Wonderland.

DAMIAN LAZARUS

Meet the master behind some of the best parties in the world + underground dance label Crosstown Rebels.

Day Zero in Tulum with Damian Lazarus

All images Here & Now

Day Zero in Tulum with Damian Lazarus
All images Here & Now

With the new year on a platter in front of us, the promise of a fresh start transforms from a fragile wisp into a very solid, tangible thing. And speaking of starting anew, no one has put this into practice more than master chameleon Damian Lazarus.

Car washer, travel agent, journalist, producer. Jack-of-all Lazarus has sampled thoroughly, settling successfully now on DJ (Paris Hilton’s favourite, no less), label boss (Crosstown Rebels has delivered up seminal dance tracks) and twisted partystarter.

Day Zero, Lazarus’ Tulum-set Mayan calendar-celebrating jungle festival, turns six this year, with the likes of Four Tet, Bedouin, Black Coffee bolstering the 2019 edition.

We chatted to the maverick about beginnings, crazy sets and what’s next.

Day Zero in Tulum area
Day Zero in Tulum area
All images Here & Now

Who did you listen to growing up?
I was into soul, funk and hip-hop. For me, there were two super important musical things happening at the same time: on one hand you had soul groups like Maze, Luther Vandross and Loose Ends, and on other side there was KRS-One and Scott La Rock and Public Enemy.

How did you start out making music?
The very first time I “made” a piece of music was for my school’s end-of-year review and I created this thing called “The Manuel Rap” about my headmaster, and I sampled stuff together from my Numark DJ Mixer and performed this rap with two friends from school. After that, I managed my best friends band, got them a record deal and after that I was spotted by Mr. C from The Shamen, and his management team, who ran a music studio in North London and gave me studio time. It was there that I first started to make electronic music alongside some pretty serious producers.

I read you used to do journalism and you’ve done quite a few other random jobs too – what made you decide to focus on your music?
Yes, I’ve had a few interesting jobs that have lasted anything from one day to a few years. So here they are in chronological order: I worked in the best record store in London’s Soho, Groove Records, I worked at a car wash and at a travel agency, I worked for The Sun newspaper and for a bunch of other similar newspapers as a crime reporter, I worked at Dazed & Confused magazine as Assistant Editor and Music Editor for three years and I worked at London Records and then co-ran City Rockers. For the last 15 years I have run my own label Crosstown Rebels and have been enjoying life travelling the world playing music to people, making them dance and smile.

How would you describe your sound?
Psychedelic, trippy house and techno with a penchant for a cool melody and the odd well sung lyric here and there. I like to pack my sets with some emotional punches and I like to play some strange, off-kilter, weird and wonderful surprises at what I decide might be an opportune or even, an inopportune moment.

Damian Lazarus at Day Zero in Tulum
Day Zero in Tulum crowds
Damian Lazarus at Day Zero in Tulum
All images Here & Now
Day Zero in Tulum crowds

What’s been a definitive career moment for you?
My mother calling me last year to tell me that Paris Hilton just said in an interview in the Evening Standard newspaper that I was her favourite DJ. But seriously I think maybe being asked to play the Sonar festival in 2002 was a pretty important step for me and also around the same time, getting my first gig at Circoloco at DC10 in Ibiza.

Where is your favourite place in the world to DJ?
Burning Man and Day Zero.

What’s the craziest experience you’ve had DJing?
I once helped Björk DJ by crouching by beside her behind the booth. I was there to help her with some mixing and stuff – I guess it was her first time playing).

What’s your best track to get a party going? What about the track you have the fondest memories of, and why?
I played at a friends open-air wedding in Egypt a couple of years ago, and I came on directly after Kool & the Gang had played live. During the change over from their set to mine, it started raining super hard and the dancefloor was filled with water after just a few minutes. I played “Dreams” by Fleetwood Mac and somehow managed to line up some exaggerated thunder sounds with the thunder in real time. It seemed people didn’t care too much about getting wet and the dancefloor was immediately going off.

Day Zero festival Tulum crowds
Day Zero festival Tulum crowds
All images Here & Now

Your label Crosstown Rebels have been responsible for tons of incredible talent. What do you look for in talent?
Positive energy, an ability to think outside the box musically and to not be afraid to experiment.

Tell us about Day Zero and why Tulum is such a special place to you?
I have been going to Tulum at least once a year for around 15 years now and have been watched this beautiful place develop massively. In the past I was pretty anti-electronic music, as it felt like a perfect paradise that should be kept free of parties. But in the last years I realised that the tide of change was going to be unstoppable and so I figured if anyone is going to make a big event there, maybe it should be me. I had experienced some pretty magical moments there under the moon on the beach and one night I came up with this idea to create Day Zero which would happen on the day the Mayans ended their calendar. I created the event to make a connection between electronic music and the ancient rituals and traditions of the Mayan people. We had Massive Attack play at the first event and the cream of the world’s leading underground DJs, and now after five events we are back in the jungle on January 11.

You released your second album earlier this year, Heart of Sky – what’s the best feedback you’ve had?
A Belgian friend of mine played the album to his 8-year-old daughter in the car one day and she fell in love with the music so much that she took it into class to present it as her favourite thing for show and tell, and then that resulted in the class creating and performing a dance routine for the track “Feedback Loop”.

What’s next for you? Anything you’re excited about?
I think it’s about time we expanded the horizons of Day Zero and start to develop events in other countries where we can connect with other ancient civilisations and special locations, so there will be news of that soon. Our other party, Get Lost, will also be expanding next year and I will be re-releasing my debut album, “Smoke the Monster Out” which will be 10 years old in 2019.

Find out more about Day Zero here.

Day Zero festival Tulum crowds
Day Zero festival Tulum crowds
All images Here & Now
DAMIAN LAZARUS

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