Off The Wagon: Luke Vibert Interview

First appeared in iDJ Magazine.
Though some distance from his earlier outings as Wagonchrist, Luke Vibert’s original alter ego has managed to expand beyond it’s original promise. While the hazy atmospheres and lithe perkission of the title track from his Musipal album – released last month on Ninja Tune – encourages drunken b-boys to throw down some shapes, Vibert chucks chin stroking electronica and sly funk into the longplayer blender with the gusto of a crazed, rolodex equipped match-maker.

“I’d always wanted to sign with Ninja,” he offers, referring to his three-album deal with the (dis) orientals, “in fact I was about to when the whole Virgin thing happened.”

The Virgin thing, as he modestly describes it, was the last in a series of forays with majors which saw albums for Planet Mm, Rephlex and Rising High followed by Big Soup for Mo’ Wax and the acclaimed Tally Ho! released in 1997 and 1998 respectively. “I’ve just been jammy with it all really. A nice bloke at Virgin liked the Throbbing Pouch album that I’d recorded for Rising High and called me up. It took us a while to sign the deal and even longer for the album to come out and though they seemed quite pleased with it, shortly afterwards the word came down from above to lose one of the underground artists and I got the chop – quickly followed by Source Direct.”

The experience certainly wasn’t a wasted one though, as Luke explains. “They didn’t really promote the project very well so I didn’t see it as a devastating loss – I felt it was something that I had to try out as I thought it could be my only chance with a major and would give it a go.”

Following this project, Luke saw some more critical success in the Stop the Panic album. A collaborative action with pedal-steel guitar legend BJ Cole whose credits have included the likes of Beck, The Verve, Bjork, Marc Bolan and his own group Cochise. Following an appearance at the Big Chill in the mid-nineties, BJ had started to consider working with an electronic producer with friend David Toop making some suggestions. “He really enjoyed the Plug LP Drum and Bass For Papa and approached me on the back of that,” says Luke.

“Although I figured I’d be using samples on a few tracks as I would with a session musician rather than working on a full album, things came together really nicely. When I received the first track back he’d gone totally mad on top which threw me for six so we sent stuff back and forth for a few years where he would do a bit and give it to me, I’d resample it and do some more or get someone else in or resample different bits and send it back to him – it was an ongoing thing. Once we’d got the album together I sent it out to a few labels but Ninja couldn’t release it for something like six months as they had so much other stuff on, so I went to Cooking with the project.”

The hook up with Ninja however was just a matter of timing. “I’d again approached a few labels with Musipal, but this time around Ninja were happiest with it and able to fit it into their schedule. It was compiled a bit more with Warp in mind so I gave them an option on everything else I’d done and we must have spent a couple of months listening to all my old tracks but,” he adds laughing, “I think they were just checking that I’d given them the best tracks that I had!”

“I’m really happy there,” he adds. “The only other label I know well are Rephlex and they are the antithesis of Ninja in that they just release music they like and leave it at that where Ninja Tune really push the material they have and have hired a lot of people in to help with that, dealing with press or whatever.”

In describing the album, Luke says. “What I was aiming for was to have a mixture of every aspect of my musical personalities, there are a couple of older tracks which I’ve wanted to release for a while. For me being on the computer and making weird noises is really good fun and I guess my music has always reflected that though I do try and maintain a balance through the compilation of the records themselves where I’ll reject those odd bits where I feel I got the balance wrong and the track has become too dark, stupid or whatever. People have said in the past that they can hear a difference between the Wagonchrist and Luke Vibert material but the only material I really distinguish between myself is Plug, which I’ve kept drum & bass orientated. I think that’s just coming down to which label has chosen the tracks – so what James Lavelle picked out for Mo Wax was always going to have something of his mark on it.”

“I’ve wondered in the past what sort of music I’d make if I was on a desert island, if at all, ” he ponders. “Half the pleasure for me is giving the tracks to people and seeing a reaction and the music I listen to is almost the opposite of my sound in that I like producers like Plastikman where there is a seriousness, almost cold and calculated side to it.”

So just what does Musipal mean? “It just sort of sounded friendly. I always take the title of the album from one of the tracks and it was a name my sister says she made up for a doll of hers when she was younger which had a musical box inside it.” Laughing he adds, “I have a feeling the doll actually was called that but she swears she made it up.”

About Kingsley Marshall

Kingsley Marshall is Head of Film at the School of Film & Television at Falmouth University. He also works as a journalist, contributing film, music and video game criticism, features and reviews to Clash, Little White Lies, Shook and Big Screen magazines in the UK, Sabotage Times online and Magnetic overseas. He can be found on Twitter as @kingsleydc