We catch up with Les Elston, founder member of pioneering UK Hard Trance act, Lab4. Orchestral in putting the Live concept into the heart of higher bpm raves worldwide throughout the 90s and ever since. Lab4 have earned themselves a visible place in the hall of fame alongside other pivotal dance acts such as The Prodigy, Orbital, Eat Static and 808 State, with their trademark raucous, underground and high octane performances.

Hi Les, how are you and what’s on the agenda for you this week? 

Hi Nick, this week I will be working on a remix of a track I wrote with a client back in March, we had to postpone it due to Covid until late summer. It’s a total contrast to the Lab4 sound, it’s 124bpm vocal house, I really enjoyed working on it with James (DJ Blond) and we’re hoping to get it signed to a good House label.  

A very tough year for us all in clubland, how have you been coping and remaining productive during these difficult times?

Yes, it’s been really tough in regards to getting out and playing and gigging. Live interaction is one of the main reasons we all do this, so to have that taken away is tough.

Rather than stagnate and wallow in negativity I’ve switched focus on getting my own label  AtomikA up and running, this is primarily for my own material and for Lab4 reworks, it’s also a kind of showcase for all the different styles I produce.

With this I can release anything I want and also have it as a resource for any sound to picture work. Every track I do is uploaded to a sound-to-picture library called Song Space, this will be similar just a lot more direct and another avenue for industry people to check out.  

Yourself and Adam formed a very strong duo for many years as a Live act, and now you are flying solo as Lab4. Can you please tell us more about this change in direction, and what can we expect from yourself moving forwards?

Yes, so Adam finally split from Lab4 last June (2019) after a lot of soul searching, he landed a full time job in the AV industry and just didn’t have the time to commit to Lab4 and travelling which can be exhausting at the best of times.

I didn’t want to make an official announcement about the final split as I got the feeling he was a bit ‘in two minds’ about it, so just incase he changed his mind and said he wanted to continue I left it open. People can see it’s only me these days so it’s hardly a sucker punch of information. 

Speaking for myself, I’m carrying on the live thing but with a slightly different set up using Ableton and a AKAI APC Controller. I set it up in such a way that it’s similar to DJing but obviously you can do more as you’re using a DAW. I’m also DJing a lot more, which to be honest I prefer as it’s way easier than doing live shows. With the live stuff you need a lot more planning and stipulations like staging and setting up early, then being the last person in the club to pack down etc.

I’ve been DJing since 2007, this originally came about due to some promoters and venues wanting to book Lab4 but not having either the space or suitable set up to host a live show. I do enjoy both immensely but DJing is easier logistically. With the live shows you really need someone with you to help, sometimes that can be difficult to organise.

The legendary John Peel once visited you at your studios and made a feature for BBC, how did that all come about?

The BBC contacted us through our then publishers and said they wanted to feature us on the John Peel – Sound Of The Suburbs documentary series. After that they offered us a slot on the John Peel sessions at Maida Vale.

I think they were interested in the advertising work we were doing and the clubland crossover / tie in. We ended up doing some work for the BBC writing the music for a documentary about the NHS called “Safe With Us” a few months after the Maida Vale session. It was a string Quartet piece, quite gloomy and sombre..  lol,  we had to go to their production suit in Soho during a heatwave and underground rail strike. The driver they sent to pick us up used to be a chauffeur to the Royal family and some of the movie stars in the 1960’s and 70’s..   the stories he related to us were comedy gold.

No stranger to film scores, you have something pretty exciting in the pipeline yes?

YEP! I’ve just landed my first full film-score for a Sci-Fi thriller called Neurovenge. It’s about an A.I system turning sinister, the actual filming has now been completed and I think it’s going to the CGI, then post production phase.

This came through Sean Young at Electronic Earth (Film Production Company) in Toronto, Canada. I’ve known Sean for well over two decades and have also worked with Sean before on a project called ‘Precipice’ which is also currently in the pipeline. If all this goes well then we have some other ideas regarding my involvement regarding AtomikA.

For more info

What other music is coming up for 2020/2021 for Lab4?

I’m remixing/reworking quite a few of the Lab4 classics, ‘Concept Of Love’, ‘Requiem’ ‘The NRG’. Reformation 2 is also getting a major facelift with remixes by Carbon Based, Guyver and Nick The Kid, this is going to be released early next year on Hard Trance

Europe. I also have a Techno project called Faction 1, I’ve been dying to do something like this for ages and thought now was a good time to pursue it.

I also have a new album in the pipeline which I originally planned to release this year but due to Covid I’ve postponed this until summer 2021.

Last weekend you flew to Finland and had your first gig in months due to the pandemic. How did it go?

It was so good and was very surprised it went ahead. Having the opportunity to get out and play after 7 months of no gigs was amazing. The Finnish people are awesome to play for as they love a good party and the enthusiasm was as high as ever.

The actual journey was pretty straight forward although having to wear a mask the entire time was a pain in the arse. lol

What does the live setup look like these days?

Virtually the same with the chrome rack (Death Star) but with me centre, the rack is a bit smaller as it has to fit in one car. Then I have a MacBook Pro, Ableton, Akai APC, this down time from live shows has allowed me to rethink the set up and adjust to just being one person. 

Having travelled the world extensively, give us one untold and amusing story from your days on the road?

HAHA… oh god…I have many, some I would get mauled over for telling, the safest is probably when we were in Melbourne, Australia. We went for a drink near Flinders St Station and met a group of people from NZ, anyway they knew us and saw us play in NZ before. One of them had a birthday and the drinks were flowing big time..  shots and chasers and more shots and pints etc

So we left at kick-out and decided to walk back to our hotel in St Kilda via the racetrack, on the way back I was suddenly busting to go for wee and found an embankment under a bridge, so I crawled up the rockery and found a tree. Halfway through Adam shouted, shit there’s something moving in the bushes, to which I looked and thought I saw something move, snake, massive spider, who knows in Australia! So a ran down the embankment and slipped and went arm first into rock and sliced my forearm open. It hurt LF, we got a cab back and the poor blokes back seat looked like a butchers slab. I’ve still got the scar, Adam kept trying to slap it, so funny. It was like a scene from a Rik Mayall, Ade Edmondson sketch.

What other artists are exciting you right now?

Well, at the moment I’m backing off from dance producers and listening to a lot of soundtrack stuff, and how they work with film and what choices they make for scenes,

So Junkie XL (Thomas Holkenborg), Max Richter, also exploring more off the wall weird sounds and rhythms. I think one of my favourite soundtracks is from the film, ‘The Witch’. It’s so well done and puts your teeth on edge.

Any other final words for the Lab4 faithful out there?

Stay safe, this testing time will pass and hopefully see everyone again soon.

You can catch Lab4 playing an exclusive vinyl classics set in Exeter, Devon on the 16th October. As Hard Trance Europe put on a seated event concept with a strong European lineup.

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