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April 11, 2007
Founded in 2000 by the Chan brothers - Matt, the turntablist, and Trevor, the laptop samplist -, No Luck Club is now an instrumental trio, with the addition of Vancouver-based DJ Paul Belen, better known as Pluskratch. Eclecticism is the band's middle name: from vacant electronics to the finest hip-hop, from dub incursions to majestic scratching and funk/jazzy intersections. Their latest release, Prosperity, is the second in a trilogy of albums based around traditional Chinese idols; opening up like an art gallery comprised of four rooms, it even provides extra space for political ideas to come out and speak up.

After putting Prosperity's inner circuits and appeals under his lens of scrutiny [review], LAS senior staff writer Helder Gomes tossed out a few questions for turntable maestro Trevor Chan which, to his credit, promptly answered.

---

LAS: Why the name No Luck Club? Do you feel unfortunate?

Trevor Chan: Basically we were trying too hard to be witty hipsters by ironically naming ourselves after Amy Tan's novel and movie, Joy Luck Club. Much to our chagrin our band name has become a self-fulfilling prophecy! Never again will we go down that route.

I first heard "Triad Zone" on WFMU host Noah Zark's podcast, Coffee 2 Go. Did you send him the track?

You know, to this day I still have no idea how Noah got ahold of "Triad Zone." I'm assuming someone must have given him our demo when we were shopping the record around really early on. When it appeared on the podcast we only had rough mixes for 4 or 5 songs.

What was the impact?

To be honest, I'm not sure what kind of impact it had because we still ended up self-releasing our album! Ha!

This is the second chapter of a trilogy of recordings. Do you want to explain that?

The trilogy idea originated from our record deal with 75Ark. We were signed for three records so we decided we should get ambitious and do something "high concept." Many Chinese homes have statues of three gods that represent luck and good fortune, so we thought it would be cool to make a record based on each god. But it is really more of a song writing tool, to keep us focused and thinking about related ideas. After all, it's not as if we did a lot of heavy research into the numerous folk tales of each god and incorporated those themes into our work.

Yeah, No Luck Club's work is very conceptual. Why did you divide Prosperity into four suites?

The songs were sequenced this way for both form and function. By form, I'm referring to the different music styles and moods we're tackling. Our first album was pretty quirky, but we wanted to explore new emotional territory with our second release. To help with the song-writing and organization of our ideas we decided to adapt the structural forms in classical music, where a long symphonic piece is usually broken down into a number of self-contained movements or suites. It's also similar to a DJ set, where you want to take your audience on a "journey"; you put songs together that are similar in tempo and style. I think the first three suites stay true to this ideal but by the end of it, we just said screw it and tried to finish the album!

By function, I'm referring more to the constraints of album formats. If we ever decide to press Prosperity on vinyl, it will be a double LP. That's why we have four suites - a suite for each side of the record. This way our audience has a more cohesive listening experience and can listen to any side which fits his or her mood. We also considered serializing the album and releasing each suite as an EP every few months; sort of like releasing a monthly comic book and at the end of the story arc you release the graphic novel, but in our case, that would be the album. However, we're still an obscure band, so I don't think anyone would give a rat's ass about a nutty release schedule, so we shelved the idea.


When did you claim the attention of Dan the Automator's 75Ark Records? How was that?

Actually, that was our one lucky break. The first bits of music that Matt and I ever made was a mix CD entitled Newfangled Moments - it was our attempt at creating a Steinski or Colduct-styled record, but in hindsight it was more like a lo-fi, cut 'n paste musical oddity. Anyway, we sent the CD to a bunch of labels in the spring of 2000 and 75Ark was one of the first to call back. This was really early on and I don't think they had even released any full length albums at that point. Anyway, Dan and the label folks liked our weird demo and wanted to release it as is. We were a little reluctant because we considered this to be more of a promo vehicle. Thankfully, their legal team squashed their plans, due to our shameless (even for us!) sampling, and we started work on our proper debut, Happiness.

What happened to the label?

You know, I still don't know the whole story. But the basic gist is that the label was funded by an Internet startup - the label was making money but the startup wasn't. Some dubious business decisions were made and all the people who signed us left the label a few months before our scheduled release.

What's the difference between the first version of Happiness and the revised one that the Ill Boogie label released?

For the revised version of Happiness that was released by Ill Boogie, we added a few extra songs and took out one or two of the older tracks just to make everything tighter. We didn't mess around with it too much because we still wanted the album to reflect us at a certain period in time. Even the new songs were just fleshed out versions of sketches that we made during the Happiness brainstorming sessions.

Pluskratch jumped on the wagon about three years ago. What has changed in the way you approach music since then?

When Paul (Pluskratch) came on board, we were working on becoming more of a live electronic band - that's always been our goal. When Matt and I first started, we were strictly a bedroom production outfit. Things moved very quickly after our label signing so we didn't have the opportunity to put together a live show. However, with all of the label fiascos, we had plenty of time to work on our live performance. And the weird thing is that we now have a live show that is very different from our records. In a live environment our sets are more uptempo and funky and there's a lot of improvised scratching. With two scratch musicians in the group we can do a lot of cool stuff with harmonies, counter-melodies, call & response riffs, et cetera. Our biggest challenge these days is to capture the energy of our live shows in our recordings.

Could you give some background on the Sino-Canadian relations you refer to in Prosperity?

We created the song "Our Story" mainly to inform family and friends about our roots. When our great grandfather immigrated to Canada, in the 1920s, he had to pay an exorbitant Head Tax - the equivalent of buying a new home. This was quite a burden considering his impoverished life back in China. No other racial group had to pay such a tax. In fact, Eastern European immigrants were actively courted by the Canadian government and given FREE land! Soon after our great grandfather arrived, the government passed the Chinese Exclusion Act and no Chinese were allowed to enter the country. For over twenty years, thousands of families were separated and irreparably damaged. The legislated racism and bad vibes occurred during the Great Depression, when people were scared of losing their jobs and were acting even more stupid than usual. That's the factual background behind the song. There are obviously huge social ramifications which continue to enrage people today, but that's probably beyond the scope of this interview!

Where did you take those samples from?

The samples came from a variety of sources. The narration was lifted from a high school Canadian history record. There are also bits from documentaries and excerpts from Malcolm X and Martin Luther King speeches. We just hope people will do a Google search about the subject after they hear the song.

The first track, "Triad Zone," sounds like the soundtrack for a film noir on gangsters, taking place in Hong Kong, while "Dosa Hut Chase" is very Bollywood-like. Where does the inspiration for such a diverse output come from?

The inspiration comes from pop culture in general. We've always enjoyed mongrel art forms like movies, comic books and music. So when we make music we just think of it as another medium to tell stories. When I was a kid I used to dream of making comics and movies. The problem is that I have no sense of visual composition and I suck at matching colours. I guess that's why I channel these story telling techniques into our music.

When should we expect the third and last chapter of the trilogy?

I don't think it will be out for another couple of years. It actually doesn't take us that long to make a record. However, we need to establish ourselves first and tour as much as we can to build a fan base. And we of course need to work out some deals to release Prosperity in more countries. There's a lot of freedom working on an indie level but that also means you gotta hustle a lot more to get things done. This takes time. Besides, we want to see how people receive this record and our live performances, because this feedback will totally affect the way craft our future albums.

How does it feel like to share the stage with the likes of Buck 65 and M.I.A.?

Those shows in particular were very different experiences. I think we opened up for Rich (Buck 65) shortly after his major label debut, so he still had that core Anticon/indie fan base which is complementary to our style of music. The show was fun because Rich is totally cool and he always has a crazy story to tell. The M.I.A. show was a definite learning experience. We opened up for her a few weeks before she went on tour with Gwen Stefani. By that point, a good chunk of the audience was made up of folks who had heard her music on tv shows like The O.C. and other mainstream media sources. I don't think this is our type of crowd because we seemed to confuse a lot of people when we did our thing - it was a tough audience to read. However, when we were selling our merch after the show we got props from people who had seen her on that buzz tour with LCD Soundsystem. Lesson learned!
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No Luck Club will be supporting the release of Prosperity with select live performances throughout the spring and summer, including sets at Manitoba's Winnipeg Folk Festival and the ArtsWells Festival in British Columbia.

SEE ALSO: www.noluckclub.com
SEE ALSO: www.expansionteamrecords.com

--
Helder Gomes
Currently living on the south bank of the Tagus river, in Portugal, Helder Gomes is a working class hero. He is a journalist for the local radio station Rádio Nova Anten. In his spare time, he skates and watches many odd movies. He is in love with the French nouvelle vague, and the Danish/Swedish invasion. He writes for a number of publications, on the Internet or otherwise, notably the underground Portuguese magazine Mondo Bizarre, and the Jazz Review website. He is also the news collector and a staff witer for the adorable Lost at Sea. Oh, and there is also the Coffee Breakz radio show that he tries to host every Saturday.

See other articles by Helder Gomes.

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