It’s 6am, and a voice preserved with disturbing fidelity across thousands of miles of fiber optic cable fills the room. It’s early afternoon over in London, where Luke Solomon is listening to my groggy voice with courtesy and patience. I’m normally a pretty confident person, but after wrapping up the interview an hour later, I stare at a whiteboard, depressed, and wonder where my life had gone wrong…
I’m 36 years old. In those 36 years, I have yet to start a widely respected label with Derrick Carter – and ten years later, raise it from the dead, as Luke & Derrick have done with Classic. That’s never happened. Justin Harris doesn’t know who I am, and while Luke was collaborating with him on Freaks’ chart-topping “The Creeps,” I was probably setting one of several modest high scores in Donkey Kong & Contra.
Luke runs two labels – Classic with Derrick and Music for Freaks with Justin – and has just launched a third, Little Creatures, a vinyl-centered outlet for his own projects. In comparison, I have done several bits of cover art that looked like blurry traffic signals when squashed down to a 150×150 pixel size on traxsource.
Luke’s side project called Mother Rose (with Andy Neal) just released their debut 12″ and are working on the follow up. A session with Roddy Radiation of The Specials is in the queue. I could go on, because these are basically things Luke Solomon is doing right now – forget about nostalgia, that rosy smoke-filled grotto where many people who had some success in the ’90s loiter. This is just how Luke is occupying the same number of minutes that form an hour that form a day as we all have, today.
This should give some idea of why you’re reading an interview with Luke Solomon, one technically about the launch of the Little Creatures label but which I couldn’t quite hold to that narrow measure. He’s an utterly fascinating guy, seemingly indefatigable, with a wide breadth and astonishing depth and maybe the only producer in dance music with this large of a catalog that I can justifiably say has never made the same record twice. And that’s why Luke is the subject of this month’s 5 Magazine Interview.
I interviewed Derrick a year ago about the surprising decision to restart Classic Music Company, and he said it was “mostly Luke… He’s the catalyst and backbone behind ‘The New Classic’.” So I guess a year later I’m doing the follow-up question!
[laughs] I remember reading that interview actually and thinking, “Typical Derrick!” How he’s going to respond all depends on how he wakes up that day. He likes to think it’s mostly me but he has a lot of sway in things. Classic being our company, it has to be a joint decision.
Everything now is very much about Big DJs owning Big Record Labels which is a vehicle for them to have Big Parties and do Big Stuff that involves huge amounts of money and things like that. For me, art and creativity is the first thing. The money will one day – eventually, I hope – be the reward that comes back from it.
It’s interesting though because we had to find our dynamic again after having had some time off. Then we also had to try and forget what went before. Of course you’re constantly living in the shadow of the monster you created before, and there’s a lot to live up to. Once you’ve gotten over those concerns, it’s like, “This is just starting another record label all over again.” Which is effectively what we’ve ended up doing.
It’s worked out, and I think we’re both in a place like we were before: we have stuff that I like, stuff Derrick likes and stuff we both like… and stuff that we completely don’t like and won’t put out. So we share a similar synergy, even though our musical tastes and our DJ styles are different. We have a very similar outlook on music and the industry, records and how we perceive our record label.
I was talking to a friend and it surprised me just how different his perception of Classic is from mine. We didn’t even have a name for it at the time, but 10 years later I heard “indie dance” for the first time and thought, “Oh, this is like Classic!” And to him, Classic meant “that boompty sound”.
It’s interesting to see different people’s perceptions and how they’ve evaluated Classic in their own minds. For me, I guess I see it as the complete package. Having been there for every single waking instant that it has been around, I think it takes on a very different beast in my own mind.
Whether the music fits in one genre for one person or another genre for another is something I’ve never really contemplated, to be honest. The only time I’ve thought about it is when Derrick’s profile reached sort of “megastar status”. People’s perception of Classic became tied to what Derrick played as a DJ, which it never was. I think people had pigeonholed Classic in a way of, “Oh, that’s boompty, that’s what Derrick plays, let’s move on.” That kind of thing, especially if you look at the last four or five releases – it was a mini-maelstrom.
Your two most prominent labels – Classic and Music for Freaks – have been collaborations. Was that by design? Maybe it’s a generational thing, with younger producers taking in the state of the industry and saying, “Eh, I’ll just release my own records on my own label…”
I’ve kind of gravitated more toward that now actually with Little Creatures. It’s me kind of being a renegade and doing my own thing.
Classic was originally going to be me, Derrick and Chez [Damier]. That was the original Classic – the three of us sitting together and brainstorming. But even now when I do so much on my own, I like to be around other people and I enjoy being inspired by other people’s creativity. For instance, working with Justin [Harris] in Freaks, there’s a to-ing and fro-ing and it brings out more of each other’s characters. The same thing happens with Derrick: it’s the two of us butting heads together and finding common ground. A lot of that comes out in humor and fun and having a good time and not taking life too seriously, and that’s always been the thing that’s inspired us.
Everything now is very much about Big DJs owning Big Record Labels which is a vehicle for them to have Big Parties and do Big Stuff that involves huge amounts of money and things like that. For me, art and creativity is the first thing. The money will one day – eventually, I hope – be the reward that comes back from it. I’m not interested in the limelight and the fame and all of those things. It’s about doing something that will hopefully have a cultural impact in the future.
There are always going to be people there to make money and there are always going to be people there to make art. There’s a point where those two meet in the middle, but spending your whole life being in the creative part of it and damning those who are making money doesn’t achieve anything. I don’t see the point in it. It’s a waste of time.
On that note, you wrote a widely discussed post on your site earlier this summer about the bitchfest in the underground regarding the rise of EDM. You caught a lot of flak for that which was funny to me.
Derrick and I have a lot of conversations about it; I get a lot more wound up by things like that than he does, though we both seem to share the same opinion about why people waste so much airspace damning something that’s totally irrelevant to them. In the last few days, Derrick’s posted a couple of things on the same subject. Basically he’s snapped and he says, “I’m done with this.” Everything he says I stick by, and it’s exactly what I’ve said all along. And that is: why bother yourself with something that means nothing to you? There’s so much around that’s far more important to your general well-being, your life, what inspires you and what makes you happy. Why waste your time being so damn negative about something when you achieve absolutely nothing from it?
These things need to exist. There is always a business within an industry, especially in the creative industry. It happens in the movie industry. It happens in the book industry. There are always going to be people there to make money and there are always going to be people there to make art. There’s a point where those two meet in the middle, but spending your whole life being in the creative part of it and damning those who are making money doesn’t achieve anything. I don’t see the point in it. It’s a waste of time. I think those who are doing this for the right reasons – they’ll always come through in the end. All the rest is just a blip and a moment in time that will be forgotten about in two or three years’ time when everyone will have moved on.
I think unfortunately we live in a social networking world where everyone’s opinions on everything can be forced in your face constantly. It’s like having people in your living room constantly with an opinion and there’s no way of getting away from that unless you shut yourself off from the internet.
I really enjoyed talking to Tommie Sunshine about this in our August issue. He mentioned the moment in the ’80s when the major labels signed Lil Louis, Ten City and others. Underneath this, there was a new thing happening with Farina, Derrick, Cajmere and yourself. And his view is that, broadly speaking, it’s a cyclical thing.
Absolutely. It completely is, although during a period in the ’90s when many acts were breaking through and becoming mainstream artists, the music was a lot more palatable… I think that modern pop music, across the board, regardless of whether it falls into the EDM category or anything like that, is really questionable. Full stop. It’s not just horribly contrived House Music or whatever – it’s the majority of big pop records around, former R&B artists that are making what sounds like trance and engineers with heads in their hands because all they do is get calls saying “Can you make her record sound louder?” It’s not just EDM. Mainstream music as a whole, sonically and creatively, is just devoid of any soul.
But then you have people like Frank Ocean or Jessie Ware appear. When I listened to the Frank Ocean album, it was the first time I’d listened to R&B for a long, long time. And it’s exciting to see that. Jessie Ware is another example. A brilliant, brilliant soul/R&B/electronic album that’s gonna do a lot. I think the only reason these albums are existing is because these artists are going against the grain of modern pop music.
So let’s talk about Little Creatures. Is this vinyl only?
Yeah, I think so. I might wind up doing like a CD compilation, or I might possibly do digital – I haven’t really decided yet. At the moment I want to just build it as something tangible that you can go and buy and own and have. I have this tagline that “It’s Material” and I’m doing these “It’s Material” t-shirts – I think it’s very much about the desire or need to own things, and have stuff that’s more than just a file on a computer. That’s the idea that’s behind Little Creatures.
You’ve mentioned the resurgent micro-industry of vinyl in some of your writing. Isn’t it incredibly exciting to see that? It’s almost like the end of the dark ages, with both younger producers as well as cult figures popping up and getting some of the notoriety they deserve.
I’m excited by it too and I really want to see where it goes. From an industry perspective, there are a lot of people in significant positions who are now turning toward the physical industry again to look for licensing and things like that. In other words, A&R men are going back to record shops and journalists are going to record shops because they want to review something that nobody else has. It’s just built into people – not everyone but at least in collectors – that they like to blow people’s minds. “Check this out, I know you’ve never heard this before because I know you never go to a record shop. There’s no way you would have heard it. Come around my house and I’ll put a record on and smoke a joint and listen to this.” I love the fact that this world is existing again and I love the fact that there are younger generations that are actually buying into that as well.
The only problem I have at the moment is that some artists are starting to outprice themselves by getting greedy. And now you’re finding, ironically, black artists that have built a massive career in producing music that’s available physically, now finding their music bought by rich white kids that can afford to spend £17 on a single record. There’s a lot of irony in that. It’s not necessary, but greed is starting to creep in.
Let’s talk about Cutting Edge Remixed, your first Little Creatures release. These are remixes from a compilation?
It’s from a mix CD I did for a Brazilian club called D.Edge. Then I got the parts for all the tracks that were on the mix CD, which just came out about a month ago. It took me a long time to do the remixes because all of it’s live, and I worked with a lot of different musicians. I really wanted to do something I could walk away from with pride, whether anyone else liked it or not. I’ve moved a whole step forward in my production and remixing, and I feel like I’ve raised the bar for myself. That can be a problem because now I sit in the studio saying, “Oh no, how can I do something like that again?!” It involved sending things off to drummers, percussionists, horn players, strings, friends that come around and play instruments – and when you do it remotely it can take quite a long time. I think this has put me in a place where I want to be and where I feel comfortable. The music that I make going forward has to meet that standard in my own head.
Back to Classic for a minute; the latest release was from No Dial Tone, two producers from Norway that I had never heard of. Where do you find these people?!
[laughs] What’s really funny with the combination of Derrick and myself, we seem to attract a certain type of people that end up making music for Classic one way or another. It’s always been like that, I don’t know why it is. It’s part of the “magic”, I guess.
For that record in particular, the girls had met JT Donaldson somewhere a long time ago, I think when JT was living in San Francisco. And they ended up moving back to Norway. And then through years of inspiration and wanting to make music, they ended up with something that JT heard and said, “I think Luke and Derrick would like something like that”. And then it got sent to us, and that’s how it came about. That happens a lot! It really happens a lot. I think it’s the thing with Derrick being in Chicago and me being in London and traveling the world and meeting assorted weirdos along the way. There’s this spider web of the Classic misfit family that seems to create itself.
I really only got to know you after Classic was underway. I’m curious about your musical roots – the ingredients that you put into that pot. I know what pop culture has seen fit to remind us about the UK in the ’80s, but nothing firsthand and most of that is about Manchester.
I grew in the West Country, so my introduction to electronic music was different than those who say grew up in the North. I got to experience some of that but in the West Country, a lot of it was outdoors, like illegal raves. We had stuff like DIY soundsystems, which was a really big thing.
Living where I lived, I was introduced to rave culture at a very young age. I was going out when I was 15 or 16 so that would be ’85 or ’86. Also, the town where I grew up has a well-known rehab center called Broadway Lodge. There was an influx of people from London – casualties, I guess you could say, of early rave culture and the London cocaine scene. They’d go into rehab, get clean, go to NA meetings, and quite a few of those people were in the music industry. They would DJ at a club on Monday nights called Hobbits which was a goth club. The Monday night would consist of them playing little bits of everything from everywhere, from Ska to Northern Soul to Funk to House to New Wave and Industrial. I had two friends that were both massive industrial fans. That was probably ’87 or ’88 – they got me into Front 242, Nitzer Ebb, and that was a real life changer for me. I’ve always followed the Disco records that everybody knows and the House records that everybody knows but there’s also this undercurrent of really odd things that I’ve always gravitated to.
And then going to Chicago in the early ’90s… The fact that I could hear Savage Progress next to a new record and an acid record or whatever – and the way those records were put together, as DJs in Chicago do – it really kind of sculpted the way that I DJ. That was the best school I could have gone to. I learned that anything goes. I was so privileged to go to clubs like Shelter and hear Spencer [Kincy] play and hear Derrick play at a point where he was just throwing all caution to the wind. And hearing great soundsystems amidst amazing dancers. I didn’t really get to experience that in England, having that whole energy and being in a room where people were properly dancing. With the majority being black and being the only white kid in this room – it was like a light went on in my head. “This is it, this is how it will remain for me.” And it still does. That was my connection to Chicago. I ended up playing parties totally out of my depth with people like Sneak and Ron Carroll. No idea why I was there or what I was doing there, but being thrown into this world where my eyes were opened is something I’m really quite thankful of. It changed everything for me.