-- Esa Ruoho hails from Kontula in Finland. An active member of the demo scene throughout the mid- to late '90s, Ruoho found he needed a name under which to release his own material. He found the name Lackluster in a Discworld novel and liked it, considering it to be an accurate reflection of his musical output. As to why he chose the American spelling of the word rather the British spelling, Ruoho says, "I rather liked Lackluster because it seemed more relaxed to me. It described me and my tracks in 1997 and still describes everything I do."

Between the middle of 1997 and early 2000, Ruoho released a number of MOD and MP3 tracks via the Internet-based label Monotonik, some of which were later to appear on his debut album Container , released in 2000 on deFocus Records in the U.K. During 1999, Ruoho gave a copy of Lackluster CDR#2 to Simon Carless of Monotonik, who liked it and issued it in a limited run of 100 CD-R copies. Ruoho was signed to Focus (soon to become deFocus) Records in 1999, contributing a Lackluster track to the label's sampler EP and then releasing a four-track, untitled 12", the Container album, and the R U Oho? remix EP
featuring mixes by Bauri, brothomStates, Xhale, Sense and Lackluster himself
all in 2000.

While sounding deceptively simple, Ruoho's music invokes a strange clalming influence on the listener. He somehow combines gentle keyboard melodies, shuffling metallic percussion, and hard beats to create entrancing ambient music with an edge. But one thing that is evident when talking to Ruoho is that he is not happy with his output so far, claiming it ismediocre at best and being surprised at how well it is received. "I am not trying enough," he says. "I don't have the presence of mind or the patience to try enough, to come out with tracks, to work them into what they could be."

"This year I have started many tracks, but none of them are finished, let alone in any shape for releasing. The newest of the tracks released on deFocus was from March 1999. After that, the remix on the remix EP was made on the 13 October 1999, but apart from that none of the new stuff has been released at all.

"There is a small chance of a 12" EP being released on deFocus in about 6 months, depending [on] if I ever finish up the tracks suggested for it. I haven't been doing any proper tracks for quite some time. Nothing I've done this year so far has been even close to listenable, let alone anything I'd like to have out.

After putting so much effort and time into producing his tracks, it is logical to assume there must be some sort of meaning in them, right? "I'm blinder than a bat to any supposed purveyed message," Ruoho says. "Perhaps someone else can hear it, but I can't. My aim is to invoke the song. I don't think of anything I do tracks. It's to be listened to. I do what comes naturally."

With Ruoho's heavy involvement in the Internet for the distribution of his tracks in the past, this medium seems an obvious choice for further development and experimentation. "Since all of this has been conducted over the Net (tracks available at the Monotonik site, contact with deFocus through messageboards and e-mail, giving out MP3s to compilations etc.), I'd have to say it's a useful tool," he says. "[But] I spend too much time on the Net doing nothing. Time that should be spent on doing tracks instead."

And a multimedia project? "Very surely not. I cannot imagine how it would interest me. So far, all the multimedia presentations I have seen have been very disappointing."

Given the positive response to the deFocus releases, it would seem the ideal time for a promotional tour of some type, but, to date, Ruoho has performed live just once -- at Kaaos in Jyväskylä, Finland last july. "After the first gig, there have been requests to play in a few places, but I have barely enough time to even think about doing tracks now, let alone move my computer around," he explains.

Although Ruoho makes it clear not to expect any new material until well into next year, a number of Lackluster tracks will appear on forthcoming compilations. A Neferiu sampler features an old track called "Haloaw," while Surgery Records' Initial Release compilation will include another old track called "11/11/99" (which has previously appeared on the Rikos Records' compilation A Beginners Guide to Rikos). A Lackluster remix is included on the Thug Remix Challenge CD, and the Autumnature compilation on Autumn Records features "31/10/99."

-- Paul Lloyd

Container and the R U Oho? 12" are out now on deFocus/Dutch East India