Like so many good ideas, the inspiration for Armand van Helden and Chris Lake’s new collaborative EP came at a Miami pool party. The pair — NYC house legend van Helden and UK-born genre phenom Lake — ran into each other in the lobby of the hotel where the fiesta was going down and exchanged emails. A month later, they were in van Helden’s Miami studio drinking coffee and banging out music.
The result is their four-track EP, The Answer, out tomorrow (Dec. 11) via Astralwerks and Lake’s own Black Book label. The title track riffs on 1991’s “Why Can’t We See,” with the duo adding layers of percussion and some serious disco swirl, expanding the original into properly raging house anthem that will make you aggressively tap your feet while longing for the warmth of a packed dancefloor.
The EP’s following three tracks — “Feel So Good,” “Work!” and “Dubai Dublin” — are similarly thumping party starters as both cool and joyful and one would expect from these two genre leaders working in tandem.
And for the guys, the EP’s titular “answer” is simply what they hope this music makes you feel. “There is only love and fear. We choose love,” van Helden says in regards to their love of house music and its global community and the love we could all use more of as we army crawl across the finish line of 2020.
Here, van Helden and Lake talk about the places that made them, the music that inspires them and the moments that highlighted their year.
1. Where are you in the world right now, and what’s the setting like?
Chris: I’m in LA. It’s gloomy outside, which is obviously not something that happens very often. I’ve just scoffed some eggs on toast, a glass of O.J. and a cup of coffee. I’m ready to smack this day round the chops.
Armand: Miami, where it’s sunny and always nice.
2. What is the first album or piece of music you bought for yourself, and what was the medium?
Chris: Good question. I’m not really sure. Most likely something like Pet Shop Boys’ West End Girls on cassette. Epic album!
Armand: Meco’s theme from Close Encounters of the Third Kind.
3. What did your parents do for a living when you were a kid, and what do they think of what you do for a living now?
Chris: Well, my parents are super supportive of everything I do and they always have been. I’d not have been able to do any of this without them, so shout out to Mum and Dad! Mum is a counsellor, hence I’ve always taken mental health very seriously because of her influence and encouragement to look after myself, and Dad is a production manager at a fish processing plant.
Armand: Pops was in the Air Force, Moms was an aerobics instructor.
4. What was the first song you ever made?
Chris: Well, I don’t have the recordings of the first songs I made, but I do know the first song I released was called “Santiago De Cuba” which came out on a label called Lost Language, which was a sub label of Hooj Choons. I had a panic back when the label showed an interest to sign it, because I finished the track and only exported a 192k mp3, then my computer crashed. I lost the whole project and didn’t want to lost my first opportunity, so I just converted it to a WAV and submitted it as “high quality.” [laughs]
Armand: Deep Creed’s “Stay On My Mind.”
5. If you had to recommend one album for someone looking to get into electronic music, what would you give them?
Chris: Anything by the Chemical Brothers. Prodigy’s Fat Of the Land. Leftfield’s Rhythm and Stealth.
Armand: Afrika Bambaataa & The Soul Sonic Force, Planet Rock
6. What’s the first thing you bought for yourself when you started making money as an artist?
Chris: Well, I think I made a little bit of money in the early years so I’d just use that to live or buy equipment, but when I got my first major deal, I cleared my student loan and put a down payment on a house.
Armand: A mix board.
7. What’s the last song you listened to?
Chris: “Black Billionaires” by Carte Blanche.
Armand: Spats’ “Hot Summer Madness.”
8. What’s one song you wish you had produced?
Chris: Massive Attack’s “Teardrop.”
Armand: Stardust’s “Music Sounds Better With You.”
9. What’s the first electronic music show that really blew your mind?
Chris: Leftfield live at Homelands in Scotland. Think it was in 2000, something like that.
10. What’s distinctive about the place you grew up, and how did it shape you?
Chris: There was f–k all to do, so I kept myself making music. If it wasn’t so boring there, I probably would have ended up doing something else.
Armand: I lived on military bases in US and Europe. I can handle change.
11. The idea for The Answer started when you two ran into each other at a pool party in Miami. Set that scene for us.
Chris: Yeah we caught each other in the lobby of one of the south beach hotels and had a brief catch up. We connected on Instagram a few months later and discussed working together, so I flew out to Miami late last year, smashed out a load of ideas then finished them off remotely. It was epic!
12. Chris, you’ve called Armand a hero of yours. Were you nervous to work with him?
Chris: No I wouldn’t say nervous. I just have a huge amount of respect for him as an artist, and now having got to know him, as a person too. I was just excited to work with him and see what his approach was and what I could learn from him too.
13. What did you guys learn from each other while making The Answer?
Chris: Well, we’re both quick in the studio. We rattled out the ideas and it was really a great vibe.
Armand: We truly love producing and having a laugh.
14. You’ve said that the guiding mantra for the EP is that “love is the answer.” What does that mean to you, and how did this idea inform the music?
Chris: It was inspired when we found that vocal and used it as the basis for that track. I just think the line is so powerful, and whilst it’s a very simple line, it’s something that gets forgotten by many of us on a daily basis. We’re surrounded with bad news, negativity and things to bring us down, but sometimes if you stop, breathe and change your mind set to let positivity take over, better outcomes occur. Love for me is positive. Felt like a great message to lead with, especially in such a challenging year for humanity.
Armand: There is only love and fear. We choose love.
15. What is it about house music that you love most?
Chris: It’s infectious. I don’t think there’s much better music to dance and fully let go to than house music. I love the feedback I get from shows where people say they’ve never dances so long in one go than at one of my shows. It’s nonstop. I should really advertise it as a cardio class!
Armand: It’s a religion in acceptance.
16. Worst moment of 2020? Best?
Chris: Well, having to cancel shows has been the worst, but the best of 2020 has been just having such a strong connection with my family. We’ve made the most of this time together, I think. That’s positive.
Armand: Worst moment: Covid. Best moment: Trump is out.
17. What songs/albums have helped you get through quarantine?
Chris: Well this is the weird thing — I’ve listened to very little music. Really. I’ve done other things instead. I’ve found that refreshing. I’m surrounded by music all the time. It’s been good to take a break.
Armand: Yacht rock.
18. What does success for new music look like in a moment when you can’t play it out at shows?
Chris: Connection really. I’m just looking to make connections with my audience as much as I can and make them feel something good. Dance music needs live events to flourish in my opinion, but they’re not really here right now, so I’m still focused on making people dance, but at the moment, it’s everywhere but the club!
19. What’s one thing you’d like your fans to know about you?
Chris: I wear a mask.
Armand: I collect music videos.
20. One piece of advice you’d give to your younger self?
Chris: Wear earplugs at every show.
Armand: Terminate FOMO.