| Lunatic Calm
interview by Alexander Laurence
Calm is a very cinematic techno band from South London.
They formed in 1996 when Simon Shackleton (Shack) and Howie
Saunders got together and released their debut, Metropol.
They have since been involved in many big shows in Europe
and the USA including a tour with The Crystal Method in
1997. Many of their songs have appeared on soundtracks including
The Matrix, Charlie's Angels, and Mortal
Kombat to name a few.
Lunatic Calm started work on their second (and latest)
album Breaking Point in 1998. Songs like "Beatbox
Burning" and "Sound of The Revolution" were
played live in front of massive audiences before ever being
recorded. In fact, they tested most of the new album on
the road while the record company got its act together.
Shack also spent much of that time working as a DJ under
his alter ego, Elite Force. In the five year hiatus between
releases, their reputation has grown and stories about their
powerful live shows have spread far and wide.
Breaking Point has too many influences to name.
The music is a hybrid of breakbeat, techno, electro, and
industrial. I talked to Shack early in 2002 right around
the time his record was being released here in the US. They
will be doing some small tours in February and March.
AL: This record Breaking Point has just come
out here in the States, but you have been playing tracks
from it for three or four years now. How did that happen?
Shack: Yeah. We have been playing them. When we
were on tour as a band in 1997 and 1998, we used that as
an opportunity to road test stuff. Some of the parts that
we recorded live we took back into the studio. It was a
work in progress. On the DJ side of things, and on the more
techno breaks side of things, I'm always doing mixes of
tracks and playing those out, even if they don't bear much
resemblance to the finished product. That has all been well
AL: Do you play instrumental tracks and white label
stuff when you DJ?
Shack: Yeah. With the Lunatic Calm stuff and particularly
with this album, there are not a lot of instrumental tracks.
There isn't a lot that would appeal to DJs. That is where
remixes come in. The album was designed with longevity in
mind. It's supposed to be a real listening experience rather
than the attention deficit disorder of the 12 inch generation.
AL: How does the band work together?
Shack: I do all the singing and the programming.
Howie Saunders is from the live music school really. He
is involved in writing the tracks with me. I think it works
really well as a collaboration when you have one person
who is involved in the programming side of things and one
person involved in the playing side. It seems to work out
AL: How did you meet each other?
Shack: We have known each other since we were eight.
We go back years and years. We went to school together.
We have been trying to make music since we met to be honest.
We grew up a few miles outside London. I live South London
now. We have always been in this part of the world.
AL: How do you go about writing a track? Do you
have a lot of gear? Do you use Pro Tools now?
Shack: Yeah. We have a fair amount. Whatever money
we have earned over the year, a quite a large proportion
of it has always gone into building our own studios. It
just gives us as much time and freedom to work on sounds
and to work on tracks. The way those tracks come together
is always different. There are some tunes, despite their
technological difficulties and time consumption that that
entails, some tracks take a matter of hours, and other tracks
a matter of weeks. It's a varied process. Some tunes we
would never consider playing live. Some tracks probably
sound better live. It's really a mixed bag with us.
AL: "Beatbox Burning" reminds me of electro,
hiphop, and German minimal stuff. How did that specific
track come about?
Shack: That was actually the first track we wrote
for the album. That goes back a long way. A year after we
finished Metropol, we wrote that tune. We must have gone
through seven or eight different versions of it. The actual
track was there and the vocals were in place. We were never
happy with the sound of the track. To me, in its demo versions
it always sounded too live and too slack. It was only when
we finished the album that it came into a form that was
more crisper and digital. There was more space between the
sounds. That was something we wanted to do with the album.
We wanted to give all the sounds some breathing space. Although
there is a lot of information on there, we were looking
for something that was more minimal.
AL: Then when you get to something like "Sound
of The Revolution" its sounds like Meat Beat Manifesto
or something entirely different. You sound like a proper
band with tunes and vocal.
Shack: Sure. It's all part of what we have grown
up with. All the music that have influenced us at any given
time come into the picture. When I am at home I really like
listening to bands. I like listening to well thought out
albums. As much as I do like to immerse myself into 12 inch
culture. "Sound of the Revolution" was another
song that we had around for a while. We played a few shows
with it. It's a rock and roll track. It's in your face.
There's not much else that you can do in the way production
to make much else with it.
AL: "Shockwave" has a real big bass sound.
Was that deliberate? That really gets all the head bangers
really up for it.
Shack: (laughs) We are really into sounds like that.
A lot of more electronic acts use distorted bass really
wisely. You take someone like Blim and his productions.
Or Breakbeat Eternity. Or maybe some of the real hardcore
drum and bass. The Optical Style. It's fairly commonplace.
The difference in the way we dealt with it was that we were
looking for a dirty, fucked up, Primal Scream style of sound.
It took us a long time working on that and the other tracks
where the bass is actually live. It's played live and sampled
and bits are taken out and put back in. The quality of the
sound and the distortion is something that we have always
been into. We like music with impact and is hard hitting.
"Shockwave" has that in spades.
AL: You mentioned Primal Scream. Did you grow up
listening to The Stone Roses and The Happy Mondays?
Shack: Yeah. That was really our time. That and
acid house came along at the same time. And some of the
tough rap stuff that came out of the end of the 1980s. It
was really exciting time for music. It's influence is still
being felt far and wide. You can see that in all in our
music. A lot of the acid house raves happened outdoors in
the countryside. Fifteen miles out from London. It was wicked.
It was fun to do something that took people outside the
city. It's hard to have those illegal parties in the middle
of London. Howie lived in Manchester at that time. I lived
outside London. We moved back in 1991.
AL: Did you go to any of the clubs?
Shack: We went to some of the early drum and bass
clubs like Labyrinth. That was in East London. There were
some fantastic hard techno clubs like Knowledge. That was
another long running night in the center of town.
AL: Where do you DJ now?
Shack: I usually go out of the UK. I am coming out
to the States in February 2002. It's always a pleasure.
There's a really good break scene in Spain at the moment.
It's good to keep it dark and dingy. The stuff I do as Elite
Force is crisper beats. It's mid tempo. It's up for a party,
but it's not hands up in the air Ibiza style anthems. I
am going up to Leeds in a few weeks.
AL: What was it like to tour with The Crystal Method?
That was superb. We actually did two tours with them in
America. We got along so well on the first one that they
invited us back for more. The second one was "The Nitrous
Oxide Tour." It was wicked. It was five and half weeks
around the country. Sell out crowds. It was fantastic platform
for us. It made us work hard on the road. We tried to raise
our game every night to win people around. We are still
in touched with The Crystal Method boys and we had a scream.
When we go out live we augment the band with a live drummer
named Jez. Jez Noble is also featured quite heavily on the
new album. Some of it is sampled. For the track "I
Go Wild" we had an old Gretsch drum kit and just sampled
loads of Noble's playing. He's always been a peripheral
player, but when we play live, he almost takes center stage
because there is a dynamism of having a live drummer. It
gives the whole band a live dynamic. That is sometimes missing
from some electronic acts.
AL: Many people know you because of the Fatboy Slim
remix of "Roll The Dice." How did you get involved
Shack: One of the first things we did was this limited
edition promo thing called "Centista." It was
never given a full release. He was one of the people who
came back with a stunning reaction to it. He was really
into the band. We sent him some more stuff. He said something
like "when the album comes out I'll do a cut rate on
a mix." And he did. It turned out superbly. He was
a big name at the time, but he wasn't a stellar superstar
as he is now. That was the only remix we had done by anyone
else besides ourselves. That has helped broadened our audience
as well as having our music included in music soundtracks.
AL: Would you like to compose entire soundtracks
Shack: We are both interested in movies. Working
with visuals is a whole new challenge. We are looking to
do some of that in the next two years.
AL: There's another song called "Neverstop"
which is being played a lot. What was that about?
Shack: There was a long track lined up for the album
called "Basement Level." It was a jazzy double
bass and breaks jam. When the final shakedown came for running
order of the record came about, it was one of those tunes
that didn't really fit in. The ideas on it we really liked.
Especially the break that happened in the middle of the
original track. What we did was we released "Basement
Level" as an MP3 through our website. We plundered
the bits that we thought we could use and they eventually
came out as "Neverstop." I just did a remix of
that as Elite Force. I sent out a few dub plates. When it's
played live it's getting a good reaction. People are also
picking up on the remix of "Beatbox Burning."
It's good to have some versions out there that are more
direct than the album.
AL: Do you interact with people on the website?
Shack: I actually program it all myself. I set it
up in 1996. A friend showed me a few basics on how to do
it and I have just taken it on from there. We have a real
active bulletin board. I post as much as anyone else. It's
good to have a direct link to the band. We are more than
happy to answer questions. In the last two or three year,
while we were waiting for this album to be released, the
website was a real life blood for us. It kept us going.
It gives us first hand feedback. We give stuff away and
people get to hear stuff first. It's essential to everything
we do now.
AL: I have heard your music on some of the FIFA
video games. Are you on any new games?
Shack: Yeah. I have got an Elite Force track on
the forthcoming Wipeout Fusion game. I am looking forward
to getting a complimentary copy of that. I am a big PS2
fan. I am really stuck on Silent Hill 2 at the moment.
AL: How did you choose the art that went into the
Shack: We have a friend called Dan Rickwood who
did the first album cover. He has been a friend for years.
He does all the Radiohead covers. He put us in touch with
his brother, Adam Rickwood. Dan showed us some of his brother's
work. Adam was as good as Dan. We got together with him.
We gave him a copy of the album when it was finished and
that was what he came back with. For us it absolutely hit
the nail on the head. It was exactly the right blend of
something quite human but quite digitized.
You can find out more about Lunatic Calm at their website
-- Alexander Laurence