Before launching into a serious discussion about body poppin', his new album, Wireless, and why electro changed his life, British producer Luke Slater reveals one significant fact: He loves to roller-skate.
"I'm not a 'blader,' mind you," he says, stressing his old-school, four-wheel status. "But I was just in New York and bought a really chunky, solid pair of Bauer roller skates. Man, there's some amazing pavement in New York." We exchange a couple of fancy stopping tips and touch upon the glamorous outfits Olivia Newton-John wore in the 1980 roller-skating epic, Xanadu. "It's all about the white boots," I tell him. "Oooh, that's a bit too girlie for me," Slater exclaims, cringing at the thought.
True, there is nothing particularly "girlie" about Luke Slater. Known for his feral breed of hard electro and mean, driving techno, he does not appear to be the sort of chap who would glide about in a pair of dainty white roller skates and satin hot pants. A veteran break dancer who eventually managed to fit more than 40 singles and six full-lengths under his b-boy belt, Slater is dead serious about making the fattest beats alive.
"I was initially attracted to electro in the early '80s because it was hard music, rough music," says Slater, who began DJing in London back in 1988. "It was rhythm with attitude and noise. Electro appeared to me as real music, as compared to the watered-down stuff that was around at the time on the radio. Pac Man, Knights of the Turntable, Afrika Bambaataa, Solsonic Force: This was the music that moved me. The philosophy of electro is always what I live with. When I'm writing songs, that freshness is what I try to put into whatever I do. Electro changed my life, so it's forever built within me."
Although electro is quite audibly the foundation for Slater's work, do not expect retro regurgitation on Wireless, an aggressively funky album that combines the purist elements of electronic music's American roots with Slater's own vision of high-volume, late-night dance-floor grooves. Along with partner Al Sage, Slater created the entire album using manipulated radio frequencies and music software downloaded from the Internet; while the sound is rich with rhythmic and tonal complexities, Slater proves that electronica is one of the most accessible arts.
A more straight-ahead followup to his techno-steeped 1997 release Freek Funk, Slater updates the early '80s electro sound here with enough woofer-pounding bass to reconfigure a listener's internal organs. "This album's got some wretched power," warns Slater. "If you play some of those old electro records now against mine -- and those old records are like holy shrines to me -- you'll see that because of technology, there's more power in the music now. And that's why I wanted to get back into electro: I wanted to bring the power back. I'm definitely against retro, but no one ever creates anything original; it's all elements of the past. I wanted to make Wireless stretch from the newest school to the oldest school."
But while electro seems to be the hottest late '90s trend (everyone from U.K. house heads Cassius and early acid house innovator Andy Weatherall to Miami's own Phoenecia is experimenting and revamping its simple, hip-hop derived, sub-bass structure), techno, the other root of inner-city machine sounds, has become a dirty word. Was it perhaps the German gas-mask technophiles that removed the soul and sexiness from the houselike sound pioneered by the Detroit godfathers Juan Atkins, Kevin Saunderson, and Derrick May in the mid-'80s? Although techno is the other basis for Slater's sound, he'd prefer that we bury the stigmatized term.
"People keep on using the word techno but they don't know what they're talking about," says Slater. "It's a bit sad. For me techno has always meant electronic music, plain and simple. In England the word techno got into the press quite a lot, but they got hold of the wrong angle of techno. They latched on to the stuff that had no rhythm in it. For me the original techno goes back to the '80s, what the original Detroit guys did. Since then, even though I'm sort of classified that way, techno for me is like a basis. It's not even a form of electronic music; it just is electronic music."
Slater is particularly disturbed by the fact that the electronic-music realm is plagued by a set of terminologies that not only isolates producers and listeners, but that also warps the very definition of dance music. Some terms, he insists, are downright offensive.
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"There are so many silly genres in electronic music, but I think the term intelligent dance music stinks the most," he asserts. "All this 'intelligent' business that was started a few years ago is a lot of bollocks. For example, I'm quite intelligent, but I don't sit in front of my equipment with a textbook. What is intelligence? That's a really annoying word, and I'll tell you why. When I was in school, those people classified as intelligent were not always the most intelligent. If you rebelled you were not classified as intelligent, and if you played the game you were intelligent. A few years later you come to realize that it can be intelligent to rebel against something. So the word intelligent gets distorted in music; if everyone played that game, nothing would happen."
Nonetheless, if you are smart enough, you will listen to Slater's album at the highest decibel count possible. Why? The Slater sound is first and foremost about the funk. Make no mistake here; this bald white boy makes music that is fundamentally grounded in the art of shaking one's ass.
"When I'm making music or DJing, I never lose sight of the fact that the groove has got to be there," Slater explains. "I'm not just in this for myself. I'll cut and I'll scratch the hell out of my records, but the whole point of being a DJ is to keep the groove there. I'm not selfish when it comes to DJing at all. In reality electronic music can be appreciated by anyone if they're given the chance to feel the groove."