How one fan’s deep love for the music has led to incredible things
“I got goosebumps, brother! Look at this!”
Michael Lafasakis is sitting in his New York office. Our conversation has barely warmed up but it’s abundantly clear that this man glows with impressive levels of enthusiasm and passion for the music.
He doesn’t need to, but he holds his arm to the camera for proof. Sure enough, every hair stands to attention. Dropping his arm, his smile seems even broader. “You’ll have to excuse my enthusiasm. This is not a typical conversation I have during my usual working day,” he laughs.
He’s not lying. Michael might well be responsible for curating an album that stayed at the number one in the Juno Download album charts for the best part of a month after its release. He might have a contact list stacked high enough to make the most successful promoter eat their shoes. He might even have managed to coax stone cold pioneers such as Big Bud and PFM back into the game after years of release silence.
But music is a far cry from Michael’s main day job.
A doctor, therapist, teacher and CEO of a series of schools (two in New York, one in his motherland Crete) Michael specialises in assisting and treating children with autism spectrum disorders. Especially those who are non-verbal. Committed to his calling, his life is a hectic and intense schedule of medical and managerial responsibilities.
“I guess I can be likened to a school principal but for three different schools,” he reflects. “But every day I wake up to severe clinical emergencies that need to be attended to.”
It’s the most non drum & bass context you could imagine for a drum & bass interview. But beneath the suit and the academic and medical accreditations you’ll find a card-carrying junglist who’s been part of the movement since it first made its way to the US as far back as 1993.
“I’ll never forget the day I first heard it,” Dr Lafasakis recalls. “My best friend Christopher Storm said to me, ‘Michael I’m going to play a tune to you but promise me you won’t go crazy.’ I thought, ‘Why on earth would anyone ever say something like that? Weird!’ But he played it and oh boy did I go crazy. I went nuts!”
An 80s kid growing up in New York during the first chapters of hip-hop, Michael had already been heavily magnetised to music and breakbeat culture for years, but his first exposure to drum and bass jungle changed everything. “You couldn’t stop me!” he laughs. “I was a regular at the earliest Konkrete Jungle nights and attended as many as I could until it ended a few years ago.”
His role in North America’s longest-standing jungle congregation hasn’t been his only contribution to the scene, either… In 2011, after almost 20 years of being a dedicated fan, collector and dancefloor member, he tried his hand at promoting.
“Oh I lost my shirt! On more than one occasion,” exclaims Michael who’s first ever event was in 2011 at the Knitting Factory in Brooklyn to celebrate the birth of his son. He then went on to host a rave in the Williamsburg Music Hall in 2012 with a line-up that reads like a D&B connoisseur’s dream to this day: US pioneer DJ Stunna vs UK pioneer A-Sides and a young pre-Technimatic Komatic vs Random Movement. In the mix was OG MC Fats and artists such as DFunk and Methodus.
He repeated the concept the following year with an even more impressive line-up. Once again at Williamsburg Music Hall, this time he invited Technimatic for their first ever US booking, longstanding UK soldier Furney, Raw Q, Mr Joseph and Kasper. Like the previous event, he billed it as a US vs UK showcase. Sadly, also like the previous event, on paper it wasn’t a success.
“I think it’s fair to say the events were not revenue-producing streams…” reflects Michael. “But they led to some very inspiring things…”
A timely reminder that not all success stories kick off with a smooth start; Michael may have lost money during his short time as a D&B event promoter, but he won in many other ways.
In fact these events are the reason why we’re chatting on Zoom 10 years later and the inspiration behind two massive VA albums that have so far raised tens of thousands of dollars to help people in low income and rural areas of both America and Greece: Liquid D&B 4 Autism.
Redefining The Spectrum
“I wizened up and thought, ‘Why lose? Why not keep it all formal with paperwork’ I was doing this out of love so let’s keep it that way,” explains Michael who launched Liquid D&B 4 Autism in 2017, a platform which celebrates the music he loves while raising money for the vocation he’s chosen in life. “So now we have an endeavour is purely philanthropic. Something I can do purely to give back.”
Launching the project with an event in Crete – complete with a talent-packed line-up that featured the likes of Paul T & Edward Oberon, MSDOS, Big Bud, Stunna, Technimatic and many more – Michael then curated the brand’s first full VA album in 2020: Liquid Drum & Bass 4 Autism – Redefining The Spectrum.
Released just months into the global pandemic, May 2020, the album featured over 40 tracks from the likes of Makoto, Leniz, Phil Tangent, Random Movement, Furney, Paul SG and many other renowned names in the deeper, musical and soulful sides of D&B. Michael explains how it’s exceeded expectations and raised tens of thousands of dollars for SPARTA – St Paul’s Autism Research & Training Academy, an organisation that focuses on helping communities in low income and rural areas in both the US and Greece.
“It’s blasted all streaming projections and I owe that all to the love,” says Michael who’s found a sweet spot between the two worlds he’s committed to as a professional and as a music lover. Liquid Drum & Bass 4 Autism gives him the chance to work within a culture he’s adored since the very beginning and helps him change the culture and academic tradition of his job.
“I have published research in the Journal of Applied Behavioural Analysis and the Journal of Autism Development Disorders which means I’m entitled to grant money,” he explains. “That means I can go, ‘Hey guys, here’s my team, I’m Dr Michael, this is what I’ve done, please give me money.’ That’s how a lot of funds for organisations are raised, but for me that feels like begging. What I want to do is build revenue streams. Something that can continue long after I’m gone.”
Creating a contemporary solution that’s both sustainable and respects the artform and culture of drum & bass, it’s in-keeping with the genre’s ever-amplifying culture for fusing passion with fundraising (see Bou’s DNB 4 Peace project, the Together With Ukraine album and the recent Floodlights relief album for Pakistan) Liquid D&B 4 Autism has also led to other connections and parallels between two worlds as he’s found that his academic approach has led to him finding his own unique voice and style as an A&R.
“I do a lot of peer reviews in my occupation so when someone sends me some music I am able to apply the same perspective,” considers Michael who’s comfortable giving feedback to artists he signs, utilising his objective position and his academically trained critical ear. “I think that gives me a different perspective on the music. I am not a DJ, I’m not a producer… I’m just a lay person fan who has no experience other than the good ears God gave me and my love for the music.”
It’s a love that’s now led to a second album. Released last month, November 8, this sophomore VA collection is even bigger than the inaugural set; a hefty 50 tracks from some of the most respected deepsmiths in the game ranging from Bailey to Blade, A-Sides to Atlantic Connection, Flaco to Furney, it includes the first new material from Big Bud and PFM in many, many years. It’s also even more personal to Michael as its by-line – A Friendly Exhibition: USA vs UK – taps back into those original parties he launched 10 years ago.
Perfect timing; the last time North America’s love for drum & bass was its current levels was well over 20 years ago. And while the country has always had its fair share of lone soldiers stoically operating in an acutely underground scene far far away from the epic EDM crowds, its explosive wealth of new-generation talent has never been as high as it is right now.
“American fans and UK fans were the countries giving the project the most love, so it made sense,” Michael reasons, but it’s more than just a coincidence. Without events like the ones he dabbled in, and the consistent slog of long-standing US institutions like Elements in Boston, DNB Tuesdays in Seattle and Respect in LA which have been going on for decades, defiantly flying the flag for drum & bass in America during its most underground and niche moments, the foundations for what’s happening now wouldn’t exist. For both domestic talent and touring talent.
Driven by love
“Oh without a doubt,” agrees Furney two days later when 1 More Thing catches up with Michael for a follow-up interview. In between calls Michael has flown to Furney’s home in Barcelona to create some content to promote the album.
“When someone books you for an international gig, you don’t know how deep they go. They could be booking you but not really get you or understand where you’re coming from. You can end up in some weird situations. You never know who you’re going to meet. I’ve seen my life flash before my eyes before and been picked up in dodgy cars in crazy weather situations. You’re entrusting your life. But Michael looked after me. He’s a music lover and he brought a different element to it.”
The pair explain how they’ve worked closely ever since, complementing each other’s personality, enthusiasm and energy; Furney a long-standing and hyper-prolific groove sculptor who’s released music consistently since 2005 and Michael, a long-standing medical practitioner and entrepreneur who’s been a drum & bass fan since his teens and now found a way to bring it into his day job and find ways of how it can help and empower others.
Having worked together on a separate release between the two VA compilations – Liquid Drum & Bass: Jazz Sessions, Vol 1 alongside DJ Spim and Lady Emz – the pair have a dialogue that goes deeper than your standard label/artist set-up; Michael will frequently fire over track title ideas and ideas for inspiration while Furney’s made tracks specifically with Michael in mind.
“James is very versatile,” says Michael. “I’m trying to go across the drum & bass spectrum of tunes and cater for everyone. Children, seniors citizens. Universal songs. That’s what I want from James; musical production everyone in the world can enjoy.”
This sense of inclusion and unity through music resonates with Furney, too. “He gives people a boost,” says the artist. “He gives me a boost. You can hear it in the compilation. I like the no holds barred vibe of it. That ‘all in’ vibe. The people he’s bringing together.”
This spirit is definitely reflected in the tracklist as rising talents such as Low:r and Collosus rub shoulders with longstanding veterans like Dave Owen and Bachelors Of Science; all artists on a level playing field, working together for an important cause. On Michael’s side of the pond, it’s estimated that 1 in 44 children will be diagnosed with an Autism Spectrum Disorder while over here in the UK, it’s believed that around 700,000 people have a diagnosis of autism.
“I love working with and empowering people with autism, I believe it’s what God put me here to do,” Michael states. “And I love drum & bass and I’m good at promoting it. I’m doing things together.”
It seems that there’s plenty more work to do together, too, as the VA albums are just the start of a series of ideas and plans Michael has for the future of Liquid Drum & Bass 4 Autism. As the new year beckons we can hope to see artist albums from Furney, PFM, Big Bud and more plus more VA compilations and special concepts such as genre-spanning remix that Michael suggests and artists like Furney are happy to try out. True to form, the doctor has found a way of articulating it so it brings both of his interests together.
“In quantum physics there’s something called a fractal pattern. It’s how the world grows,” he explains. “Hydrogen and oxygen make water. It can be duplicated in many areas. For example; I have an idea, we work on it and mould it into creation. Like you did when you reached out to me to do this interview; Quantum physics says all the arrows point to one thing – intentions. And that’s my formula; it’s to have the purest of intentions, highest good, try your best, work hard, love and no ego. I’m trying to be as egoless as possible in all my endeavours. And as long as I stay pure and giving then this project is only going to get bigger.”