A soul man with roots planted deep within reggae music, Keith Lawrence has over 30 years as a DJ.
Playing music with a message, Keith's consistency and heart for the music is rare and much loved amongst listeners and partygoers.
Tell us about your history as a DJ?
My history as a DJ started in 1985 when I was roped in as 'the reggae man' in a soul sound system called Magic Touch. We were all still at school. We played house parties in and around South London and with other soul sounds of the time (BT Express, Streetwave, Hi-Tension, Funky Express, Touch Of Class etc). 'Steve' was our main DJ, so when he had the set round his house, he taught me how to mix and that was it!
As time went on rolling with the set, I started to buy soul/ hip-hop/ funk/ boogie/ house/ jazz as well as the Reggae. I started to research their respective backgrounds and it's been like that ever since.
I DJ'ed/presented on Power Jam FM from 1990 to 2000. From 2000 to 2008 I was on another South London community station, Bassline FM playing soul/r&b/hip-hop/funk. In 2008 Gordon Mac took over the music side of things at Colourful Radio, he asked me if I could do the station's reggae slot and I said yes. So naturally I kept it on when he started Mi-Soul in 2012 to the present day.
My DJ highlights are:
Having two resident R&B/Hip-Hop nights in Dublin that ran for four years (1996-2000)
Maceo Parker Concert at Forum Kentish Town
Stereo MC's Afterparty at Diorama Peto Place at the time of the 'Connected' Album '93-'94ish
Maxi Jazz, Jay Scarlett & myself DJing on a beach in Montenegro all night until the sun came up.
Mixing down Daddy Freddy & Tenor Fly (R.I.P) on King Tubby's Sound System NYE in Brixton 2008.
Who were your early influences?
My early influences came from going to local sound system dances in Brixton and surrounding areas. Plus the nights we were out playing. Also listening to the pirate stations. JFM, Solar, LWR, Starpoint, Horizon, Kiss, DBC etc, all had an effect on me.
They were all championing Black music which was still considered underground, plus the DJ's presented with passion and professionalism. Something I still adhere to. Working in various record shops proved to be valuable in gaining an insight in what 'heads were into'. I did that for 15 years between 1989 and 2004.
What styles of music do you like play?
I will play old and new soul, funk, jazz, boogie, disco, hip-hop (of the 'Boom Bap' nature), 90's r&b, soulful house as well as all the aspects of reggae. New and old roots, revival,'credible' dancehall, rub-a-dub, ska, rocksteady and dub.
To be honest with you, from when I was a kid about 5 or 6 in the 70's, I heard pop/rock music next to the soul/funk via TV or radio at the time, and even at that young age I made the conscious decision that Black music (as the term was more widely accepted then) was for me. To me the musicians played the instruments better and the vocalists were more in tune! I could identify with it more than pop music.
My pops gave me some reggae 45's at that time, so that further clinched it for me. From then until now I look for those qualities in the music I buy/play, as well as being an advocate for good, soulful, Black music in any style. If it's soulful, it'll get my ears.
How important is the message?
The message of the music is very important to me. To me music is a 'blessed' thing so therefore I feel whatever you're listening to must convey some type of positivity lyrically/ musically/spiritually, even if it's a party lyric/song.
I am also aware the devil had some bangers too! Incidentally when I was nearing the end of doing Bassline FM 2007-8, I remember feeling disbondent towards r&b and hip-hop then. I felt like the standard was going down especially the r&b. I asked management if I could do some reggae shows. They agreed but little after that the station folded. That's when Gordon stepped in and asked me to do the reggae show on Colourful. That was the excuse I needed to stop playing certain tunes and play music I genuinely felt.
That's the reason why you'll hear me play more old school Black music now, and I'm grateful that the next generation of clubbers can appreciate it . That's not to say there isn't quality tunes out here now, it's just that it's not as prevalent as it used to be.
Throwback nights have been and still are popular with the young raving heads. I see this myself DJ'ing at The South London Soul Train nights at Bussey Building Peckham. Also my TRUSKOOLBEATS nights there and at The Whitehorse Bar Brixton Hill. Well I did before COVID 19 mashed that up!
Tell us about your show on Mi-Soul Radio...
I present THE REGGAE ROCK show on Mi-Soul 11pm-1am gmt. It's predominantly the new releases I focus on with that 'quality' about them, production and artist wise. I try to encapsulate all styles but I won't play nothing that's proper slack (tongue in cheek or suggestive is ok) That's why you won't hear me play certain artists. It's either they're too explicit or they can't sing or DJ! Plus songs reflecting society/spirituality.
Reggae music is still marginalised in the UK as far as airtime is concerned, so I feel I have a duty to reflect the best parts of the industry/culture in my weekly 2 hrs.That's why I keep a special focus on reggae from Jamaica as well as the rest of the world, simply because that's where it originated and as we know reggae is in other territories across the globe.
I compare the show to a newspaper. You have your regular features but you still want to see/hear what's new. I know I also run the risk of running ahead of my audience but a so it go y'know, gotta keep it moving!
The 2nd Wednesday of the month is THE DUB ORGANISER SHOW. I do that with Stu Tolhurst, the show is named after his sound system he started with the late friend Dave Hendley, to which I play now with Stu.
The D.O ethos is classic/vintage revival reggae, ska, rocksteady, dub and early dancehall, that's what the show comprises of, all on vinyl.