Damian Lazarus | 20 Years of Crosstown Rebels

"Good people come, and go but good music stays forever"

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Gabriella Madden

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There’s nothing quite like a music festival. The feeling that comes from coming together with fellow like minded members of the music community is something that cannot be easily replicated, if at all. This need for community is what motivated DJ and producer Damian Lazarus to put together a music collective turned record label Crosstown Rebels 20 years ago, which has also formed its own music festivals and parties, including the 24 hour Miami event “Get Lost” on March 25th. 

While Crosstown might not have had the easiest road throughout its 20 years, the massive celebration at this year’s “Get Lost” will surely make up for hard times. Sets are anticipated from Major Lazer Sound System, Carl Craig, DJ Tennis, Major League DJz, Pete Tong, Seth Troxler, and so much more, including a set from Lazarus himself. The total headcount is over 90 DJ’s and artists, a bonafide treat for any music fan willing to brave 24 hours worth of an intense and immersive festival. 

Besides launching the careers of some of techno’s biggest and most talented names through Crosstown, Lazarus has had quite the music career himself. Inspired by all types of music from house to show tunes, Lazarus always looks forward, something he attributes his success to. He’s collaborated with other big names such as Diplo, as well as wildly successful solo albums like 2020’s Flourish

Still, Crosstown Rebels remains the jewel in Lazarus’ crown. Besides “Get Lost”, the 20th anniversary of the imprint will be celebrated by a book, short film, and a compilation on the horizon. Flaunt spoke with Lazarus about this momentous occasion, and what lies in store for the biggest Crosstown party yet. 

What keeps the passion for music and creating alive for you? What is the secret to longevity? 

An inquisitive mind and the belief that there will always be new ideas and new directions for music. I balance my listening time for “club” music with different genres and styles.

For example, for every 10 electronic demos I listen to, there needs to an Alice Coltrane or Terry Riley album to help to break up the patterns and keep my ears fresh.

What was your vision for Crosstown Rebels? How has your vision/intention for the collective changed and developed over the past 20 years?

The original vision was to connect like minded DJs and producers from all over the world and create a musical family that would grow and support each other.

The intention has not changed but people, like music, move in cycles and once a member of the family breaks away to find their own footing, there is always a brand new member waiting in the wings to be included.

But ultimately good people come and go, but good music stays forever.

2010 was one of the most pivotal moments for the label - can you tell us about the sense of resilience the label was able to gain after both distributors collapsed? What was this time period like for you and how did it inform how you do business?

I learnt that everything is transient, that what was a reality today could be all changed in an instance tomorrow. 

I also realized that my belief and toughness had hardened to such a degree that “giving up” was never a viable option. 

I begged, borrowed and stole to keep the label alive because I believed in the group of artists I had discovered and I think my passion rubbed off on others around me. 

I made changes in my personal life to help with the label transition; ending a long relationship and starting a new one, moving from London to Los Angeles, getting a dog. 

Through these changes I started to come to terms with the fickle nature of business and learnt how important it is to surround yourself with loved ones and people you trust when going through the ups and downs of life.

Crosstown has sonically evolved from the early days of Maceo Plex, Seth Troxler, Jamie Jones, and Art Department onwards to champion the peak Burning Man sound with the likes of Bedouin and Satori, and now sits in an interesting alternative, live electronic space with the likes of Pale Blue and your Secret Teachings labels. Can you tell us about these chapters, how the sound of the label has evolved, what factors played a role in this evolution and where the label is headed next sonically? 

Much of it has to do with finding a new reality for my sound as a DJ. 

Around 2010 I started to establish that I felt most artistic when playing music outside in nature; on mountains, in deserts, in jungles and particularly soundtracking the sunset or sunrise in these exotic places.

I had always been on the edge of things, experimenting my way around clubs and dj mixes, but now I had a visual reference and a deeper feeling for the music and sounds that work spiritually for people at certain times of the day and night.

Leading on from this new understanding came a pursuit of representing this change for the label and the music we release.

Crosstown has evolved with the state of house and techno - from the true underground of the early 2000s, to the global embrace of the genre, and by proxy the label. What do you believe enabled this growth and expansion of the genres’ sounds and parties to the global scale they sit at today? How does it feel that something once so underground is now finding itself in popular culture?

In many ways, it was inevitable that this would happen. The “big” sound in dance music back then was “EDM” which, let's be honest, was shit music being peddled to children who didn’t know better.

During this time, labels like mine, DJs and artists in my world, were creating very special, next level music, playing it in beautiful places to very beautiful party people.

It was simply more sophisticated but also welcoming and accessible. It was only a matter of time before the popular wind would change in our direction.

The interesting thing about it is that this music still feels underground and cool, it’s just enjoyed these days by many, many more people.

What can you say about the Crosstown community? What do you hope partakers take home with them?

For me it’s all about the moments and memories that we share together experiencing this music together.

The Crosstown “family" is most evident at our Get Lost parties in Miami. This is the time we all come together and celebrate together, both with one another but also on the dance floors with the audience. These moments are very special to all of us.

The 24 hour Get Lost party in Miami is around the corner. What are you most looking forward to for this special edition?

I'm looking forward to hanging and partying with the whole crew. Connecting people that I think need to meet each other, listening to all the exciting new developments in the music that each individual will bring. In terms of special stand-out sets, Im really looking forward to the Crosstown Rebels Allstars set which will be a back to back between Seth Troxler, Art Department and myself with Ali Love and Kenny Glasgow on vocals. I'm also excited for live sets from Pale Blue, Maceo Plex and Oceanvs Orientalis and DJ sets from Harvey, D-Nice, Carl Craig and Tibi Dabo.

You’ve previously cited the Groovejet parties that would occur during Miami's WMC as an inspiration to start Get Lost. What specifically about the parties evoked this inspiration?

They were full of artists and DJs, all coming together to support Danny Tenaglia and his musical vision, all on the dancefloor getting down together.

People would dress up in crazy costumes and we felt free to express ourselves. We lost track of time and we didn’t care about phones and social media. It was bliss.

What have been some of the most memorable CR moments for you personally over the last 20 years?

There have been so many, it’s hard to pinpoint specific ones but i think maybe this one morning in London explains a lot about what this whole thing is about.

We had made a party in East London back in 2010 or 2011 and afterwards about 100 of us headed to Jamie Jones' house in Dalston to carry on.

All of the crews were there from many parts of the world, the living room was full of characters and the larger than life personalities were holding court, everyone high and hilarious, people strewn across the floor, each step on the staircase full of people. In the kitchen and in the garden more focused, intelligent conversations were happening, upstairs in the studio, 4 or 5 artists that had never worked together before were making beats… We partied through for 2 days. This was how we lived at that moment when it all started to go well, this was the family I had dreamed of, coming together on the brink of stardom, to hang out and respect and enjoy each other’s company.

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Damian Lazarus, Crosstown Rebels, Get Lost Miami