nextmusic magazine - australia - issue 13 jul/aug 01
Luke Francis Vibert's prolific musical output seems mismatched with his laidback, take-your-time manner, but hey, we're not complaining. Since 1994, under the guise of Wagon Christ (downtempo), Plug (drum'n'bass) and Luke Vibert (everything else inbetween), he's released 28 EPs and albums, done more than 30 remixes and appeared on 60 compilations. After his Australian Big Chill and Frigid gigs and before launching on a three-month tour of the UK and North America, Vibert takes time out to lounge by a pool and eat sushi with Next Music's editor Frances Chan.
It's a very rock star thing, this poolside carry on, not really what you'd expect from a humble musicmaker and newly-appointed father from Cornwall. Up in the hotel suite the TV set sits suspiciously on the balcony rail, poised to take flight. Luke Vibert, you wouldn't, would you? "I was going to," he admits. But his manners prevailed. In a simple karmic analogy, Vibert's always been kind with his music and the world has responded by being kind to him. After seven years making electronic music, Vibert's doing all right for sure, but in reality his DJing and remix projects make just enough for him to pay his bills, buy the odd quirky vinyl LP and take care of his family.
Vibert comes from that rare breed of sample artists who can actually play instruments as well. His mother remembers fondly the times when he was a drummer in various indie bands making nice pop songs in the 80s, but that all changed when he acquired a drum machine and then his first sampler, a Korg SS1 with a whopping eight seconds sample time, in 1991. Now he works with a Roland S760 (with eight minutes sampling time) and an Atari 1040 STE (upgraded to 4MB).
Musipal, the latest Wagon Christ release, is a familiar ride through a head-nodding universe, where memorable spoken word samples are spliced inbetween trip hop and breakbeat grooves, and delicious strings are arranged with usual aplomb. It's a collection of Vibert's favourite tunes from the last five years: "There maybe a vague 2-step reference there but not really, it's the same shit as before, it's slightly better production hopefully. That's the only thing that seems to change, just get a bit better at putting textures together."
There's nothing harsh about the textures in a Vibert, Wagon Christ or even Plug recording - the music flows, segues and keeps up the funk, whatever the tempo. Vibert is a big hip hop fan, and his DJ sets consist of mostly old school funk. Most recently he's been working with Canadian MC BluRum 13.
Frances: As you've been making albums how has your production changed?
Luke: First off I was doing only 4-track, really simple. As soon as I got a sampler it started getting ridiculously complicated and way too many things going on at the same time. So in the last five or six years I've been trying to strip it back to essential bits, not so many pointless sounds in the track.
Frances: You can get carried away in accumulating gear.
Luke: Too right. It's the way I work as much as anything cos when I'm using the computer I do a cycle mode thing so everything's got to be short looped, and when I've got loads of sounds I then start to arrange it properly. But that first bit I can get really lost and keep adding more and more things. It's hard to strip it back cos you think, "I gotta save that bit cos I spent two hours working on it," but now I'm better at thinking, "Oh f*** it, never mind, it's not necessary in the track." But you do have to be a bit harsh on yourself sometimes.
Frances: So you do create music quicker now?
Luke: No, much slower. I could easily do three or four tracks a day in the old days but now it's like one every couple weeks. But that's still quite quick compared to some of me mates. Aphex Twin is on a really slow one at the moment - like three or four months to do a tune, but he can be worse than that, take three or four months on a snare drum.
Frances: Are you constantly in the studio?
Luke: Quite a lot yeah, cos it's in me house and it's also my smoking room now cos we've got the baby so I'm up there most of the time. Just more casual, though, making more chilled-out tracks.
Frances: So you're chilling out in your old age?
Luke: At least at the moment cos I still haven't set up my computer [just moved house]. That's why I thought it was really funny that Future Music were really into taking pictures of my studio. I said, "Well I haven't got my computer or sampler set up and that's what I do all my stuff on," and they said, "It doesn't matter, we'll come and take photos of the other stuff," - a couple of effects units and loads of weird 80s keyboards that I hardly ever use. But I'm using them all at the moment, playing a drum machine into my 16-track recorder, playing a bass on my keyboard and chords, more like I use to do 10 years ago.
Frances: Do you need a sampler to make music?
Luke: To make Wagon Christ definitely cos it's all samples from the drums to the voices and strings. Unless you can record full orchestras and bands in your bedroom then you've got to sample them off records. It's impossible not to.
Frances: What if you had the budget to get 20 violinists in instead of just pulling out a record?
Luke: No, I'd always rather sample a record cos I don't really have any idea until I hear it. I'm not the kind of person who could write some music - I just don't find that fun. I wanted to work with some vocalists but I asked about three different choirs via my manager and no one was into just coming and singing and then me sampling them. They were like, "No you have to write some music." I haven't got any clue how to write music, it's not how I can work really. I just like taking bits and playing around with them, it's how I get ideas, more like jamming with myself.
Frances: Do you always compile sound bites from samples?
Luke: Nearly always but sometimes they're samples of me - maybe some old tracks that I did that I never released. Very often I take the bass from keyboards cos I've got some wicked keyboards for making mad bass noises. And I've even got DATs of them cos I know they're useful so sometimes I just stick on a DAT and I know that three minutes-thirty in there's a really nice DOOOSH! Same with strings - I've got a couple of CDs deliberately for sampling plucked bits and long notes, swoops and sweeps. They're all really handy for little extra details.
Frances: How did you get into sampling?
Luke: When De La Soul came out that was the first time I'd heard bits I'd recognised of other people's records - a bit of Otis Redding and Steely Dan with a James Brown breakbeat. I realised, "So that's what a sampler is!" and I was well into it.
Frances: What other genres of music would you like to sample from?
Luke: don't sample hip hop apart for the odd a cappella bit. I just sample old shit from records that I don't care about, easy listening stuff. I hardly ever sample records that I like cos then I feel a bit guilty. You can get samples off anything if you know how to make things sound good. You can get really nice drum beats off terrible rock records.
Frances: Are you always on the lookout for samples, then?
Luke: I can't help listening when something's on. I miss loads cos a lot of the time you're not taping, or it's on telly. Every time I buy records I instantly go through them the very first time I listen and anything that sounds interesting I put it onto DAT immediately. So I've just got about 20 or 30 DAT tapes full of random things - could be voice, then drums, then bass then a bit of string, then a comedy record. It's good fun, especially if you don't have much inspiration like me. If you don't know how to start a track you just listen through DAT and say, "Oh - I've never used that noise before."
Frances: So what you create is always a mix, you don't purposely go for one sound, you put in whatever samples you like?
Luke: Yeah, even down to each track itself. I almost do each track as if it's the last track I'm gonna do so I try to get everything I like in there. It's a bit of a stupid way to work really but it's just so that each track is as entertaining as it can be for me while I'm working on it and keeping me nice and interested. There's been a few times when I've tried to do a really simple drum'n'bass track or simple breakbeat clubby track and I always end up adding way too much and pissing around too much. It's like my brain won't let me do it, I want to but I can't so I just don't even bother any more. Stick to doing the usual shit that I do.
Frances: Has fatherhood changed your music-making habits?
Luke: It's so fun to wake up with a little baby. It's great writhing around in bed, it immediately makes you piss yourself. It's really funny, she makes these hilarious morning noises that are like mini baby versions of adult noises.
Frances: Are you going to sample her?
Luke: Yeah, I've put loads of her on Mini Disc already, some of the noises are just f***ing mad, weird breathing ones which sound like a really odd electronic noises.
Frances: What's been your favourite remix?
Luke: David Sylvian was my favourite recentish one ["Godman"]. It was one of the few where he asked me himself and then afterwards phoned up and said, [adopts strained, deep English accent] "Oh it was really good, thanks, that was great," in his weird voice.
Frances: Were you a Japan fan?
Luke: Yeah, although my sister loved them so at the time I said I hated them. I did quite a funny mix three or four years ago with "Ghosts", my favourite song which is ambient in that it hasn't got any beat in it. But I sussed that it kinda had a metronome going on the background. You can't hear it or anything but one day I realised I was tapping my foot and it wasn't going out of time so I mixed some really boring electro record with it. It gives it such a different vibe with a fat electro beat with it
Frances: Does Sylvian know?
Luke: I never told him about that.
Frances: You should bring it out it could make millions.
Luke: No it would have to be a bootleg.
Frances: Then the Japan fans would buy it.
Luke: They wouldn't I don't think cos they'd see it as a bastardisation of the track. Cos it's like some f***ing dynamic too fat electro record and it shouldn't go. And it does but it shouldn't so they don't know.
Frances: I'd love to hear it.
Luke: Well I've done a whole load of dodgy mixes. One got released recently. It was this horrible British 2-step garage number one hit called "Rewind". That Craig David tosser, and it's like, [adopts annoying techno voice] "Re-e-e-e-ee-wind." And there was another track called "Rewind" which my mate did, a really dark one with a computer voice, so I spliced them together and put a big beat on top of them. We did this bootleg 12". And my mate wants to do eight more he's got planned already of different artists. Did you hear the Eminem track I played? It was some dodgy Eminem bootleg but just f***ed up on a computer. Good fun but you can't release them properly cos you'll just be sued. So you can't actually make money off them. You just press maybe 500 and sell them to cover the costs.
Frances: What if someone did a bootleg of you?
Luke: Oh fine. I've been given really weird tapes by people where they've done cover versions of my tracks but actually they're just sampled it with a different beat on top. I think it's funny but I'm just not into it at all. The only people who remix me have been Aphex Twin and Boymerang.
Frances: Were you happy with their remixes?
Luke: Yeah, but they're my mates anyway, I think I'd only let my mates do them. I'm thinking of getting some Ninja boys to remix me, maybe Scruff or DJ Food. It'd be funny to get some hip hop geezer to remix me but they're just really expensive. Soon as you phone those people up it's like, "Yeah, that'd be great, that's $20,000 for the first week …" They're always happy to work only if you can actually afford them. They haven't got any kind of give and take.
Frances: What would you like to see happen technology-wise?
Luke: Thinking music - so you don't need to use any computers, you can close your eyes and just think.
Frances: Do you think that would ever happen?
Luke: I don't know. I don't like looking at a monitor, so anything where you could still get away with having wicked computer programs but you don't actually have a mouse and monitor. I find that really unmusical, uncreative. It's great for a couple of hours but then after about five or six hours it's like, "Oh God".
Frances: Did you think you'd ever do this full time?
Luke: I hoped but I always thought I'd have to have a shit job. My only ambition was not to have a job and I haven't had one since '93 so that's been great.
Current Vibert Faves
AFX - Flow Coma remix
Jay Dee - Welcome to Detroit
Wagon Christ - Musipal
Planet µ - Criminal
Epitome of Hype - Ladies With An Attitude