty tape and FACT mixtape which said ‘Techno’ on the side so I thought ‘this must be alright’. I would also do a paper round around Maida Vale, get paid 10 quid and cycle to the music exchange shop in Camden.
I bought some records by accident which were by Dreadzone, Dave Angel, System 7 and Dave the Drummer. Later I discovered Tag Records, Choci’s tunes and XSF down in Soho and became addicted to buying techno. These days I see techno in every type of music, Rock, Jazz, Funk, Soul, Hip hop everywhere and it’s the drums that have sustained me for all these years.”
Skrufff: Why have you dropped Lo Fi Rebel for Bruno? Any concerns you might be mocked for Ali G’s new fashion character Bruno?
Bruno Lawton: “I was trying to do a Dave Lee (Joey Negro) style manoeuvre, having different names for different styles of music. It’s a great way to branch out musically without alienating people who just like techno or house. But I am looking forward to that Ali G movie and I’ll still be me after he has rinsed my name. I can already feel the puns coming from my mates though so might have to call myself John for a while.”
Skrufff: Bruno’s quite an unusual name: did it attract much attention when you were younger? Did you ever have to defend yourself against bullies?
Bruno Lawton: “Bruno is a common name in Mozambique, Portugal and places like Brazil and Italy, though sometimes people do ask ‘why Bruno?’. But it’s just my Mozambican/Portuguese family roots that gave me my name. But as I grew up around the 2nd generation in Ladbroke Grove and Notting Hill, there were a few people who tried it on with my name and took the piss but people like Frank Bruno and now Obama and Lewis Hamilton have made it acceptable as they’re all over the place culturally and I feel like, finally there’s someone in the public eye who is just as culturally mixed as I am.”
Skrufff: Growing up in the rougher estates of inner London, how easy was it to resist joining the local gangs?
Bruno Lawton: “London was another world until my teens as before that I was living in South Africa, Sun City, Mozambique and later back to London in Maida Vale and Westbourne Park for most of my teens and things were different back then. There were young people fighting but I stayed away from all that. Most rivalries were between second generation kids in Ladbroke Grove. I can tell you it was not always fun growing up as a young teenager in West London. It was a bit hairy (scary/ rough) back then so I can imagine what those youngsters are going through today. At that time I met with a lifelong friend Roy who is Italian, We hung out together, two oddball kids and grew up largely away from my area.”
Skrufff: Techno and house music have long been more popular with white clubbers, why do you think this is the case? Why isn’t London’s club scene more racially mixed?
Bruno Lawton: “I would say it’s a lot more cosmopolitan these days.
Not great but a lot better than in 1987. From my point view, back in the 90’s clubs were the only places to escape the stereotypes and were a great mixture of people.
Perhaps today you have to reassert your background or educate people over and over as so many new people come to London from all over the world and sometimes old stereotypes come along too. But my friends are from all over the UK and the world. We are mixed be it Caribbean, Welsh, Irish, Russian, part Iranian part Scottish, Spanish, English etc. So I never saw a division.
I was always trying to get away from the stereotypical image of what a young person from a mixed background should be like and generally felt more accepted at raves and clubs listening to techno and all type of electronic music. I saw people like Tricky, Colin Dale, Guy Called Gerald and Trevor Rockliffe escaping the stereotypes and I thought ‘that’s the way forward’. So to some these poeple may just be their favourite DJ or artist, but to me they were a shining beacon. Sancho Panza (sound system) and Norman Jay at Carnival also opened up music to people in the area who didn’t like techno or house. I’ve been walking up Grand Union Canal from Harrow Road since I was 14 and I don’t think they realise how much influence they had on a lot of young west Londoners of all backgrounds.”
Jonty Skrufff (Skrufff.com)