With a new single coming on a brand new label very soon, we catch up with this most versatile, hard-working and down-to-earth of house producers
It's been 20 years since Texas-born house producer Demarkus Lewis released his first EP. And in the two decades since, he's never stopped.
Now with well over a thousand productions and remixes to his name, over the years Lewis has covered quite a lot of house music ground, from techy and acidic to deep and soulful. You'll generally find him operating towards the latter end of the spectrum, but his expansive production CV shows clearly that he's comfortable with, and adept at, producing a wide range of styles – a result, no doubt, of his ceaseless thirst for knowledge and his drive to Always Be Improving when it comes to his studio craft.
His work has featured on some of the world's most successful and respected house labels, and his DJ services are in constant demand wherever house music is played worldwide. Yet many of his tracks still come on small independent imprints – his latest single A Break In The Clouds being a case in point. It drops next month on HOUPH, a new label in Italy that's part of Ricky KK's Housebeat Group, which also includes the mothership Housebeat Records label, plus a clutch of sub-labels and the Housebeat Records Radio Show on Ibiza Global Radio.
Right now, given the lockdown situation, he's squirreled away in the studio working on more new music than ever, meaning his 21st year in the game could well be his busiest and most successful yet. So we figured now would be a good time for a bit of a catch-up…
Am I right in thinking that 2020 marks 20 years since your first release? Any plans to celebrate? And could you actually put a figure on how many tracks and remixes you've released during that time?
"Yes, I had my first EP release signed on my birthday in 2000. I'd told myself that if I didn't get signed by my 25th birthday I'd look at going another way in life, but then it just so happened that at the 11th hour my destiny was made apparent.
"Over the years, I've released roughly 1,500 originals and remixes. Wow… yeah, it looks crazy typed out like that!"
Your new single A Break In The Clouds comes on brand new label HOUPH. How did you come to hook up with them?
"I've been fortunate enough to have labels shoot me requests for releases as the norm. I've never actually met the HOUPH camp in person, we just became mates via online access. I can only assume that word of mouth has to have played an important part in our connection."
Your profile is such that I can't imagine you have to release on small independent labels these days. Do established artists have a duty to support new/upcoming/underground labels, do you think?
"I'm all for the small independent labels. I believe it's very important for the established ranks to support the smaller labels. I can honestly say that most times my experience has been great in that regard: I've been the first release on several labels that have grown to be top dogs in the game!
"I believe it creates a great balance if artists release on smaller labels because this allows the smaller labels a jump-start in the game if their artists are also featured on the bigger imprints. First and foremost I'm a house music fan, and I aim to do whatever I can to keep our culture alive and well!"
A Break In The Clouds is a soothing, mellow kinda groove… perfect for lockdown listening, in fact! Was that a factor in the timing of the release?
"Yes it was – in fact, this tune was actually written on the first weekend of the lockdown. It was originally part of an idea I had for an album entitled Lockdown, but I decided to spread the nine tracks out across several singles and an EP. The EP will be released on King Street Sounds in June, but I was really happy to let the HOUPH guys move with A Break In The Clouds."
I gather there's a pretty hefty remix package being prepared, too. Did you have much input into the selection of remixers, or was that all the label's doing?
"I usually let the label A&R the remix packages. I was very happy to see a few of my guys included on the package, like Fer Ferrari and Mirko Deep. There will be a massive support of remixes on this, so there will be many options for DJs. I haven't actually heard the remixes but I'm confident they'll be great."
Coming back to the pandemic/lockdown issue… how is it affecting you personally?
"Besides the fact that I've had to cancel gigs, my day-to-day life really hasn't been affected. I know it sounds crazy, but even before this I spent more than 12 hours a day in the studio, either doing records or managing my labels.
"I've chosen to spend this time writing material and connecting more with my fiance and kids on a deeper level. I've been somewhat of a hermit for a few years now anyway, focusing on my craft, so I've just been keeping it moving. We as a family unit have been taking these new challenges head on and in a winning spirit."
And financially… with clubland essentially shut down, is that a major blow income-wise, or are DJ fees not a big part of how you earn your living?
"It does sting a bit, but DJing is only a piece (albeit a decent-sized piece, granted!) of the pie. I do many things in the studio realm like mixdowns, mastering and other random engineering duties for other artists. I'm now very grateful that I was able to build a studio at my house about two years ago!"
I haven't yet seen any figures on music sales during lockdown… would it be too optimistic to hope that we might expect to see an uptick, with people spending their money on new music rather than going out clubbing?
"Yes, that's the thing: sales are indeed stable. The fact that there are so many heads out there still supporting artists is great. I mean, with all the live streams going on these days it's nothing less than inspiring to see. It just proves that it's not always about crowded rooms but more about the music.
"Anyone complaining about the live streams should re-evaluate why they are in this culture.... it's about the music, not about who is who, or drugs and alcohol!"
The world is a scary place at the moment, and the future's never looked more unknowable. What positives do you cling to, to keep you calm and sane?
"Very simple … I limit my time on social media, stay on the beats and stay my ass at home, ha ha!"
Enough about CV-19, back to the music! 20+ years into your career, do you still find it's easy to come up with fresh inspiration for new tracks, or is a certain method/discipline/routine required?
"For me its pretty automatic. I never know what I'm going to do until it's being done. I will say that, like other artists, there are times I hit writer's block for sure… but what I do when this happens is bury my head in knowledge. I tend to use those times to either produce a different genre and/or study music theory or technical bits and pieces.
"The one thing I would advise for all producers is to keep your libraries up-to-date, whether it's VST plug-ins or sample banks. It's like it is for DJs: when you get that new heater downloaded or bought, it gives you a boost of inspiration. Production is absolutely no different: if you feel like your vibe is getting stale, then its time to refresh your tools.
"There's always something new to learn. No matter who you are, there's always something else to learn, to help you to get closer to perfecting your craft."
Looking through some old interviews and stuff online, I can't help noticing that your beard, like mine, has changed colour in recent years! I've decided my grey beard is a badge of honour, though… you?
"Ha ha ha! Yeah, I mean at first it bothered me a wee bit, but over time I've come to appreciate the fact that I've earned every single grey hair. That said, if I woke up tomorrow and there were no grey hairs, I'd be okay with that too!"
What's in your studio these days… are you an old-school hardware nut or an "all in the box" kinda guy? What one piece of equipment/software could you not live without?
"I'm 100% in-the-box. I started on outboard gear, but quickly toned it down to mostly onboard tools. I only have a Ableton Push 2, which I highly recommend if you are an Ableton Live user.
"With that said though, my samples,VST instrument and FX folders are outta this world! My go-to VSTs for mixing and mastering are Waves – hands-down the best in the industry, besides UAD."
Finally, what else is going on for you right now that iDJ readers need to know about? Or is there anything else you'd like to talk about that we haven't touched on?
"I'm currently doing what I do in the studio. I have many releases dropping soon, so keep your eyes on the charts and your ears on the sound!
"Beyond that, I just wanna give everyone a hug and let you know that no matter what, house music will never die. We are house music, and you are just as important in this movement as the labels and artists you admire. Keep learning, keep it moving and stay house!"
Words: Russell Deeks
A Break In The Clouds is out on 15 May on HOUPH. The Housebeat Records Radio show is on Ibiza Global Radio every Sunday from 6pm-7pm CET during the winter, and every Tuesday from 3am-4am CET during the summer.