By Fredrik Hägglund
Luke Vibert has more aliases than a master spy and more label deals than there are fish in the sea. Yet for a man who's remained fervently productive in the field of electronic music for well over a decade - and is best mates with Aphex Twin and Squarepusher, tweak freaks extraordinaire - he is remarkably afraid of technology.
From Entirely Atari to Restrictedly Reason
Got a record deal? Good for you. Luke Vibert - also known as Amen Andrews, Kerrier District, Wagon Christ, Plug, Butler Kiev and Ace of Clubs - has a dozen or so. Over the last twelve-ish years he has released music on a vast array of labels including Warp, Ninja Tune, Rising High, Nothing, Mo' Wax, Rephlex, Astralwerks, Electro Bunker Cologne, Cooking Vinyl, Law & Auder, Blue Planet/Blue Angel and Planet Mu; actually that's probably not even the half of it, and assembling a complete discography including all collaborations and guest appearances would seem a daunting prospect indeed. Genre wise, Luke is equally multi-pronged, his work encompassing acid techno, drum'n'bass, cheesy disco, instrumental hip hop, bluesin short, anything that sounds good to his ears at the time. You'd think that someone so entrenched in the domain of sonic electronics would have music gear hardwired to his brain, but as we are about to find out, this Cornishman-turned-Londoner has something of a Luddite streak.
Basically I just learn what I have to and go with that. People freak out when they try to give me plug-ins and stuff and I say "sorry, can't use it man...!"
Well, If you're afraid of technology, you certainly picked the wrong trade.
Yeah I know, I wasn't really cut out to be an electronic musician. I just liked acid music and didn't realize it was very technological until I tried making my own. I started out copying acid stuff using simple, stupid drum machines which couldn't be linked together properly. It wasn't until 1990 I got my first computer, an Atari, and I stuck with that for 10 years - I didn't care about the internet, email or any of that. In 2000 I eventually got a Mac, but even then I remained very much a hardware man.
So how did software instruments become a reality for you?
Well, I've DJed for years as well and until fairly recently I always used vinyl, but I was getting fed up with trying to play breakbeats in time for five minutes - it was just too depressing, and now I've switched to Traktor. It was the same kind of thought process with instruments, I just suddenly thought - hang on a minute, this is taking too long, this antiquated sampler is massive, I can't even save all the samples for every track... So I started thinking this is too out of date, and reluctantly changed.
What was your first encounter with Reason?
Funnily enough it was Aphex Twin who had an early beta version - he was the first person who showed it to me, and I thought "what a wicked idea". The fact that it looked like a studio was a definite turn-on for me; I loved to see a bit of actual gear simply represented in a rack. I never liked the separate boxes and stuff in those other programs. I loved the fact that it didn't have plug-ins, I was really fed up with Cubase and Logic and tons of options... a simpler thing was just perfect for me.
For Luke, the switch to Reason happened pretty much overnight - after completing his last entirely Atari-based album Musipal (Ninja Tune, 2001) he fired up Reason and continued working on the 20 or so Reason tracks that had been stewing on his Mac since the summer of 2000. Slowly but surely, Reason was becoming the centerpiece of his studio.
My first Reason project was Amen Andrews in 2003, then YosepH which was part Reason, part analogue. The first all-Reason project was Kerrier District in 2004, followed by Wagon Christ's Sorry I make you Lush which was all Reason too.
Did you ever use Reason live?
Only once, with Jean Jacques Perrey. We met up in his studio in March 2000 and spent 3 days jamming, and we're still finishing an album together - it's based on those jam sessions we had back then. We did a show at the Royal Festival Hall in 2003 where we performed a silly version of Frère Jacques - a deep, bassy, funky version with jungly bass noise from Reason. That's the only time I've used it live on stage. I don't like playing off a computer on stage, I'm just too scared that things would go wrong. But I did an album with BJ Cole a few years ago, he's a live steel guitarist so at that point I made an effort and brought out a couple of drum machines, synths and a Yamaha QY series thing with various programmed bits and bobs.
True to his DJing roots and less-gadgets-the-better approach Vibert uses no MIDI keyboard or any manner of hardware controllers for Reason, instead relying on a mixture of sample collages and manually entered note data. He has found that the best way to mediate between his pedantic parameter tweaker side and his let-the-music-flow spirit is to work patiently and methodically for as short a time as possible. That is - work in loop mode, tweak like mad, get all the levels and fiddly bits right, then get out. The practical upshot is that he now sits on a stockpile of hundreds of perfected grooves ready to be fleshed out into full tracks.
Vibert goes full circle; rather than relying on nicked drum breaks and bass lines he builds his grooves with an intricate patchwork of single hits, crackle and other tiny bits and mangles them with EQ, compression and tape saturation to create the appearance of vintage loops.
I nearly always start with the drums to get a groove going. The rest of the time I start with a funky loop, or a not-so-funky loop I'd like to make funky, and build around that. But yeah, usually I create a Redrum and get one live and one electronic kick. Sometimes I go crazy and make a whole drum machine of ten kicks. I work in cycle mode for as long as I can take it and if I'm happy with the track I save it to a folder called "Done" where I've got maybe 500 tracks like that. At some point later on I go back and see if I find anything I'd like to make into a full-blown track. If I do, I usually start by copying everything like 10 minutes on (to some point I know I'm never going to reach), and then get busy. I always liked that part, it's like making a story, an animated film or whatever.
What's Your favorite Reason device?
My favorite is probably the Scream 4 distortion, I use it on nearly everything. My Reason tracks must look really ugly, just loads and loads of Scream units everywhere with different amounts of compression, and also lots of EQ:s - I'm EQ mad and sometimes use 20 EQs on a single sound.
And the instruments?
I use the Subtractor and Malström very often for bass. Sometimes I use a few sampled single bass hits from SH-101 and various synths, but I've used them too much over the years so it's nice to play around with something new. I used to work with Dr. REX a lot but I haven't for some time, basically because I accidentally deleted an entire folder of maybe 20-30 gigabytes worth of stuff when I switched to a new computer. So I cut up my own beats now. In fact I mostly work with single hits taken off drum machines and records - I'm really happy if I can get, like, seven snare drums off some track on a record where they all sound a bit different, then try to design a live sounding beat from that. There are even a few tracks I've done with all Reason factory sounds, no samples from external things or any of that.
Do you make your own synth patches?
Not much man, I just tweak presets. I've got one patch I made, Moogy1, a monophonic Malström sound. It's probably all over half the last Wagon Christ album and Kerrier District too.
What about all your 303 sounds?
I've got a real 303 alongside Reason and I just sample it - I splice it up in 8 bar loops or whatever I can get away with considering the dodgy tempo and all that, and load the samples into Reason. If I want acid I just reach for the 303, I've never really found any other synths for acid that I like. Squarepusher made a great one though, a squelchy thing which he designed on Reaktor and linked it up to his bass.
Ever use any ReFills?
I've got one which I quite fancy, it's called Microtonal. Otherwise... not much, but I'd like to make a ReFill sometime though. I've got loads of kicks and snares I'd be happy to chip in to the world.
What's your approach to post processing and mastering?
I export the Reason songs to AIFF, then I often take them into Peak and mess around with the track, do a few backward snare drums or whatever. As for mastering, I'm usually quite happy with the tracks the way they are so I actually go along to the cut just to make sure they don't screw it up. The reason is that I've been really unhappy with some cheap mastering places in the past - they did all sorts of weird things like putting 3D stereo effects on it which cancelled out all the bass or something. With the YosepH album, though, I took it to a guy who re-recorded it to analog and it did actually sound a lot better, it took off that slightly harsh digital edge you get on stuff that's completely digital.
Luke Vibert has two new albums in the pipelines. One was already handed in to Planet Mu, but due to a clause in the Warp contract which states one has to wait four months between releases, that album won't be out for a while. First up is his Warp album which was delivered recently.
Published: June 2006
Introduced to Reason by Aphex Twin, legendary electronica producer Luke Vibert has released records since 1993 under plenty of aliases – Wagon Christ, Plug, Kerrier District, The Ace of Clubs, to name a few – on such labels as Rephlex Ninja Tune, Astralwerks and Warp.
More Artist Stories
Luke VibertLiam Howlett
Luke's Favorite Tricks
Luke was kind enough to share a Reason song of his, along with a handful of his favorite tricks.
Download the Reason song file "98 Groove" by Luke Vibert
1. Hybrid bass a la Vibert
Something I often do is that I start with live sounding bass bits - whether it's a loop or just bits made to sound like a loop - and cut some low frequencies from that. I then take a Malström sine wave and run it through a Scream 4 with a kind of tape push effect to fatten it up, play that an octave lower, then squash that together with the other bass. Download example file
2. Tape Push Sandwich
I create a ReDrum and run that through two Scream 4 units. The first one has a slight tape push effect but with the volume as low as can be, and the second one is a heavier tape push effect with all the controls turned right up. It gives this mad, ridiculously compressed effect which makes the programmed drums sound more like a break. Sometimes I throw in some crackle samples that go up and down with the compression, it always sounds nice and hip-hoppy. Download example file
3. Spring Reverb Rolls
I like putting a sampler straight into an RV7000 with the spring reverb algorithm, then into a Scream with some nice compression on it. It pushes the original sample back a bit in the mix and makes it softer.