Celebrating Old Skool Music, Culture and Legacy
There’s no doubt that the world of breakbeat hardcore owes a huge debt to DJ/producer/label-owner Christopher Howell (AKA Luna-C). In 1992 he founded the hugely successful and influential Kniteforce Records – a label responsible for the genre-defining classics “Take Me Away“, “Six Days“, and “High On Life“.
Later, in 2002, KFA Recordings was born – a label which continues to release a diverse range of tunes under the over-arching umbrella of hardcore. KFA is a label that seeks to push the boundaries of hardcore, giving it the longevity and credibility it deserves.
Oh yeah, and did I forget to say that he’s also one of the guys behind Smart E’s – the group that gave us the 1992 number 2 hit “Sesame’s Treet”?
Next month sees the release of the “VIP Mix” of Luna-C’s book “How To Squander Your Potential” – an updated edition of his 2012 autobiography. Charting the rise and fall of Smart E’s, the Kniteforce years, the launch of KFA and everything in-between. In his own words “How To Squander Your Potential” is a book about the rave scene, how it has changed, and how not to behave.
The Rave Generation caught up with Chris to discuss Smart E’s, rave anthems and lessons learnt…
In December we’ll all be able to read “How To Squander Your Potential (VIP Mix)”. How did the reissue of your book come about?
It was a bit odd really. I was chatting to Billy Bunter and he asked about it. I mentioned it’d done quite well but really needed updating etc… and Billy came up with the idea of a VIP remix. I always like doing things I haven’t done before, or trying new ideas or formats, so it seemed like it could be fun.
How does it differ from the original print?
It’s quite different really. I worked hard on the original version, but it was my first time writing a book and was a long process. By the time I got around to writing about Kniteforce I was tired and didn’t give it the attention it deserved, and I barely mentioned KFA. And then of course a number of years had passed since I first started writing, so I had quite a lot to add. There’s a new introduction, and bonus material of course, and I’ve edited the entire book. I also split it into three parts – Smart Es, Kniteforce and KFA. I added and cleaned up the material in the Smart Es section, but that had the least amount of work. I expanded the Kniteforce section quite a lot, and there are 6 new chapters covering the KFA years, bringing the book up to date.
You were only 19 when Smart E’s released “Sesame’s Treet”. How did you deal with the attention that brought?
Pretty easily really! I was young and fairly full of myself, but also there was no internet, so fame was a lot more limited – people knew the record but they didn’t really recognise me in the street very often. I found it a little weird when it happened, and I learned that I didn’t really enjoy the fame aspect that much. Which is a good thing to learn early in your career because then you can spend the rest of your time not worrying about it. Many people want “fame and fortune”. I had a taste of both and quickly found that I quite liked fortune, but not enough to put up with fame, so concentrated instead on “happiness and survival” – ha ha!
At the time there were some people that thought that the success and humour of tunes such as “Sesame’s Treet”, “Charly” and “Trip to Trumpton” were damaging to the scene. 25 years on, what are your thoughts on this?
It definitely had an effect, and maybe not a positive one. However, most of the vocal critics are fairly hypocritical in my opinion – Mixmag was quite happy to use our music to sell magazines, even when condemning it. They weren’t a “protect the rave scene” charity, but a “make money from the music” business. Likewise, some of the more vocal artists in the scene had done similar things – used childish artist names, ripped off theme tunes, sampled TV shows etc… There were rip offs and silliness on pretty much every label at the time. So I accept that our record, as the most successful of the silly rave tunes, was detrimental, but I refuse to shoulder the entire blame. And if Sesames Treet does have to take a portion of the blame, then I also want it to have a portion of the credit for ushering in a new dark sound! But mostly, I don’t really care. Dance music changes fast – it always has, it always will, and there will always be records that everyone hates on because they get too big to be cool. Its okay. And anyway, I reinvested every penny of my money from that record back into the scene. As did most of those who had “silly” hits. So I think I’ve paid my dues and then some.
I was 14 years old in 1992 and these tunes opened my eyes to the hardcore breakbeat scene at the time. Good music is good music regardless of the sample. A few years back I played all 3 back to back at the end of an old skool hardcore set and the place erupted – there remains a lot of affection for these tracks.
Yeah, a lot of people discovered rave music due to our track but that gets forgotten. And time changes perspective. It was loved, then hated, then everyone pretended to forget about it, and now its sort of cool in a weird way.
Kniteforce and Remix Records are responsible for a huge number of classic releases. Can you recall making “Take Me Away” and “Six Days”? Did you get a sense at the time of how big they would be? The piano in “Six Days” still gives me goosebumps even now!
Take me away, yes, for sure. Jimmy and I had only just started working together, and the vocal in that one is simply superb. We knew as we made it that it was a great tune. We did not expect it to be as huge as it was, but we had hopes. But Six Days? That was the opposite. Jimmy and I felt it wasn’t very good – certainly not good enough to follow up Take Me Away. It sat on a DAT for ages, and we tried various other tunes, but in the end we needed to release something, so we put it out anyway. Which was a good decision, because I think it outsold Take Me Away in the end, and it certainly cemented Jimmy J & Cru-l-t’s reputation for being able to make an anthem!
You experienced success at a young age – did you believe at the time that you’d go on to have the successful career in music that you’ve had?
Ah, the question of success. I don’t know. I’ve always thought in the extremely short term, and have never been one for planning really. So I just kind of did this, then did that, then did this, and now here I am. I guess the simple answer is no. For a small time I thought Sesame’s Treet would lead to being a huge worldwide pop star, but I’ve always been pretty grounded. My heart was always in the underground, so I could see pretty quickly that Smart Es wouldn’t last. And my only concern then was that I really liked making music, and I wanted to still be able to make music. So I just… got on with it. Which, incidentally, I think is the key to success. Just get on with it. Don’t talk about it, or plan it, or work out how to do a thing, just get on with doing it and it’ll work itself out!
When you look back on a 25 year career what are you most proud of professionally?
I’m a better person now. I know that sounds pretentious, but there it is. Over the years I have been arrogant, and selfish, and inconsiderate and hungry for validation. But those things have (mostly) passed. I managed to stay fairly true to myself and the moral guideline I’ve developed. And most of the people I’ve worked with still like me and will still work with me. That’s a good guideline as to whether to trust someone in the business actually. If all the artists have left the label, then chances are that label is up to some dubious shit. If an artist never seems to be able to stay on one label or work with the same people, then he or she is probably best avoided.
So the fact that I’ve managed to fuck up payments, lose my business, act like a dick, and generally ruin all sorts of things, and yet have managed to still be here surrounded by friends and long term work-partners says to me I’ve done alright!
With the benefit of hindsight what lessons have you learnt?
Be nice. Thats the best one. And also, admit when you’ve made a mistake. Because you will. But covering it up, or avoiding it, or going silent, will end your career and leave you isolated. I worked with a big promoter for years… he always paid well, it was great. He made a bad business decision, teamed with an idiot, lost loads of money, and couldn’t pay anyone. That was bad – but forgivable. If he’d gone to everyone and said “Well, I fucked up, give me time and I’ll sort it” some would have been angry, but most, like me, would have been cool. But instead, he avoided everyone, wouldn’t answer his phone, and disappeared. I haven’t spoken to him since. And he’s not involved in the scene anymore. So now I remember him as a person who ripped me off. And its a shame, there was no need for it, y’know? Pride I guess. But pride forgets bad luck will come for you. And we all make mistakes. So just put your hand up to it when you do. It makes life much easier, and people are generally nice if you are honest with them.
The book and associated vinyl are soon due for release, are there any other projects you’re currently working on?
So many projects. I’m relaunching KFA with Shane Saiyan taking control as label manager. Because I was concentrating on the old skool sound and vinyl with Kniteforce, KFA was getting left behind, so now it’s in good hands. I’m working on a triple pack vinyl with DJ Brisk mixing the CD. I’ve new releases from Liquid and Hyper-On Experience about to be cut, which for me is like a dream come true – these are heroes from my past, and now I get to work with them? Thats humbling and amazing. And I have new talent being released with them, such as Paul Bradley, Gothika Shade, TNO Project. And then there’s the original Kniteforce artists as well. Its a thrill to be running a label that has every generation of rave artist on it, from old skool to new. Plus there’s Kniteforce Radio, run by Lowercase, and again featuring new KFA artists like Scartat and Clayfighter, right alongside “middle” artists like Deluxe and Saiyan, and then stretching back to original old skoolers like myself and Brisk and Alk-e-d.
I’m also working on a new book about the emotional costs of being an artist in the modern world. But it’ll be more fun than that synopsis suggests ha ha!
What does the future hold for Luna C and KFA?
Oh, I have no idea. I’m just…doing it. One thing at a time. I have not learned what I will do, or what can happen. I have only learned what I won’t do, and that is, I won’t compromise what I’m doing now. If it blows up, I’ll be ecstatic. if it doesn’t, I’ll still be very happy because this is such a great time, right now.
And there’s no arguing with that! 🙂
How to Squander Your Potential (VIP Mix) is available for pre-order on Music Mondays.
Kniteforce Radio can be streamed here.