Comparing the Eric Lau to any other artist would be a blatant understatement. Serving intricate instrumentations since 2006, the British producer approaches his production with scientific precision and a heavy emphasis on detail. In fact, you will have a hard time finding another musician that is capable of laying down a direct relationship between mathematical patterns and musical structure. The best part about it? His work is so profoundly good that it deserves to be an essential on your daily playlist. With two albums — 2008’s New Territories and 2013’s One Of Many — as well as an array of successful EPs and singles, Lau has already laid down a foundation to become one of the most sought-after producers of our generation. We had the chance to meet up with the London native during his stay in Hong Kong and talked about his production style, future directions, development, and much more.
How does the name Commissioner Lau come about?
(Laughs) To be honest, not many people know about this nickname. My friend Desmond used to call me commissioner when I was at university. I got others too, in South Africa they call me Constable Mo-Lau, others call me Master Lau, Dr. Lau, Professor Lau and there’s more but I cant remember.
How has your sound evolved from when you were starting out?
I guess the difference now is that I can express and translate what I hear better, also my musical vocabulary has definitely broadened.
We know that the album Quadrivium is inspired on a book that explores the ancient understanding of mathematical patterns and their relations with musical structure. Tell us more about the kaleidoscopic creation process and how the idea came about?
I got the book from a friend and it made me realize that everything is based on nature and is connected. Quadrivium is the study of four elements – number, geometry, astronomy, and music. The realization of their relationship become a major source of inspiration which led me to make music in line with nature as much as I could.
You are renowned for scientific precision when it comes down to production, any tips for the gear heads?
Work on your mix! Make sure the main elements: kick, snare, bass, and vocal are hot. They have to be good enough as stand alone. Oh, and milliseconds are everything in regards to programming and making everything talk to each other!
What are the crucial elements you listen to when determining a good mixing track?
I listen to the drums and vocals. They are the elements that make or break a track. Of course a good bass line and detail in the mix will add something. Some people make their sounds a lot wider than it should but it’s not always necessary, movement within a track is also very important.
Name five essential tools in your production.
1. Moog Synthesizers, any of them will help! I use a Little Phatty and Rogue.
2. Anything by UAD, whether it be interface or plug-ins. To me they have the best sounding plug-ins on the market.
3. MPC 60/MPC 3000, they sound nice.
4. I use a standalone outboard EQ just to tweak and shape my drums.
5. A good pair of headphones is very crucial, I’d recommend Sennheiser HD 650 – they are good for detail.
Your sound is compared to the masters like Dilla, 9th Wonder, Premo, Pete Rock, besides them being your influences, what did you learn from them?
Definitely their work ethic, they are all very hardworking. Also, they all have their own distinct sound and you can tell it’s them even though they work with a wide range of artists. This definitely inspired me to work and find my own sound.
All-time vinyl records sells have gone skyrocketing since 2012, can you share with us your thoughts on the music industry and how you envision the hip-hop game in particular is going to become?
I’m happy to hear that vinyl sales are going up because all my music is on vinyl! (Laughs) To sustain this in our scene, it’s all about having consistent releases and building audiences slowly. Also, cross-collaborations between labels and brands are definitely needed too because in many cases indie labels may not have as much budget to produce and manufacture records. For example I dig how Joey Bada$$ did a release with a fashion brand to produce a collectable/desirable product for the consumer. I feel blessed that we live in the internet age. Artists/musicians can reach and interact with their audience and followers on a very specific level through social media etc which was not possible 10-20 years ago. I’ve seen good friends of mine, like Oddisee, use these tools to level where he has been able to grow and expand his fan base consistently. I see a lot more artists following this modern independent route.
What’s the next direction after the soulful album One of Many?
I have an EP with my good friend Tawiah called Love Call coming out on a new label called Northern Shore in April. Also doing some tracks with a new rap group called Hawk House from London for their new EP. Also look out for some remixes, and a new LP later this year.
What is the best advice you can give to young engineers?
Remember that the song is king and do everything to serve what’s best for it and not your ego. Keep it simple and keep it funky!
If you are not familiar with his music, we highly recommend to visit his SoundCloud page to explore his complex sounds.
Interview: Elphick Wo