Alex Smoke’s music may reside on the dancefloor along with his renowned live sets, but it also resonates so much further than this. With a production style drawn from a myriad of influences that blur the boundaries between electronica, techno, classical and hip hop, Alex Smoke evolves in new directions with every new project he undertakes, musically consistently fulfilling, regardless of the listener’s preferred genre. In his own words “ I’m playing live so it’s full of synth, drum machine and cables.” Currently on tour in Australia, Alex catches up with Sean Taylor between Perth and Melbourne.
FFF: How was Perth, enjoy the gig? Alex: Gig was a cracker. Had a great gig there last time too. The people are fully involved and there was a nice atmosphere. People had told me the scene had shrunk, but as long as people are out and dancing you’d never know it. It was busy.
What do you do when you perform? Is there a big gap between production and performance for you? Yeah I guess so. Performance for me is essentially music for dancing to, whereas in my productions I’m more focussed on the musical content and it covers a much wider range of styles. When you’re performing, the music naturally molds itself to the demands of the audience as you’re always listening to the flow and watching the response.
For a while I had to stand still during my sets after an operation, and it totally ruined it for me, as without actually dancing and moving it became really hard to guage how it felt on the floor. I have all my music broken down into component loops, kick drum, bassline, synth1 etc, then I’ve got a drum machine for playing and a small synth. On top of that i have my own vocals which I use depending on the feel of the night. Some nights suit it more than others.
How did you get involved with Soma records and what was the highlight of your time there? I got involved through friends who worked there. I used to send them demos by the bucket load over several years, and then one day they asked me to try a Funk D’void remix which went well, and suddenly my production just came good and I had a clear view of how it should sound. The first EP and album were done within the year and that was that. I was lucky, but I also grafted hard. Highlight was getting the first album offer from Glenn at Soma, as it was something I really wanted.
Glasgow seems to be a hotbed for electronic music, why do you think this is? There’s a culture of musical knowledge there, where people are proud of having their own tastes and styles, and this is a very rich bed for producers to grow from. We also have a going out culture because the weather is crap, and an excellent record shop (rubadub.co.uk) which really binds the community together. The rest is probably the mushrooms from the golf courses.
What’s your favourite club in Glasgow? I have two really. The Sub Club is where I cut my teeth when I was younger and I’d be there religiously every weekend till the lights came up, listening to Harri and Domenic play deep house. It really was a special thing for me.
Later I also grew to love Club69 in Paisley, which is a nightmare to get to and from but which is definitely the purest club in the UK. It’s underneath a curry house in Paisley, and has been home to all the visiting dignitaries over the years, from Drexciya to Mad Mike to a very memorable Ghostly showcase just as Matthew Dear was appearing on the scene. It’s a bare-bones, small dark damp room, camouflage netting and a bar that used to be a guy from the restaurant handing out tinnies. you can get spirits now though.
How was your 2010 album Lux received and what were you trying to achieve with it? I was worried how it might be received as it was a long time between my first and second albums and it was very different in style from Paradolia, but the response was great and we sold all of them so I’m glad people came with me. I really wanted to use the opportunity to explore new ideas and new techniques, and just to push out in new directions. It took so long between finishing and release that I was fully sick of it by the time it was out, but now I can listen with a bit of distance.
Tell us about the Faust soundtrack project you did? I had done a classical piece last year for an ensemble called the Scottish Ensemble, for 12 strings, and I really wanted to continue to push into classical composition so I wrote a full score for the 1926 silent film of Faust. It’s written for string quintet but there’s also a large sound design element to the soundtrack, where i’ve used references to Faustian pacts in the sound design. It was a labour of love, but by far the most satisfying thing I’ve done, and unquestionably the best music too as far as I’m concerned.
How has your classical training influenced your electronic work? I think it’s given me a real taste for melody and harmony, and that now comes very naturally to me. I played the cello form the age of six and piano too, although I was pretty crap at it, and then the drums when i was at thirteen. I also sang full time in a cathedral choir from when I was nine and that’s been a massive influence as I know choral music back to front as a result. I still love it.
What’s the mission behind your Music of the Month series? DJ charts can be very prosaic, and so ephemeral that you can’t help suspecting that the DJ’s chosen a few things which they don’t even like that much just to fill in the space. So i like the idea of having music of the month to cover everything I’ve newly discovered in a month, even if some of it is a year old. I don’t include really old stuff as that risks making the whole thing seem out of date.
I also want it to represent all the good music I’ve heard, not just the ten best promos from one particular micro-genre. I’ll also never chart my own records, as I think that sucks. I did it once at the request of a distributor and instantly felt cheap. So it’s a chart for people to investigate and broaden their horizons people won’t like everything on it probably, but they’ll know that everything is quality and carefully considered.
What’s in your record bag for the Australia gigs? I’m playing live so it’s full of synth, drum machine and cables.