Photo: Used with permission from Erik Laar On October 24th at 8 o'clock in the evening, Estonian Music Week is keeping the groove of the Live-Stream Concert Series going with a virtual party led by DJ, producer, and all-around music innovator Erik Laar. Laar is an important name in the Toronto turntable scene, as a performer and as a teacher of the next generation of DJ artists at Off Centre DJ School. Founded on his knowledge of keeping people's ears perked and heartbeats going, Laar started the school in Toronto's Little India neighbourhood in 2004, as a fun and comfortable environment to learn about the technology and creative processes behind DJing and production. Before he drops the needle next Saturday, though, we wanted to get to know him as a person and see what goes into each of these shows.
First off, can you give us a hint of what we can expect musically and otherwise from your Live-Stream Concert on the 24th?
In this day and age, live video streaming is the most viable alternative that we have, which is cool because it's more intimate that way. And I think the music that I'm going to be performing reflects that as well. My general background and influences are more like downtempo, trip hop, chillstep—very moody genres. And that's very much where I get my inspiration from. Generally, my music is super layered and has atmospheric backgrounds that are accentuated by these really hard and punctuating beats. That's the vibe usually. I do it all on electronics and turntables, so it's a live performance where I'm using the turntables as a musical instrument and adding live production to it as well. I'm adding beats on the fly, triggering loops and samples, and things like that. I'll also be doing some singing and looping of my vocals.
We see DJs at clubs and parties, building lots of energy in a room with their mixes, but as an experienced practitioner yourself, what do you think is the most misunderstood part of creating music with turntables, your own voice, samplers, and the like?
It really is a musical instrument like any other, so it's not just pressing play, which I think is what a lot of people have this idea of. Some DJs do that, where you're pressing play on one track and then pressing play on another track. For that, the art of it is in the tracks that you're selecting, and creating a playlist essentially. With turntablism and live beat making, the focus is placed more on manipulating sounds and pushing artistic boundaries to create something original.
You're said to have a vinyl collection with around 2,000 records. What have you been taking out to listen to most recently that we should listen to ourselves?
Yeah, give or take. I haven't counted lately, it might be more than that!
I've been drawing a lot of influence from a UK artist named SBTRKT. A guy named Teebs out of the LA Beat Scene is someone I've been listening to, and more chill and downtempo stuff.
Do you have a favourite Estonian DJ? And do you ever sample Estonian music in your music?
I listen more to older things that I've come in contact with, less stuff that's happening now. I have this Oskar Luts pressing that has some samples of him reading Kevade, or there's Arvo Pärt; different kinds of things that make it about grabbing from the old and making it new.
It's a funny experience being an Esto in Canada, or anywhere else I imagine. You're very much Estonian, but you're very much something else as well. You're also drawing from this well and depth of experience in your culture, a lot of it dark and emotional and full of pain. And then also, just very hopeful, which is an amazing contrast. I feel like it's a really rich history to extract the pieces from that make sense for you and hopefully turn it into something cathartic or reflective.
You used to be a music teacher for kids at lasteaed (Toronto's Estonian kindergarten). What kind of memories do you have of those days?
First off, Liina Purje-Lepik was who I was teaching with. She's just amazing and such a great person, singer, and teacher. Just being with her in that environment was so great. I started before I had kids. I think I was 24 or 25. Some of those Saturday mornings were a little rough, I'll be honest. I had to get up after DJing somewhere and teach these kids with a fresh face. It was exhausting, but at the same time there was this innocence and purity there which is infectious in the best way possible.
What kind of projects are you working on these days?
I'm really into my live studio performance series on the Off Centre DJ School YouTube channel (https://www.youtube.com/user/OffCentreDJ). I've been performing with Topher Stott as well, he's a phenomenal drummer. It's nice to have the opportunity to perform in a “live” environment.
[The TC50 live concert] should be really cool. I might also go into the archives [at Tartu College] and grab some vinyl from there and see how I can incorporate it, to see how I can bring it all full circle. It's the 50th anniversary, so it makes sense.
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