Stop the Panic Stop the Panic (Astralwerks), a collaboration between DJ/programmer Luke Vibert (Wagon Christ) and steel-guitar maestro BJ Cole (Spiritualized, the Orb)?with a little help from friends like Tom Jenkinson (Squarepusher)?may be the most innovative record released so far in early 2000. Its seamless blend of organic and electronic textures rides a tight wire of electrical bliss like nothing since the obscure 1996 "Trip Tease" by Tipsy. Their recent live show with Mu-Ziq at the Bowery Ballroom was flawless enough to reach even a clueless hack from Entertainment Weekly, whom I spotted nodding his befuddled head. While he was busy debating whether to give them a B+ or an A-, I was busy speaking with Vibert and Cole. Their answers have been combined below, except as specified; they seem to share as much a conversational synergy as a musical one.
Vibert: When I am deejaying, I usually don't play much of my own stuff. Playing live is much more involved, you have to put out more of yourself. Another big difference is, when you're deejaying people don't usually look at you, they just dance. And now they're not dancing, they're just watching us.
They just stand there with their arms folded, goatees finely calibrated, nodding their intelligent heads. Let's talk about this album. Who do you envision listening to it?
We didn't even envision ourselves listening to it, we just had fun and made some tracks. But I guess our fantasy is a broad section of society, dance people, rock people. In reality, our audience seems to be mostly weirdos. Eccentrics.
Did you plan on playing this music out in clubs, or is it for the home listener?
Vibert: It's more home music. That's what I seem to be into now. It's only really deejaying that keeps me making beats. When I'm at home, I'm not really thinking about the music I'm listening to that much, just, does it feel good, does it make me tap my foot.
How did you make this album?
Cole: The live performances were recorded on ADATs, then they were looped and sequenced, then I would give them to Luke and he'd resequence them. He'd give them to me when he was done, and I'd fiddle about with them, then I'd give them back to him, and on and on. It wasn't even really a planned project, but once we'd done eight or nine tracks we realized that we had enough for an album. The first song ["Drum 'n' Bass 'n' Steel"] we did together was in 1996, and though that track's not on the album, it was pivotal for the projects.
Did you consciously decide to cross-pollinate genres?
It's much more a hybrid than that. Obviously, the beats dictate that it's primarily a dance record.
So you would never consciously sit down and, say, decide to invent drum 'n' bluegrass, and sample banjos and fiddles and yee-haws over breakbeats?
That doesn't work. It's gotta be a dynamic collaboration. Elements of various styles. It would be a bit too predictable to try to mix country and dance. It would be pretty boring. We couldn't plan to do stuff.
Did you have any musical benchmarks that you tried to refer to or replicate while creating Stop the Panic?
Vibert: Not really. Sometimes I would hear something BJ had done in the past and I would refer to that.
Is this the first collaboration between a DJ and a steel-guitar player?
Cole: Definitely not. I have done session work for the Orb. But this is the first time I've done a true collaboration with a DJ.
What do you see in the future for electronic music? Is there anywhere left for it to go?
All genres stop being fresh after a while. It's mainly up to the people who're listening. A friend used to make drum 'n' bass records, but after a few years he got fed up with it. It's just individual people that get fed up with stuff.
Each track on this album is very different from every other one. They're very hard to describe in words?the closest you could come is something like psych-lounge-Hawaiian-house, but how helpful is that? What do you think about the difficulties of writing about music as new as this?
People will either do a huge list of names, or they'll just say they like it. The music we make is very eclectic. But it has an overall sound to it, because it all comes from us. But if, for instance, we made three albums, it would become very clear what our overall style is.
BJ, can you elaborate on the enduring magisterial quality of the steel guitar?
Cole: It's magical. Even after 30 years I still haven't got to the end of its possibilities. It's just great that I tripped over Luke and we came out with this.
Vibert: But a lot of the crazy noises on the album that you think are samples really come from BJ. He has MIDI pickups on his steel guitar, which tweaks the voice quite a bit.
Do you wish you could reach a mainstream audience, like Fatboy Slim has?
At the moment, definitely. We're just starting, so it's definitely kind of cultish. We'd love to play for millions. It'd be great to tour with Beck, to play for large audiences.
And finally, how about the connection between marijuana and music?
Vibert: It makes me totally relaxed, and I can focus on things. It's very beneficial as a tool to focus in on the sound. But it's not so much of an influence on the music. I used to think that marijuana made me make music. Then I realized it just helped me relax and get there.
Cole: I think that something much stronger, like LSD, definitely...