Soulfire – aka Liverpool-born producer Lee Ager – has come a long way since Paul Oakenfold inspired him to hit the decks at the age of 19 and now, as a respected DJ, producer and the owner of the renowned Soulfire Downloads label, he’s become something of a legend in the progressive house, tech-house and techno scene.
He’s also just released his remix of Hyline & Jaybeetrax ‘Awake‘ on Lowbit Records and I wanted to go deeper to find out what drives Lee to make music, what he’s currently working on, what his views are on the current state of the music industry, what the future holds for Soulfire and what goals he still has left to achieve…so let’s get down to business!
Hi Lee. Let’s start out simple – how would you describe the Soulfire sound, and what is it that makes it unique?
Hey Lucy. Good to be here and thanks for having me on Cheers Ears! I’d probably describe the Soulfire sound as deep melodic progressive and tech-house, but I do venture into different styles such as chill out, deep, Balearic & soulful house. I guess what makes me unique is my infatuation with blending different styles of music together such as trance, house, tech, deep and breaks all into one song. Sometimes it works and sometimes I make something and think…bin! I really just try to make music that gets me going and hopefully that is want the fans want too.
You’ve DJed and worked alongside some of the top DJs in the world – who are your biggest musical influences?
The DJ that got me saying “I want to be a DJ” was Paul Oakenfold. He really inspired me to start up after I saw him play during his Cream residency in Liverpool. I was one of the lucky ones to have witnessed those sets, which are now legendary. Since then, I’ve learned a lot about the music industry and artists such as Sasha, John Digweed, Dave Seaman, John Graham (Quivver), The Prodigy, Danny Howells and Spirit Catcher have all been major influences on my music and led me in the direction that I’ve taken so far. I’d probably say that Hernan Cattaneo has been the biggest influence over the past few years. I love his sound and I’m very fortunate to have worked with him and also Paul & Oliverio (Soundexile) too. They are great guys. Non-dance music related influences would be Duran Duran, Enigma and of course I couldn’t miss out John Lennon, since I’m from Liverpool!
What would you describe as your musical mission with your own label, Soulfire Downloads?
When I first set up Soulfire Downloads, the main aim was give myself an outlet to release my music on Beatport. I was sending off music to labels but not really getting much response so I thought well why not try releasing it myself, then I can have total control (not that I’m a control freak!). I realised that Beatport were not going to let me on easily so I contacted a few musical influences in the hope that they’d respond and agree to remix my music. So Stan Kolev remixed my first release on Soulfire Downloads, ‘Escape’, and Spirit Catcher remixed ‘Neptune’ which was heavily supported by John Digweed. Beatport agreed to take my label on and Soulfire Downloads took off to the next level from there on. I’m currently on release no. 20 so it’s been going well. My musical mission has now changed and I focus more on helping other artists release their work on Beatport as I know how difficult it can be. Moving forward for the future, the goal is simply to release top quality music and also provide the platform for new emerging artists to get the attention they deserve.
Who would be your dream artist to remix, and who would you most like to remix one of your own tracks?
I’d probably say Sasha, John Digweed or Hernan Cattaneo. However I have actually remixed a Sasha track ‘Cut Me Down’ and also Hernan Cattaneo’s ‘Teleport’, so I’d go for John Digweed as I’ve not remixed a track by him yet! My remixes have not been officially released by either Sasha or Hernan though so an official remix of either of them or John Digweed would be very special. There are two artists that I have had in my mind for a long time now who I’d love to remix a track of mine – Sasha and Eric Prydz (but under his Pryda alias). I’ve managed to get Hernan Cattaneo to remix a track of mine in the past year so that was a dream come true really.
What are your Top 5 tracks right now?
Difficult one this as I’ve got lots. These ones are really doing it for me at the moment but I could add a lot more:
Coyote ‘Corona’ (Original Mix) [Needwant]
Climatic ‘La Luna’ (Original Mix) [4MPO]
Alain Ho ‘Into A Deep’ (Hot Toddy Remix) [The Exquisite Pain Recordings]
Summer (Brendon Collins) ‘Perfect Plum’ (Marcelo Vasami Remix) [Soulfire Downloads]
XSector ‘Heart Of India’ (Loquai Remix) [Elliptical Sun Recordings]
Speaking of remixes, tell me more about your remix of ‘Awake’ for Lowbit and how that came about?
I’ve been friends with Erik Pettersson who runs the fantastic Lowbit Records label for a while now and at the time I was looking for some options to remix for other well respected labels in order to expand my track catalogue online – and Lowbit was one of the few that sprung to mind. Erik passed me the track and parts and asked if I would like to do a remix, to which I happily agreed. I felt that I could really stamp my own sound on this particular track and the whole remix flowed nicely. Sometimes you can remix a track and like what’s going on with the original and the parts, but your remix doesn’t quite work. But I was really happy with the results of this remix, and it’s received some great support which has helped get the release featured on Beatport’s Progressive House genre page.
Having started out very young, you’re now vastly experienced in the music industry, which has obviously changed a great deal during that time. What’s your view of the current state of the music industry, and what advice would you give to any aspiring young DJ/producers wanting to break into it?
Haha that makes me sound like a veteran, but come to think of it I’ve been in the music industry for well over a decade now so I guess you could say I’m pretty experienced. Yeah I’ve seen the music industry change dramatically over the years and I guess in a way I’m still stuck in the era of progressive house & trance when that was huge. Nowadays the likes of Deadmau5, Guetta etc seem to be getting all the attention but there is still a massive following for the progressive house scene…but I wouldn’t say it’s a popular as it used to be, because the kids nowadays have grown up with a different style of music.
The biggest problem the music industry faces at the moment is illegal downloading. The digital era has made it easier for people to get their hands on music, and I have benefited from that as it has made it easier for me get my music to the right people. However, the simple fact that people can get so much music for free now means that they are not willing to pay for music like they used to years ago when it was all vinyl. I remember getting my student loan cheque, skipping off my university lecture and going to 3Beat Records in Liverpool where I’d spend the day chatting away to the likes of Steve Parry about music and going through all the latest music. It was like a religion back then, I loved that and miss it so much. Times move on though. A lot of record labels struggle massively nowadays with sales so it’s really a love for the music and a passion for keeping that sound alive which are the reasons that I and most labels probably do it. Believe me, money is not a driving factor nowadays (except maybe for the more commercial labels).
The best bit of advice I could give to aspiring young DJs and Producers is to really learn your craft. Don’t try and become the next superstar DJ or producer overnight, learn everything there is to learn and most of all enjoy it! Keep getting as much feedback as you can from people within the industry and don’t get disheartened – take criticism constructively. Always strive to learn and be the best you can be and you won’t go too far wrong. It’s probably one of the most difficult things to break into the music industry and nowadays it’s harder than ever, so you have to be super talented. Be patient, it does take a lot of time to learn everything.
During your time in the industry you’ve been a DJ, producer, promoter and label owner. What brings you most satisfaction and why?
I get unbelievable satisfaction from all of the above as I just love music, but the reason I got into it all was to become a DJ. Seeing a crowd go wild to your musical creativity is an experience that’s second to none and I’ve had some of the best nights of my life when I’ve been DJing. Being a DJ nowadays isn’t enough though, you have to be a producer as well. A lot of emerging producers now haven’t started as a DJ and when it comes to the art of mixing and programming sets, some of them don’t have the necessary understanding of how to really play music that will get people going. Most of all though it’s about creating something that brings everyone together, and music does that perfectly.
You’ve already achieved so much in your music career. What goals do you have left?
My next goal in music is to get a lot more DJ gigs. I recently emigrated to Melbourne, Australia so that I can continue forward with my goals in music, and also to improve my lifestyle and provide the best possible platform for a future family. The music scene seems pretty good here in Melbourne so I’m looking forward to getting out and about, meeting people in the industry and getting some more gigs. From there, who knows - I’ll just let fate take it course. Hopefully fate will be as good to me as it has been in the past.
What are you currently working on and what’s coming up next?
I’ve got lots of releases coming up on Soulfire Downloads from really great artists, I think I’m about 10 releases ahead of schedule now so there is lots to come! The support for the label keeps growing and growing so it’s going extremely well. I once read that “repetition is the mother of success”. I’ve got the label running in the way I want now and I have a magnificent collection of artists (who I’d like to say a big thank you to as they work so hard to create great music), so more of the same is the way I’m taking things forward. I’m also working on some remixes for other record labels and have remixes scheduled for Stripped Recordings and Whose Haus, so I’m really looking forward to those releases. And I’m also working on a Soulfire compilation called ‘The Chilled Selection’, but I’m not sure when that will be released, as it’s still in the early stages.
What is it that drives you to make music your career?
Ambition. My ultimate goal is to create a full-time career from playing and producing the music I love. It’s harder than it seems and I’m still trying. Maybe one day it’ll happen, so I’ll keep trying until that drive goes away.
Thanks Lee – it’s been an absolute pleasure talking to you, and I for one hope that you never lose that drive to make music!