Attack meets British house producer and DJ Luke Solomon at his home studio to discuss the concept of legendary status in music, the problem with retro house and the perils of chart success.
“Some people are so scared of what you’re supposed to say, how you’re supposed to behave,” Luke Solomon tells us at his North London house. “It goes back to that whole thing of making yourself marketable. I think that’s perhaps been one of the reasons why I haven’t got on as well as I otherwise would, because I refuse to bow down to those things. It’s not how it should be.”
Luke would freely admit that he isn’t a household name. Where other DJs and producers of his generation have courted celebrity and the wealth which comes with it, he seems too principled and too humble to join in with all the shameless self-promotion that requires. But, having been dubbed the unsung hero of British house music, Luke’s contribution to dance music over his two decade career is substantial.
His incredible passion for music – and especially house – has seen him run the celebrated Classic Music Company label with Chicago house legend Derrick Carter, inadvertently score a crossover top 10 UK hit single with ‘The Creeps’ by his group Freaks and work with the likes of Damian Lazarus, Rekids, Crosstown Rebels and Visionquest. As a talented and versatile producer and a consistently forward-thinking DJ, Luke deserves to be held in the same high regard as any of his more famous peers.
Attack: Who was it who first described you as the unsung hero of British house music? Was it Andy Weatherall?
Luke Solomon: Yeah, Andrew Weatherall. It’s a little frustrating in some respects to get this legendary status thrown around. Don’t get me wrong, it’s incredibly flattering, but you’re trying to translate it to money and record sales and stuff and I have to work incredibly hard to get by. I’ve got a nice house, fortunately I’ve got a wife that works and I’ve had some success over the years – for one odd reason or another – with pop music, but for a continuous income I have to battle and battle. In a way that’s a good thing because it keeps me ambitious. I’m still trying to prove myself.
But as you get older you become part of the furniture. People kind of say, “Oh, that’s Luke Solomon. We know what he does. That’s fine. He’s just there.” I think your chances are reduced even more. You get to that situation with promoters too. You get put into a pigeonhole. It happened to me with Classic and Derrick – people assume that I do something that Derrick has become famous for. Derrick became a bigger beast than the label itself so people make that assumption. It can be frustrating.
It would be easy in your position to get frustrated by other artists making more money and becoming more famous.
Yeah, it is. I’m not bitter about it but I am envious. I see people whose careers I’ve helped launch fly past me and earn thousands of thousands of pounds and of course I think, “Fuck! Why isn’t that me?” But if I look at it as a whole I’m incredibly proud of what I’ve achieved. To have someone like Andrew Weatherall announce me in such a way… I look up to people like Andrew and Derrick and Harvey and think if I can achieve something like what they’ve achieved I’ll be a happy man.
Unfortunately, money gets in the way sometimes, though, doesn’t it? I’m self-employed, I don’t have a pension, I don’t do any of that stuff, but as long as I’ve got a body of music that I can be proud of and when I’m old my kids have got something that can get them through university, I’ll be happy.
It must still be good to be able to earn a living doing something you really love.
It is. I still get the biggest buzz from sitting in the studio and making music then going out at the weekends and playing to people who appreciate it. It’s a wonderful thing. And I’m optimistic about the music industry now. From speaking to people about how digital sales are starting to take effect, I’m optimistic about that.
It’s mad. It’s quite amazing to watch it. I’m going from the days we used to sell thirty, forty thousand copies of an underground record. Look how many copies Isolée sold, or DJ Sneak’s ‘You Can’t Hide From Your Bud’. To suddenly watch that taper away, no one seemed to know what was going on, then to see the rise of digital, then to watch vinyl become an alternative method for people putting out music and promoting themselves. I think that’s brilliant. I love it.
People see it as quite an elitist thing in some respects and I get a lot of people I know saying it’s only people with money who can afford to buy vinyl, but I used to save every single bit of my pocket money up when I was a kid to go and buy a cassette. That wasn’t cheap, it was a lot of money. Economies change, things get more expensive, that’s just how it is. Five pounds to me in the 80s is probably the equivalent of ten, fifteen quid to a kid now. I look at what toys my kids can buy with a fiver. They can get fuck all!
As things have changed, are you happy with the direction you’ve taken?
I don’t think there’s anything that I’ve ever done which I’ve done in a half measure. I overdo it sometimes but it’s art. Deep down I know when I’ve done something that I’m proud of. The only thing that I regret being part of is ‘The Creeps’ in its final version. It became a pop song and it wasn’t our version. We rewrote top lines and stuff.
That was more about the knock-on effect of having a top 10 pop record and it was hard to deal with. The financial blip which happened as a result of ‘The Creeps’ and the fallout and the after-effect of having that money made me think that if it ever came round again I’m not sure I’d want it anyway. It’s a weird situation to be in. People’s perceptions of you change. They suddenly look at you slightly differently and talk to you in a different way because of the success.
I started getting booked to go and DJ at parties that I was a million miles from. I’d start playing the music I play and then get kicked off. I was like, “Why am I being booked to play at these things in the first place? I don’t give a shit that they’re going to pay me four thousand quid, I don’t wanna play here.” It’s the most soul-destroying thing I’ve ever had to do. Give me three hundred quid and a dark basement and I’ll have the best night of my life.