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A-Trak doesn’t play as hard as he works. After all, if he did, the 26-year-old Montreal-born DJ would be spinning nothing but panel-beating techno rather than the incorrigibly groovy selection of house, electro, disco and hip-hop found on his new mix for the FabricLive series. Featuring new tracks from Skepta, Friendly Fires and Metronomy, book-ended between classics such as DJ Sneak’s Chi-town house anthem You Can’t Hide From Your Bud and DJ Zinc’s proto-garage tune 138 Trek, FabricLive 45 shows just how much the boy born Alain Macklovitch has grown since being crowned the youngest ever DMC world champion in 1997 when he was just 15. Later becoming a member of Q-Bert’s Invisibl Skratch Picklz crew and The Allies alongside DJ Craze, A-Trak was then personally enlisted by Kanye West to be his tour DJ for the past four years. He’s also been busy proving turntablism can appeal to far more people than just boys whose scratch skills well outweigh their social ones, touring with European electro acts like Boys Noize and releasing his Say Whoa! single on trendsetting French label Kitsuné. And that’s before we get to his remixes and productions for Kid Sister or the Fool’s Gold label he runs with Nick Catchdubs. “I’m a bit of a workaholic,” he says. No kidding.
What was the thinking behind the FabricLive mix?
I wasn’t going to make a mix that was only one sound. I tend to go and find tracks and ideas and inspirations from a bunch of different sources and assemble it in my own way. Then there’s the whole technical side to how I mix with turntables. But I didn’t want to just grab the classics in every genre I play because there are plenty of those ‘eclectic’ mixes around. It is eclectic when you look at the track-listing, but the way I put it together has my stamp on it.
Do you still consider yourself a turntablist given that you’re playing more house and electro now?
Turntablism isn’t all I do, but it’s the starting point. I started my career with DJ battles and then I got more interested in learning how to rock parties and playing different genres in clubs around the world. But I still approach everything like production and running the label as someone who comes from turntablism and hip-hop.
What can hip hop DJs learn from house and electro DJs and vice versa?
What hip hop DJs can learn from house and electro DJs are the dynamics of a set and holding mixes for longer. When you play hip hop you normally just drop one song into the next and it’s very immediate, but if you watch someone play a three-hour house set it’s a whole other approach where two or three records might be mixing for a minute or more. There’s more of an arc to a set in dance music, where you build up tension and release. But then electronic music could use some of the immediacy of hip hop. It’s cool to play an electro set and only go for the highlights of each tune like a hip-hop DJ would.
Has working with Kitsuné inspired Fool’s Gold?
I thought Kitsuné’s compilations were really good examples of tastemaker selections and I liked the artwork. They’re a strong brand and that’s what appealed to me. But a lot of labels have influenced Fool’s Gold. We’re just trying to crystallise the sound of this scene that we’re part of in North America, where us and our DJ friends play all these parties where all these sounds are intermingling. We’ve definitely got a following for it because there’s people making music for that scene but there wasn’t really a label that stood for them. Fool’s Gold is there to fill that void.
Have you seen Kanye West recently?
I just spent two days with him, actually. I stopped touring with him a year ago, but I was never really meant to stop working with him; I just couldn’t really go on the road with him anymore. But I helped him on a few songs for 808s And Heartbreak. He was trying to get a few songs to work a certain way, so I changed the drums on Robocop and a few tweaks like that. It’s cool because I started off as his DJ and now it’s more of a situation where every time I catch up with him we have more of a peer rapport, playing each other music and giving each other feedback. Is he has egotistical as some people seem to think? Not at all. It’s funny because he gets very enthusiastic about his music but he’s also extremely critical about himself. He doesn’t like to play by certain rules, so he’ll say things that are hyperbole and the press runs with it to make him seem like this egomaniac. But he’s actually a lot more humble than that and he’s not scared to ask for help for his projects. He ultimately knows exactly what he wants, but he wants to know that he’s going at it the right way. But it’s very stimulating to work with him because he’s got a really developed taste and when you’re part of that process it feels like everything you do is being chiselled to make it as good as possible.
Did it feel weird being so successful so young?
If I sit down and think, When I used to go home and practice my friends were out doing this or that, then I missed out on the social life of being a teenager in a sense. But then my social life was also on the road. I had a great set of friends that I would see in the day and then in the evening I would go and do a big gig with Craze or one of those guys and we would hang out there. It’s not like I lived this austere life of pure practice just because I DJed when I was in school.
If you had to choose, would you keep your hip hop records or your dance music collection?
I’d probably save my hip hop records because there’s more of an attachment there. Especially if you’re talking about all the old stuff, because it’s worth more!
A-Trak’s FabricLive 45 mix is released on April 14 on Fabric.