Artist To Artist – Luke Hess Interviewed By Richard Fearless
Luke Hess is a leading light in the new generation of Detroit stars. Along with artists such as Seth Troxler and Kyle Hall he has helped shape and maintain the city's status as an epicentre of true, soulful techno. We were lucky enough to get Drone label head and Death in Vegas mainman Richard Fearless to put some questions to Hess, and the two of them touched on a wealth of fascinating stuff, covering everything from Detroit's crucial record shops, radio shows, and legendary clubs, all the way through to Omar S's mad skills behind the wheel…
Hi Luke, how you doing?
All is well! I’m very blessed and thankful.
So Luke where are you now?
I’m on the East side of Detroit. It’s where I live and work. Music is still my hobby, not what I do for a living.
Where's your studio?
My studio is in the master bedroom of my home near Detroit. I needed the bigger room for my synthesizers, drum machines, mixing board, and vinyl collection.
What were you listening to pre techno, as a teenager say?
As a teenager I was listening to Yello, Pink Floyd, The Doors, Paul Simon, Peter Gabriel, Led Zeppelin, Depeche Mode – classic and synth rock stuff mostly ‐ which is what my parents listened to. This was my Jr. High School music. As a freshman in High School I was already discovering electronic music and warehouse parties in Detroit.
So you started to go to warehouse parties. Where were the best ones?
I think one of the best warehouse spaces was this place simply called “The Warehouse” in Detroit. The Packard Plant, The Fire House, under the bridge space, Bittersweet Coffee House, the Theater, The Shelter, etc. – there were many vacant spaces used in Detroit for some super nice parties.
I once went to a pretty amazing night under St Andrews Hall.
Yes, this was the Shelter – there were definitely some great nights there. It was used for concerts as well as techno shows.
Which DJ's really blew your mind?
There were so many great DJ’s in Detroit in the mid‐90’s – I think I was very spoiled. Heckle & Jeckle, Robert Hood, Jeff Mills, Daniel Bell, Rolando, Richie Hawin etc.
However, I think one of the longest and most technical sets I’ve ever seen was Richie Hawtin Decks, FX & 909 show at The Works at a show called 1. I think Rich played for about 10 hours with 2 decks, vinyl, fx and a 909. The front room was a chill out room and there was a large screen that had a camera on the vestax mixer from the main room Rich was playing in. When it became too packed in the back room, I’d just sit up front and watch the screen and his hands on the mixer. It was a very inspiring night.
Was Hawtin throwing parties then?
Was the crowd at one of his parties different to say if Robert Hood, Atkins played?
No. I think many of the same people that went to UR, Rob Hood, Atkins parties all respected Rich for what he was doing with Plus8 and Intellinet Distribution.
Was there a racial divide at all in the techno scenes then?
This was not my experience. This was the beauty of the techno scene in Detroit in my opinion. Everyone I met during that time realized that the amount of pigment in one’s skin didn’t determine the content of their character.
Most kids in London in their 20's don't have a car, it’s too expensive and most people just hang in their neighbourhoods. With a city like Detroit that’s so large and the suburbs so sprawling I imagine you have to drive as soon as you can, especially if you want to get to parties across town. So many of the pioneers of Detroit techno cite radio shows like the Electrifying Mojo as influences. Did you listen to old tapes of those shows? Were there any good DJ's on the radio when you started going to parties?
Yes, a car in Detroit was and still is an absolute necessity. There is no good mode of public transit here.
Yes, I have a shoebox of old tapes from the radio. Mostly from a show called brave new waves and recordings of DJ’s from Motor Lounge in the late 90’s. When Dan Bell and Mojo were on the radio it was a bit before my time, I was still too young. But I have listened to many of these older tapes with some friends like Omar S & Keith Kemp to try to ID tracks. There were amazing DJ’s and recorded sets on these tapes. Track IDing these tapes was very time consuming, but it was a necessary and addicting process.
I once flew out to Detroit to pick up records for my Fabric mix, hitting places like Record Time. Got to the airport then took a series of buses to get to places like Roseville thinking where the hell am I but loving it, meeting amazing people in the most fucked up neighbourhoods. Anyway after all that a lot of the artists didn't give clearance for the tracks at the time. Do you think there's a Detroit clique to some extent?
Yes, there were many Detroit cliques unfortunately in the 90’s. I think the walls on these cliques have come down dramatically over the last decade because people are realizing we must stick together to build something lasting in Detroit. Hard work and staying honorable and humble will no doubt continue to help this city thrive.
So you get into techno. How did you get your big break? Must be a 'slight case of taking coals to Newscastle' making techno in Detroit, no?
I started listing to techno and going to warehouse parties in 1995. I started collecting records in 1997. Between 1997 and 2005 I DJ’ed vinyl at local events around the city, but I wasn’t part of any crew, so it was difficult to play out often. I started producing music in 2006, mostly with software at that time, taking lessons from my good friend Brian Kage. We were all feeding off technical ideas from each other including Seth Troxler, Ryan Crosson, Lee Curtiss, Brian Kage, Joshua Mathews, Keith Kemp etc. I then bought my first synthesizer at the end of 2006 – the Sequential Circuits Prophet 5 and was given the RE‐201 from some friends who found it cleaning out someone’s basement. With these two pieces of gear I formed a 5 track demo that I sent to some European labels with no response. So, I just continue to make music.
In the mean time, I was still shopping for records, sometimes at Melodies and Memories on the East side of Detroit (9 mile and Gratiot). At the time Seth Troxler worked at that record store. He would pull records for me and call me when new 12” arrived. One day we were sitting in the back room listening to records together and I told him about this demo that I made. He told me to bring it into the store and we listened to it. He then asked if he could keep the demo and I agreed. The next day Omar S. called me and asked if he could meet me and put out some of the tracks on the CD. This was Dubout #1 on FXHE records. He said, “Don’t give my number to nobody, you don’t know it!” I figured he meant business. Haha! Since then Alex and I have become great friends and he has been a huge mentor for my music career.
How did you gain Omar S’ attention in the first place? He’s probably the producer I've got the most consistent respect for out there. I once worked with an engineer who worked with Prince on Sign of the Times, spending Christmas in his house with just the to two of them. I spent the whole session quizzing him about the more mundane things Prince did, like what did he eat, tell jokes, what records was he putting on, fascinating stuff. I kind of feel that way about Omar S. Any light to shed on his methods, or does he just have the funk?
Well, I’ve already explained how I met Omar S. But Omar S is a very special guy. As you put it, he just has the funk. He can whoop anyone on the streets with his driving skills. And he can whoop anyone in the studio with his style. He’s the new king of the Motown Minimal Sound – you better recognize! OYYYYyy! Hahahaha!!!
Your Narrow release on Omar S FXHE has never left my record box. Where's the dub influence in your music come from?
I listen to the Scientist and Deep Chord a lot. Maybe my dub influence comes from them… But honestly, I listen to more old M‐Planet records than any type of dub. So, why I decide to add chord stabs in some of my tracks beats me. I guess I just like the sound. However, I never want to limit myself in the type of music that I make. Sure I draw inspiration from certain sources and I’m naturally drawn to certain types of sound more than others, but there are no limits in music. I’ll continue to challenge myself to explore and create different types of music, but probably in a Motown kind of way.
When I listen to your music I hear things like Basic Channel and that. Were they an influence on you?
I think Basic Channel influences most every person who has heard Basic Channel in some way. Even if you eat a donut after listening to Basic Channel for the first time, you’ll probably appreciate the donut in a deeper way.
You use a lot of field recordings. When I lived in the states it was discovery of the National Parks that blew my mind the most I think. I work a lot in a studio in Michigan, Keyclub Recordings, and a big part of the day is the break from the studio, swimming in Lake Michigan, hiking up dunes, and I feel those breaks are what helps the mixing process the most when I’m there. America is just so big; you have horizons whereas we see what’s on the other side of the street. I feel like it makes me more aware of the importance of space in sound, and I hear that in your music. How big a part does being out capturing those sounds affect what you do in the studio?
I appreciate that you recognize this in my sound. Yes, my experiences in nature have a huge influence on the way I create and process my sound. My parents took us on several camping trips every year near Sleeping Bear Dunes as I was growing up. To this day these type of trips into nature are essential for me. The sounds of the lake, the wind, the trees, the insects, the crackling of a campfire, the animals etc. all create a massive experience of sound. I still go on field recording hunts to expand my library of percussion and background noise. But I think these early experiences helped me appreciate the dimensional space aspect of sound and how to give the listener a similar experience. Of course it’s something a producer will continue to develop as they learn new techniques and gain access to new tools, but I do strive to immerse the listener with this type of wave of sound and this dimensional space experience.
I've just been booked to play the Golden Pudel, a hallowed ground in my eyes, what kind of records were you dropping when you were there? Did you get a chance to play more ‘out there’ material?
I’ve only played at Golden Pudel one time. I actually played LIVE. However, I was able to get very weird and try a lot of things I wouldn’t be able to at a larger club. I do hope to play there again some time. You’ll love it!
With the whole EDM explosion in America, DJ's crowd surfing and farting in cakes or whatever it is they do, where do you see that going? Aren’t DJ’s getting residencies in casinos now?
The only way to keep electronic music consistent with my own definition of pure is to never focus on the negative and always focus on the reasons why I love it. God gave me my passion, my soul, my heart, and my mind for a reason, and I intend to continue to use these gifts in the most pure, raw, and sincere way possible. There are still many great new artists, many great new analog sound generating and shaping devices, many new places to explore, and many new people to meet. There is much good that can still be done in the world and in sound. I’ll continue focus on the Lord’s will for my life. I’m not so interested to comment on what’s happening in the realm of commercial music. Techno is my escape from the mainstream.
So yeah what current Europeans artists do you like?
This is a dangerous question, I don’t want to leave anyone out. So, I’ll just list the names of some artists I’ve asked to be a part of my own label DeepLabs in Detroit. Marko Furstenberg, YouandMe, Martin of Ornaments, Lori, Regen, Jeroen Search, Sascha Dive, LIIT, to name a few from Europe.
Who do you see emerging in Detroit in the new wave of producers coming through?
I’m not sure who will emerge… But some producers I want to give a shout out to that are working very hard in the studio lately making excellent Detroit Dance music that I am in contact with often are: Omar S, Aaron FIT, Brian Kage, OB Ignitt, Big Strick, Keith Kemp, Kevin Reynolds, Jeff Hess, Patrice Scott, Keith Worthy, and Joshua Harrison!
Detroit is still the most exciting place in the world for genuine and original sounding electronic music.
Mr Hess it’s been a pleasure
Thanks for the opportunity!
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