DJ Luna-C live at Back To The Future
Nashua, NH - Dec. 1st, 2001
|Birth name||Christopher Howell|
|Also known as||Cru-L-T
|Born||May 1, 1973|
|Associated acts||Jimmy J & Cru-L-T
Luna-C (b. Christopher Howell on 1 May 1973) is a British DJ and record producer, known for his work in breakbeat hardcore music. He made up a third of the rave group Smart E's in 1992, which had a number 2 hit in the UK with a remix of the Sesame Street theme song ("Sesame's Treet"). He founded the Kniteforce Records in 1992, for which he produced tracks and remixes, under a number of aliases. The label was sold in 1997 but resurrected as Kniteforce Again (KFA) in 2001.
Howell grew up with hip-hop music and DJ'd in his spare time. In fact, he has said that he and his friends ridiculed hardcore music when they first heard it, as much of it sampled hip-hop and sped it up. However, he was persuaded to go to the hardcore club Labyrinth in 1990, and it changed his view of the music and the scene. He soon began buying hardcore music where he met fellow record buyer Tom Orton. Orton DJ'd as "Mr. Tom" and helped run a weeknight rave called "Ultimatum". Howell began DJing alongside Orton at these events.
A local record shop, Boogie Times, had its own record label, Suburban Base, and after talking to the shop owners, Howell and Orton decided to make a record. Orton's friend, Nick Arnold, who had his own studio and had some experience in music production. The three of them decided on the name Smart E's and set about making a tune.
The first tune Smart E's released was on Boogie Times Records, an offshoot of the parent label Suburban Base Records, and was called "Bogus Adventure". It was a simple hardcore track that featured samples from the film Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure. It only sold a few hundred copies, which wasn't unusual for a first release on a small hardcore imprint. The group then produced a track sampling the theme from Sesame Street entitled "Sesame's Treet". At the time, many hardcore tracks sampled what could be considered silly things, and as Chris recalls, "[T]he hardcore scene had a sense of humour". By this time, the Boogie Times Records label was no longer used, so this track would appear on Suburban Base Records. A number of promos were pressed and, quite unexpectedly for the Essex trio, interest in the record skyrocketed. Steve Jackson hosted a house music show on London radio station Kiss FM, and began playing the record every day. Suburban Base and Smart E's saw an opportunity and realised that the record had the potential to be a big seller. They drafted Steve Jackson to do a remix for the main release of the record. The record was being played at all the raves and on all the pirate radio stations (which were the main channel for hardcore music being played on the air—the commercial stations, other than a select few like Kiss FM, chose to ignore underground dance music entirely). The number of copies of the record requested by the distributor shot up from 1,000 to 10,000 to 50,000. When the record was finally released it reached No. 2 in the UK pop charts, which at the time was the highest debut single entry ever.
The success of the Smart E's track thrust Howell and Smart E's into the media spotlight. Many dance music magazines panned the trio as a joke, and, at worst, money grabbers who had only come into the rave scene to jump on the bandwagon and make piles of money. Neither of these had really occurred to the three Essex lads when they went into the studio to make Sesame's Treet, but Howell freely admits now that the tune and the onslaught of copycat records sampling a whole array of children's television themes, computer games, and old songs did hurt the rave scene considerably, though that was certainly never their intention. Many have argued that in retrospect it couldn't really be said that they were a rave group that had "sold out", as the first and second records were novelty records of sorts. Sesame's Treet was picked up for distribution all over the world, and Smart E's were signed to Atlantic Records toured the United States, doing 29 live PAs in 32 days. Howell felt that the group was ripped off by many people during this time, and although Smart E's produced one album for Atlantic Records, he didn't feel that he could continue working under the Smart E's name.
After some time, Howell decided he wanted to continue making music, but wanted to have more control over it; therefore, he bought a studio and founded Kniteforce Records. His ethos for the label was and always has been that the label belonged to the Kniteforce crew, who were a group of friends Howell had skateboarded with for many years before the formation of Kniteforce. The first release on Kniteforce Records, The Luna-C Project 1 – Edge of Madness, was produced by Luna-C but was in fact engineered by Austin Reynolds, the studio engineer at Suburban Base Records, as Howell hadn't yet taught himself to use his studio. The first release entirely produced by Luna-C in his studio was The Luna-C Project 2 – Mission of Madness, the second release on Kniteforce Records.
Kniteforce continued to release records, some of which predictably sold better than others. A good release would sell 5,000 copies and a more successful track would sell much more. The label had its own artist(Rebecca Try) who designed all the logos, label artwork and covers. Many of the tracks were played by DJs in the scene at the time. Howell produced tracks under the aliases Luna-C and Cru-L-T, and as part of the groups Future Primitive and The Trip. He also took engineering duties on all Kniteforce releases, until a bit later on when label signings DJ Force & The Evolution and DJ Ham were so confident in the studio themselves that they presented tracks to Howell ready for release. During this period Luna-C very rarely DJ'd out live, instead preferring to be behind the scenes producing tracks for other DJs to play. Kniteforce releases sold very well in Germany as well as in the UK.
In 1995, Howell formed another record label, Remix Records, with happy hardcore DJ Jimmy J, who owned a shop with the same name in Camden, London. The label and the shop shared the same logo, and the shop became a front for the Kniteforce label. Kniteforce and Remix Records promos adorned the shelves, and many Kniteforce Records artists could be seen there.
Howell produced tracks for the Remix Records label under the name Cru-L-T with Jimmy J. Jimmy J & Cru-L-T found success in the hardcore scene with the high sales of their tunes "Take Me Away" and "Six Days", which sampled house tracks but reworked the vocals with piano riffs written by the hardcore duo. "Six Days" sold very well in Australia, and Howell and Jimmy J travelled to Australia to promote the record. They DJ'd and did live PA's, which gave Luna-C a renewed taste for DJing live.
Rise and fall
Kniteforce records were selling, but not in the numbers for which Luna-C had hoped. His artists were pushing the boundaries of hardcore and some tunes were receiving significant play at raves, but the records were selling in relatively small numbers. Howell decided that to bring more sales to the label, he needed the "big name" DJs of the hardcore scene, namely Slipmatt, Sy, Vibes and Ramos, to get involved with the label. He commissioned a series of remixes from these DJs and this move did indeed sell more units of those particular releases. The DJs played their versions of the tunes out, and the record buyers bought them up.
During 1995, the hardcore sound had begun to change, and more and more tunes were coming out with a heavily distorted kick drum riding over the well-established breakbeats. Some of Luna-C's productions mirrored this to keep up with the sound, and in 1996, he even set up a sublabel of Kniteforce, Malice Records, to cater to the hard-edged gabber sound that was being mixed with UK happy hardcore in sets up and down the country. The first release on Malice Records sold very well, but later releases didn't quite keep up the momentum.
Luna-C also started a sublabel called Knitebreed, which was originally intended to release more records by up-and-coming producers; however, he found that very few producers who sent in tapes impressed him that much, and he ended up releasing tunes on the label under his own variety of aliases. By this time Howell was recording under the names The Timespan, Eko, Garion Fey and DJ Psycangle, and as part of 2 Croozin and 2 Xperience, as well as the usual Luna-C and Cru-L-T monikers. This way of producing tracks under many different names allowed Howell quite a lot of anonymity while many of his tunes were widely recognised.
As Luna-C, Howell's productions were quite different from the bulk of what was being produced in the hardcore scene, and although these tunes were Luna-C's passion, they still weren't selling well enough. Luna-C had become disenchanted with the hardcore scene in general, and the label had started to run into financial difficulty. He had also got into trance music by the time Kniteforce 037 came out and had even started a trance label called Strange Room, which was completely unsuccessful. Reluctantly, Howell halted production on the label and for a while lost interest in making music altogether. DJ Brisk, who had released tunes on Remix Records, formed Next Generation Records with Kniteforce stalwart DJ Ham; DJ Force & The Evolution started UK Dance and split into the two duos DJ Force & Styles and New Motion. The tax bill for Smart E's came in, and Luna-C found himself in a lot of debt. In 1997, Luna-C was forced to sell Kniteforce Records to pay the bills. Luna-C recalls that it was a heartbreaking decision, as he and many of his friends had invested a lot in the label, but it was the only option at the time.
Luna-C sold Kniteforce Records in 1997 to Death Becomes Me, Ltd., which owned Rogue Trooper, Happy Trax, Punisher and a few other labels. He continued to engineer for the label, and produce tunes under yet more guises, but Kniteforce stopped releasing at number 60. Remix Records stopped its first run under Luna-C's direction, but the name was bought up by another company that released records under the same name and logo. That company in turn sold it on, and the label has continued in one form or another, on and off for years, but no longer has any association with Jimmy J & Cru-L-T.
After the label was sold, and as Luna-C started to recover his financial footing, he married a Japanese woman and began DJing in Japan a lot during 1998. He forged a set that included custom-made dubplates that he created. They mixed many old skool hardcore classics with more recent happy hardcore. This was Luna-C's first sign that he was edging back into the hardcore scene. He also released a couple of tracks under the Keep It Fresh label, which were old style breakbeat hardcore, but these sold under 500 copies. Luna-C later divorced the woman from Japan and finally cleared his debts in 1999.
Influential Records and Dyne
After losing interest in the hardcore scene, Luna-C was looking for a form of music which made him feel like hardcore once had. He found this in a drum and bass tune called "Tower Bass" by DJ Aphrodite. It was the first tune that had inspired him in a long time, and he decided he wanted to learn how to make drum and bass. Using Aphrodite's style as a template, Luna-C started Influential Records. He had once produced a jungle-style tune on a one-off release on JFK Recordings as Hired Gun; under a variety of different names again, Howell started to release tunes on the Influential imprint. At first, these were collaborations with DJ Influence, and later, when DJ Influence left the label, with other friends. A couple of the Influential tunes were released under the Infiltration Records banner, which was resurrected later on in 2001. Influential Records had pushed the Jump-Up style of drum and bass, and as this style featured less on the scene, Luna-C founded another label in 1999, Dyne, for a darker style of drum and bass.
Knite Force Again (KFA)
Over the years, Luna-C had many requests for represses of the Kniteforce back catalogue, which was unfortunately more difficult than was perceived as the original plates from which the vinyls were pressed had all been destroyed when the pressing plant Kniteforce used went bankrupt. In 2001, he decided to release a record on a new label called KFA Recordings, which was essentially a new style hardcore remix of both "Six Days" and "Take Me Away" by Jimmy J & Cru-L-T. As Luna-C no longer owned the rights to those names, he renamed them "Sicks Daze" and "Hand of Destiny".
Around this time, a longtime Kniteforce fan DJ Deluxe approached Luna-C about creating an official Kniteforce Records website. The website was launched and became the hub of all Kniteforce-related activity, including a forum where a small community of hardcore Kniteforce fans soon formed.
Luna-C released the second single on KFA "Luna-C Projects 8 & 9" and then got many of Kniteforce's original artists such as Future Primitive and Alk-e-d back on board to release new material. KFA reintroduced the breakbeat sound to a hardcore scene, which by now was dominated by the trance-influenced freeform style. Despite being alone in this at first, KFA releases sold quickly, and on 10 May 2002, Luna-C bought back the Kniteforce Records label, all its subsidiaries, and all the rights to the music and the logos (with the exception of the Remix Records logo, which had been sold along with the shop in Camden). The KFA label created a real buzz around it, especially on the internet, and Luna-C introduced an innovative idea called the "Executive Edition" whereby the first 100 copies of each release sold by Kniteforce's official retailer (at the time an independent online outlet called i-Tunes—not related to Apple's online music store, the iTunes Store) would include a free gift of some kind—sometimes even a free record unavailable elsewhere.
In 2002, demand for Luna-C's DJing grew, and he began touring extensively all over the world. KFA continued to do well, and Luna-C released tunes as Cru-L-T and The Timespan, as well as releasing The Luna-C Project X (11 Reasons Why) (number 10 in the series) in October. By 2003, Luna-C's popularity as a DJ had rocketed and he split his time between managing the label and DJing at raves in the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and Europe. In addition to releasing records on KFA, demand for his remixes increased, with his remix of DJ Skywalker's "Killerwhale" a notable example from 2003. In October 2003, he released the album 11 Reasons More, which covered a wide range of hardcore music styles and experimented in styles of hardcore production, which, it could be argued, had never been tried before. He began DJing a planned set, the "Supaset", which incorporated every style of hardcore music and varied in tempo throughout with the aid of Luna-C's self-produced "DJ Toolz". In April 2004, Luna-C released "My Angel" along with a special video produced for the tune on DVD. The single gained wider play than anything previously on KFA and received positive reviews in UK dance music magazines.
After the success of the first "Supaset", which was recorded and released as a free download on the Kniteforce Records website, Luna-C released a follow up, and then after touring that set for a number of months, a third. The sets gained legendary status among followers of hardcore music, and Luna-C's released material displayed a harder edge and skipped wildly between frenetic breakbeats and gabber. German producer Panacea, with whom Luna-C became friends, started to release material on KFA in 2003, and his influence on Luna-C's direction in production was evident on 2004's "Victory", a split single with Panacea's "Winter Mute". October 2004 also saw Luna-C's first venture into event promotion when Kniteforce's 12th birthday party was held at the Electrowerkz in London.
By 2005, however, sales of KFA records had started to wane. Luna-C had already established an online Kniteforce store after its previous outlet, i-tunes, closed down, and much of Kniteforce's revenue had actually started to come from merchandise sold on the site.
Luna-C saw an opportunity to collaborate with some of the other like-minded small hardcore labels that had emerged since Kniteforce's return to the picture and formed All-4-1, a collective of labels that shared a similar philosophy on how to continue to push hardcore music forward. The Kniteforce web shop morphed into the All-4-1 site, which also became the main outlet for the other labels. The entire back catalogue of Kniteforce and its related labels and releases became available through a "create your own CD" feature on the site.
Vinyl is better?
At the beginning of 2006, Luna-C announced that it was unlikely there would be any further KFA releases on vinyl due to rising costs and relatively poor sales. Although there was still a dedicated following to KFA, Luna-C said that it just wasn't enough to pay the bills. However, soon after this he announced his intention to change direction in producing and to go back to old skool style breakbeat hardcore. This was met with a mixed response, but when some new productions were previewed on the internet, feedback was very positive and Luna-C has had a slight change of heart with regards to vinyl. He has stated that he will continue to release vinyl as long as he possibly can, and he will produce both old skool style breakbeat hardcore and the new style he has been pioneering.
In May 2006, KFA released two more vinyl releases, one of which was a Luna-C release that did indeed hark back to more familiar breakbeat hardcore territory. These releases coincided with a new KFA CD album of unmixed tracks (including the tracks featured on the two new vinyl releases) that also had an enhanced section for computers with many added bonuses. May also saw the release of the awaited "Luna-C FM" set (also known unofficially as Supaset 4). This was sent to all buyers of an executive edition of a previous KFA vinyl release, along with a DVD that featured the mix with visuals created by KFA to go along with the music. The mix was then released as a free download. It blends commercial pop music with Luna-C's own brand of breakbeat hardcore, drum and bass and gabber, and plays in the style of a live radio show.
Luna-C has announced his plans to close the "create your own CD" service at the KFA shop on the All-4-1 website and replace it with an mp3 store selling high bitrate mp3s of all Kniteforce music.
On 11 June 2006 Luna-C married fellow KFA artist Bexxie. After being introduced to the band Keane by a mutual acquaintance, Luna-C was asked to do an official remix of one of their songs. He remixed "A Bad Dream" in two separate versions: the hardcore version was released on the 7" vinyl and CD versions of the released single, and the alternate version was released on the 512 USB flash drive release.
- Kniteforce Label History, written by Luna-C at http://www.kniteforce.co.uk/page.asp?PageRef=20
- Luna-C Artist Profile, written by Luna-C at http://www.kniteforce.co.uk/ArtistProfile.asp?PageRef=18&ArtistProfileRef=16
- Advice, part biographical article written by Luna-C at http://www.kniteforce.co.uk/page.asp?PageRef=4
- Green, Thomas H: "Nightmare on Sesame Street", DJ Magazine, Issue 154 7–20 December 1995