A true veteran and legend of electronic music, Luke Vibert has done (and no doubt seen) it all. He’s also created it all – from abstract instrumental hip-hop, through to jungle and then coming back to acid house as a strong theme on his most recent album, 2014’s Ridmik.
Liveschool trainer Thomas McAlister (Alba) had the honor of conducting this Luke Vibert interview before his Australian tour to chat about sampling easy listening records, juggling analog and digital workflows, and jungle music as therapy.
Heads up Perth, Adelaide, Brisbane, Sydney & Melbourne: you can catch Luke Vibert playing in your cities for FREE over the next two weeks as part of the Red Bull Music Academy Club Night Series, RSVP here.
First up, what’s been inspiring your music lately?
Often I think it’s usually been some rubbish music that maybe my kids were playing! They’re 12 and 14 and listen to some really cheesy new pop stuff, which some of it I actually quite like, but it’ll send me off into my studio wanting to do something completely different. Sometimes it’s the bad stuff that inspires me to go into the studio and get away from it. It inspires me to go and do something completely different to what I’ve been hearing. Aside from that, its generally just old records of mine that I’ve maybe heard loads of times before, but I’ll hear something different in it, stop listening and start making music.
You’ve always used loads of samples,when you’re starting a tune, does a sample tend to be what kicks it off?
These days I’ve got both a computer based setup and an analog setup. With the computer based setup I will usually start with a sampled loop, which gives me my initial building block, which I might even end up taking away at some point if I’ve built enough on top of it. I buy loads of records, especially cheap shitty old jazz and easy listening records, and I pull a lot of weird samples from them. I like to start with something that might be really crap and cheesy and try to to change it up completely with the sounds I add to it. With the analog setup, it’ll just be whatever synth or drum machine I feel like playing around with that gets a track started. I’ll get something going, and just start jamming with myself.
With your sampling workflow, are you pulling records out and sampling as you need it, or do you record the samples from the records first, then use them later on?
I always sample as I buy them. In the 90s, I used to buy a lot of charity shop records. There was also this weekly record fair in Camden and I would go a few minutes before it closed and then offer people stupidly low money for a whole box of records – just shitty random records. At the time I was just after some textures, exotic instruments, those kinds of things, just to whack some breaks on top of and have some fun. I would just record anything I could find that I liked on these records – back then it was to DAT – and then later on I would go through the DATs and choose a handful of the samples and turn them in to a song. Nowadays i can just record straight on to the computer, which is much easier.
I’ve got such a great database of all the samples I’ve recorded over the years, so I can just go through and find the things I like, rather than having to go and grab the original record. I’ve got something like 20 versions of the Amen break, all from different sources – “Hmm maybe today I’ll use Amen break no. 17”.
It makes perfect sense that Luke has collected 20 different recorded samples of the infamous “Amen Break” – one of Luke Vibert’s many monikers is “Amen Andrews”, under which he released 5 amazing EPs in 2003 with every track strongly featuring the Amen Break.
Any types of samples, or even gear in your analog setup, you’ve found yourself going back to a lot recently?
I think I’m lucky because of the different setups I’ve got. If I get bored of looking at a computer for a couple of months, I can turn that off and fire up the synths and drum machines and use that workflow. Then I’ll get bored of that because of its limitations and switch back. I can bounce between the two setups. Someone like Aphex [Twin] has about 10 setups now, so he’s like a spoilt kid in a toy shop. He can just bounce between these 10 different setups depending on the mood he’s in.
How different are the setups you’re using now to your studio 20 years ago?
It’s hardly much different, I mean I’ve got less actually, that’s the main difference. Because I can do stuff with the computer, say with something like Reason, I don’t need so many synths. It’s always just been the 808, 303, 101 – those are my main, go to instruments. There’s also obviously the 909 and 707 in there, but my default is the 808, 303, 101 and that’s been the same for ages. As far as analog stuff, I just love those instruments so much, they just gel together so well. I’ve also got a Yamaha CS15 which I run a lot of things through. It’s not like Aphexs CS80, which is this huge mental poly synth, but its got a great filter on it, which I can send the 303 through and filter it on there rather than on the 303. Then you get the really anal people saying “oh, that filter on the 303 is different, what have you done to it?” “Not telling!”
Well now they know! So how do you know when a track is finished? How much are you working on your tracks?
It’s much easier with computers – often I think that I’ve finished a track and the I’ll play it out or listen to it a handful of times and think “oh, I should change that” and then I can jump in and do it. With the analog equipment, it’s much harder. You can’t store two tracks in a 303 for example. So with the analog setup I tend to do really long, say 20 minute recordings of tracks and then sit back and edit them at a later date. When I’m doing that I’ll tend to lean towards the minimal side, because I can always add things to it later, but it’s much harder to take things away. Too many times I’ve swamped a track and think “Oh shit, that’s a wicked acid line but you can hardly hear it amongst everything else!”
So with your process being very much based around live recording, does that mean you can work quite quickly?
Using this process I can knock out like three ideas in a day, which I’ll then edit into final tracks. At most I might record one track over a couple of days, but thats it. I’ve got friends who might keep working on a track for weeks, and using an analog setup that means the instruments have to be left as they are – which can be a pain – things start to go out of tune, then you start running into some real problems!
On the flip side to that, do you ever run into an ideas drought? How do you navigate your way out of that?
I’m lucky because I’ve got loads of half finished things, I’ve got hundreds of ideas on the computer – whether its just a one bar loop or a break, or some more detailed ideas I’ve abandoned. That allows me to go back through that material when I need an idea and pick up on where I left off, or hear something in it i could use. I’ve got a lot of old recordings of my analog gear – say for example just some drum tracks I’ve recorded when I’ve been in the mood to just work on drums, and then I can go in and start to add to them. I don’t often run into writers block – these days i’ve got other things going on, I’ve got kids – so when I do get a chance to go in to the studio, the ideas start flowing.
You’ve had a lengthy career so far, do you have a preferred era of your own music, or do you listen to your old material?
In a way I do have preferred eras, but i think thats partly nostalgia. The Plug stuff I was doing for example, I’ve tried it again recently and it’s just not the same, because I’m just not that person anymore. When I do, it comes out more like my Amen Andrews project – this almost comedy jungle music – I just can’t get into the deep jungle vibes that used to come a lot easier. And then there’s the really old stuff too, which I like just because I couldn’t really do it anymore, those early experiments where somehow I made a wicked track – maybe I know to much about some things now to do things like that again.
Listen below to one of Luke’s tunes as Plug from 1996 that remained unheard until 2012 when Ninja Tune put out “Back On Time” – a collection of Luke’s unreleased Drum n Bass tracks created in the mid 90s.
Speaking of Amen Andrews, what made you start that project back up recently?
I was always making those kinds of tracks and I still do, but I had never really offered them to anyone. It was only once friends started to say, come on let’s put some of these out. In a way that project was for me to have a bit of a laugh! It’s like medicine for me. If I’m working seriously on some tracks, they will sack loads of my mental energy, so making some stupid spastic jungle track will fix that!
A huge thanks to Luke for taking the time to talk with us.
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