Lee Haslam takes time out of his hectic schedule managing the new breed of superstar house DJ’s to Tk to Johnny Dangerous bout his rise to success. From nursery teacher to pioneering international DJ and producer, it’s a great story which everyone can take something away from.
So, Lee, what are your earliest memories of getting into music?
Playing with you Johnny at Visage in Doncaster, my first ever gig outside of my bedroom.
When did you first get a feeling for wanting to play records to a crowd and how did you go about making it happen?
I never really set out to be a DJ really, when I was like 21-ish I was working full time as a nursery school teacher, I kept getting tonsillitis so in the end the doctors said I had to have them taken out. This is a pretty major thing to do later in life and I was told that I had to have 4 weeks off. Long story short, the op went ok but the wounds went septic and I lost nearly 2 stone and had to have longer off work to recover. So I bought some decks and taught myself how to mix. 4 weeks later my then girlfriend at the time gave a tape of my playing (unbeknown to me) to a local promoter call Glen who then gave me a gig. It snowballed from there really.
Which other’s DJs inspired you?
The main ones for me were Scott Bond & Tony De Vit. Every weekend I used to go to Gatecrasher and stand on the balcony all night and watch DJ’s play, that’s how I learnt.. Scott was a real hero of mine. Then the day after we would always go to Sundissential and watch Tony. He was a pure genius of his craft. I used to stand and be in awe when I watched him play. I learned a hell of a lot from those guys.
How difficult was it to make a name for yourself as a DJ?
I had some really good people around me which helped. After my first gig in Doncaster I quickly got residencies in other venues in the town. On a Friday I would play at a place called Camelot’s, my good friend who I’ve not seen for years called Steve Longley helped get me in there. Then on a Saturday I started playing at the Doncaster Warehouse where I eventually did the promoting for as well. I was at those venues for about two years, every weekend. Amazing days
Can you remember the first club night you played at? What was it like?
As mentioned earlier it was with you at Visage in Doncaster, a back room of a cheesy nightclub. I was nervous as hell but it gave me the bug, I was totally hooked after that, about 3 months later I quit my job as a teacher, went and worked at a BT Call Centre part time and pushed everything I had into DJing.
What about your first festival, how did it feel playing that?
I think my first festival was in South Africa to about 10,000 people. I absolutely shat myself but when I got started I didn’t want to come off. I think nerves are really important, it means you care about what you do but after that first mix… I’m away!
When did you have a feeling that you might have made it?
Probably after I had started work at tidy and I was beginning to get booked by the bigger promoters and playing internationally.
I have been very privileged to play to some huge crowds and in a myriad of countries.
Getting asked for autographs and pictures… they are proper pinch yourself moments. They were just the best times… golden times for sure.
What would you say has been your most memorable moment as a DJ?
Wow, there have just been so many its hard to pick one. Creamfields, Global Gathering, Radio One Essential Mix, playing at Republic was a big one for me, also for Sundissential and several Magna events of course That’s probably where the best memory is for me or should I say special memory.. It was in 2004 because my Dad had passed away very suddenly. It was also the year I did my Essential Mix. It was at Magna and I took my Mum who had never seen me play or been to an event like a Tidy party. She was totally blown away. She say at the side of me throughout my entire set which was being broadcast live on Galaxy. It was just really cool to have her there and for us to think about my Dad together.
My mum love Loves TDV and the trade DJ’s and she still does to this day.
I will always remember that Steve Thomas say down next to her and talked to her for about 20 minutes. I had just finished playing and I walked over to them and gave Steve a big hug, said our hellos and then he had to go and play. I said to my Mum, “That was Steve you’ve just been talking to.”” She said “Steve Who?”. I said “Steve Thomas” Her face was a picture I’m not sure what Steve said to my Mum that night but whatever it was, she loved every second of it so I have to thank Steve for that… top bloke!
How did your involvement with Tidy come about?
Steve Longley who I mentioned early was working at the Music Factory full time for Mastermix. He mentioned my name to Andy Pickles who then came to Camelots in Doncaster to see me play. We hit it off straight away and he offered me a job, first of all making the tea and learning the production ropes. I used to mix the Pure Energy tapes (yes tapes), and Andy taught me about megamixing and all the Jive Bunny stuff. That’s how I got into it all. As tidy started to build, I was made label manager in 1999/2000. tTe rest is history!
As label manager you signed some huge tracks… which tracks slipped through the net that you wished hadn’t?
Amo did all the A&R but I think the biggest one was DJ Jean – The Launch. DJ Kim – Jetlag was another.. I remember I had been playing it for a few weeks on import and I mentioned it to Andy & Amo but it got forgotten. Then Nukleuz signed it and Andy went nuts at me because we should have signed it… I still wont take the blame for that one!
How did you get into the production side of things?
It was all through what Andy taught me originally with all the megamixing. I have always used an engineer when it comes to my own releases though. I started working with Paul Maddox and then of course myself and Guy started working together. Our first track was ‘Music Is the Drug’ so not a bad way to start the relationship. I would come with the ideas, the sample and the riff or chord ideas I liked and we would get in the studio and come out with some monsters. Guy is a great lad and a very, very talented producer. We must have worked on over 100 projects together and some really big remixes too, we became very good friends and played on loads of line ups together. I understand he is making a return to Tidy soon so that will be great to see.
What kind of things inspire you to make a track?
For me it’s all about the hook, that memorable part of the record that sticks in your head be it a sample or a riff, getting both together is where we wanted to get to and quite often we did. That’s where the Music Is The Drug sample idea came from. I was watching the film and thought that’s it!
Many of the track ideas came from watching films or TV programmes.
You’ve worked with various producer’s over time, has it been difficult to try and ensure that the sound you make is yours and doesn’t stray away into something different?
Yeah… I’ve worked with Guy, Paul, BK, Michael Dow and Pete Berry in my time but I’ve always been happy with how the tracks come out. A good engineer will listen to your ideas and make them work. some do, some don’t, but its like any other process, its trial and error.
Which producers would you say you have learned a lot from?
BK, Maddox and Guy… 100%… Genius producers
Are you still producing now?
No, I just don’t have the time. I have my own Management company and manage 6 international acts, plus I have a busy family life so I just don’t have the time to. Sometimes I think to my self that I could. In fact a few years ago I did with Peter Berry which is where ‘State Of Mind’ came from but I just don’t think my head is in that space anymore. That said, I was in the studio the other day with Tuff London and I could feel myself wanting to get into it. It’s just time that’s my issue.
How did the idea for the Lee Haslam Producer Series USB come about?
I was literally sat in the Tidy office as I came up to meet Ben & Sam who I manage as Tuff London and Sam just said would I be up for doing one. Luckily enough I had my mMc with me so had all the music on there so it was compiled in about 5 minutes.
Early sales indications have proved very good with a second batch on order. How do you feel about that?
To be honest when Sam told me how well it was doing I was a bit blown away. I wasn’t sure that many people would be into it after all these years but I’m really happy. There are some real gems on it so thanks to everyone who has bought it and supported me over the years.
Has it ever gone Pete Tong at any stage and how did you recover from it?
Yes, plenty of times but its all about how you learn from it and move on. I have worked in the industry for 25 years and had some high profile positions that have brought with them a lot of responsibly and stress but this industry is what I love. I’m still here so I must be doing some thing right ha ha…
You have done it all, DJ, producer, label manager, brand manager and now you manage the next breed of extremely talented house DJs such as Max Chapman, Leftwing:Kody and Tuff London. What advice would you give to anyone wanting to start a career in dance music? Can you share any of your knowledge?
I think the first thing you have to accept is you are going to have to start at the bottom and learn you craft just like I did. That’s the only way of building up your experience and learn the hard ward which is the right way. I was a school teacher that found himself in a world that was totally alien but if you have the right people around you and guide you as I did with Andy and Amo and you are willing to put the graft in then anything is possible.
I had the honour and privilege of being Tidy’s label manager for 10 years, then I ran Slinky for another 7 years before going into management. DJing was always my first love but I always said that I never wanted to carry on DJing forever, I had had 15 amazing years which for me was enough and I was thinking long term not only for me but for my family. I wanted to see my kids on a weekend and have quality time with them so for me management was always the natural progression to go into. I have a plethora of experience in a lot of fields, as you say DJ, producer, promoter, label manager, brand manager and talent booker.
There hasn’t been much that I haven’t done in my musical career so to have that experience to fall back on is vital.
I have great relationships with everyone in not only the hard house scene, (well almost ha ha), but the music industry as a whole which has been forged by years or working with a variety of people and companies. I have worked hard on that reputation because there are lots of flaky people in the industry as we know, having a strong reputation with my peers means a lot and this has certainly stood me in good stead.
Nothing comes easy in this scene. Everyone in it gets a helping hand along the way. I most certainly did but now I am the one helping other people and that’s what I love about my job. It’s about helping other people who are just starting out in their path achieve their goals and that’s the most rewarding part. Seeing my acts play all over the world, at the biggest clubs, shows and festivals, win awards, secure major record deals etc are all a by product of hard work and persistence and being true to yourself and treating people how you would like to be treated yourself.
Lee Haslam’s Top 5 Tidy Releases
1 Signum – What Ya Got 4 Me
2 Tony De Vit – The Dawn
3 Lee Haslam – Music Is the Drug
4 Miss Behavin – Such A Good Feelin’ (Haslam & Guyver Remix)
5 Signum – Coming On Strong – (Hyperlogic Remix)
Lee Haslam’s Top 5 All-time Trance
1 Signum – What Ya Got 4 Me
2 Atlantis – Fiji
3 Westbam Wizards Of The Sonic (Matt Darey Remix)
4 DJ Hinx –-El Viendo (Martin Eyerer Remix)
5 Johnny Shaker – Pearl River
‘The Memories of Lee Haslam’ is available to but now as part of Tidy’s Hard House Producer Series on Glamzoo, both as a USB and CD package. The USB contains all the tracks Lee has made over the years. Grab one whilst stocks last.
You can also Cacth Lee Haslam performing his magic at Tidy Weekender 25 in Pontin’s in Prestatyn on 9/10/11th July 2020. Ticket are also available from Glamzoo.