We’ve been following Eric Lau since Fat City dropped the Dudley and Friends EP back in 2006. Since then, the London-based producer has dreamt up soul-stirring beats for a host of international artists, including Georgia Anne Muldrow, Guilty Simpson, Oddisee, Dego and Fatima. As a DJ, he’s performed with Erykah Badu, Questlove and Robert Glasper, and has contributed guest mixes to renowned music platforms such as Red Bull Radio, Put Me On It, and Gilles Peterson Worldwide.
Can you tell me about your work mentoring young people?
I was the head of music at Rolling Sound for about five years after I finished university and it lead me to some great experiences. I was mentoring people from all different backgrounds, from young people at school or in youth centres, to young people who weren’t in employment or training; young parents, children with autism and disabilities. It was humbling and I learnt from the people I mentored, I wanted to be a good example to them. It was a good thing to do I think, it was very fulfilling and I’ve seen a lot of people develop and go on to better things because of doing those music courses. It’s a good way to get through to young people.
Who have your mentors been?
My parents are the best examples I can give. When they came over here, they were young and pretty much had nothing to make an empire. They did everything to survive and provide for me. My role now, to my understanding, is to provide on a different level. They are definitely my role models.
Your parents initially disapproved of you pursuing music as a career. Do you have any advice for other musicians whose parents are perhaps discouraging them from following that particular path?
I can understand why my parents were concerned. I had no musical education or experience so it was hard for them to grasp. When you see your child doing something, you know deep down if they are passionate about it, if they are real about it. You can see if it’s just a phase, or if they are doing something for the wrong reasons. Or if they aren’t putting the time in, or if they don’t have the work ethic. Then you might have to have some words! But not if they are wholeheartedly doing it, and making progress, and they have a back up. I had a back up. My parents did everything they could to send me to uni and I did that. I have a back up. That’s really helped me, knowing that I have an option. Every parent knows their own child best, not just in terms of what they want to do, but whether or not their heart is in it. That’s the key thing.
You mentioned your work ethic, and striving to reach your 10,000 hours doing what you love. Are there any other skills you want to master?
I spent a lot of time learning to understand sonics. Now I need to go back to melody and harmony and the magic in the music, rather than just the sound of it, you know?
I understand you’re using more analogue equipment in your production now. What influenced that transition and what benefits do you think it’s bringing to your sound?
I started on software and there were certain things that I just couldn’t do. I was trying to reference the music that I liked, and the mixes that I liked. No matter what I did through digital, it couldn’t give me that sound. You can’t really push things hot and make things have ‘noise’. Nice noise, and warmth. With analogue equipment you can really drive stuff. What that means is, you can make things bigger, louder and warmer. It’s going through circuitry that can handle it, rather than 1s and 0s, filling up information. It’s very hard to process.
How did you hook up with Kilawatt Music?
I met them through Rolling Sound believe it or not. The guy who runs Kilawatt was doing an internship there. He really liked my music and wanted to start a label. He raised the funds to start it and asked me to do the first release, and has been ever supportive, ever since. I have a big admiration for him, he’ll do really well in the future.
Can you tell me about your visit to Manila in November?
That was a really great time, it was my first time in Manila. One thing I noticed was the smiling faces everywhere – I don’t know whether it’s the sun or whether it’s the mentality. I’ve never seen such a divide between the poor and rich before.
How did your visit come about?
I was doing a gig in Hong Kong already and there was a promoter who wanted to book me.
And how was your music received?
Really well. Overwhelming. I never thought my music would travel so far. When I was DJing, there were three cameras on me for the whole set! Lights on my face. I couldn’t even see! I’ve never had that in my life. People showed me a lot of love and I’m hoping to go back this year.
You’ve got a forthcoming track on Freedom School. How is that coming along?
I’m still doing it, I haven’t nailed it yet.
What’s the vibe?
It’s uptempo, but done my kind of way. I don’t think I’ve come close to mastering it yet, but they wanted me to specifically do an uptempo piece, and I was up for the challenge. I might get Kaidi Tatham involved!
What was it about the book Quadrivium that influenced your album of the same name?
It explains how everything in the universe is linked by number. It led me to understand that I’m attracted to certain music because of the shapes in the music, that’s why it’s so powerful. It explores the relationship between everything and how everything talks to each other. It made me see it in my mind. That’s why so much of the stuff I listen to has a consistency. And that’s what I’m striving to do. The Quadrivium album is just me doing different exercises to try and show that.
You said that when you produce, the music comes through you. Do you have a spiritual practice that inspires your music?
I think that everyone’s practicing spirituality whether they know it or not. It’s just being aware of it, and being able to accept it. And surrendering to it. That’s something that allows more things to happen. I’m lucky enough to have gone through certain things in my life to know that there is more to life than just the material, physical world. I’m blessed to have been shown another side. And I give thanks to that. I wouldn’t say I practice anything specific or that has label, but I have done my research on a lot of the spiritual practices and I’ve taken positives from everything.
Is there anything else you’d like to share with the Southport Weekender family?
I just want to say thank you to everyone for the support. You know what? There is something… I’ve got an EP out actually, it would be handy to put a link to that!
The Mission EP, released on Kilawatt Music, is out now.
Eric was asked to compile a mix by Put Me On It, and he introduces the fantastic selection below.
“I often get approached to compile mixes and have free reign to do whatever but this time I was given a theme, ‘Last Night On Earth’. I was like okaaay, this is a challenge. Many thoughts and images came through but I never really thought about death as being my last night on earth, more that I would be flying to another place somehow. Probably on some craft or I would suddenly have the ability to fly, either which way I can picture myself with my iPod and Sennheisers on. There’s isn’t any contemporary music in the mix apart from Dilla because I would like to think everyone would be leaving earth too! The selection is based on a combination of good memories and what I personally look for in music. This is what I would like to listen to on my ascent away from Earth, I hope you enjoy is as much I do!”
1. Hugh Hopper & Alan Gowen – Morning Order – Two Rainbows Daily (1980)
Just so calming, I like listening to it either very late at night or when I first wake up! Thought it would be a nice way to start. (Dilla also used it for Common ‘Nag Champa’ one of my favs too)
2. Truth is The Key – Tarika Blue – Tarika Blue (1977)
Lyrics are so on point, I love the message and definitely resonates with what I stand for. Musicianship is next level too, especially guitar and synth solos!
3. We The People Who Are Darker Than Blue – Curtis Mayfield – Curtis Mayfield Live (1973)
This was the first song I heard in my life that was inclusive of ‘Yellow’ people and it really touched me. I was like, wait, he’s actually talking to me too! I played a live video of this to some students of mine once and found out that the performance was in aid of the charity ‘Save The Children’. I had just released a project for ‘Save The Children’ and it really choked me up. Made me realize I was on the right path.
4. I think I’ll Call it Morning – Gil Scott Heron – Pieces of a Man (1971)
Reminds me when I was at Uni being all young and confused! This song reassured me that everything was gonna be okay!
5. I Love You – Weldon Irvine – Sinbad (1976)
This song just makes me feel good, Master Wel + Mr Blackman = Magic
6. Lucky Fellow – Leroy Hutson – Huston (1975)
Remember hearing this before I knew what sampling was, and found out that Erykah’s ‘No Love’ came from a whole different song. I rinsed ‘No Love’ at the time and loved it, but Leroy’s original version is next level.
7. Kevin Moore – Speak Your Mind – Rainmaker (1980)
This was used in one of my favorite Dilla beats ever. Once I found it I was like woah, this song is incredible! Lyrics are on point and its so funky even without drums.
8. Visions – Stevie Wonder – Innervisions (1973)
Reminds me of when I was truly falling in love with music. The songwriting is just out of this world. Thought I would cut the song at ‘all things have an ending’ which I thought suited the theme of the mix!
9. Rainy Day – Shuggie Otis – Inspiration Information (1974)
From one of my favorite records, I could listen to this all day.
10. Dedicada A Ela – Arthur Verocai – Arthur Verocai (1972)
Reminds me of recent times with my father. He stayed with me for a month and it was the best time we have ever had together. Arthur Verocai was the soundtrack to this period of time.
11. Luiza – Beto Guedes, Danilo Caymmi, Novelli, Toninho Horta – Beto Guedes, Danilo Caymmi, Novelli, Toninho Horta (1973)
Mr Mensah put me onto this, the runs on this just do something to me. Stupidness!
12. Lihue – Nohelani Cypriano – Nohelani (1979)
Came across this through Karriem Riggins’ Music Kaleidoscope mix (One of my favs mixes of all time!) I’v always wanted to go to Hawaii but never had a chance, this song takes me there.
13. Tell Me What To Do – Johnny Hammond – Gears (1975)
Had to Mizell it again, the groove is ridiculous. Makes me wanna move.
14. Music Is My Sanctuary – Gary Bartz – Music Is My Sanctuary (1977)
Came across this through 4 Hero LifeStyles Comp a few years back. Ultimate cooking song. Try it.
15. Instant Love with Minnie Riperton – Leon Ware – Musical Massage (1976)
One of the first records I bought, loved everything about this LP especially the cover! Had it on my wall when I was at Uni.
16. Baby, This Love I Have – Minnie Riperton – Adventures In Paradise (1975)
I love most of her music but chose this because it reminds me when I first started sampling and studying how people like ATCQ and Pete Rock used the this track. On another note I wanna marry Minnie, she is an angel. Hopefully meet her in another lifetime.
17. I Want You (Vocal & Rhythm Section) – Marvin Gaye – I Want You ‘Deluxe Edition’ (2003)
18. I Want You (Vocal) – Marvin Gaye – I Want You (1976)
If I could be any singer it would be Marvin. Sooo pimp without even trying. This record was played over and over.
19. I Wanna Be Where You Are – Michael Jackson – Got To Be There (1972)
Wow more Leon Ware written music, shows how much of a great songwriter he is. Not an obvious choice for MJ but I just like the purity in this.
20. All About Love (Outro) – Earth, Wind & Fire – That’s The Way Of The World (1975)
Probably the best interlude ever.
21. Konda – Miles Davis – Directions (1981)
Reminds me of Japan, great memories.
22. Aisha – John Coltrane – The Heavyweight Champion: the Complete Atlantic Recordings (1995)
Flawless, makes me at ease. Nice in the winter. Could play this all day.
23. Yutaka – Evening Star – Love Light (1981)
Had to have something east asian in the mix! Plus it was recorded the year I was born. The sound is just beautiful!
I HAD to do a little Dilla section. To be honest I could do several Dilla mixes showing why I like his music so much and what I’ve learnt from his music but wanted to stick with the theme.
24. Im So Glad Your Dorothy – Jay Dee – Beat Tape (1998)
Dilla turned Evening Star into some sacred geometry.
25. Marvine – Jay dee – Voodoo Demos (1998)
So simple, but the split second timing of the way he releases the guitar chops really gets me for some reason.
26. Interlude – Slum Village – Fantastic Volume 2 (2000)
Funky as hell, makes me go crazy. Loved the way he did the fades to make it impossible to loop!
27. Keep It Coming – Frank n Dank – 48 Hours
No one ever talks about this track, the patterns are craaazzy.
28. Ma Dukes (Original Demo) – Jay Dee – Da 1st Installment (2005)
This track is just eerie, it haunts me in a good way. The way the guitar just floats, the voice, synth rise just makes me shake my head in disbelief…
29. Fantastic Intro (Original Demo) – Jay Dee – Fantastic Volume 2 Demos (1999)
One of the most perfect chord sequences ever, this demo version also includes some other chops not used in the final version which seems to do something to my face muscles. If anyone knows the original sample please contact me!
30. Fall in Love Remix – Slum Village – Fantastic Volume 2 (2000)
Whenever I listen to this I picture the sky opening up. I feel that my last night on earth would probably look this.