Even if you weren't raving in the early 90s, you will have probably heard the Sesame's Treet track by the band Smart E's. It took hardcore into the mainstream big time when it was released in 1992, going from an original press of just 500 copies to selling in excess of 100,00 copies all over Europe and the world. It meant instant success for the young three piece band, followed by a rapidly downward spiral into the major label territory and loss of face with the scene they loved. Unintentionally, and in the space of just weeks, they had 'sold out'. A tour of America, dealings with unscrupulous music industry types and several failed releases later the band split.
DJ Luna-C, one third of the band and self-confessed supplier of beats put the money earned from the single sales to good use, going on to form Kniteforce Records. Over the space of three or four years the label went on to become one of the most highly respected and influential happy hardcore labels of all time. Today it boasts an impressive and readily available back catalogue as well as steadily releasing exciting hardcore and old skool tinged music as the re-incarnated Kniteforce Again.
He has also recently finished writing a book called How to Squander Your Potential relating the story of his journey from the birth of the scene, right the way through the highs and lows of being involved in the business end of the world's most mis-understood music genre. It's a funny, honest and highly entertaining read and I would recommend it to anyone who has an interest in the history of the scene.
Here Luna-C gives us an insight into the book and some of the topics discussed, from being on Top of The Pops and being signed to a major label to pressing records, being forced to the brink of bankruptcy and eventually bouncing back and moving to the USA.
You've been living in America for a while now and releasing music at a steady pace. The book is pretty lengthy and full of great detail. Writing it took you the best part of a year, which is no mean feat. What made you want to sit down and write the book in the first place?
I wrote the book as a result of a small chain of events. A very talented turntablist and DJ in the hardcore scene called Jimni Cricket told me I should remix Sesame's Treet. She said it as a joke, but it occurred to me that it might be fun to do. I always enjoy doing things which are a challenge, and also things which are inappropriate. So I did a dubstep remix of the track, just for a laugh. Despite how absurd it was to do such a thing, it came out really well. For the release, I decided to write a little bit about what happened to me. And the more I wrote, the more I realised I actually had a story to tell, and that people might like to hear about it. So the release of the remix came and went, while I kept writing. It was a challenge for me - something I had never done before. And soon enough, I realised I had enough material for a book. So I never actually sat down to write a book, I just wrote my story and it turned into one.
By 1992 the hardcore rave scene had become a financial goldmine. Promoters and labels all over the country were cashing in on its popularity and though your single went on to become one of the best-selling rave tracks of all time, it was never an intentional move to release the track purely to make money. This clearly wasn't the way the 'hardcore' ravers saw it (as the track quickly became regarded as a sell-out) and you have gone to great lengths to make this clear in the book. Did you feel as though the more elitist people in the scene were accusing you?
I was stung by the criticisms, of course. But what people forget is that I was a raver first and releasing music came second. I wasn't someone who wandered into the scene hoping to make money. I was already into the music and the release of the record was a natural progression for me. Saying that, I have always tried to be honest with myself, and many of the charges against the track were true. The fact that it wasn't intentional, and there was no way to explain myself to the public at that time, made it a little more painful. But I understood why people would think like they did, and when I put my feelings about it aside, I could see the whole thing as it was.
The story of how the single rapidly catapulted you into the limelight is fascinating. You must have had a blast!
It was an amazing and exciting period of time, without a doubt. I have few regrets, and despite the difficulties, I remember that part of my life fondly.
Looking back now, it's almost definite that the record had an impact on the way the scene started to burrow back underground. In a roundabout way, you helped the scene mutate and grow strong enough to survive the commercial peak that nearly killed it. How weird is that?
It is very odd. And I have pointed that out to people before, but only in a joking way. Still, there is some truth in saying that the Smart Es record is responsible for the dark style music that followed it, ha ha!
It seems as though your new found fame vanished almost as fast as it came. That must have hit you pretty hard? You were still a teenager after all.
Actually, I found the fame aspect a little unnerving. I had had a small taste of it before, when I was skateboarding. I got sponsored, and was in magazines, and then when I went to skate parks, people would want me to perform. It took some of the joy out of skateboarding, at least for me. So with Smart Es, I had a similar thing. I got recognised every now and again, but I never really knew how to deal with it. It made me uncomfortable. So I was fine with the fact that my time as a famous person was so brief. Once it was over, I felt relief more than anything else. I felt free to go about my business rather than feeling obliged to be something I didn't want to be.
This section of the book really highlights the bizarre mixture of naivety and unscrupulousness of the people involved in the 'business' end of the scene in the vinyl era. Discuss.
Well, that's the thing about beginnings - no one really knew what they were doing. Not me, not Suburban Base, no one. We were all kids or young adults, and we had no idea of what we were getting into. The rave scene fundamentally changed the music industry. For years, the big labels had all the power and control. And they must have hated it when The Prodigy got into the charts on some indie label they had been happily ignoring. The big labels didn't understand, and couldn't cope or compete with this fast changing and faceless music. And The Prodigy opened the floodgates... all these little labels were selling huge amounts, but none of them knew the industry, and many were unprepared for big sales. So it was a strange time, where misunderstanding was rife, and mistakes were made.
On the other hand, because no one knew the rules, we did things that would never have been tried otherwise. Sure, people got ripped off, but that's just what happens in any industry. The important thing, in retrospect at least, is what was achieved overall. The fact that dance music is heard everywhere now is largely due to the labels and artists of that time.
You later went on to create Kniteforce, one of the most highly regarded happy hardcore labels ever. You must be proud of what you achieved with the label and its off-shoots?
I am proud of Kniteforce, of course. Certainly more than I am of Smart Es, because there was so much luck involved with that release. I just kinda turned up in the studio, and then things spiralled out of control. I had to work hard for Kniteforce to succeed, and so personally, it was a much greater achievement. But I have never been so full of myself that I think I did it on my own. I had the support of a great group of friends, and the money I made from Smart Es made Kniteforce possible. So yes, I am proud of it, but also aware of what I should be proud of, if you see what I mean? I have no doubt that even without Smart Es I would have made a record label for myself, but the path was much easier as I had the money to take risks and suffer losses.
The book is like a time capsule. I could really feel myself going back in the mid 90s as I read it, and I know that others from that era will too. What kind of impression do you think it will have on ravers from a later generation?
I have never thought of the book in those terms. But I did enjoy reliving the past even as I wrote it. Going back to the days of Labrynth and the early hardcore years... those were good times, and I miss them. I don't know what people will think when they read it. I hope that I conveyed the past in a way that later generations will understand, but who knows? I think there are some valuable lessons in my book that apply to the industry today as much as they did then. So I hope those that read it will come out a little bit wiser than I was!
When you look at the handful of books that have been written about the rave scene so far, they are either very serious editorial, or gutter humour/bravado in style. This one is honest, funny and extremely personal. Did it pain you to admit the amount of mistakes you made while running the label back then? You make it quite clear that you were less than organised when it came to money, and this was the ultimate downfall of that part of the label's life.
It didn't pain me as such. There is enough distance between what happened then and how I am now that it seems like old history, even to me. And I don't really mind showing people how I messed things up. I firmly believe we are all foolish, we are all hypocrites, and that its okay to be these things as long as we recognise it in ourselves. I used to have a terrible temper, and I tried for years to fight it. In the end, I gave up and just accepted that my temper was part of me and there was nothing I could do about it. Then a funny thing happened - I stopped getting angry. I learned that accepting your faults is a powerful tool for addressing them. I try to apply this to my life, with varying degrees of success.
So I don't feel like I have to prove I am perfect, because I am content knowing that I am not, ha ha. I don't feel ashamed or guilty that I made mistakes because I am human, and that's what we all do. I try to be as honest as I can be with myself and my actions, and that comes out in the book. And I have done my best to fix issues where I can, and to let go of any resentment I feel towards people that wronged me. In the great scheme of things, those old resentments just don't matter that much. I refuse to be burdened with old anger and silly vendettas.
I had a lot of money, and I lost a lot of money, and it's all not that important. Also, it's a healthy kind of self-defence - no one can criticise me when I have already made it clear that I fucked up, you know? It's kind of a relief to put your hand up and say "I did this. I did some of it right, and some of it wrong. So now you know". Maybe some will learn from my mistakes - but then they will probably make their own ones instead!
When all is said and done, you have bounced back brilliantly from those mistakes, and have kept your integrity and sense of fun perfectly intact, what with being forced to sell the label and then having the opportunity to buy it back again sometime later. You basically lost everything. Now that you are fully operational again, what plans do you have for Kniteforce and your other labels for the future?
I don't think you can ever really learn what you should do, all you can learn is what didn't work for you. And even that can change, depending on circumstance. So I don't have any plans, as such. I know that I work better when I let inspiration guide me. That is how the book came about, and how my best work has always been born. I know I won't do certain things because they don't work for me. For example, I have no intention of making any sub labels - it puts too much pressure on me, and I don't pay enough attention to the main label when I do that.
I have learned that money is never a good reason to do a thing. It can be part of a reason, and I have no problem with earning money. But if the only reason I am making my art is for money, then it won't be very good art, and it won't satisfy me. It is important to understand your own motivations and limitations in order to progress past both.
Other than that, my plan is exactly the same as it has always been - wander along and see if anything catches my eye or inspires me. When it does, follow that path and experience everything I can about it, until it is no longer of interest. I have done pretty much everything there is to do in the music industry, so old ambitions - such as having a huge single or getting famous - don't hold me anymore. My interests are more subtle, and are more centred around bettering whatever it is I just did, especially with music. If I write another book, I will want it to be better than this one, for example. And I may write some fiction next, just to see if I can. I don't feel I have anything to prove, except to myself.
How would you describe the book in a few sentences to those reading this now?
It's a humorous account of my life in the music industry, showing both the wonders and the pitfalls. I think it functions as a slice of history from the early rave years, and a cautionary tale, but also as an inspiration. At least, that is what people have told me. I have never been good at banging my own drum, but I think this is one of the best things I have ever done, and I am proud of it, and I hope people will buy it and enjoy it.
Oh, would it be smart to add links to buy the book from my store and from Amazon? You can buy it on paperback in my store and on Amazon. You can also buy it as an Ebook (exclusive to my store).
Words: Daniel Beale
CM Sounds Competition
CM Sounds have some amazing music technology courses on offer. They are now teaming up with Kmag for a competition. We give you all you need to know right here.
Aural Imbalance Comes Out Of Plato's Cave
Aural Imbalance is one half of Out Of Plato's Cave, who have recently dropped an album on the Greta Cottage Workshop label. We speak to him about it here.
Snoop releases new photo app Snoopify
West coast rapper cum reggae star Snoop Lion, has launched his own photo editing app for iOS and Android.
London-based collective Innersoul are absolutely taking over London town. With a number of events taking place soon, their star is in the ascendancy. Grab the info right here.
Black Sun Empire Announce Blackout Music
Something very special is happening over in the Black Sun Empire camp right now. A new label, a new release, sample packs and more. Check it all out here.
Hospital Readies Hospitality Summer 2013
The all-conquering Hospital Records are ready to launch with the latest in their compilation series, Hospitality Summer 2013. Read on for more.
Good News Poppers Expand To Liquid Boppers
The Good News Poppers label is expanding into new territory, with the announcement of new sister label, Liquid Boppers. Kmag brings you all that you need to know right here.
Dispatch Recordings Reaches Round The World
Undoubtedly one of the hottest labels around at the moment, Dispatch are recruiting all comers. Their latest release is out now, and we get the skinny from DBRUK.
Beastie Respond Interview
With his debut album 'Fictitious Nostalgia' imminent, Danish DJ, producer and all round music man Beastie Respond chats to Kmag ahead of the forthcoming release.
Emissions Festival 2013 Preview
Emissions Festival has been a staple of the Bay Area's festival scene for the past five years, we have a look at what's in store for the 2013 edition.
In The Studio: Villem
Drum & bass producer Villem is about to release a sample pack so we spoke to him to discover how we works in the studio...
Paper Tiger featuring Homeboy Sandman video
Paper Tiger have teamed up with Stonesthrow's Homeboy Sandman for a transatlantic collaboration.
Perpetual Recordings Go Onwards
Perpetual Recordings have been going in the right direction for a year now and are ready to warm up your summer with some hot new releases. We get the full rundown on the label right here.
Arc Festival Review
Arc is a new festival from the Applepips and Hypercolour labels, in partnership with Luma and the RRFID crew, we went along to check out the inaugural event...
Top 10 Videos April 2013
This month's round-up of our favourite videos is a really varied selection – from skin clawing creatures to a fierce battle against music listeners, here's a look at what April had to offer.