Amir Alexander: “I said "Fuck it! I know my shit's good. I'm never submitting tracks again. I'll just start my own label”
The US-born Amir Alexander will have the priviledge to start the long weekend of Sūpynės Festival on Friday. One of the first acts in the lineup should become one of the most memorable, at least that’s the message I get when listening to his long DJ sets full of Chicago, Detroit, ghetto, acid and the likes. Amir, having released a handful of brilliant records, is definitely an artist who knows his value and is proud to state that. It surely was an interesting chat and my recommendation would be not to miss the start of Sūpynės!
Do you think you'd play different music if you weren't from Chicago, or maybe you wouldn't play at all?
I have lived all over the United States. I wasn't born in Chicago, I just spent the majority of my adult life there. Actually, what influenced the way that I play the most was and still is the actual music itself. I vibe off the tunes and they tell me what to do with them.
What made you relocate to the Netherlands? How do you find it there? Was the adaptation hard?
Being that I work in Europe, I needed a European base of operations. I considered a few of the usual places but in the end, it came down to the fact that I just really love the city. I am sure my label Partner Chris Mitchell would agree. The Netherlands has a vibrant and supportive scene with record stores like Clone and The Triphouse, as well as one of my top favorite parties to play anywhere in the world (because the crowd is so receptive).
The Full Glass is a party put on by one of my best Mates Mr. Willem Van de Kreeke.
I also love the look and feel of the city. The architecture is amazing!
The adaptation was not hard at all considering that I had already been touring for almost six months straight. Lots of hotels and sofa sleeping, so I was and am very pleased to have my "own" spot. In fact I now have 2 since my Girlfriend's house is my home away from home.
Why did it take you 10 years to start releasing your music? And was the start of the production in 1998 a direct outcome of your DJ experience?
AA - Because my plan all along was to be doing what I'm doing now. I wanted my releases to be something I could play and be proud of 20 years from now. I wanted to cultivate my own unique sound. The production was an outcome of my desire to create music. I had been writing scores of sheet music since I was in the 7th grade, so it was a very natural evolution. I am the rare DJ/ Producer who is drawn to both disciplines naturally. I feel as though I excel at both... Or at least I put in the work to try to be at the top of my game every time. The people must decide ultimately.
Aaaand… 1993 was the time when the DJ culture peak was still in the far future. What was the temptation for you to try it? Who were your teachers?
The temptation was that when I first heard the music played in a club, I instantly knew that I could someday learn to be one of the very best at it. I just knew it. That is why I have pursued this art form the way that I have for the last 20 plus years. I was either going to be a top instrumentalist in an orchestra, or be doing what I'm doing now. I found this music and dropped out of college where I was pursuing a degree in composition and jazz studies. I still love that music, but I wanted to do music of my generation. So I dedicated my life to it.
I was my own teacher. Just me and my records (and a very tolerant Girlfriend at the time who would let me practice for hours on end non-stop). Mixing records came very naturally to me.
What was your first gig like?
I remember it perfectly...
It was a rare and unusual outdoor party (for my scene at the time). It was at a botanical garden and the setting was beautiful. It was a grey and overcast day, and it was the first time I had ever played on real 1200's. I had direct drive technics with pitch controls, but they were the SL 202's with the tiny little rotary pitch control and the low torque motor. You had to push the record when you cued it. I learned to match beats by mixing all 7 minutes of both records on those decks, as a result it helped me to develop some serious chops when it comes to actual mixing versus just blending in and out of records. I always thought that the point was to make a new song with the mix, so that is what I would practice for hours upon hours. Day after day. For years... But on that particular party I was having to learn how to use the 1200 real time at my first gig. They were so different than what I was used to. I still have a tape of that performance, actually.
If or when your track is rejected by the label, how would or does that make you feel?
AA - I submitted tracks without being asked to only twice. The first time was Plan B, so that worked out really well, (LOL) The second time was to several labels right after my first Plan B digital release because I wanted some more vinyl releases, you know? I got rejected by all of them so I said "Fuck it! I know my shit's good. I'm never submitting tracks again. I'll just start my own label".
So that's what I did. I never ever submitted tracks to any label unless asked to do so first ever again. I just started a label that to this day only releases the works of me and my co-owner Chris Mitchell's music.
I advise any artist who feels that they really have what it takes to just show and prove. Do your own thing. Don't wait for other people to "hook you up". It doesn't really work that way. Submitting tracks to labels was a very undesirable situation for me personally. I would not suggest that anyone do it... But to each his own.
When a record is finally out, do you feel relieved or stressed?
Relieved of course. Because I want the people who wish to enjoy the record to have it. Because why would I stress? I just make sure that everything leading up to the release has been executed to the best of my ability. I put in the work on the ground level so that things can stack up well proper.
How do you cope with the A&R job in Vanguard? Do you receive a lot of demos, and how much of them are really worth checking out? Or is the majority shit?
AA - To be honest, I don't. That's not really my thing as previously stated. Our labels are not really set up that way. For example, Vanguard Sound only releases the music of the Vanguard Crew's 6 members. G. Marcell, Dakini9, Hakim Murphy, DJ Spider, Chris Mitchell, and me; Amir Alexander. Anunnaki Cartel has an open policy, but we let things happen organically. We are both much too busy to just sit and sift through a bunch of not so good tracks to get to a few decent ones. We are already about 2 years ahead with our release schedule, as we have quite a few peers we have been wanting to work with. We created a vehicle to make that happen.
My opinion is that the cream will always rise to the top. When you believe in what your doing enough, you'll begin to create your own opportunities, or you'll get weeded out because this isn't for everyone. To be a truly successful artist who is continuing to advance as a DJ and a Producer while maintaining an aggressive tour schedule take a lot of discipline, hard work, intellect, (both street smarts and book smarts), a good attitude, the ability to adapt, and your skills must be on par with the best of the best in the world. Once you feel like you have those things going for you, you will be unstoppable!
Should a successful producer become a mentor, in a way, for younger musicians? Or should everyone learn it the hard way
They shouldn't if they don't want to, but I do want to. I feel it is my duty to the culture. To the community as a veteran to help nurture the rookies.
In my perfect world everyone would pick the hardest shit imaginable and learn to do things that way I do, but that is not realistic... Besides, it would make for a very boring world if we were all the same. To each his or her own. The truly great will always find a way.
What is the most important music messenger today? Is it blogs, torrents, webshops or the artists themselves?
I don't really fuck with torrents and such being that I am strictly vinyl. The web in general, I would say. The artists who can promote and present themselves properly will definitely have more success. The internet is crucial in this age, but only one part. Word of mouth still plays a key role as well. That's how things go viral in the first place.
Should a DJ be considered a rockstar?
That's a bunch of fuckery in my opinion. I am there as a servant, not to be put on a pedestal. I seek to exalt those I play for, not the other way around.
What did I say before though..? To each his own. Somebody's gotta be a clown spectacle, I guess. Some people's egos feed on the attention.
What is essential for a perfect festival DJ set?
A good attitude, a well packed party bag, my favorite let's get it records, comfortable shoes, functioning gear, good monitors, and a friendly, knowledgeable staff... And as much rest the night before as possible.
What does your ideal holiday look like? Is there place for music in it?
Somewhere green with lots of blue water and rocky mountains. Lazy days with My Girlfriend Clara just chilling. We're both workaholics, so I'm sure we would be laptopping a bit while on holiday, but to do it beach side while lounging and getting irie puts a whole new spin on the words business lunch.
Of course there is a place for music in it. We are both DJ's so music follows us everywhere. Ideally we would sleep in and have brunch while listening to the likes of Nina Simone or Bobby McFerrin. During the day we might hit the local record stores to go digging, and at night we would check out the local reggae scene or maybe hit a club to go dancing, as we are both very avid dancers as well.
Ideally, Chris and I would throw a party on a small island twice a year. Invite about 50 to a hundred friends block out the coolest beach side hotel we could afford and make merry for a week. That would be the best working vacation ever!
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D.D. 2004 - 2016
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