The first cold day of autumn had hit Berlin and Luke Slater was bringing his Planetary Assault Systems show to Berghain. Slater stepped out of the taxi and looked uncomfortable bordering on shy; evidently surprised to be confronted directly outside the venue. Having done this a 1000 times with journalists around the world, he could be forgiven for being skeptical about the idea of another interview, especially directly before a gig.
In spite of the initial awkwardness with questions like “What are we doing this for again?”, he immediately showed his class. He had a meditative and tranquil quality – his voice was mellow and was surprisingly endearing. He was friendly, collegiate and showed absolutely zero diva qualities. Which is extraordinary considering how important he is to electronic music.
After photos we moved indoors and wished him luck with the performance, one we were all excited about, and headed down to the floor to get ready for a blisteringly sweaty 1.5 hours. It was a perfect counterpoint to the cold grey winter air outside. The set was like a story, connected with a constant energy of kick & bass drums, melodies and mesmerising loops; a skill that is often forgotten in live performers who opt for effects, drops and ever increasing BPMs.
"I don’t think I’ve ever written anything great when I haven’t had a bee in my bonnet. I’m pretty prolific; everything all the time is about making music”
Slater encapsulated dancers over 90 minutes and the floor was unbelievably cramped. Even though he may not be as well recognised as some modern day techno overlords I was surprised at the response from the crowd to Slater’s intricate percussive mastery and the constant surge of dancers creeping forward to catch a glimpse of him close up. Speaking to people before and after the 1.5-hour live set, it was apparent he was the main attraction.
The reason for the visit to Berghain and his home from home is not out of the ordinary. Slater was here to showcase his latest double extended player on Ostgut Ton. ‘Plantae‘ is a deejays delight; psychedelic, poly-rhythmical loop-driven techno, instantly recognisable, supremely powerful, created with deft and delicate melodies . All underpinned by feeling and fervour. P.A.S. takes on its more mind-altering, otherworldly quality by natural causes not by conscious decisions. The hypnotism and anodyne tracks represent an ode to the dark sweaty club nights that P.A.S. has appeared in.
“Plantae is a follow on from Straight Shooting on Mote-Evolver. Everything was written around the same time. I didn’t want to do another Arc Angel as I like it as it is. I like to try and find a theme and with Plantae it is more about trying to find tracks to play in clubs. This is the roots of P.A.S.”
P.A.S. live is primarily on the road and continues to astound, frighten & electrify crowds in dark clubs and at larger events and essentially feels at home in those locations. The relationship of P.A.S. with Berghain and Ostgut Ton – as well as his 7th Plain and L.B. Dub Corp aliases – has metamorphosed with time into something wholly instinctive and natural. P.A.S. has become inveterate in Berghain and Berghain inveterate in P.A.S. “It just makes sense. When I look at the industry I think “why release on another label?”. There are not many substantial labels out there that are underground and right for the music I make.”
The reciprocity with Ostgut Ton also goes beyond music and into design, where he once again partnered with the Berlin-based visual artist, Viron Eron Vert. The relationship has blossomed since their very first meeting and the dense collages, twisted figures and vibrant colours on each cover were, as Slater explained, a result of an interesting consultation process.
“With The Messenger, Viron sent me a bunch of questions and said I’m gonna create a cover based on your answers. He sent me a load of mad questions…as soon as I read the questions I thought I love this man. This guy is just off the charts. We had a beer and food and I’ve kind of been his devotee ever since.” The collaboration has extended to all of Slaters following EPs and albums on the label including Plantae. “We also did a set in Berghain where I was playing and he was drawing, getting off on the vibe and sitting on the stage.”
"Initially, the purpose of P.A.S. was to release records you could deejay with. No bigger picture; make it then play it. Over the years it’s become itself and people like P.A.S. when I do it”
Plantae and its design is an homage to a current phase that Slater is going through: Plant Essence & Botanicals. His understanding and knowledge of plants seemed to be just as abundant as his experience playing in clubs or with machines in a studio. “I’ve gone on a bit of a plant tip recently. There is this whole world of plants out there we can eat, much more than we consume nowadays. I’m interested in the effect of plants on the mind and body. I rolled into this interest through reading rather than growing potatoes or something [laughs].”
Slater also alluded to the fact that Plantae was made with an eye on Berghain, where he is a long-standing resident. “All of the tracks needed to pass the Berghain test in my sets first stop”. The double EP consists of 6 varied, murmuring and melodic, anaesthetising club tracks. Red is a bubbling aquatic, trippy loop-driven track with heavenly spooky vocals. In contrast Whip It Good is heavy-duty artillery techno with the recognisable steam train snares and screeching extra terrestrial animalesque keys.
Although fundamentally we were there to talk about his new release, we manoeuvred into a whole number of directions about his career, life, interests and where his creativity comes from. Firstly though, I wanted to find out more about preparation, execution and post-set ecstasy.
“It looks like I’m chilled, but there is this zone I really need to get into. You need to isolate yourself from stuff. If I feel I need to do that, then I usually know that’s the best way to feel” Slater says. What happens when you don’t get in that zone? “If you don’t give a shit, and think let’s just bang it out, it never sounds as good so I try to get in that isolated headspace.” How do you find your way there? “Just ignore everyone [laughs].”
During his set, Slater was focussed, barely lifting his head from his machines on the stage. So it was fascinating to hear how well he could describe the crowd and how they responded to his arrangement, track choice and energy. “I look out and see what everyone is up to. It’s interesting for me when I play as I always do what I set out to do even if someone before me plays a 150bpm set.”
If you are intent on how you will perform how do you account for keeping the crowd engaged? “The hypnotism aspect of music is really interesting to me.” stated Slater passionately. “Repetition reaches a point where people question it but if you leave it a little longer it takes on another form where people buy into it. I aim to get them past the point of “is there something massive coming?” Coming together in that hypnotic space is the holy grail for me.”
Sitting down next to him after the intensity of the sounds, smells and heat of the dancefloor he appeared not quite lucid but had a clarity in speech I didn’t expect. “Coming off after a live set is such a different feeling than after playing a deejay set. It gets you really high. I’m quite interested in what the mind does and there is an incredible high but you have to be careful as you’re liable to do things you normally wouldn’t do.”
I asked him about the experiences he’s had where the set has not gone as well as it did tonight: “If I don’t get it together playing live the track can fall apart. I think I’ve gotten better at it over the years…well my first live show was in ‘94 so I should be pretty good at it by now [laughs].”
“Repetition reaches a point where people question it but if you leave it a little longer it takes on another form where people buy into it. I aim to get them past the point of “is there something massive coming?” Coming together in that hypnotic space is the holy grail for me”
At this point he took a moment to think and reflect back on his most recognised alias: “P.A.S. has taken a long time to get into a rhythm. Initially, the purpose of P.A.S. was to release records you could deejay with. No bigger picture; make it then play it. Over the years it’s become itself and people like P.A.S. when I do it.”
Even with some help from LSD associate Steve Bicknell in the past the P.A.S. live set has become something very special and revered – a vital extension of Slater’s personality: “Steve and I rehearsed a bit but then LSD came along so we decided to do that and we agreed it just works better with me doing P.A.S.”
We briefly touch on the latest LSD activity, a group which he formed with Bicknell and Dave Sumner aka Function: “Trying to get LSD together has had its ups and downs but when it works it’s really good.” There is humility in the way they produce and perform live, it’s enjoyable but it has been messy at times. “With a band usually someone is in charge, with LSD none of us really wanted to step up and be in charge [laughs]. It was democratic, but sometimes we needed someone to say “here’s what we’re gonna do”. We had the best time when we played our first gig at Berghain; we played DJ & live for 8 or 9 hours straight.”
Slater’s creativity and production speed and release schedule has showed no signs of abating. 2019 has seen the P.A.S. ‘Straight Shooting‘ double EP & Luke Slater ‘Love Remixes’ EP on his own label, Mote-Evolver, a Live set for Cocoon as P.A.S. as well as an LSD self released double EP.
When I asked him about the continued source of the inspiration he became very animated: “There is like this edge of non-compliance that I’ve always carried and thought it’s really healthy. It’s not rebellion as such just what’s left of rebellion. The feeling of an outcast and that you don’t fit in is sort of a healthy creative thing” said Slater. “I’ve always found that inspiring. I don’t think I’ve ever written anything great when I haven’t had a bee in my bonnet. I’m pretty prolific; everything all the time is about making music.”
Another source of recent inspiration he notes was Barker’s ‘Utility‘ LP: “It was really inspiring. Something was really refreshing about it. Things come along like that [album] but it’s not always electronic music that inspires me.” Slater paid homage to The Specials, The Clash, Pink Floyd and electro hip-hop and claimed they were of particular importance to him during his youth.
Slater has a distinctive production style; direct, consumingly effervescent and raw. Plantae veers away from of Arc Angel and rediscovers the best of P.A.S. with tenebrous basslines, voodoo mysticism, paranoid synths. Each give a whiff of that 90’s rave rebellion we’ve grown accustomed to. Mugwort is a great example of that classical red blooded, bleeping atmospheric synth driven techno.
“I love all the old gear but I am very tuned in on angles and ideas from software and how they link with machines.” The methods used in making Plantae have been a concoction of Slater’s knowledge of his machine’s as well as having an inquisitive eye on the technology that is changing the shape of electronic music production: “A lot of the machines I use I have collected over the years. I’ve never been one of those guys who thinks I must go analogue as it must be better. It’s a bit of a con actually and I think “this might be a nice bit of kit but can I do something with that actually is interesting & makes it worth it?””
“It looks like I’m chilled, but there is this zone I really need to get into. You need to isolate yourself from stuff. If I feel I need to do that, then I usually know that’s the best way to feel”
What contributes to the increasing anxiety and stress observed in many touring DJs and live performers in the scene? “There is a lot of wasted time and anxiety in social media” stated Slater. The response prompted us to discuss what he would value when he looked back on his career in 20 years time with Slater commenting: “I’m not a [social media] expert and I’d rather go through to the end thinking I tried to write and play music rather than “I managed to get a million followers”.”
He comes from an era where record stores and raves were the places to connect with artists and discover new music and create your community. So I asked him about his social media skills and how difficult it has been for him in maintaining a profile and adapting to a constant form of self-publicity, despite his legendary status in electronic music. He was firm in his reply: “I had two choices. I can learn social media, become an expert and manipulate it and achieve a career. Or I can concentrate on writing music. I could not be experts in both.”
His constant focus is to make music and luckily for us that is what he has chosen to do. “There is a panic in the air when we need to do stuff on social media and I have had profiles in the past but now I’ve just deleted them.”
As we approached the end of the interview there was a chance to get a final word on any plans for Mote-Evolver. Gratified with this year’s reception and performance of the Love & Straight Shooting releases, Slater said he doesn’t envisage new material until the new year and couldn’t run the label without his wife: “Heidi manages business and logistics allowing me to do the thing! It works well for us… I’d be terrible running a label alone [laughs].”
Moreover, what was undoubtedly great news for me, followers, Berghain, Ostgut Ton and all the other clubs out there was his intention to keep doing what he loves: “I decided many years ago that I would try and do this until the end. I don’t plan to get out. There is a bit you go through where you think should I step aside but when the time came I thought “fuck it I’m gonna carry on”.”
Slater has reached a rare state of professional contentment, except in his case it’s a puzzling kind of contentment because he does not acknowledge the merits of doing anything else but making music. He has a spirituality that does not verge on morose piousness; it is a spirituality of mind, body, music and the environment around him. His final words of wisdom: “You don’t live that long so just go and bloody do it!”
‘Plantae’ is out now via Ostgut Ton. Order a copy from Bandcamp.
Photography by Tom Durston
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