Name: Luna-C aka Christopher Howell
Occupation: Producer, label owner at Kniteforce
Current release: Kniteforce has just re-released Jonny L’s 1993 classic Drum n Bass anthem ‘Hurt You So’, featuring remixes from Phuture Assassins, Ed Solo & Dope Ammo. [Read our Jonny L interview]
Recommendations: Painting: Two? Oh that’s tough. I have immediately thought of 200 and now I have to narrow it down! So let's see …. my current favourite piece of music, and one that has stayed my favourite for a very long time, is a track called “Liars” by Gregory Alan Isakov (with the Colorado symphony). This is a deeply moving piece of music, and it makes me feel things I cannot explain, and it captures a feeling of wearing and loss and euphoria that I cannot put into words. It's simply beautiful.
And I guess … for a book … Ishmael by Daniel Quinn. It is a little dated now, but its points are valid, and it fundamentally changed my view of the world we inhabit, and my place in it.
If you enjoyed this interview with Luna-C and would like to find out more about his work, visit the website of the Kniteforce label for new and past releases.
When did you start writing/producing music - and what or who were your early passions and influences? What was it about music and/or sound that drew you to it?
I started in 1991, and while my music was quite light hearted, my influences were R&S Records, Automation, Njoi, XL Records, Production House, Frank De Wulf and Rising High.
I loved every style of music within early rave - to me it was an absolutely new thing, completely unique and as soon as I heard it I was in love with it. That has never changed. And my desire to create that music was based in a fascination with this anarchic music where rules did not apply.
For most artists, originality is preceded by a phase of learning and, often, emulating others. What was this like for you: How would you describe your own development as an artist and the transition towards your own voice?
It was a steep learning curve - there was no internet, so once I had bought myself a studio, I relied heavily on Austin (Phuture Assassins) and Nick (Smart Es, Bang) to help me use a sampler and learn how to work Cubase.
I did not emulate others for a while, as I was still mostly just enjoying messing about, but as I got more serious, I copied a few track’s format, to learn what should happen when, and how.
How do you feel your sense of identity influences your creativity?
I don’t have any separation between the two. I feel like my best work is when I just do what I feel, and I do it well.
The hardest part is not letting my opinion get in the way of my feelings on what music should do.
What were your main creative challenges in the beginning and how have they changed over time?
Sample space was a real problem - I started with one Akai s1000 and I think it had 8meg of sample space. So I often spent ages trying to maximise that space - recording samples at 78 and pitching them down in the sampler and etc. Eventually I got 2 samplers, and over the years of course, sample space has become infinite.
So now the challenge is the other way around - limitations are frustrating, but they force creativity. So now I give my self arbitrary restrictions that work for me.
As creative goals and technical abilities change, so does the need for different tools of expression, be it instruments, software tools or recording equipment. Can you describe this path for you, starting from your first studio/first instrument? What motivated some of the choices you made in terms of instruments/tools/equipment over the years?
I played the drums in my early teens, and then moved to the turntables, scratching (badly) and mixing (slightly less badly). After that, my main musical instrument was a sampler. I could compose by ear and by pushing squares around using CuBase, but couldn’t play anything very much.
However, about a decade ago I picked up a guitar, and finally learned to play an instrument. It fundamentally changed how I work, and taught me a huge amount about music and composition.
Have there been technologies or instruments which have profoundly changed or even questioned the way you make music?
Yes, the guitar. You cannot cheat with a guitar. With most instruments, there is a VST or a way to break things down and rebuild them if you cannot play what you want. With a guitar, you either learn to play what you want to play, or you can’t use it.
This was very frustrating for me, a person used to samples and the freedom to do anything. But it taught me how to let music breathe, and when I applied it to my digital work, I found I was a different artist to who I was before.
Collaborations can take on many forms. What role do they play in your approach and what are your preferred ways of engaging with other creatives through, for example, file sharing, jamming or just talking about ideas?
I rarely collaborate.
When Kniteforce started, I was the only engineer, and I worked every day in the studio for 4 years straight. Many times I had people in with me, other days I was on my own. But as I progressed, I found I had (and have) very definite ideas of what I want to do. This makes collaborations tough.
Take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work, please. Do you have a fixed schedule? How do music and other aspects of your life feed back into each other - do you separate them or instead try to make them blend seamlessly?
I get woken up by my kids about 30 minutes earlier than I want to every day. I get them off to school, and then I usually do bill paying, and accounts. I upload any new music to be cut, and then usually spend my time working on contracts, organising upcoming releases and checking files and artwork.
When I am very lucky, I get to work on music - but I find I do not have the …music stamina … for long days in the studio anymore. I prefer to dip into a track for a couple of hours, and then do other music related things.
Can you talk about a breakthrough work, event or performance in your career? Why does it feel special to you? When, why and how did you start working on it, what were some of the motivations and ideas behind it?
There have been a few over the years, but for me, the most significant was about 10 years ago when I combined the guitar with my own vocals and put them into a drum and bass styled track.
While I am very proud of it, it is not my best work. But it unlocked something inside me creatively, I understood that I was, and am, an artist. And that I could choose how to proceed based on what I needed out of my art.
Before then, I always felt like a bit of an imposter, as I fell into this scene and had no real musical training. It is hard to explain why it mattered, but it did, and it changed everything, every approach and every business decision I made.
It felt like I suddenly had solid ground under my feet, and knew my own abilities, and what I could and could not do.
There are many descriptions of the ideal state of mind for being creative. What is it like for you? What supports this ideal state of mind and what are distractions? Are there strategies to enter into this state more easily?
I find inspiration is key. I have also learned I cannot force it. So for me, I have to wait now, until something inside me says “go” and then I go!
Listening to music, reading books, playing with my kids, doing the cleaning, anything that I do can lead to inspiration. Sometimes, it's good to do work that keeps the body busy without the mind needing to try to hard as it lets me poke and turn ideas around in my head.
But there is no straight method for me, other than sort of allowing it to happen and making space for it to happen.
Music and sounds can heal, but they can also hurt. Do you personally have experiences with either or both of these? Where do you personally see the biggest need and potential for music as a tool for healing?
Oh for sure. When you find music that speaks to you personally, that is an incredible thing. Rave and dance music spoke to me as soon as I heard it - the chaos of it, the unruly aspect. But also the fact that at its birth, it was so underground, and the ravers were like a family of misfits.
Since then, I have found music as diverse as Nine Inch Nails or Gregory Alan Isakov, or Hyper On Experience deeply moving. Often for different reasons, but all three (and many others) have the ability to allow me to transcend reality and take me to a place of emotion or euphoria, or to channel anger and pain, or to console and embrace. Music is …. everything.
There is a fine line between cultural exchange and appropriation. What are your thoughts on the limits of copying, using cultural signs and symbols and the cultural/social/gender specificity of art?
I think intent is key.
No matter what anyone does, mistakes will get made. But if the intent is pure, there need not be an issue. If you cross a line when the intent is to do things right, it is fairly easy to say “well, I did that wrong, how can I do it right?” And most people will respect that. Some wont, but you can’t please everyone.
In the end all creativity is influenced and based on other people. Everything is a remix in one way or another. Taking a sample and making something incredible out of it is very different to a bootleg, one is obviously art and the other is theft … but the grey area between the two is where problems lie.
No one can define where something shifts from homage to theft, but the artist will know … respect is demonstrated by the behaviour of the artist.
Our sense of hearing shares intriguing connections to other senses. From your experience, what are some of the most inspiring overlaps between different senses - and what do they tell us about the way our senses work?
Smell and nostalgia. As I have got older, I find nostalgia almost painful. And it catches you out. You will see, hear or smell something and be suddenly transported to a memory or past experience. Music is one of the most powerful forms of art at this, but because I work with it so much, it takes something rare to trigger nostalgia that way, although some music is forever linked to an image, a place or a sensation.
T99 - Anasthasia will always be Telepathy at Stratford at 5am for me, for example.
Art can be a purpose in its own right, but it can also directly feed back into everyday life, take on a social and political role and lead to more engagement. Can you describe your approach to art and being an artist?
For me, it is a search for truth, and an expression of truth. Sometimes that truth is exaggerated and taken to extremes, but its' only art if it's true. So to grow as an artist, you have to grow as a person, and you have to be willing to see yourself with your faults and glories, and say “this is me”.
Translating that into your art should be easy, but it's not, because if done right, we do not get to only present only the nice parts of ourselves.
What can music express about life and death which words alone may not?
Everything. Words can never convey the way music does.