Hailing originally from Preston, Luke is a producer and musician. For the last few years, his focus has been on the creation of The Studi/o Manchester which is a multi-discipline creative space. We sat down with Luke to talk a little bit more about his influences and what lead him into focusing his energy on building a space for people to create and be free.
I suppose, it’s worth us starting with a little bit of background on you and how this idea was conceived?
It all came from music, and creation - enjoying the process of creativity but mainly being in awe of the beauties of music and the nature of that. For me, my love for that started at church.
Was that your first introduction to music, or making music?
That was the place where growing up, because of my family I was there at least once a week, sometimes more. My dad is a youth worker and was heavily involved in the church, so my whole life we’d be there helping him run the youth club.
The churches we were part of were heavily music oriented, it was such an integral part of the experience. This was where I first discovered the effect of music and how it can affect the spirit and feelings in a room - you know, the energy and the way then people engaged and were uplifted by music. Music in that time for me reflected the positive changes sound could have on people’s lives.
See, for me, I always thought of church and religion to be something quite oppressive and negative, something I had absolutely no place in.
I 100% had many moments in which I felt and feel the same, sometimes there is a real disconnect. I spent a lot of time questioning this and seeing the divisions that can seemingly be created. But within all that, there was still an understanding for me, at least, that even amongst this - there was a power in music and in spirit that could transcend these divisions and actually unify people, my fascination in this continued to grow over time.
The exposure to music which had such an effect on the way people felt, and the thought and feeling that went into creating what is essentially worship music, changed how I experienced music. Being in the band there gave me an incredible platform to develop a real affinity with tone and it was great grounds for exploration. The friends I played with were incredible musicians and in exploring together and seeking inspiration in how we could elevate our abilities and performance, we found lots of amazing music along the way. Bands such as Explosions in the Sky, This Will Destroy You & Sigur Rós all had a huge impact. I vividly remember a friend giving me the Band Of Horses CD - Cease to Begin, and was like, “Listen to this - see what you think”. Hearing this and how they would create build ups in their songs and the tonal qualities in their instrumentation was really inspiring. Understanding how you can create music to inspire emotions and reflection, and witness its healing effects is an awesome thing! So that’s where it was originally born.
Okay, so how on earth does going to church translate to what we’ve got in front of us today? They seem to me at least, totally different ends of the spectrum.
Well, for me, I feel in essence they’re actually very similar. But I do believe it took me leaving the church to really value what it did bring into my life and to utilise the skills I’d learnt and implement them in my day to day life.
As I was getting older I really started to question these teachings, or more so the way that they were taught, and in witnessing divisions occurring in my church or within the leadership, I became pretty unsettled. A lot of it felt quite divisive to me, and I don't feel that is a healthy way to lead a community - we have to accept each other's quests for greater understanding and we can't do that when we don't give each other the freedom to explore and encourage each other in that.
Yeah, I mean for me, that’s religion summed up. You need to question things to understand why these teachings even exist. Society changes and these longstanding leaders which have conservative beliefs which are rigid and won’t change - then it’s gonna be divisive and self serving.
Yeah, you have to ask questions, you need to seek out knowledge. So I left the church and I came to university in Manchester. But the music side of things and the creation aspect, stayed with me.
I think even the whole notion of a church being this place shrouded in tradition and religion is weird to me anyway, like, surely it shouldn’t be just about a building?
I fully hear you, and in essence it really isn't! A church can be anywhere, I feel like the meaning of it has been lost by many somewhere down the line. Through asking this question myself, I found church to be a place where two or more people gather to appreciate and learn of God. But then this raises the question: what is God? To me, God is indefinable, the source of creation, that which gave birth to the cosmos and to me & you, here now. In this reflection it reminds me of how big a blessing it is to even have breath, and this is too often taken for granted. There are so many distractions in the world we live in that can seem to separate us from this truth, but this should be the point in which we are inspired to explore the miracle that is life, and in our exploration may the things we create reflect the beauty that in essence life is.
Yeah, it makes more sense when you put it like that, I dunno I guess maybe I just have the traditional view of religion and totally reject it.
That’s understandable, but for me this is what raised the question, what is religion? In seeking I looked at the words etymology and found that it is formed of two words, ‘reverence’ and ‘obligation’. These are two principles that are so key in any aspect of creativity and of life. If you meet any creative or anyone passionate about what they’re doing, it is because they revere what they are investing in and in this reverence are obliged to pursue it. So when I talk about religion, that’s what I mean. If you went to anyone on the street and said “are you religious?” it would more than likely have a totally different connotation, if that makes sense. So, it’s not this static idea of worship or religion, worship is a surrendering to the fact that life is so much bigger than we could ever conceive, but with our life we can have a beautiful impact if we use our energy to the best of our ability. It is religion, in essence, that is the discipline that sharpens us up to being the best we can be.
Okay, so touch down in Manchester, what you thinking from here?
So, I took a long time to decide what I was gonna do before I made the plunge, I had a year out and decided to study graphic design at Manchester School of Art. In the year out, I’d been on it. I was blessed to have a friend who was in the design industry and he gave me all the tips & tricks to ignite my creative spark. I’d spent the whole year building a portfolio and really defining my craft, then I got to uni after that year and it all felt very backward. I felt with this skill set I had been able to develop I was really well equipped but with what was being asked, it felt like two steps backward or even starting over again. I wasn’t growing at all. So, I stuck it out for two years hoping it would improve, but it didn’t. I then decided that I was going to leave.
Shit, okay. How did that go down? I doubt your parents were stoked on it.
It was so tough. I was caught in two minds, do I do what you're meant to as a student, finish the course, get the certificate and then figure out what's next from there - or do I follow what I know I need to do. They would have much preferred me to carry on, but I just knew it was a waste of my time, a certificate wouldn't have changed that.
Being in Manchester was a massive thing though, the music side of things at least anyway. I had the chance to go to loads of events with likeminded people and create some great music. That realm of things was unreal, it felt like a beuatiful thing, a huge group of people celebrating and enjoying their creations together. It almost felt like a church, or what I envisioned church to be, to me. And that totally reignited me, and changed my focus from design to music. The combination of sampling and the internet just made it so accessible and it spiralled from there.
I find it interesting how all those influences, even negative experiences affect someone’s trajectory, had uni been great for you, or the church been perfect, you wouldn’t have changed your dynamic.
So, you’re in Manchester, you’re actively making music and gravitating towards people who share the same ideals. What next?
I moved back home and wanted music and this creation to be my primary goal for the future, I knew that through all my experiences this is what rooted me. The beauty of music and the love of creation, whether in solitude or in collaboration, this was something nothing else could compare to.
What was home life like? Surely after spending so much time in the city that must have been a shock to the system. Did you get a job or what?
For the first three years after leaving university I worked full time at a builder's merchants.
That’s a far cry from the school of art.
Yeah, it was a big change but a welcome one. I worked there 48 hours and 6 days a week. I liked Berry’s, I worked there for about 5 years. Like anything I get into, I wanted to do it to the best of my abilities, even if it was shifting timber. That’s just how I was raised by my parents, and I'm incredibly lucky for that.
Bet you got some weird looks being so proud of shifting timber and keeping everything good n proper.
100%, I think the majority of people there weren’t passionate about it, of course. It’s just a job at the end of the day and for me it was a means to an end. I did this by day and made music by night. This time was when I really forged my sound. However it got to a point where I felt I really needed to put my energy into things that I really wanted to see grow in my life, and full time work at a builders merchant wasn’t something that I wanted to carry on with. In perfect timing, my brother actually had the idea of starting a speciality coffee shop, that was his passion and I totally got behind that, this was something that I really wanted to see grow. By using a lot of the tools I gained over time, I did what I could to help him embark on this mission and we got to work. This was a quality time in my life, it wasn’t without its ups and downs but it was really exciting and I learnt a lot.
Looking back, one of the things it really helped forge in me is an incredible respect and admiration for my brother Adam and his work ethic, he’s a big inspiration to me. After a while, I thought I needed to decide one way or the other in what I was going to do in my life. I’d been working on the project with my brother and doing freelance design here and there, but I was expending a lot of energy elsewhere when I knew deep down I really wanted to tune my attention to my music. I was making music closely alongside my cousin and some friends throughout this time but I was working out of my bedroom in my parents house, and I had learned that it wasn’t exactly the best location to do so. It became clear that it would be amazing to have a space that we can make our own and truly optimise all our creativity.
How did you find out about this space then?
It was crazy, it was as if it found us. My friend Tom, who co-owns a space in the same building called Pollard Street Processing. He hit me up and was like, there’s a space here, it needs work but has potential. Don’t get me wrong it needed a lot of work, but as soon as we saw it, I knew that it had all the potential. So a huge shout out and thank you to Tom for that.
Yeah, I remember seeing it back then. It’s not even recognisable now.
Honestly, it’s crazy how things work out. Even now, the potential I thought I saw in the building - I couldn’t fathom what’s happened here over the last 6 months. Don’t get me wrong, by investing my all into this, there were really tough times - I faced a lot of turbulence but to see it how it is now and how it functions, it’s all been worth it.
I think turbulent is a slight understatement but yeah for sure, from nights on the floor in a sleeping bag to not knowing where the next meal is coming from, that’s gotta be tough.
Absolutely, I wouldn't wish that on anyone but I also wouldn’t change any of it, especially now we are where we are. It’s taken me to a place inside myself that I didn’t even know existed and it’s given me lessons I can provide and pass on to others. I’m just so excited to watch it all manifest and the music that is coming out of here is going to change things in a much wider context than we could have ever dreamed.
Did your family get what your goal was and what you were trying to do with the Studio?
Nah, initially not at all, only my brother Joe. There was an incredible amount of tension, I left my job, I left their home to just go all in on this. I don’t think it came from a place of anything apart from love but I felt my parents just did not get what I was doing, and I do understand. You know, they probably saw it as I’d quit uni, I’d quit my job and I was blowing it. But whether they knew it or not, I had made this choice to invest in myself because of the belief they’d given me growing up, that anything is possible if you work at it.
I just knew deep down, this is what not only I needed, but what many other people needed too. They needed a space to feel like they can create and be inspired. That’s my passion, to inspire that within other people and help them achieve and maximise what is possible for them. And there wasn’t any other way to do it. And I knew that once all was said and done, me and my parents and my friends could sit down and share the fruits of this labour together - even if they didn’t see it right now.
Yeah, wild. I gotta say I am jealous. I wish I’d ever had that kind of self belief to put myself out there like that.
So, Studi/o wise, what’s been your favourite things to work on, thus far?
I think there's been a ton of good stuff, it's hard to say a faourite because it all means so much. But, recently we've had some amazing sessions here with H for spirit, Josh from Space Afrika, Blackhaine and Rainy Miller, all proper pioneers of this new North West sound. I love spending time here with those guys, it's amazing because we all come from different backgrounds, but share so much in common. Not only in terms of music, but in terms of our approaches to sound and experimenting. So I've really enjoyed that.
Another highlight definitely had to be the Clints shoot that was done with Junior, Kai and Timon. That was class. Junior is an incredible creative, he has such a vision and to be able to help execute that stuff is amazing. It was the first time on the day of the shoot I'd ever met Kai, which is wild because it felt almost instantly that I'd known him forever and I'd found a brother in him right away, and we've been making some timeless mixes together and cooking up some taaaasty goods.
Timon is an incredible photographer and showcases a real integrity in his work that we both share a great affinity with, he’s been doing some amazing documentation of the studio which you should definitely go and check out on the website. So when I look back at the whole journey, I look at that shoot really fondly. It also helps to show the versatility of the space. It’s not just a studio for music, it’s a place for creativity to thrive and people to push themselves to get to their best work.
Yeah I love Clints, I just wish I could get ahold of some of the shoes, they sell like wildfire, which I guess is a testament to the brand.
It’s funny how all these chance meetings help to build this constantly evolving group of creatives all working towards the same goal but in different industries or places.
What’s been your favourite day here? Like, what stands above all else as a moment where you were like ok, this was the right decision.
Hmmmm that’s really tough. Can I just nip to the loo?
Yeah, go for it.
Okay, I got it!!
So, long story short, when I was helping my brother with his coffee cart and shop, we were at Creamfields selling coffee in the VIP area, just stoked to be there. We were next to these guys called 'the muffin men'. We mentioned to them, you know, if you ever need any help or work on anything let us know.
About 2 years on, we got a call from them saying they’re working a festival in Wales, they didn’t need any workers but had spare tickets - so invited us. We got there and were enjoying the show, I bumped into this DJ called Henry, and we hit it off big time. Another one of those times where you’re like kindred spirits or something, we shared so much in terms of music.
Anyway, 2 years on, I’ve got the studio up and running and I was just reflecting on like, who should I ask to come through and who would really appreciate this. Obviously, I thought of Henry, so I dropped him a message and we agreed that he’d come and stay for a couple of days around Christmas and we’d make some music.
So December arrives, we’re at the studio, I'm taking a call outside and I see these two guys knocking around looking lost. They knocked on the studio door and I thought okay, well I’ll let Henry deal with that, there’s always people lost around the mill we’re located in.
Anyway, these guys are still there outside the studio about 20 minutes later. So I pause my call and ask them if I can help. They were meant to be meeting a sound engineer at another studio, but he’d ghosted them once they’d got all the way here. They were gutted. So I offered them to go in, take a seat and have a brew and a chat.
I went back outside and finished off my phone call, and when I got back inside - Henry and these two guys Prince and Mark were vibing, exchanging songs. Henry turned to me and was like dude, you need to hear Prince’s story.
So I was like, cool, yeah Prince, what’s the story? He just turned to us and opened up and said “There is no easy way to say it but, my dad passed away two days ago on boxing day, suddenly. For me, music is my way of expressing myself and clearing my head - I’d written two songs that I was going to record but now the engineer hasn’t shown and my heads in bits”.
Fuck, that’s crazy. I mean, I’ve been there so I can tell you first hand, that’s enough to break anyone.
Me and Henry, just looked at each other and it was kinda unspoken, and we were just like "Okay, let's do it". And for me, that’s exactly what this space was about, having the ability to help people out and provide a platform to create something special. It was amazing, it was honestly truly a blessing and to hear the pain and the raw emotion coming through in Prince’s voice was incredibly moving - his friend Mark was amazing too - he really had the ability to pull the best out of Prince and make him give it his all. A perfect hype man. But yeah for me, that was one of those moments where you're just like "wow", what are the chances and it was actually the first time we'd properly recorded in here, so that just made it even more memorable.
I think that’s the biggest takeaway from all this for me, that no matter what you’re doing, it has meaning and the world has a unique way of these things merging and becoming one. It’s a beautiful thing.
Wow, yeah, that’s heavy and so poetic. You really couldn’t even write that. It just seems to me that somewhere like this will do nothing but continue to attract and bring in the right people for the right purposes. Thanks for all your time Luke and is there anything else you’d like to add?
There are so many people I'm thankful for that this would never have been possible without, my parents, my family, my friends.
I am particularly indebted to my friend Nathan who has been instrumental throughout the whole process of doing all the carpentry and leading the hands on work. To my brother Joe who has never doubted the vision for a second and supported me in any which way possible. Also Ed, for making sure I was fed and had a bed! It really means the world to me and I hope to share the fruits of our labour with the world.