Vibert has put out eight albums under his own name for the likes of Mo' Wax, Warp and Planet Mu, and he joined the Hypercolour roster last year with Ridmik. Now he returns to the label with his fourth instalment, titled Kerrier District 4, in keeping with the format of the original Rephlex series. Covering everything was going to be tricky—even without factoring in Vibert's tendency to flit between anecdotes. He was extraordinarily candid. Perhaps a little too much so. But the negative reflections only seemed to augment a long and sincere passion for a craft that hasn't always been kind to him. Like his music, Vibert has a serious side and a slapstick side, and often delivers both at once. But through the melee, we almost managed to get to the bottom of things.
Let's try and start at the beginning. What was going on in Cornwall around the time of your first Rephlex record?
Everybody was into happy hardcore, so me and my friends went totally the other way and got into "serious" electronic music. Ambient stuff. And then it sort of turned into jungle behind our backs. We kind of missed that wicked '93 year when it turned from stupid, spastic rave into serious fucking jungle and I always slightly regret that. But I'd just been spazzed out by all the fast piano, low-resolution sample stuff—in those days most of the hardcore people made music on Amiga or Atari computers, which you can really hear now. It sounds really low quality and grim and all those things kind of conspired to make us think, "Yeah, actually this is stupid kids' music." Which I regret. I sold nearly all of my rave records, which I have been buying back for the last 20 years at like 20 times the price. I sold them for £100, two boxes!
I wanted to ask what's your biggest regret—is this it?
Probably that, yeah. And maybe not buying certain things when it was so cheap. Late '80s early '90s everyone wanted the new things, and to buy a sampler was like £2,500 back in those days. Now you can get sample programs for free on a computer. I saved all my money and spent—not that much, but—£1,700 on a sampler. Like a cheap, cheap sampler because they were so expensive in those days. I shouldn't have bothered.
Can we talk about this Simmonds/Vibert record, Weirs. It was your first proper electronic release, right?
Yes, it was supposed to come out in '91. But because they were my friends, the record label really took the piss. Just kept putting other things out.
Rephlex took the piss?
Yeah, because we went to school with them. They were getting all excited releasing American people's records, and we were sitting there thinking, "Can you put ours out please," [laughs].
Who was Simmonds?
Jeremy Simmonds. He's still my best mate. We hassled him for a few years to carry on making music but he just sort of gave up. He didn't ever do it like me, he couldn't play keyboards or anything—I'd do all the musical-type stuff and he's just do one weird, crazy fucking noise that he'd make with tapes or God knows what.
Probably the bit that makes the record, annoyingly.
Well, I can't ever sound like that on my own. Whatever he brought to the table, that was what really makes Vibert/Simmonds.
Is it something you wish you could do more of?
Yeah, but I couldn't. It was so long ago. I also can't be Plug anymore. I've tried a million times to do Plug stuff and I just can't do that anymore.
I dunno. I've tried, I can't do it. I'm not that person, I don't have that gear. There are so many reasons. I know too much about how to make music now. It's really good when you don't actually know anything and you're just fucking around—but you got good ears.
So what was Plug to you?
It was really experimental. I didn't even know what I was doing, I just stumbled into it. And then the more and more I learnt how to make drum & bass like other fucking dickheads it just became like other fucking dickheads. And it's really annoying. There's a lot to be said about not knowing what the fuck you're doing.
I really loved the 2011 Ninja Tunes release—but that was all old music, right?
What spurred its release then?
They asked—well, I asked first to do any remixes or something. I had this massive tax bill. Hassled Ninja and Planet Mu and about every record label I knew, and they were like, "Have you got any old Plug tracks?" But I was really happy because I had wanted to put some of that stuff out for a while. I do that Amen Andrews thing as well, but it's so different. In a way I do that for therapy, when I've been making some sort of serious-ish track that's taken me ages.
So the difference between Plug and Amen Andrews is that Plug is simply a much older project?
I can't do Plug now. '94 was the first jungle attempts I made and then '95 was when I think they came out. I didn't really know anything about jungle. I was still in a more live area because I'd been in bands for years and I was still at that point jamming with people. Now I've really lost that live side. I'm just a total studio head. It's a shame I can't get that back. I also can't make old Wagon Christ sounding like '93. I'm just not that person anymore. I don't have that studio. I've got a wife and kids. I didn't have a girlfriend from '91-2 til about '95-6, so I just spent four years in my studio, everyday. I slowly got a life [laughs] outside of music, which was bad for the music.
When did you decide to move to London?
In '94. I was 21 and I felt so old because all my friends had already gone. I was the last one to leave. But I had a good job in an old music chain called Our Price. Then Virgin bought it and it just disappeared, like all record shops. 1990 to 1994 I worked there. Started sixth form college when I was 16 and dropped out really quickly, just got a job in a record shop for years, then finally left and went straight up to London because I had saved some money. But by that point I had put my first couple of records out—the Vibert/Simmonds and first Wagon Christ.
How do you think that early Rephlex association helped shape your career?
It was almost more the time. I feel really lucky to have been out at that time because there just wasn't as much as there is now. Especially our sort of stuff—Rephlex—which wasn't really clubby or aiming for a certain club scene. I mean, there weren't that many club scenes then anyway. It was more like "dance music." It was just starting to splinter a bit into house, techno, breakbeat—maybe, but there weren't many genres around at that time. We never thought in terms of genre anyway, so we were always on the outside. I think that was the first time you could really do OK and not be part of some scene. We were just doing our own thing. Even between us we'd make quite different tracks. There wasn't a general unifying thing, I don't think.
What was it like all reuniting, as it were, at the Bangface Weekender 2012?
Oof! I wish they'd done more there. It was fucking brilliant—except my dad came, which made it a bit personally awkward, and he stayed the whole time in my chalet, so we couldn't have a rave chalet.
Wasn't it the first time in years that the whole Rephlex crew came together?
Yeah it was actually. We used to do it all the time in the '90s. There was always some Rephlex tour going on. It was the first time for a while, though I think some were missing. Good ol' Cylob, he doesn't play anymore. Fucked his ears up. But most of us were there and it was in Cornwall, of course.
Have you ever been to one of Bangface's infamous Chalet 303 raves?
I don't think so—I was in 909 this year, though. I thought it was 606. James Saint Acid gave me the key, really proud. I looked down and saw 606. Went to 606, didn't work, realised it was 909 and thought, even better.
Is 909 better than 606?
Yeah, you can't even compare them. They're both drum machines but the 909 is brutal. Costs about £5,000 or something to get one of them now. My 909 is broken, annoyingly, and no one can fix it.
What happened to it?
Dunno. I've given it to a few mates to tinker with but I don't know what's wrong with it. I think Aphex spazzed it. I lent it to him for a few months and then didn't check it when I got it back. It was about a year later when I thought I fancied using the 909 and it just didn't work, so I can't complain to him now.
Let's talk about I Love Acid. You played for them at Bloc recently, and a bunch of other times. I guess you're a bit of resident?
Josh Doherty said a year ago, whenever I played, this is the last one. Now he's started them up again. Josh did ask me 10 years ago or however long, "Can I use your track name for a night?" He said he'd only do one or two… 10 years later.
What are the parties like? Does it feel like going back to some bygone rave era?
No, Bangface feels more like that. I missed out on the acid thing. I think Cornwall did, anyway. Aphex was probably the first person to play acidy stuff in Cornwall, in '89-'90. We missed out on the '87-'88 thing. There were no magazines or radio stations down in Cornwall that would tell you what was going on, so we'd hear of acid house and think, "It probably sounds like this." And sort of try and make our own version of it, but didn't know what the fuck we were doing, which was really cool for us. I feel sorry for kids these days because you can just know everything instantly and hear all the unreleased weird shit that no one knows about. But those days no one knew anything.
Is there a record that represents a peak time for you?
It depends on what mood I'm in. It could be Plug, the Drum 'n' Bass For Papa, Tally Ho! Wagon Christ, or Big Soup Luke Vibert on Mo' Wax, and they were all kind of the same time, between '95 and '97. That era I just reached some sort of point where I haven't really managed to go beyond. I am still at that point.
Why do you think that was a good time for you?
God knows. Just the right amount of years of making music. Now I've gotten too much into production it's become less natural, or something.
What prompted the new Wagon Christ LP in 2011?
I'm always trying to get Wagon Christ out on Ninja, and I have a running battle with them every time—even though I signed a five-album deal, and I've only done three or four of them. I'm just at some stalemate at the moment with them. But yeah, I'd love to do Wagon every year.
Why is that?
Because it's my default music-making thing. I could do a Wagon Christ album a week. That's just generally what I make all the time; more sample-based, funky stuff. Course now Ninja want to change that. They've asked for Kerrier District tracks for Wagon Christ and I've said no, because that's not Wagon Christ. I'm always having battles with most labels.
Because you have so many aliases, is there a conscious pattern between producing as one thing or another?
I just always do something different, keep myself entertained, and then later put things together. But at the time I'm just me making music. I don't know where the tracks are going to end up. When it's something like a remix for someone, that's definitely harder. I like it when everything is up in the air and you can do whatever you want. Sometimes tracks start out one way, but in the end it's totally different because you're playing around without any ideas. Just having a laugh.
Do you have a favourite alias?
It would be Wagon Christ. I still think of it as sort of downtempo, trip-hoppy—even though it's slowly been changed by Ninja over the years. But that's what I generally make; about 90% of my tracks are like that. And no fucker wants them. Planet Mu don't want them, Ninja don't want them. It' the hardest stuff to get rid of.
What about when you play out—is there a certain "Vibert set" you enjoy doing the most?
I never know what I am going to play at any gig, right up to literally the last record of the person playing before me. That's when I'll think, "Right, shit, what's my first track going to be?" Then I'll see how that first track goes down.
So how do you prepare for that?
I don't, I just bring my laptop which has 10,000 tracks on it. It was much harder with records. You'd be at home thinking, "What records should I bring?" because you can only bring about 50. Much easier now, I just don't even think about it. Just play it by ear.
And you can kind of get away with playing almost anything in sets these days, which I'd imagine suits you especially well.
You can definitely get away with more—people used to be really fucking moody. The younger generation just aren't aggressive to DJs. I almost got beaten up a number of times back in the day. Now people are just like, whatever goes. Which in a way is nice, but in another way I kind of miss the passion people used to have where they would literally come up to you and threaten to kick your head in, which is kind of horrible, obviously, but at the same time you look back with fondness. People don't care so much these days; they're going to get into whatever you give them.
Does it ever go wrong? Tell me about one of your worst gigs.
Did you tour with him quite a bit back in the day?
Usually as a support artist. He'd be on tour with someone like Björk or, one hilarious one was Sneaker Pimps. No one's even heard of them anymore. They had one hit called "6 Underground," which was quite sweet. But it wasn't representative of their stuff. It was actually a remix by this guy called Nellee Hooper which became a hit. So Richard agreed to tour with them, and then we realised they're nothing like that, they're just a bad indie band. Oh, it was awful. And the fans hated each other.
Let's talk about sampling, because that's kind of the line through almost everything you do.
Except things like the Hypercolour record last year, that was all analogue. And the Warp album. I've done a few records that are all analogue and no samples—but not many.
What is it about sampling that attracts you?
Just the idea of it. It's just really exciting nicking bits from other records and putting them into a completely different context. At first I started sampling my mum's records. She liked old French singer-songwriters like Yves Montand, Charles Aznavour, Jacques Brel. At the time I thought, "This is such shit music." But then of course after sampling what I thought was shit I started thinking, "This is really nice." But in the beginning it was almost like a joke. And I was sampling deliberately ridiculous things. I quite like dodgy things within other things.
What are your favourite sources?
Just dodgy records, charity shops, whatever. I have way too many. I've got a record room, which is also my studio. All the walls are covered in DJ records that I might play out—even though I don't play off vinyl—and then the attic is just full of sample records, easy listening, classical music, soundtracks.
It makes sense to wrap up with Kerrier District. What made you decide to dust off this alias?
Hypercolour asking. The first two were on Rephlex, then Rephlex closed down and I did one for this Japanese label—only a 12-inch—about five years ago. I make those tracks really slowly. Out of all my aliases there's definitely the least amount of Kerrier District tracks about.
Why is that?
I never thought I'd do it again when I did the first one in 2003-ish. I thought, "Where did that come from?" It came out of nowhere and I didn't do anything like that for two or three years.
How would you define your Kerrier music?
Just disco-y, live stuff. I deliberately play the bassline and chords and things so it's a bit loose, so it doesn't sound like house. House is so fucking rigid and computerised and everything's in blocks. I try to make Kerrier District much more loose, live and a bit almost wonky-sounding. I'll also do stupid things like have tracks really quietly in the background of cafe or road atmospheres—something from some sound effects record, just to give it a slight clubby atmosphere. Make it more like a party vibe.
The new album is quite brazenly disco—the word features in most tracks. A lot of whistles, too.
Disco is quite whistle-y. People always used to have whistles. I used to have a dream, when we were first going out clubbing, that we'd get a whistle posse together. There was this wicked club that Aphex used to play at. The speakers were all the way round the outside, and we used to have this idea that we'd get a few of us—it was only ever me and my good friend Jeremy Simmonds who ever had good rhythm of all my friends, so it wouldn't have worked—we'd get whistlers and do mad whistling around the room, freak people out. I love a whistle.