Cornish for Jungle

Full transcript of the interview with Luke Vibert, aka Wagon Christ, aka Plug

Marc Weidenbaum: So, you just moved into a new apartment. Do you still work in your bedroom?

Luke Vibert: Oh yeah, I do.

Weidenbaum: All the technology’s still there.

Vibert: There’s not much of it, though. It’s a very tiny work space, just in my corner. On my left I’ve got my old Atari and a sampler and a mixing desk and then on my right there’s just one keyboard and the effects unit, and that’s it.

Weidenbaum: Most of your friends work in the same situation?

Vibert: Yeah, they do, pretty similar, although Aphex has just got hundreds and hundreds of things in a lush little bedroom setup. Most of the others are quite small, like mine.

Weidenbaum: Is space hard to come by, or does a studio just not take much these days?

Vibert: I’m not sure, really. For me it’s just that because it started off being like a hobby, I never thought of releasing the tracks or anything. So I just do it in my room. Because it wasn’t until about ’92 that I realized I could actually release stuff from my room, as well. It just kind of gradually developed. I always imagined before that that I would have to go into someone else’s studio to do the final thing, but [the record labels, such as] Rising High and Rephlex were like, “No, it’s fine; we can release it.”

Weidenbaum: So you don’t even mix down anywhere else?

Vibert: No, with a couple of things, I’ve gone to the studio and they’ve put on a bit of treble and things like that. And the Throbbing Pouch album I mixed it digitally at some place just so I could save a bit of time, so I could squeeze more in. But apart from that, it’s all at my place. It’s getting better all the time, though at the moment I won’t need to do anything at the studio, because I’ve got a few more bits inside my sampler, like filters, bits and pieces.

Weidenbaum: The sounds are so live on the first track, “Reedin’.” Is that an oboe?

Vibert: I think so. It’s off this bizarre reed CD. Might be clarinet, pitched-down clarinet

Weidenbaum: Some of the sounds are so live, I wonder if you’ve brought someone into the bedroom to play something.

Vibert: No, I do want to do that but no, I haven’t at all. It’s just samples. I did get his big reed CD. I don’t know if it was for sampling. I think it was for things like plays, something to play in the background. It’s got loads of nice reeds on it. I just usually go for things like that. More sort of sounds I can play around with, rather than loops, because if you take just one or two notes then you can play around and make your own tunes, which is more my kind of thing. I would like to do my own tunes, but at that time, as well, for Throbbing Pouch, I didn’t have that much sampling time. I only had about 30 seconds, I think. So I couldn’t do that much. But now I’ve got five minutes. Definitely I will be doing more live stuff.

Weidenbaum: You do your work-for-hire remixes in your bedroom studio as well?

Vibert: Yeah

Weidenbaum: Working on any now?

Vibert: No.

Weidenbaum: Are you jonesing?

Vibert: Jonesing?

Weidenbaum: Drug terminology for when you need some.

Vibert: No, I’m not at the moment. [laughs]

Weidenbaum: In reference to the remixes.

Vibert: The remixes, yes. No, at the moment I’m just finishing off the Plug album, which kept changing all the time.

Weidenbaum: I haven’t seen any Plug titles in the States.

Vibert: There hard enough to get here.

Weidenbaum: Yeah, I’ve found some peculiar stuff in a few stores, such as that EP on LO Records.

Vibert: Oh, yeah. There’s only one track of mine there. Basically it was just a remix I did for them. They just styled it so it looked like we all worked together. It’s a strange record. I haven’t still quite got with it.

Weidenbaum: First thing I’d heard of yours was the Redone EP, the U.K. edition. And I didn’t know what to make of it. I guess I expected something a little more coherently danceable, as with say “Pull My Strings.”

Vibert: Funny enough, that’s quite a dancey one in my book.

Weidenbaum: What I liked was I’d hear drum beats and then they might disappear …

Vibert: I like it to sound more live, I think, than most kind of clubby things, I think because I have got a live background myself. I get a bit bored when everything is all loops and staying the same. But especially now with the latest one, I try and make it as if it’s a band playing.

Weidenbaum: Do you wonder if you’ve gone too far, drifted too far from dance music at times?

Vibert: Yeah, always. It’s such a fine line between going over the top.

Weidenbaum: Arrangements are what it’s really about. If you listen to a string quartet piece, even the most adventurous composer has a limited range with which to explore his or her ideas, a limited range of sounds: some strings, a bow, a bit of wood on which to knock. I suppose there’s the music stand, and some paper to ruffle as well. You and your ilk, on the other hand, can do anything. How do you restrain yourself?

Vibert: I think comes down more to when it comes to releasing, really, the restraining, because I’d don’t restrain myself that much when I’m in the studio, I really do just try to just do whatever I like the sound of at the time. But once it’s been a few weeks since I’ve done tracks I have to sort of sit down and think, God!, and look objectively at it and think, Has that gone a little bit over the top? But usually there’s kind of one in three or four tracks I do that I release. The others I keep to myself.

Weidenbaum: Apparently you work quickly. Your work on one for a couple of days and then move on.

Vibert: Even now, it’s only about three days per track.

Weidenbaum: A lot of what I like about it was these strange little augmentations and modulations, things that seemd very well planned out but are truly more serendipitous.

Vibert: I just kind of work really quickly. I’m still amazed. I just kind of seem to know what I want from each track. So it does — it should — it would take, say, for the same thing to be done by other people, it might take a lot longer, but just cause I’m quite self-confident and quite sure of what I like I just think, “Yeah I’ll do this at this point” and then motor through it.

Weidenbaum: You work with keyboards and samples, so are you playing melodies, are you constructing melodies from bits of sound?

Vibert: Oh yeah, quite a few, but usually not with electronic sounds but with a flute, or whatever.

Weidenbaum: On one track in particular, the one that goes “Prepare to beam aboard” —

Vibert: Oh, “Spotlight.”

Weidenbaum: Yes, “Spotlight.” The voices are so lush in the background.

Vibert: One big bit of that was a loop off a weird old record, some weird, Brazilian kind of easy listening type of thing, and that was the main tune with the singers. And there’s also a kind of a, oh I’m not sure what instrument, a kind of plinky instrument with it. But I’d taken all the bass off that because it was a really crackly kind of old — one of those records which goes wooh-wooh, very [he makes a deep pant-y breathy noise that distorts, and repeats it a few times] when it gets really low. Then I’d redone the bass, so it sounds more like a loop but it’s actually several things.

Weidenbaum: There are moments when I hear what sounds like a bit of reggae drums, and I think it’s going to take off in another direction and then it comes right back.

Vibert: Cool.

Weidenbaum: I like how you use the poor quality of some of the source material to your advantage. There are times where I think the loop’s been going on for a while and then it really deadens out, as if you’re pointing out what part of what I’m hearing is a straight sample.

Vibert: Yeah. I just did one the other day where I had a really dodgy old record of my mom’s, actually, that I stole from her a few years ago: Yves Montand, with this lush string intro. And I found it on CD up here, so I did this bit when it was really crackly and horrible and also sampled this lush CD, so it suddenly cut to the same sound but with no crackles. Weidenbaum: The use of string sounds pops up quite a bit. How much of the music you work with relates to music your parents listened to.

Vibert: Yeah, especially my dad, he really did try and force stuff down my throat when I was really young — old Jimi Hendrix. He was into up front, really big. Then got into punk and stuff later on.

Weidenbaum: You’re having your revenge on him now?

Vibert: I think I am, actually. He likes it, actually, he’s really into it, but then I think he would be whatever it was — even when I was doing sort of band sort of shit — so I’m not sure how objective he is.

Weidenbaum: So your dad listened to punk and your mom listened to Yves Montand?

Vibert: Yeah, that’s basically it. Yves Montand and the Beatles, that’s mom. She’s likes sort of lush melodies and classical music …

Weidenbaum: I think her influence prevails. So, what are those long, horizontal tones on “Down Under.” They sound like a dentist drill.

Vibert: The only thing I remember on that was this weird reggae drum beat I’d taken and kind of put filters on it, so I tuned it, so it was playing these weird notes.

Weidenbaum: And I’m hearing the treble end?

Vibert: Oh, that sound. That was just my 101, and that was one of the last tracks it worked on.

Weidenbaum: I read that you accidentally poured beer in it.

Vibert: Even worse. Horrible.

Weidenbaum: I was wondering. Is there a kind of competition between your friends, especially between yourself, Muziq and Aphex Twin.

Vibert: There was more, funny enough, when we didn’t know each other as well. When we didn’t really know Richard at all, and we hadn’t released anything, the fact that he was putting out stuff from his bedroom — more than competition it just sort of spurred us on to do it ourselves, but these days I’m not sure really, because we’ve all worked together as well, that we just go on our different courses and occasionally link up.

Weidenbaum: A lot of the music that you’re associated with — ambient, techno, jungle music — has been composed in bedrooms, but yours is the rare breed that I actually play in my bedroom.

Vibert: Wicked.

Weidenbaum: In the magazine where I work, we recently listed a bunch of ambient records and a proper setting for each, and yours came under the first date category.

Vibert: I thought it would be more of a meaty thing, when people were pissed off.

Weidenbaum: I suppose that sometimes first dates are like that. One naive question. I often hear of your work in a jungle context. I suppose you do make those references, to that jittery, back-and-forth sound, but that isn’t really a constant in your music, is it?

Vibert: I think that’s more of a Plug thing, definitely, ’cause that really is pretty full of 160-bpm madness. But, yeah, I did try and keep Wagon Christ more funky and downbeat, but a few faster tracks did slip on to the album.

Weidenbaum: Did you hear the last Big Audio Dynamite, F-punk?

Vibert: No, when did that come out?

Weidenbaum: Like six months back. They used a jungly sound on one song; it was strange to hear it in a song context.

Vibert: All Mick Jones?

Weidenbaum: Yeah, and whoever’s been hanging out with him. You have been quoted saying that you want to make a pop songs. What would a pop song from you sound like?

Vibert: Hmm, that’s the thing really, I’m not very poppy. There’s a couple of covers I’d like to do at some point — hits from when I was a young lad. There’s one which no one seems to know by Viola Wills called “Dare to dream” which I definitely want to do. It got to number 40 over here and I thought it could have been a huge hit. A couple of jokey things I wouldn’t mind doing — not jokey, but I’d like to do a stupid jungle version of L.L. Cool J’s “I Need Love.”

Weidenbaum: Do you listen to a lot of hip-hop?

Vibert: Yeah, that’s basically the only kind of music I keep up with.

Weidenbaum: What do you think of Coolio?

Vibert: I’m mainly into East Coast stuff, really more like Tribe Called Quest, and Premier.

Weidenbaum: So you like Gang Starr, Jeru the Damaja.

Vibert: Yeah, and there’s a new one, Group Home, and that’s wicked, really good. Last record I bought.

Weidenbaum: The rapping on Throbbing Pouch, is that friends or samples.

Vibert: Yeah, just cheekily stuff I’ve nicked off records. The Roots, I believe.

Weidenbaum: Does that worry you?

Vibert: More so in America, definitely, Over here, it’s such a small thing, people don’t look unless it’s you’re having a huge hit.

Weidenbaum: Can I ask how many copies of your records sell?

Vibert: Very small, very small indeed. Five-hundred more every time I release something.

Weidenbaum: I’m always kept alert by your music. I suppose it changes an awful lot. It’s always mutating.

Vibert: Some of those hypnotic things really work. Some of my favorite records are just really nothingy kind of Kraftwerk or even some of Aphex’s, like “Didgeridoo.” But whenever I’ve tried to do them, it always just sounds really boring. So I just seem to always end up changing it later.

Weidenbaum: Can you describe how you go about working on a remix?

Vibert: It depends on really whether I kind of like the original or how many bits I like of it, ’cause the last couple I’ve done, I’ve just used, say, vocals and then done all the — basically it’s a track of mine with vocals on. But if … I did, say, when I did a Ken Ishii one I used loads of his sounds for that. It was only about five bpm faster and quite similar, so I kind of had all of his bits going and then added all of mine slowly on. Usually I don’t like the track so much that I’m doing so I just do a track of my own. With Richard, it was a matter of I did one for him and he did one for me and neither of us took any money from the other.

Weidenbaum: You’re referring to your remix of “Ventolin”?

Vibert: Yeah, and I did one for his record label, as well, a group called the Gentle People, which is this easy-listening thing. I did a jungle version. I think it’s quite mad.

Weidenbaum: I’ve heard that. They seem embedded in the late ’60s, these Gentle People.

Vibert: The Gentle People? Yeah, they love Yves Montand.

Weidenbaum: There is that flute bit on your record; it’s very pretty, very gentle.

Vibert: It’s an almost swing beat.

Weidenbaum: One last Aphex question. Is he asthmatic, what with the “Ventolin” fixation?

Vibert: Yeah. Very much. Not as bad as he used to be, luckily. But he’s still got a ventolin with him. He was going try to release that single — but it shows how late singles get released — but the original plan was, there’s an Asthma Week and he was going to try and release for that, but he missed by three months.

Weidenbaum: There’s a claustrophobic sound to a lot of his music.

Vibert: Yeah. Weidenbaum: Is there a similar sound that informs your work.

Vibert: I’m not sure if it’s a Cornish connection, just because we were both in the middle of nowhere and didn’t worry about things like styles of music, and categories and that sort of thing. Just make music to amuse ourselves, because there aren’t many record shops around. That’s the simple fact for him, ’cause he used to DJ out and play a lot of his own stuff, because there weren’t that many records he liked. He used to play acid and a bit of stuff like that but mostly just weird, weird shit. It kind of comes from not worrying about styles, and both of us — another link is the urge to make our tracks really sort of … longevity, I’m not sure of the term, not poppy, here-today-gone-tomorrow kind of things.

Weidenbaum: Yeah, I was somewhat amazed to discover that even six months later both records, your Throbbing Pouch and Aphex’s “Ventolin” remixes, still meant so much to me. I can’t help but notice all these references to aliens. There’s your “Prepare to beam aboard ” bit, of course, but also there’s a kind of lift-off pattern in a lot of the sounds.

Vibert: I think for me, just from when I was growing up. I was a real Star Wars child, space child. I saw Star Wars when it first came out, when I was five. All the pop when I was growing up was all spacey and kind of early ’80s — like Ultravox.

Weidenbaum: Who looked like they were from the future

Vibert: A lot better than the Blur stuff of today

Weidenbaum: So you’re citing a new-wave influence

Vibert: Yeah, that’s the sort of pop stuff I like. Human League’s sound could be from any era

Weidenbaum: Did you see Close Encounters of the Third Kind as a child as well?

Vibert: Yeah.

Weidenbaum: Do you remember having an emotional reaction when they contact the alien with music?

Vibert: Yeah, I do.

Weidenbaum: Is that in the back of your mind these days?

Vibert: It is actually, but I’m not sure if it’s just ’cause I’ve got this wicked disco version I’ve been playing. Kind of Moog-y.

Weidenbaum: Moogy blues

Vibert: More that big mountain.

Weidenbaum: When I was a kid, I traveled across America with my parents, and we visited that mountain, Devil’s Tower. It’s only stranger in person. And there are these smaller little Devil’s Tower-shaped peaks elsewhere in the surrounding area. Is Vibert a French name?

Vibert: Everyone always says that, assuming it’s a French type thing. It is a totally Cornish name, which is where I come from, but everyone from Cornwall was awfully — well, we had tin mines years and centuries ago and there was Spanish and Africans shagging all the Cornish.

Weidenbaum: I interviewed Martin Gore from Depeche Mode once, and asked him whether he felt like he opened himself to criticism for having adopted black gospel music on some of his recent work, especially given the anti-religious bent of his lyrics. He said something to the effect that his blood line is more complicated that most people know.

Vibert: I agree, especially in Cornwall. He’s probably a Celtic geezer.

Weidenbaum: Was it good being a “Star Wars child” and having the first name Luke?

Vibert: Wicked, that was my nickname for years, Skywalker. If that 2 Live Crew bloke hadn’t called himself Skywalker I would have had that years ago.

Weidenbaum: What can we expect from you soon?

Vibert: On import there will be the Plug album. I’m a bit worried about the samples. With the drum and bass stuff that I do I tend to use more cheeky samples, and I’m a bit worried about that for America.

Weidenbaum: Label?

Vibert: Rising High subsidiary Blue Angel.

Weidenbaum: I’ve heard your Mo’ Wax record. Have you heard the one Money Mark did for them?

Vibert: I love that old Hammond stuff, the older the better, the more distorted the vinyl.

Weidenbaum: Have you been DJing much lately?

Vibert: Not that often, every month or so. Cologne, Norway and elsewhere.

Weidenbaum: So remixes pay the bills?

Vibert: That’s the one. I’ve been doing them for things like Warner Bros., a Swedish band called On. Even reasonably big companies play a couple of grand. They were basically a rock band. It usually tends to be things like that, a rock band or an indie band, or someone a bit like Enja, just more rock/poppy kind of stuff.

Weidenbaum: It’s probably got to the point where you’re called on reputation more than on account of someone having heard and been moved by your music. Do you ever wonder why you were called?

Vibert: Nearly every time. I always think, Who chose me? Was it the artist, or was it some A&R geezer. Why do they want me to do it?

Weidenbaum: Well, I’d feel guilty asking any more questions. This is for a fairly short piece. Thanks.

Vibert: Thanks.

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