“I never latch on to one particular trend when it comes to music,” says Luke Solomon. We’re talking about the New Jersey house revival currently pumping energy bubbles into the British underground house scene. And the reason we’re talking about it is because old school New Jersey house, says Luke, is something he loved and lived through the first time round.
“Music culture is trend-driven and it’s always been like that but I’m not a fan of carbon copy retrospective music,” he shrugs. “It’s good to be inspired by older stuff, but that should always be developed to create something new.”
Luke’s new album ‘Timelines’ is typical deviant house music a la Solomon — full of Balearic undertones, channeling 1980s synth-pop and set at varying tempos within the 4/4 format. “I’ve actually been working on it for years,” he says. “But I’ve been doing so many other projects too that it’s been on the backburner for a lot of that time.”
KENNY AND SPACE
While he was working on ‘Timelines’, Luke’s also been hatching plans for a new Freaks album, working on Digital Kid and Mother Rose material and mixing the new Cesar Merveille album for Visionquest. And he recently released a mix album for Brazil club D-Edge. Well known for his glitchy, quirky, off-kilter house sound, on ‘Timelines’ you get strains of that, but melted into an LP that’s very slick-sounding.
Included are vocals from Tiger Tiger and Natalie Broomes. Luke even sings on the album too. Also in is synth-licked ‘Lonely Dancer’, featuring The Beloved’s Jon Marsh, that Luke released as a single in 2012.
“That tune was originally about a stalker that harassed me and my family,” says Luke. “I’d written the lyrics and then asked Jon to do the vocal. While we were recording it my friend Kenny [Hawkes] died, and the lyrics took on a new meaning. That song ended up being a kind of dedication to him.”
When Kenny died of liver failure in 2011, Luke admits he had one of those “hit pause moments” in his life. Kenny and Luke had, together, helped define the UK’s underground house music scene in the 1990s with their weekly shindig, Space. Held every Wednesday night — from 1995 to 2002 — at basement venue Bar Rumba, on London’s Shaftesbury Avenue, Space was the subterranean, house music fan’s mid-week mecca.
Because of their contacts in the club scene — Kenny had been a founding DJ on pirate radio station Girls FM and Luke was doing DJ promotions at Freetown Records — Space hosted guest slots from US DJs such as Derrick Carter, Maurice Fulton and DJ Sneak. During the mid-late 1990s, no one else was bringing these DJs to play in the UK. And every week Kenny and Luke would play underground house tunes from labels such as Prescription, Pagan, Paper Recordings and 20:20 Vision to warm up for DJs such as Juan Atkins, David Morales and Louie Vega.
This deep, sometimes Detroit-techno-influenced, often soulful, sometimes vocal house music, defined the early sound of Space and influenced a sea of DJs and producers. If it hadn’t been for Space, and the relationship Luke developed with Derrick Carter, we probably wouldn’t have Classic Records.
If we didn’t have Classic Records, then we wouldn’t have glitch-house-defining tunes such as Isoleé’s ‘Beau Mot Plage’ and Markus Nickolai’s ‘Bushes’. And, if Space hadn’t happened, Luke probably wouldn’t have started Music For Freaks with Justin Harris, the same label that put out Kenny Hawkes’s No.1 (in Belgium and a big hit elsewhere too) single ‘Play The Game’, and gave birth to Freaks and their chart-busting, commercial electro hit ‘The Creeps’.
“After Kenny died I had a bit of a weird time,” says Luke. “I wasn’t sure what I was doing any more or why I was doing it really.”
When the news about his friend hit, Luke felt overwhelmed by his work as a DJ and producer. He’d already been through the demise of Classic and Music For Freaks — brought on by the mid-2000s distribution company crash — and had moved on to re-define his career. Then, again, Luke found himself at a crossroads.
“I had reached a big turning point in my career at the end of 2011 and was in the midst of a massive crisis that was making me incredibly unhappy,” remembers Luke. “I had burnt myself out on the road and in the studio, and I needed something new in my life. In September 2012 I started working as Creative Consultant at Defected. Part of my role is A&R as well as running Classic through Defected. In a way it felt like a lifeline, and I had something new to focus on.”
Lately Luke’s signed a couple of DJ Parrot tunes and “instigated a couple of Larry Heard remixes”.
“Doing A&R again has given me a different perspective,” says Luke. “And there’s so much good music out there at the moment.”
Luke’s earliest musical memories stretch back to when he was seven-years-old, living in Weston Super Mare.
“I remember being into The Police, The Jam and Duran Duran — all the obvious 1980s bands,” he says. When he was 14, he “got into smoking pot”.
“I was listening to Jimi Hendrix, Van Morrison, The Doors and then got into stuff like Tangerine Dream and lots of really obscure electronica,” says Luke.
“It was good music to smoke dope and eat chocolate to!” By 1990, when Luke had just turned 18, ecstasy and rave culture had made it to Weston Super Mare. “I was doing E but then got into taking heroin,” he remembers. “Then, luckily, a friend of mine was moving to London and asked me to go.”
Luke exorcised his druggy demons via the acid house scene he experienced when he got to London.
“I remember being at this party and hearing ‘Energy Flash’, I think, or it was something with that hypnotic ‘wah, wah, wah’ groove,” says Luke. “That was it for me. After that, I started DJing and wanted to know everything about the music.”
Now, two decades later, and Luke’s responsible for some of the ‘classic house tunes’ of our generation. It’s one of the reasons living-ledge Andrew Weatherall recently dubbed him “the unsung hero of British house music”.
DJ-wise, Luke says, he’s currently really excited about new music from DJ Parrot, Knights Of The Hunted’s ‘X The Beat’ and “the general music vibe coming from Sheffield”.
His sets, when he DJs, remain as restless, potent and punchy as the music he makes.
“It’s still DJing I love best,” admits Luke. “Sharing music you love with other people and getting an immediate reaction is an amazing feeling. Nothing beats that. It's an addiction for me.”