One of the first things that DJ Erick La Peau said to me when I met him (and I almost missed it) was "I'm very soft-spoken." While the duration of our conversation certainly confirmed this, La Peau's message is loud and clear: "I want to take the world by storm," he says. And by the looks of things, he's well on his way. La Peau has all the discipline, wisdom, and (of course) talent to accomplish everything he intends to. P. Diddy himself requested DJ La Peau to spin at his 29th birthday party, and La Peau played for Prince at the Benefit Life Concert he hosted. Not too shabby at all. Best yet, even though La Peau is routinely recruited to play for the hottest celebrities worldwide, he's a normal guy and watches lame TV shows just like the rest of us. "I've been DVR-ing shows a lot recently," he says, "like Vampire Dairies and For The Love Of Ray J. I'm hooked."
La Peau was born in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, but moved to Haiti with his parents shortly after. "To me, Brooklyn is a family-oriented community," he says about his hometown. "There are a lot of artists and musicians in Brooklyn, and everyone knows one another and feeds off each other. It has that community feel." La Peau returned to New York in his pre-teens and today insists that New York is where he belongs. "I spent a year and a half in Miami in 2004 and 2005. It was pretty cool, but it's not New York. Miami is a nice place to settle down and raise a family. But I need that New York hustle, that grind. In New York, you can go out and do this and do that, get what you want out of life; whereas Miami was more laid back and chill. I love New York. I missed it while I was gone."
It looks as though New York loves him right back; along with Miami, Los Angeles, Canada, Tokyo, London, Zurich, Munich and Copenhagen. He plays weekly at some of New York's most famous nightspots like M2 Ultralounge, Gansevoort Rooftop Hotel, and Pink Elephant. And although La Peau has been playing exclusive international venues regularly for years, Tokyo is his favorite city to play in. "I love it out there because they really know their music," he explains. "They really appreciate skills. I like that."
In New York, especially Brooklyn, it seems like there's a self-proclaimed "world's best DJ" around every corner. The emergence of computer programs like Serato has made DJing super accessible. "Before, when we didn't have Serato, you had to go out and get records and shop and go to different labels," says La Peau. "I've been all over the world just buying records, to places like Japan, London, and Denmark. For example, a lot of songs in California never really used to make it out to New York, so I always went to California to buy music out there. Nowadays, everyone uses computers to DJ, and that makes it so easy. Everyone wants to do it. Everyone thinks it just a cool thing, and it's so simple for them to start. You don't have to go hunting for records anymore; you can just stay home and download everything you need."
Considering the massive sea of pseudo-DJs taking over the New York music scene, it makes a lot of sense that La Peau doubts the quality coming from a lot of the newcomers. "It's not really much about skills anymore. If you market yourself right, you can make it without necessarily having the talent. But every DJ thinks they're the best, so it's very a competitive job." La Peau humbly gives credit where it is due, and sympathizes with the struggle for notoriety that every artist endures. "I don't think anyone's better than me," he says, "but at the same time, everyone is unique in a certain way. I suppose that new DJs that didn't start with vinyl records are missing out on the passion of it. They can absolutely be devoted to the job and what they want to do, but I think there was more passion back then, when buying vinyls was the only way to DJ. Because in order to be the best, you had to have everything; you had to get exclusive records, and you had to go looking for them. It wasn't easy. Nowadays, you can download an album before it's even released. So there's no exclusivity."
DJing since 1995, La Peau has a pretty good idea of what it takes to truly succeed in the DJ scene. "A lot of people come up to me wanting to learn how to DJ. I'm like, ‘Alright, go get turntables and mixer.' If you're serious about it, that's what you need. If you don't have those things, then don't talk to me," he says. Sitting around in your apartment experimenting with DJ software and posting your Grizzly Bear remixes on Myspace isn't going to impress Erick La Peau, or anyone else for that matter. A new DJ must first prove his or her worth and show true dedication by being fully equipped for the job and showing steady improvement. "I don't waste my time with people who don't improve. I'm not a nice person when it comes to these things. I'm very blunt and brutal, and I'm going to tell you how it is." However, La Peau also acknowledges the gaping disconnect between talent and success. "I think a lot of it has to do with marketing yourself and reaching out to people," he says. "Whether or not your skills are as good as someone else's, if more people know you and like you, you're going to be the one who comes out on top. Nowadays, you need a publicist, you need a stylist, you need a model girlfriend. You need a team, all of the above. It's not necessarily about raw talent."
Although he has come a long way from his DJ beginnings in 1995, DJ La Peau well remembers how it felt starting out on a career in the music industry in New York. He says, "when I first started DJing, I had just quit my job at the World Trade Center working for corporate America. My baby boy had just been born. It was incredibly risky; I had just become a father and had a child to support. But I knew that music was my passion and that I had to pursue it." A music enthusiast his entire life, his top favorites include Marvin Gaye, Bob Marley, Garnett Silk (the reggae artist who "made [him] want to start DJing") and Jimi Hendrix. "I used to have an afro; people would say I look like him. I should have just told people that I'm his son. Maybe I would have gotten more work," he jokes.
La Peau credits the reggae scene for giving him his start. "When I used to go out, I'd go to a lot of reggae clubs. I was really into it," La Peau says. "I started out playing reggae at first, at reggae clubs. My cousins were also DJs, and they really impressed me." As his career as a DJ started to take off, he began hanging out more in the hip hop scene, where he discovered other beats and sounds that influenced his music. "I had always heard the name Stretch Armstrong, but I never knew who he was. And I was at this party one night and I was like, ‘Who is this white guy spinning?' It was Stretch. I was like 'Wow! That's him!'" Other artists he admires include "Mark Ronson, of course, because we were partners when we started DJing. We used to do a lot of parties together. And along the way, I also learned to love Kid Capri and Red Alert."
No artist is entirely without complaints about their current scene. These days, La Peau would like to see a greater variety of people at clubs and venues. Even in a city as cosmopolitan and diverse as New York, many of the major venues are inaccessible to people who don't meet the venue's standards for their patrons, who don't "fit in." La Peau says, "I wish there were more of a mixture of people. This is New York; there's a scene here for everyone. You've got your underground spot on the Lower East Side, you have your chichi posh clubs, you have places like Mansion that cater to the elite: athletes, models, actors, rappers, whoever. I wish there was something in between, so everyone could come to one place and see what the DJ is about, what I'm about."
When it comes to his audience, it's refreshing to hear that La Peau isn't too picky, even though he can afford to be. He says, "I'm always excited to work for a celebrity or other artist. It's amazing to get a chance to work for someone like P. Diddy or Prince. I've worked for a lot of great people in the past. But there are some people who just want to hear certain things. That's cool; I have to do what I have to do to please them. It's their event or party, and I want to make that happen for them." To La Peau, DJing is not about whom he's playing for, but the attitude of his audience. "I want people to have a good time and feel good about themselves, whether they're in a club or bar or whatever. As long as they're having a good time, that's it! I don't mind doing any type of party, as long as I have a crowd that I can rock to. That's what I want." In fact, his crowd and the attitude they project is an integral part of his craft. "I'm the type of DJ that just goes into work and feeds off the crowd and gives them what they want," La Peau explains. "I don't make a playlist before a show. I'm too good to prepare myself that way, because you can put a lot of effort into making yourself a playlist, and the crowd may not like it at all. You may be bored, the crowd may be bored. And that's the worst. To prepare myself, I just make sure that I have all the songs that I know I might want to play. For example, for the New Year's Eve party at M2 coming up, I'll have some New Year's Eve songs ready. That's the kind of preparation that I do. I just show up and work it out when I get there."
2010 looks like it's going to be a groundbreaking year for La Peau. He's got plans to team up with entertainment mogul BJ Coleman on an undisclosed project. He's also really excited about working on his music, saying, "I'm getting all the programs and everything I need to take it to the next level. It's something I've been working on for a while, but it's very demanding and you have to be working on it constantly. I'm going to be very careful not to let it slip through my fingers."
As for New Year's resolutions, while everyone else is trying to lose 15 pounds and eat less chocolate, La Peau plans on "taking the world by storm." In 2010, La Peau is going to focus on "making [himself] that guy that people look for when they go out." He says, "I want to be the guy that people talk about, that people are raving about. I want to make sure that people go home happy because they have a good time and love my music. In 2010, I really want to make that happen."