“There wasn’t a scene really,” says Lee Coombs of his formative days in the late 1980s. “We made the scene back then by going to very small events and warehouse parties. Everything was so new and exciting. What made it special was the fact that it was new to everybody at the time.” While much has changed since he first hit the scene in 1989 the passion and energy that inspired a young Coombs is still there. That energy will be with him as prepares to head back down under. “I try and come every year, I think I have only missed one year since coming for the first time,” the veteran DJ says with reverence. The man behind anthems like Feel It and Out Of My Mind will be embarking on his 10th visit to Australia and says fans can expect his live show to feature “lots” of new music. “I have been writing nonstop, I spend a lot of time in the studio writing new material, remixing and re-editing tracks so I can have new stuff to play in my set that no one else has. Stuff to keep me ahead of the game. Also I love to play a few classics.”
Always the consummate DJ, he hasn’t slowed down when it comes to touring. “I just went to Bangkok, Thailand and Phnom Penh in Cambodia and had a great time.” Throughout his travels the self-professed “old school DJ” likes to maintain his roots, despite technological changes. “I don’t want to look at a computer screen when I DJ. I don’t think the crowd wants me to either,” he proclaims adamantly. “I played records for years so the next step was to play CDs which is fine because you can still beat match and mix them basically the same as record. But as far as a laptop goes I’m not there.” While he appreciates technology and software like Ableton Live, Coombs believes that a part of the dance scene is being lost. Even so he sounds to be excited by the growth the scene has experienced in the past few years. “Now it’s enormous, way too big to even compare [to before]. All the genres of music and different artists out there, this year looks like it has changed things too with the mass exposure of certain artists winning Grammys.” As many things have changed, dance music is still ultimately about having a good time. “People still want to go out and listen to good music and dance with their friends. That hasn’t stopped and it won’t either.”
The mainstream acceptance and sprouting up of festivals and gigs is clearly in a different stratosphere from what Coombs and his cohorts experienced in the budding days. “I went to quite a lot of illegal warehouse parties around 1989-90, they were dangerous as hell to be honest with the police trying to stop them all night and arrest the DJs and promoters.” The opposition and threat from authorities bonded these music rebels together. “It felt special to be together with like-minded people in this underground scene with all the new music. I fell in love with the whole thing and it’s the reason I still continue to DJ and write music today.” Before Lee Coombs the producer he was focused solely on developing his craft as a DJ and learning as much as he could. “I got so far into the music that I wanted to meet anybody who could help me get access to more of it.” It wasn’t until the early 90s that he first made his foray into producing. He was invited by fellow house legend Nick Annies to write a track with him on a sampler and 4-track recorder at his studio. “It was a very basic set-up but it worked and all of a sudden I had something I could play with other records when I DJd. That was a real buzz and it became very addictive.” The duo continued to write more tunes and ended up pressing their own records. “It all went from there really. If you’re passionate about something you will always find a way to achieve your goal.” Along with his original productions Coombs has built quite the reputation for remixing the likes of UNKLE, Paul Oakenfold and Plump DJs and doesn’t appear to be slowing down. “I still do plenty of remixes, I probably have one or two on the go at anytime. It might be the groove of the track or the sounds in it which pull me in. But normally it’s the other artists that approach me and ask me to do the remixes of their tunes.” As much as he has enjoyed collaborating with the likes of Meat Katie, Nick Thayer and Katherine Ellis, Coombs enjoys being a self-sufficient artist. “I have a great setup in my studio and I love working there, doing my own mixing and production. Years ago I used to take my tracks to other studios to get them mixed but now I do everything myself.” Keeping things in-house, no pun intended, he recently remixed Kosheen’s latest single Manequine and is in the process of writing an album under his moniker of The Freakazoids. He is also pumped about his production work on the next album from The Drumattic Twins. “It has never sounded so big. I’m very excited about it and can’t wait to get it out to the world.”
BY ANDREW 'HAZARD' HICKEY
Lee Coombs [UK] performs alongside Rennie Pilgrem [UK] at The Royal Melbourne Hotel on Friday July 20.