Enter a quiet Vancouver coffee shop and you will find Pat Lok hyper-focused with his headphones on and a mug of liquid energy by his side. But don’t be fooled – there is anything but silence steaming inside of Lok’s head. As he mixes beats and layers tracks, Lok is in his element preparing to perform in front of crowds in Europe, Mexico and throughout the US. Lok earned a name for himself within the electronic music scene after making magic happen with artists like the Knocks, Goldroom and RAC. With focus and ambition, he has cultivated a following of electro aficionados around the world.
Freshly back from SXSW, we caught up with Lok at Cartems Donuterie – one of his local haunts – to uncover how music first entered his life, what challenges he faces as a DJ and how he stays mindful to tune out the inner noise.
Kit and Ace: Has music always been in your life?
Pat Lok: I was put in front of a piano when I was young and had an intense ritual of playing throughout my entire childhood. In University I had my fake ID confiscated on a night out, which propelled me to do my own thing and start DJing. In retrospect, my initial embarrassment led to a positive outcome – I started to explore record shops, mixing music and playing at bars. That’s where my love for music really took off.
Your style of music is primarily electronic. What inspired this direction?
PL: I travelled overseas where I listened to house music – I had a natural attraction to the high-energy feel. Electronic music wasn’t being played in clubs at the time, so I had to source my inspiration online. While in London, I would buy a bunch of cheap electronic records online. It felt like Christmas every time a new record would arrive on my doorstep.
What was the transition like from DJ to music producer?
PL: I started producing by remixing and making bootleg versions of tracks, hoping that no one had ever heard them before. I put out a lot of terrible work, shamelessly sharing it with the world. After composing a couple of remixes, I wanted to start writing original work – a song with a verse, chorus, lyrics and bridge. There’s a science behind it that I never got to try when solely DJing dance records. Producing was a new avenue I wanted to explore, and the transition has given me a critical ear for what they call in the industry an ‘earworm’ – a catchy beat, lyric and rhythm that makes a song stick in your head.
What do you find to be the most challenging part of music producing?
PL: Learning the language is challenging. Not the factual jargon, but more so the technical side of balancing the right sounds. Creating music is similar to cooking – you need to have a foundation of flavours, cooking techniques and tools to perfect a dish. The tiniest change can make all the difference. Adding too much salt to a dish will ruin the flavours just the same as adding too much kick drum will jeopardize the sound.
Finding your voice is another challenge and usually a lifelong one for a lot of producers. Your voice is created through your experiences. You can’t avoid having ‘you’ in your music if you’re the one producing it – all you can pull from is your own. If you read a lot of classics or watch comedy, those qualities will come out when you start to produce. When I have melodies in my head, I’ll get them down immediately so I don’t forget. If something sticks in your head it’s usually worth exploring.
You always have a beat or rhythm playing in your head. Do you have any techniques for tuning out the inner noise?
PL: I work on tuning out the noise everyday. It’s about creating the space to do things that make you feel fulfilled, like spending time with positive and inspiring people or shutting off the Internet. I’ll put my phone down, disable WiFi on my computer and just read or sit in silence. When you’re always on the go you start to run out of gas and need to be mindful that it’s the moments of rest in between the noise that energize you to keep going.
What are some of your favorite physical activities that fuel your focus and creativity?
PL: I love to get outdoors for a long run or cruise around Vancouver on my bike – that’s the ultimate feeling of freedom. It’s pretty hard to be upset at the world when you’re on a bike. If I feel up for an extra challenge, I’ll run the stairs at Cambie Bridge. I played a lot of hoops growing up, so playing at the courts is very meditative and cathartic – it helps me disconnect from all the white noise. You have to be present and focus on the moment in order to make the shot.
What style of music do you listen to when you’re breaking a sweat?
PL: I listen to a lot of R&B, neo-soul, classic funk, soul, ’80s boogie and disco. It helps to have so many friends who are DJs. I make playlists by taking mixes from their Soundcloud so I never run out of fresh tracks.
Do you ever get cold feet before you are about to play in front of a crowd? How do you calm your nerves?
PL: The nerves will creep up on me when I play at a new venue in a new city. The best way to cure stage fright is to mentally prepare for any technical disturbances that could occur. One time I was playing a set and my computer stalled within the first couple of songs. I still don’t know what happened but had I not mentally prepared, I would have panicked. I stayed calm, cool and collected in the moment and got my computer up and running again. This advanced coping mechanism system works.
What’s the biggest misconception about DJs?
PL: DJing takes a certain amount of skill but at the same time, it can be pretty manufactured. I think the biggest misconception is that mixing and producing tracks is easy. A lot of people are getting away with the bare minimum. I walked into a club one night to a DJ playing a game on his computer – it’s this kind of behaviour that lowers the bar. Doing the work, being authentic and taking pride in your craft is something that DJs will have to reconcile.
What is the most inspiring component of creating music?
PL: The collaborative nature of music and the talented people behind the scenes — the songwriters, the producers, the ones you never hear about. When producing “All In My Head” with Desiree Dawson, I planned to record the track with a different lyricist from New York. It didn’t end up panning out and I spotted Desiree busking one night and was instantly drawn to her sound. We ended up collaborating and her input had such an impact on the creation of the song. It’s the back-and-forth while working collaboratively that creates something you’re both proud of. The end result wouldn’t have been the same without both parts.