or rather, all of my praise (pretty much)
In America, Luke Vibert is best known for the topsy-turvy tomfoolery of his hyperkinetic drum'n'bass alter ego Plug. But back in '95, operating as Wagon Christ, he createdThrobbing Pouch, an album that easily rivals DJ Shadow's Endtroducing as a masterpiece of emotive, downtempo sampladelia. Tracks such as "Scrapes" and "Phase Everyday" were labyrinthine mood-mosaics, enchanted audiomazes whose honeycomb chambers and chinese-whispery corridors teemed with scrofulous detail.
If Tally Ho! isn't quite the equal of Pouch (on the right day, my favorite electronic long-player of the '90s), its first half displays Vibert's abilities in full, earboggling effect: his voluptuously textured
and intricately multi-tiered beats, his alchemist's flair for morphing cheesy sample-sources into bittersweet gold. "Fly Swat" weaves what was once probably sub-Mantovani hackwork--piano trills and easy-listening strings-- into a tremulous tapestry of fleeting poignancy. On "Crazy Disco Party," reverbed breakbeats sound simultaneously crisp and hazy, and snatches of vocal are fed through the digital mangler until they resemble a virtuoso performance on some yet-to-be-invented stringed instrument of the 23rd Century, or the burbling babytalk babble of a creche on an alien planet. As the title suggests, the net effect is like the final few headspinning minutes before passing out on the dancefloor under a disco glitterball.
It's the next three tracks, though, that really show off Vibert's unusual-in-electronica talent for tugging on the heartstrings. With its swoony cascades of tingly keyboard notes and shimmervescent production, "Tally Ho!" sounds like Prefab Sprout gone drum'n'bass, then the track goes absolutely bonkers with a wheezing and sputtering jack-in-the-box bedlam of Hanna-Barbera jungle. "Memory Towel"'s perfumed fog of exotica manages to give that over-used sample--Malcolm McLaren's echo-chamber ululation at the start of "Buffalo Gals"--an alien gravitas, closer to muezzin prayer wail than doh-si-doh. And "Shimmering Haze" is a rhapsody in sky blue: a succulent squelch-synth motif, blossom-petal billows of flute, and a bassline as tender as the most forgiving dub reggae, mesh sublimely, instilling the kind of beatific calm that comes with counting your blessings.
Although the rest of Tally Ho! contains plenty of tantalising textures, cunning beats and sonic sleights, it sometimes crosses the thin line between lightheaded and lighthearted, levitation and mere levity. Like his weirdy-beardy geektronica buddies Aphex Twin, Muziq, and Squarepusher, Vibert has a weakness for wackiness, exemplified here by sniggering song titles like "My Organ In Your Face" and the puerile porno ad skit "Juicy Luke Vibert". Occasionally, the quirked-out sonic antics suggest jazz jester Spike Jones retooled as one-man-and-his-machines rather than big band leader. But overall Tally Ho! constitutes one of 1998's most potent arguments contra the tired notion that electronic music is intrinsically cold and emotionless. At his sentimental and melodic best, Luke Vibert is simply one of the top song writers around, it's just that he's serenading us with beats and samples rather than his vocal chords.
WAGON CHRIST & PLUG
Melody Maker, 1996
Cornwall born-and-bred and buddy of the Aphex Twin, Luke Vibert emerged in '95 as a major purveyor of barely classifiable, semi-danceable weird-shit. After the glacial ambience of his Wagon Christ 1994 debut "Phat Lab Nightmare", Vibert veered off into cheesy-but-deranged trip hop with "Throbbing Pouch" and its attendant EP's "Rissalecki" and "Redone". Better still are Vibert's mindboggling peculiar forays into drum & bass as Plug. The two Plug EP's so far--"Visible Crater Funk" and "Rebuilt Kev"--take breakbeat-science and bass-mutation to levels of grotesque convolution rivalled only by artcore maestros like Droppin' Science. Warning: your limbs will get tied in knots if you're fool enough to dance. Needless to say, the reaction from the junglist community has been muted, to put it mildly.
"One of my mates did try to play a Plug track in a club," says the well-spoken 22 year old Vibert. "He got into a huge row, this guy kept saying 'this ain't jungle'. I think the guy was right, actually!"
In Wagon Christ, Plug, and his numerous remixes, Vibert has an alchemist's approach to sampling. It's all about "getting good sounds out of absolute shit. I listen to piles of cheesy records. For some reason I tend to only sample stuff I don't like! One friend thought 'A Polished Solid', my EP on Mo Wax, was about that: me polishing up a turd! Actually I got the title from a ripped up packet of Rizlas. There was an offer for 'a polished solid brass lighter', but the only words left were 'a polished solid'."
Wacky titles are one of the many charms of Vibert's output, from the saucy "Throbbing Pouch" to the daftly-monikered Plug EP's. "Visible Crater Funk", "Rebuilt Kev" and the forthcoming "Versatile Crib Funk" are all anagrams of 'Luke Francis Vibert'. "I'm running out of variations now," laments Luke. "There's some really rude ones, like Fuck Arse Brain, but nothing nice!"
Vibert's ability to ooze his way through the barriers between genres is a prime example of the 'perimeter' theory of: an omni-genre where tekno, ambient, trip hop, jungle etc are all being jumbled up. Not being tied to a particular scene or community = freedom to drift.
"All the people I know make music in their bedrooms, and it's more personal 'cos you're not thinking about clubs. When I go to a studio, at Rising High or Mo' Wax, I see people working with the specific intention to make people dance. But working in your bedroom, it's more like art."
Out there on the perimeter, they're all stoned immaculate. Vibert once told an interviewer that drugs were his greatest influence: "they're my best mate, they changed the way I heard everything".
"Actually, I said 'hash is my best mate'!", says Luke. "That's not true anymore, but originally it did open my mind to different sorts of music. Cos I was a bit narrow-minded. Smoking went hand in hand with getting into dub and funk".
Dope is one reason Vibert's work is so disorientating. Another is the queasy fluctuation of pitch he often employs, making the Wagon Christ stuff sound like a cross between Schoenberg and jazz-funk. Luke explains that there's a feature on his sampler that allows him to modulate pitch and explore fractions of a tone. This 'microtonality' is shared by lots of avant-garde composers and non-Western musics (e.g. Indian ragas), which sound weird to our ears because they break with the clear pitch intervals that govern Western classical and pop alike. Hip hop often has that dissonant quality too, because, Luke explains, "when you put samples together, they're usually not going to be in tune. If you get them synched up time-wise, they're almost always off-key. And that's a wicked effect--the samples sort of gnaw at each other!".
Visible Crater Funk
(both Rising High, import--no catalogue numbers!)
Alternative Press, 1996
Nobody's s'posed to know, but Plug is Wagon Christ's Luke Vibert in junglistic mode. This pair of EP's confirms an emergent trend wherein the most daring drum & bass forays are being mounted by figures outside the jungle milieu, e.g. Boymerang (Bark Psychosis' Graham Sutton), Link (Reload/Global Communications), Mouse On Mars. "Visible Crater Funk" consists of the most grotesquely contorted and convoluted polyrhythms this side of art-core maestros Dillinja and Droppin' Science. Over four untitled tracks, Plug 1's tumblin' breaks and w-w-w-wobbly bass make for a groove-science so topsy-turvy and torsion-inducing that your limbs will be tied in knots if you're fool enough to dance.
On Plug 2, "Military Jazz", "Pitch Bender" and "Cheesy" are tinged with the mellow fusion-flava of Wagon Christ's "Throbbing Pouch", but the breaks and B-lines skid and tremble underfoot as treacherously as the fiercest ragga-jungle. Luke Vibert: jack of all trades, master of.... every last one of 'em!
LUKE VIBERT + B.J. COLE/ μ-Ziq
Village Voice, 1999 i think
Acolytes acronym it IDM, short for Intelligent Dance Music---a contentious term for electronica that refuses the dancefloor's frenzy in favor of stay-at-home contemplation. Weird, then, to see the IDM massive at the Bowery Ballroom collectively shaking booty to their dream-team double bill of Mike 'μ-Ziq' Paradinas and Luke 'Wagon Christ/Plug' Vibert.
It's a so-where-now? kind of moment for IDM's first wave. With Mike and Luke's mutual friends Richard James and Squarepusher missing in action, the genre's sole contender for "that next shit" is "glitch"--snap-crackle-popping noisescapes assembled from digital distortion. Taking the scene's anti-pop impulse to its logical extension, glitch dispenses not just with the groove but with melody too. And melody--chipper, wistful, glum--has always been IDM's saving grace, what seduced the Smog and GBV fans. Luke Vibert doesn't seem too worried about IDM's impasse, though. Trading shy smiles with his new jam buddy B. J. Cole, toking on a long spliff and sporting a beard resinous enough to keep Cypress Hill happy for a weekend, Luke looks quite the mellow muso. Stop The Panic, the first fruit of their partnership, initially feels a bit diffuse, but rapidly reveals itself to be "different and holding" (copyright: NYT's movies-on-TV reviewer), achieving a mood of sacred whimsy not far behind Wagon Christ's sublime Throbbing Pouch. Live, it's even more enchanting. Alternately recalling KingSunny Ade and an Hawaian Jerry Garcia, Cole's plays his steel guitar like he's embroidering with light, deftly weaving its lustrous filigree through Vibert's it's-as-if-ambient-jungle-never-died breakbeats.
Like IDM itself, Mike Paradinas's gift and curse is melody. Unlike laidback Luke, though, he's reacted violently against the prettiness of his own back catalogue. Tonight there's a few excursions into densely orchestrated synth-symphonics, but mostly Mr. μ-Ziq rampages thrillingly across the spectrum of hardcore barbarianism: acrid Ram Trilogy-style drum'n'bass, mash-ups of 1992-style rave and turntablism (slightly disconcerting to hear with no decks onstage), even 250 bpm gabber blitzkriegs. The crowd goes apeshit, goaded by Paradinas's exhortations "tear up tha club, thugz!". If it's a suspiciously well-made insanity, a marauding monster of sound without a hair or hi-hat out of place, well, you can hardly expect a doyen of IDM to fully jettison his head.