Chris Lake: “If you’re trying to sound like everyone else, how are you going to stand out?”

Upon the release of ‘More Baby’ with Aluna, the producer discusses dance’s evolution in the US, his own unique style, kick/bass dynamics and the importance of standing out

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Chris Lake in the studio

Chris Lake in the studio | Credit: PRESS

Chris Lake is back in London. How do we know? The hotel we’re meeting in is called The Londoner – a lavish five-star thing smack bang in Leicester Square. We wait in the bar before Lake – a towering figure reaching above six-foot-five – arrives, orders a Caesar salad, says hello and shakes hands.

It’s easy to forget the impact this humble, Norfolk-raised star has had on modern dance music. Since moving to the US around 2010, he’s not only blown up as an artist, but has contributed to re-defining house music in the States, helping to elevate the genre with a bumping, characterful, techno edge.

Chris Lake
Chris Lake

US vs. UK sounds

“The US is in a time of transition,” he says. “I’ve been in America now for 12 years and I’ve witnessed – and maybe played a very small part of – the scene growing up.

“Europeans have been very, very lucky to have a scene that’s continually grown and evolved since the 80s. America was a bit different and ironically it started there. But it kind of died there as well for the most part.”

According to Lake, since the US’s EDM boom in the early 2010s, “the fashion, the promoters, the way people talk – it’s all changed.

“Over the last six years, the music that I play has been working more and more and more. It’s fantastic to be a part of.”

His Coachella 2023 DJ set – a huge B2B with Fisher – was a marker for this evolution. The show was a long time coming, with a lot of effort to make sure the sound and visuals were on point. The vast crowd’s reaction “validated the effort”, he says. It was a moment to reflect on where dance music has been and where it’s headed.

Still, you could say, the dance music scene in the US is yet to shake its bolder, more in-your-face feel – “It’s more… ‘up’”, as Lake tries to explain. That’s not to demean this elevated dance sound in any way. Lake is part of a select group – KH, Green Velvet, Chris Lorenzo, Dom Dolla – finding seriousness within the more abrasive, boisterous take on house music, reining it in and perfecting it for the masses.

“America likes things big. You don’t have to be too ashamed or too fearful of theatrics within the music.

“The way people dance to music in America is fun,” Chris says, deep in thought. “When they get down, they really get down. It’s rewarding to play to those crowds. There’s an understanding of rhythm that’s different, but in Europe, the understanding of vibe is more acute.

“But is it different? Fuck yeah.”

Chris Lake at Coachella 2023 by Andrew Jorgensen
Chris Lake at Coachella 2023. Image: Andrew Jorgensen

Lake’s signature style

So, how exactly is this rich Chris Lake sound made? Well, as heard on his brand new release, More Baby, it’s about filling the space between the drums with wild machine bleeps, pauses and jutting sound effects, while tying it all up in a neat little bow through carefully created build-ups and drops. Oh, and a lack of “masculinity”, the LA-based producer tells us.

“It can be really difficult to put those sounds in and not make the track feel ‘bro-y’ or ‘masculine’.” he explains, referring to the ecosystem of sounds on the track. “Sometimes it could be snippets from an old acapella – it could be anything! It’s more a case of once I find the right tone and the right way to use it, I try to focus on how [the sound] fits into the record. I want it to be jarring, but not too jarring.”

Another signature style in Chris Lake’s work is his delicious basslines – bulky yet pristine and clean, as you can hear in More Baby. Lake keenly notes the cruciality of the relationship between the bassline and the kickdrum saying “80 per cent” of dance music relies on the two parts neatly co-existing.

“[The bassline] is the first thing that comes to my head. I make a sound and the riff comes to me immediately. I just feel it.

Chris Lake in the studio
Chris Lake in the studio

“Sometimes,” he continues, “the majority of the work goes into getting the kick/bass relationship. Steve Angello said this years ago:, ‘If you can get the kick and bass right on the track, you’ve done 80 per cent of the work’.”

With a busy touring schedule, Lake’s always on the move. Therefore, a portable setup, made up mostly of plugins, makes sense. He pulls out his MacBook, trying to recall which plugins he has been making use of recently.

On the vocals for his track In The Yuma, for example, he says how he used Echo Boy, a plugin from his favourite brand Soundtoys’, to provide a tight delay. He also loves using Native Instruments’ plugins, he says, as well as products by Waves Audio.

“I put a Soundtoys Decapitator on, a couple of Echoboys – one that creates a chorus effect and then an adaption of the master tape preset, then some Valhalla reverb and another slap echo.”

Sticking on vocals, we put Chris on the spot once more, asking which vocalist he’d love to work with. There’s one simple answer: “La Roux”.

Standing out from the crowd

As Chris’ salad is placed between us, we take a sip of water and notice that it’s a tasty tipple. To Chris, the luxury perks of high-end hotels have become familiar. You can’t not, besides being an experienced talented producer and DJ, of course, ask Chris what he’s done to reap so much success.

Chris Lake at Coachella 2023 by Andrew Jorgensen
Chris Lake at Coachella 2023. Image: Andrew Jorgensen

“You have to identify what makes you different and unique from other people.” He advises. “And embrace it and improve it to make you stand out from the crowd in a good way.

“That’s the best way to get noticed and make something happen. Because if you’re trying to blend in and sound like everyone else, how are you going to stand out?”

Chris Lake has spent the last 12 years nurturing a sound that’s big, bold and unafraid of theatrics. Full of sass and entertaining flare, it’s certainly found its home in the US’s evolving dance scene. He’s in cruise control, but there are a few more gears to go up to before we see the final form of Chris Lake.

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