NO CABS WOULD GO TO BROOKLYN: An Interview with Reconstrvct’s Luke Nukem
Much like DMZ, SYSTEM and Contact, Reconstrvct or “Recon” as it’s called by us stateside heads, has been our mecca for the past couple years. The plan was to build again after Dub War, the first Dubstep in America, went kaput and the chainsaws and robots became viral and a paint by numbers formulae. Reconstrvct slowly built away, in the dark warehouses and other wide open spaces with high ceiling with room enough to accommodate us, with all the bodies swaying in unison and the Tsunami Sound System throbbing into the knife-edged dawn. People up and down the east coast flock to Brooklyn to come and meditate, to get lost and return again, to come as close as you can possibly get to experiencing this music we love so much in it’s most essential elements. It becomes a family gathering and for the slim five/six/seven hours, we all lose ourselves. Luke currently produces these Reconstrvct dances and has brought some of the most important names in the dubstep (and beyond) to grace us. I had to opportunity to meet Luke at the last Reconstrvct (w/ the notable including Acre, Lurka, OH91, Hodge, and T-Man on the mic). When I say opportunity, I mean “opportunity” in the strictest sense of the word, it was an opportunity and I missed it. My original idea was to link up in person and conduct the interview at the dance itself, but I got lost in the dance so to speak. I remember getting their around 10pm after taking the subway to Brooklyn and enjoying the quietness of the walk (in contrast to the city proper) to the address/venue which had been announced three hours before hand and immediately set off towards the center where the TBE bassbins were stacked higher than my head and Lurka was throwing down a fire vinyl set of future dancehall mindwreckers. I heard frequencies felt and soon it was 4am and my shirt was soaked and I barely remembered my questions. I remember thinking I need to hit up Luke immediately. Soon after my mind came down off the vibes I contacted Luke and sent over my questions I wanted to ask in person. Luke was more than understanding at my predicament and was kind enough to indulge me with musings, memories, and flashbacks running the gambit from Dostoevsky references, to the first time hearing VIVEK and what America was like when Dub War ran things.
TRUSIK: First things first Luke, can you tell us a little bit about yourself and what you do in the “real world” outside of Reconstrvct?
LUKE: Hell yeah mon frere, even though we are up against the enormous limitations of language and a flickering computer screen, I’ll be profoundly personal. I was born in the 80’s to a loving single mother and 3 older brothers (all bad, bald handsome devils). Despite the occasional relapses, I now consider myself a rehabilitating consumerist trying to work and return home. You know that line “I was born in a system that doesn’t give a fuck about you nor me nor the liiiiiife”. That comes to mind. To my surprise I make ends meet through design, mostly clothing and graphic-related, and make temporary sense of the world by producing Reconstrvct.
TRUSIK: I assume you get this question every time, but it has to be done, but what exactly is Reconstrvct and how did it come about?
LUKE: Ha, no not at all my friend, I’ve only given my 2 cents about this little dance twice before. Reconstrvct is something I started in hopes of becoming a highly sought after DJ and to get insanely rich off of, doing big things that create content and that are always good for branding.
No really, but lets go back to 2008, was going in circles through some dark times in my life. After graduating from FIT, I launched a clothing brand from my Bushwick apt and was selling it to Bergdorf’s, Harvey Nichols, Jeffery New York, high end retailers and getting solid sell-thru numbers, all made in New York. But I was running out of cash flow so in the meant time so I hit the streets looking for investors. Finally I was about to strike a joint deal with as odd as it may sound, the owner of Myspace Russia and 50 Cent, for 2 million! I was stoked when I got their Letters of Intents. No lie, the very day after we all met, the economic collapse came all over the news, and instant drought, I couldn’t finance my purchase re-orders because banks were not lending. Some other things happened and I just hit rock bottom, lost everything basically. It just got to the point where music was my only escape, Dubwar especially.
I would mark the calendar, buy those 10 dollar tickets from Love’s funky looking website, seriously it looked like Castlevannia, and hunt Myspace for snippets, repeating ‘Living Different’ and ‘Pop Pop Epic’ clips when I discovered them, because the record shops didn’t even carry this stuff yet. It was dark as hell, blacklit, you had to go underground, just crazy music, bass walls, and randoms standing around wearing hoodies watching others skank out, and I loved it. It sounded how I felt and met some strange and some cool people every time. We had our positions on the dance-floor after a while. My brother Joe would fly into town for it as he was away in Texas. Was so fun discovering the sounds of DaveQ, Alex Incyde, Joe Nice, Juakali on the mic (Seckle too) over Loefah, Scuba, Benga, Kode 9, Vex’ed, Skream, Distance, Cyrus, Pinch, Flying Lotus, Vaccine, Headhunter, DJG, The Bug and Warrior Queen, etc. I would get a double shot of tequila and dive in, dance around until I would sweat through my jeans and be totally out of breath, not giving a damn. In the winter they would freeze on the way home, waking up on the empty sun- drenched L train like WHEHHRWEHWHEHW!!!! This is back when NO CABS WOULD GO TO BROOKLYN.
But the most memorable experience I had was when Shackleton did his live thing there using fragments of his Skull Disco sounds along with arrangements from that Three EPs he had just put out on Perlon. I just happened to have it after hearing parts of it on that first Mary Anne Hobbs mix. I went nuts. It was kind of like taking acid for the first time, your ego vanishes and this hidden but sort of welcoming world is revealed from within. People open up. Without even thinking a huge group of us just chant- skanking, jumping around in a circle, the music was so intense (check the percusssion on Death is Not Final) I kinda blacked out and remember having some vision or a sense my ancestors and something fuzzy like, welcoming, life-changing experience.
Dubwar grew and other nights popped up, Obama was sworn in and people actually thought things would get better, crying tears. Then before you know it there’s more war, bailouts and rent increases meanwhile the venue was sold to a dumb lucky douche and to my horror Dubwar ended. Like seeing your church burn or your last vestige/shred of culture sold for hair gel and Redbull. And for a while as far as I’m concerned there was a huge gap wherenothing was going on in NYC with that true low end, even Trouble N Bass went abroad and so I fell back to these dark warehouse techno parties just to fill the void, catching artists like AdamX and Roman Flugel at Blackmarket parties in Brooklyn. But it wasn’t the same. I started budgeting my income so I could fly to London, Amsterdam, and Berlin following DMZ, Sub:stance, going to all sorts of nights one deep. I even flew to Tokyo once to see this guy they call Goth-Trad (what a fucking name right), and Distance, and Loefah went on before him and it was the first time I heard that Swamp81 sound at this raw club called Unit, full of cigarette smoke and people dancing and nodding. I would bust my ass at work so I could call in sick on Friday and catch a flight traveling extra light, only to come back to work Monday morning shattered but fulfilled, ready for more but knowing I can’t keep doing this. Melodies still in my head at work playing shitty video recordings of them back in my headphones, like some hypnotized fiend (laughs). To the point, I’ll never forget the first time I went to London, stayed in this hostel in a rough part of South London, trains were not working, this one in Debtford, reminded me of Flatbush, you had to check in this dodgy pool hall and they all looked at me like I was the police coming in asking “what’s good”.
But this one DMZ in particular, I caught a glimpse through the most densely packed dance floor I’d ever seen, sweat turned to condensation was falling from the ceiling. So this serious looking dude wearing a fitted cap named Vivek, he put on this dubplate called ‘Out of Reach’ and it hit me so hard, everything kicked in, they wheeled it, and then some technicals ended his set right then. NOOOOOO!!! I must of heard a voice say I have to get this out to New York, people need to hear this. He didn’t get to finish his set. Without even a day’s notice I was “let go” from that job after 3 years, but bless their cancer-filled bodies, because I fought to get it, I paid for it, and sure enough flipped the unemployment checks a good 20x to start up Reconstrvct, of course with a little help from my family and friends. Vivek was the first guy I hit up.
TRUSIK: What is Reconstrvct’s “ethos”?
LUKE: Dopamine. To make a come-as-you-are type of place, for the artists and listeners, where you can be as close to the music as possible and have it sound so good that you want dance or move around until sore and loose track of time and thus feel good for a long after and want to do it again. Year 5 starts in July and I still want to keep doing it, so as long as people come it wont stop.
TRUSIK: Perhaps the best feature besides the acts themselves is the soundsystem, but more specifically Tsunami Sound System, can you elaborate on how you met them and how did your relationship with them develop?
LUKE: They are the only component of Reconstrvct I know I don’t have to worry about man. I know Andrew and Zoe will be there and set up and run it with finesse, even when the paints chips fall. It’s obvious they love what they do and that’s infectious but regardless they have experience, patience, and understanding nearly identical with my vision. Many artists have told me they are the most easy going sound engineers to work with, especially with some DJ’s that are a quite psycho about sound. I met them through a mutual friend from Dubwar.
TRUSIK: Why do you chose to go the DIY route with Reconstrvct over other possible venue opportunities and what obstacles have you faced throwing parties this way?
LUKE: Because in my mind’s eye, when I picture it, it’s never in a typical venue and it wouldn’t work for many reasons. Big clubs are tough for me in NYC. Lately I just can’t do it man, I’d rather stroll to a city park and watch people instagram pigeons or listen to music in my headphones. Mainly though, it’s because I imbue such a torrent of time, love, and money into it, that I wouldn’t feel satisfied with myself at a venue, especially if some dickhead security guard is throwing you out for lighting a joint or the bar is hitting over the head with expensive drinks. It’s all good if you use a club for your night they are important incubators no question, but I wouldn’t be able to compromise things (control/risk/reward). It might not be to some, but I want it to be as close to a real, stripped down, alchemical experience as I can make it. Obstacles a plenty but it always works out. Migraine inducing, the worst is when the venue cancels days before the event or these newly settled neighbors that long for peace and quiet in an industrial wasteland or hipster ghetto actually call the police for noise, when they shouldn’t be living there in the first place. I end up offering them a hotel room or paying them to not call the police.
TRUSIK: With rave reviews from DJs and producers from across the pond and a loyal following here in the USA what do you think the key to Reconstrvct’s success is?
LUKE: I think in the UK they would say, “because we don’t fuck about mate”. Seriously, sounds so cliche, but the key is the people, everyone who comes from near and way far, including the DJ’s and producers who actually risk a lot coming without visas and tell their agents to chill, but especially the listeners that keep coming back… and they bring friends. A lucky duck, they just happen to like the music I like, or at least appreciate this art-form just enough to drop $40 on a chance to hear this on a real system. But it would be wrong to leave out the fact that I seriously don’t come at this from a “business standpoint” nor think of it as a “brand”.
I ate $1000s on the first 10 Reconstrvct’s and still barley break even today. These parties average 12-14K btw and the summer is even more bc costs go up. But my idea of “profit” isn’t the same as yours. I’m not trying to sound high and mighty but I really got it bad for wanting to have an experience over everything, even if that isn’t in my best economical profit. Should I move it to a club or cut back on headliners and sound? Fuck No. Why not just castrate myself then, forget what I really want so I make some money. It’s like this explanation from Dostoevsky’s Notes From Underground.
It goes, “That’s just the thing, gentlemen, that there may well exist something that is dearer for almost everyman than his very best profit, or (so as to not violate logic) that there is this one most profitable profit (precisely the omitted one) which is chiefer and more profitable than all other profits, and for which a man is ready, if need be, to go against all laws, that is, against reason, honor, peace, prosperity – in short, against these beautiful and useful things – only so at to attain this primary, most profitable profit which is dearer to him than anything else.”
TRUSIK: With the recent rise in US dubstep labels like ElkBeats, BananaStand, GourmetBeats, and Fortress Dubs, have you ever considered expanding the Reconstrvct “brand” outside of throwing events and shirts into a label or something else completely?
LUKE: I have like hell man. But pessimism halfway dissolves that thought. Like, yeah start yet another project masked with something you love (music) but drains you of this currency that nearly everyone has lost there hearts and minds for. Would people buy this music? Probably a few but most, doubtful, parasites want the world handed to them and the sad thing is they ARE getting a copy of the world handed to them in exchange for what ? Wait, then I get an email that I sold a couple t-shirts and a hat to someone in Nebraska or Switzerland or Brooklyn. I ship it out with a little note and the latest copy of Big Up, it makes me feel human. That’s all I want to be really at this level. So anyway, right now, my emphasis has shifted into creating more sensibly designed Reconstrvct clothing and other needful musical things. Not really a label, but there’s room for more than just our SoundCloud recorded sets. I got a design studio in the basement of that High Times church where we did the Keysound night off Broadway, shared with some other artists and industrial designers so there’s lot of good energy and jokes and music exchanged. With the J train right outside it drowns out the noise, we can be loud and live and straight profit.
TRUSIK: Reconstrvct has steadily grown to include sounds outside of dubstep, has or was this shift a conscious decision to bring in more varied acts or was did you find yourself booking acts in a more unconscious way?
LUKE: That’s a timely question as I’ve been in the midst of painfully analyzing my own unconscious now for the past 8 month, filling up notebooks writing down my dreams, taking time off recently to camp out and lay low from the California Redwoods to Koh Phangan, Thailand. You know it’s not popular to spend time on your own self, as a culture we are entirely extroverted.
Anyway the shift must of come from both parts of the mind, unconsciously first I assume, since the music has to bring you a feeling you like or didn’t know you liked, the raw sound you know and I don’t mean lo-fi. Beneath, Rabit, Logos, Distal, Pinch, Vivek all perfect examples. Tempos never guide me. I just love that sound! What sound? Any sound. It’s just got bear thestamp of authenticity man but that depends on the person, because anything looks big to a midget.
Nice you mention “steadily grown” because you know what’s not good… stagnation. Rapid growth is not so good either. But I learned if I don’t keep moving, I will get old and brittle and spiteful. If I get too comfortable, if I don’t question and push my own self and venture out of my hole into the unknown, I will not grow into what I’m supposed to become, I will get stuck like so many do. The acorn to grand oak tree is a nice metaphor. That tiny seed possesses everything it needs to become that big shady oak, if it doesn’t get stuck. Some wise guy said “In the end it’s a moral question whether a man applies what he as learned”.
TRUSIK: What has been you most cherished memory or moment that has stuck with you throughout all the Reconstrvcts you’ve held?
LUKE: There’s so many but definitely when my brother and I flew my Mom out for the birthday last year and she danced till the end, loved it. And I remember this dude at the GetDarker night, who I think during Gantz’ set had a chunk of the concrete parking garage in Soho fall on him, it had to hurt too but he took it like a soldier, proud of his war wound. The cops came and I pleaded with them to not go downstairs, everyone drinking and smoking just on the other side of the door, l’ll lower the music and they let it slide. Borrowing the cash to get the 1896 venue (10K) and making it back that night was a great leap of faith feeling too. I never forget yelling, asking Youngsta to keep playing because Joe Nice was passed out on a bag of garbage from drinking too much Havana Rum.
TRUSIK: One last thing, who would you like to big up, shout out, bless up before you go?
LUKE: Everybody who wants to keep growing and going, along with the good and phantom peoples at TRUSIK.