DJ Luke Una: ‘With ADHD, life can be torturous. Music stops the noise’ | Music

‘I went crazy with it,” says Luke Una, of losing himself in his record collection during the pandemic. “I obsessively went into the archive. To the point where my missus and the kids were screaming at me because I didn’t stop playing music for the whole lockdown.”

Along with sellotaping bread to his face for rants about foraging, or mocking self-improvement gurus while delivering his own stream of positive affirmations, the DJ was zealously sharing his music on Instagram, and he became a lockdown hit. “I’ve always been a bit of a peacock,” he says. “There is a bit of narcissism with my Insta but traditional narcissism was liking your own reflection, not being a sociopathic bastard. So I’m more early-proto-narcissism.”

Prior to his social media fame, Una spent years DJing and running club nights such as Electric Chair and Homoelectric in Manchester, and in 2020 he was approached by Gilles Peterson to do a radio show on Worldwide FM. These became six-hour odysseys with Una raiding his collection and telling stories. “I was getting transcendental by myself,” he recalls. “I got very evangelical because I just fell in love again.”

The radio show has now led to a compilation album, Luke Una Presents É Soul Cultura, a collection he describes as “exotic tear-jerkers, Afro-spiritual jazz, cosmic Brazilian celestial grooves, machine street soul and £1 bargain-bin bombs … wonky, timeless, beautiful music.” Across 15 tracks it features the disco funk strut of King Errisson, the French avant-prog-jazz of ​​Chêne Noir and German deep house from Soylent Green. E-soul is a genre Una and friends came up with for “records that sounded good on Es” while É Cultura is a homage to the “Disco É Cultura” label found on old Brazilian records.

Got any cosmic Brazilian celestial grooves? Luke Una on the decks.
Got any cosmic Brazilian celestial grooves? Luke Una on the decks. Photograph: Heather Shuker

This “very personal” compilation represents “37 years of staying up late”, embodying good times and bad. “They’re all beautiful records but it’s been a volatile journey. There were times like riding on the back of Hells Angels’ bikes on acid and being taken to illegal bars and listening to amazing flamenco in Barcelona. But it wasn’t all Spanish guitars, sunsets and happiness. There were some shit times. Putting this together, there were tracks that were painful to listen to.”

Sheffield’s DJ Parrot – who is on the comp as Crooked Man – describes Una as “a mongrel of the Sheffield and Manchester scenes”, with Una’s sensibilities equally rooted in having his mind blown by hearing Cabaret Voltaire on speed and enjoying early house music on ecstasy.

After-hours parties in kitchens and basements, with people Una calls “the late night disenfranchised”, in these cities was as mind-bending to him as the nightclubs, especially when he was living in the brutalist Manchester housing estate Hulme Crescents. “It was like a failed utopia,” he recalls. “It was so rundown the council just said you could live there and gave you keys. I never paid rent. It was this fucking hotbed of everything counterculture: bands, DJs, Nico from the Velvet Underground, drug dealers, drug addicts, rough fuckers. There were late night shebeen parties, blues parties, there were anarchists, crusties, and it was absolutely mental – a huge influence on Manchester and British music at the time.”

The artwork for the album depicts important places in Una’s life, including a 24-hour garage in Sheffield where revellers would get supplies, and the city’s Castle Court flats – somewhere Una would “fall down the backs of cracks of sofas and people played music that made you go: what the fuck is this record?” But again, joy mixed with darkness. “I saw a suicide whilst on acid at Castle Court,” he recalls. “A young lad had jumped and we discovered him when we’d gone to that garage. It was a haunting, horrendous moment in my life. Then losing my best mate through suicide was soul destroying, and losing my dad in bad circumstances. There were times when it wasn’t all fucking good. My own addictions and drinking took me to some dark places. I was a bit emotional when the records arrived because I put little notes in the artwork for my dad and best mate.”

The cover of Luke Una Presents É Soul Cultura
The cover of Luke Una Presents É Soul Cultura. Photograph: É Soul

Una’s absolute immersion in music has ultimately given him great solace, though. “I’m ADHD, and with an overactive mind life can be pretty torturous,” he says. “Your head can be going 100 miles an hour. It’s relentless. Music just stops the fucking noise.”

And the compilation is the result of a period of intense rejuvenation. “I don’t think I’ve ever enjoyed music as much as I have these last three years,” he says. “At 55 I can safely say, if it hadn’t been for music I don’t know where I’d be. I don’t think I would be in a very good place. Someone said recently: ‘Have you not fucking grown up yet?’ And I thought, well, it’s a bit late now. I’ve probably only got 20 years left, and I’m still loving it.”

Luke Una Presents É Soul Cultura is out now, on Mr Bongo.