Sarah Collins: You recently spoke at the National Farm Animal March in London about how being vegetarian isn’t enough and that people should become vegan. What prompted you to become vegan 28 years ago?
Louise Wallis: I’ve always felt a real affinity with animals, and had various animals as pets and just felt really close to animals. I recognised that they had feelings and they were just like us in that respect, with personalities of their own. Animals were very much my friends when I was growing up. A friend of mine switched me onto the local animal rights group, which I joined. At that time I’d just gone vegetarian, and I was very lucky in a way, because quite a lot of members were active vegans. They ran a health food shop that only stocked vegan foods. I came across a Vegan Society leaflet, and it immediately clicked with me. I instantly knew that I was a vegan, and that the leaflet was describing me. It seemed so logical. I don’t really understand why anyone would advocate a halfway house if you’re talking about cruelty to animals. The kind of cruelty to animals that goes on in food production is really extreme, and I don’t understand why we would advocate any halfway house when we can just go vegan and put an end to all animal cruelty that’s involved in food production.
SC: Whilst you were President of The Vegan Society what accomplishment were you most proud of?
LW: Well, actually, it was creating World Vegan Day. When I was President of the Vegan Society, the Society was celebrating its 50th birthday. That was in 1994. I can’t remember exactly where the idea came from but I thought ‘Oh wouldn’t it be great to create a World Vegan Day, and hopefully it would take off and become a celebration for people.’ I’m thrilled now when I look on the internet, 'cause you can see how many vegans there are worldwide. It’s really quite humbling to see how it’s taken off, and how many people celebrate World Vegan Day, and organise events and use it as an opportunity to cook for their friends and to switch people onto veganism. It’s important for to me to try and create something positive. Because a lot of people, when I became vegan, focused on the very negative stuff that happens to animals, which of course is very important. But it’s good to balance that with positive stuff as well, like food!
SC: You were President of the Vegan Society for quite some time, why did you stop?
LW: Funnily enough, the decision was sort of taken for me, by my subconscious. For some reason I forgot that every three years you have to stand again if you want to remain a trustee of The Vegan Society (actually, President was a separate thing). I forgot to resubmit my application to re-stand. Initially I was quite gutted thinking: ‘How stupid! How did I manage to do that?’ But then, I think at the time I actually needed a bit of break. Before becoming President of the Vegan Society I’d not long finished doing an undercover investigation into animal research labs. It was pretty harrowing really. I went straight into work with The Vegan Society and helped to make a film while I was there called ‘Truth or Dairy’, which was the first film that the Society had ever made. I think I wore myself out a bit. Once I got over the initial ‘Oh no!’ I was kind of relieved.
SC: What animal rights work are you doing now that you’re not with The Vegan Society anymore?
LW: What I mainly do is write. I write articles for The Vegan Society’s magazine – The Vegan. And I’ve just written one for ‘Vegetarian Living’, which is a relatively new magazine that’s come out. I’ve just become a trustee of The Vegan Society again. I’ve decided to go back for another stint. I’m looking forward to that because I’ve always felt very attached to The Vegan Society. Somehow, of all the organisations there are, it’s the one I feel most fondly about.
SC: Luminous Frenzy, your band, sings about the combination of violence and beauty in the album ‘Violence Ambience’. What moments in your life were you faced with this juxtaposition?
LW: That album is our band’s first album. It’s an ambient album about the juxtaposition of beauty and violence in life. One of the tracks on the album is called ‘Menagerie’. Basically, I lost a friend of mine called Jill Phipps, who tragically was killed doing a demonstration against live exports. I knew Jill a little bit, quite a long time ago. We use a sample of Jill’s mum Nancy, who’s also an animal rights’ activist and vegan, from a TV programme where Nancy is talking about Jill’s death and how it affected her. The track then goes on to incorporate the sound of loads of different animals; it’s almost like all the animals of the world are coming together to say goodbye to Jill. And that really got me and got a lot of people, Jill’s death. She was such a beautiful person, physically, but very much in spirit as well. She’s still very missed to this day.
SC: Your music has been described as haunting, seductive and intoxicating. Do you agree?
LW: That’s interesting; I was having this discussion with Frank, my partner, this morning, who’s also in the band. We’ve actually changed direction quite a lot over the years. ‘Violence Ambience’ was the ambient album released in 2006. In 2007 we released a single, ‘Three Cliffs Bay’; it was still a bit ambient but more going into trip-hop/indie crossover. But now, we’ve embraced full on alternative rock. We were writing a press release this morning, we’ve got two tracks coming out November 22nd. We recorded with a producer, Paul Sampson. He’s quite well known because he produced Catatonia and The Primitives, who he had a Top 3 hit in America with. He’s known for choosing an indie rock sound, which is why we were keen to work with him. We’re quite punky at the moment, there’s definitely a punk element. We played a gig recently in aid of Camden Calling, a charity supporting homeless people to access the arts and music scene. Somebody there said we were quite grungy. We’ve got quite a sparse sound, but it’s quite intense. So, we’re intense, we’re dark, raw and powerful. We’re quite in your face and when we perform live, I think we’re a band that you either love or hate. We do provoke quite strong feelings because we are quite confrontational. I don’t mean we spit on the audience! But just in our music itself, in a way it’s quite challenging. It’s also quite song driven. We write proper songs!
SC: Has being vegan influenced your music?
LW: Definitely. On ‘Violence Ambience’, there’s the track, ‘Menagerie’ which is definitely influenced by our veganism. There’s another track on ‘Violence Ambience’ called ‘McEmotion’. It was written for the film McLibel and samples a guy in the film who used to be a Ronald McDonald and then went veggie. Although the songs that we’re doing at the moment aren’t as explicitly about veganism, I would say veganism is such a big part of me and Frank and our whole sensibility, I think it’s what informs the darkness in our music really. I wouldn’t mind doing some sort of concept album around veganism and animals. I don’t know if that’s really possible, but I’ve certainly felt much more moved to do that now, and I think there’s so many people out there who might like to hear that. There are so many more vegans and vegetarians around. To answer the question I think it’s the general darkness and bittersweet nature of our music.
SC: On the MySpace page, Frank speaks about the meaning of ‘Ecstatic Tube Journeys’. He says that you were running away from MI5 for infiltrating 2 animal labs, how much of this is true?
LW: I was followed by the police during my undercover investigation. Everything I was doing was legitimate so I thought: I’m just going to carry on. And interestingly enough, I did carry on, for quite some time. In fact I was able to change jobs, and get another job at a different laboratory. But eventually, I was sacked from the undercover job. I went into work one morning at the second place, and as soon I was walked in I could tell. I was called into the office, and they were like ‘Right, you’re sacked’. I don’t know why, I’ll never know the answer. All I know is that some way or another they found out what I was doing and wanted to get rid of me. Understandably.
SC: What was the highlight of your musical career?
LW: Playing at the Big Chill festival was a big thrill, in 2005. We performed ‘Violence Ambience’ on one of the main stages there. But also as a DJ, that’s how I first got into music really - through DJ’ing. After working undercover and leaving the Vegan Society, I really got into the underground party/rave scene, and fell head over heels for dance music and took up DJ’ing. Recently, I decided to find as many vegan or vegetarian themed songs that I could. I’ve got a few in my record collection, the most obvious ones like ‘Meat Is Murder’ by The Smiths. But then I had more obscure ones by a band called Consolidated who were very strongly pro-animal rights and used to show horrific videos during their performances. I thought ‘Oooh, I’ve got a few here; I wonder if there’s more out there?' I don’t have enough to do a mix.’ So I started researching on the internet and I couldn’t believe how many I found. Even now I’m finding ones that I didn’t know existed. For example, Ian Dury recorded a couple. One is called ‘D'Orine The Cow’ about a slaughterhouse. And another one called ‘Poor Joey’ which is about a budgie in a cage. I had no idea that Ian Dury was at all interested in animal rights. I eventually made this ‘Vegan Anthems’ DJ mix, which was 17 tracks long, and had so much fun making it! Every single aspect of it, the research, the putting it together was just a joy, it felt like sheer indulgence. It’s been great and I think a lot of other people have enjoyed listening to it as well. That also feels like one of my main achievements.
SC: What went through your mind when you found out you’d been placed in the world’s ‘Top 100 Female DJs’ list by Shejay, and what do you think the reasons for that were?
LW: I was thrilled, and really surprised that I made it into the top 100, but totally delighted. I’m not entirely sure how I got there. I had a lot of support from other DJs and various people. I’ve done a lot community work, and helped organise club nights for people with learning difficulties. We arranged for Jo Whiley to come and play, because her sister has learning difficulties, so Jo came down with her sister and supported her sister to DJ at one of these events. That was really great. Then, my career took off in Europe for a while. I got to DJ in France and Switzerland, had French film stars coming to parties. It was really exciting. The Shejay poll came about because every year there’s a list of the ‘100 Top DJs’ and Shejay were sick of it being so male dominated. There might be half a dozen women on there. So Shejay felt it was time to show people that there are a lot more women DJs than just the ones that immediately come to mind.
SC: Where did you get the name ‘Luminous’?
LW: It just came to me one day. I’d been trying to think of different words that were similar to my own name, Louise, and I hadn’t really liked any of them. We do freelance work for people with learning difficulties and one particular project involved UV paint that glows under a UV light. The world luminous came up, and I suddenly thought ‘Oh actually, I quite like that’ and adopted it. Recently I found out there is another DJ Luminous, although we are very different, he’s a man for a start, and plays hip-hop.
SC: There seems to be two things in your life that you are passionate about, freedom for animals and music, what other passions do you have?
LW: I’m passionate about human rights as well as animal rights. I do a lot of work with people with learning difficulties. I’ve realised that most of adult life, or if not all of my adult life, I’ve been campaigning against violence. Initially that was to do with violence against animals. In the last ten years or so, I’ve been doing a lot to campaign against violence against people, in particular violence against women and people with disabilities. I work for two charities. In one I campaign against disability hate crime, which is a really massive problem at the moment. I’m quite passionate about non-violence, not just in the context of animals, but across the board as a moral philosophy. And music! Is there anything else that I’m really passionate about? Food! I really love raw food. I consider food as perhaps my main luxury in life. Eating at Saf restaurant – a predominately raw, vegan restaurant in Shoreditch, I really like going there. I think we nearly bankrupted our business by eating there too many times! It can be a bit pricey. I suppose that’s my other main passion.
To find out more about Luminous Frenzy, go to www.myspace.com/luminousfrenzy.
Also, you can listen to and download for free, Louise's 'Vegan Anthems' mix at http://soundcloud.com/djluminous/vegan-anthems featuring Prince, The Smiths, Crass, Luminous Frenzy and more.