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Lunatic Calm
interview by Alexander Laurence

Lunatic 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 road tested.

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 quite well.

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?

Shack: 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 with him?

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 for movies?

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 cover?

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 (www.lunatic-calm.co.uk).




-- Alexander Laurence



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