We caught up with one of our favourite musicians - Amir Alexander - for a converstaion taking in his 20 years as a DJ, art reflecting politics, optimism towards the future and going underground....
Hi Amir, can we talk about when you first began DJing, what was it 1993? For those first 5 years before you began delving into the art of production what kind of stuff were you playing, and how informative were those first five years behind the decks on your later productions in terms of developing an understanding of what works in the specific environs of the nightclub?
I was playing the same sort of sounds back then as I do now. It's just that the music (as well as me and my tastes) have evolved and progressed. In the 20 years that I have been a vinyl only DJ I have had the time to discover as well as finely cultivate my aesthetic(s) as a Disc Jock.
Those first five years were highly informative in many ways. My local club was world class so I had the best DJs in the world coming to my city every weekend. Listening to, watching and dancing till dawn week after week for years in the most ideal conditions was quite helpful. Hype was not the determining factor back then. Talent and abilities still were, so my role models were quite inspiring. I was able to see all aspects of the culture functioning properly and in unison, behind the scenes, on the floor and in the booth. The experiences were invaluable.
Theres a real feeling of a resurgence of a rawer sound in electronic music at the moment , more visceral and urgent sounding stuff is pushing through from the underground. Do you feel that some of this is down to the current economic and political situation in the western world, in the past times of wide spread recession have tended to lead to a more direct approach from musicians - acid house, punk etc...
Yes, I agree 100%. Urgent times dictate urgent measures. It appears that club goers are embracing a much more direct sound. One devoid of fluff, trickery, gimmicks, or subterfuge. Historically tough economic times have ushered in a back to basics ethos within the greater art community, and you have sited some great examples that have all occurred in our lifetimes. Those factors as well as the natural 15-20 year cultural (re)cycling effect that is constantly bringing new approaches to old ideas have brought the creative collective consciousness to a very interesting place. We are also coming out of a period of unprecedented hype, glitter and excess that was the antithesis to this new zeitgeist, so that too must be factored in. When it comes down to it, most of the best dance music speaks to the body and soul just as much as if not more than it speaks to the head. People are going through a lot of heavy situations right now. Naturaally the artists will document this in their works....... and the people will seek out art works that reflect what is going on in their lives. Everything is everything.
Your commitment to your art appears to be absolute and youve described yourself previously as a defender of the faith. Having listened to as much as your back catalogue as I could lay my hands on, Id say the element that runs deepest in all of your work is the striking presence of soul. Do you think struggle and experience is essential to the creation of art that properly resonates, that the emotions only truly come through in the art when the artist has felt them first hand?
It is my belief that human struggle makes for the richest and most soul penetrating art. All of my favorite artists no matter the medium had or have very dynamic lives. The best artists are able to externalize and convey their innermost emotive vibrations. Many great artists are able to draw on the human experience as a whole, so sometimes it is not necessary to have first hand experience of all situations. What is most important is knowledge of self.
Youve said in a a previous interview that the youth need direction, is there anyone from the current crop of DJs, musicians and producers that you think will be carrying that flame in the future, people such as Kyle Hall, John Heckle, Funkineven for example, whos approach seems less rooted in decadence and more in artistry?
Oh yes! All of those names and many more. In my brief time as a traveling performer I have met and come to admire many dedicated youthful heads who are bound and determined to carry on tradition. These kids are buying wax and not making excuses. They inspire me. A few of my younger friends have studio set ups that I wish I had with all of the classic roland pieces one could want. Most of these kids are under 25, so I am very optimistic about what the future holds.
Hows your tour of Europe going, I read that you felt you played the best set of your life in Paris recently. Sounds like its going well!?
The first tour back in September - October was great! I did 3 1/2 weeks. The tour I'm on now is almost 3 times as long at 10 weeks. It is grueling work at times but it is also the most soul enriching and rewarding job I have ever had the pleasure of having.
Magic regularly happens for me in Paris. It could be because I understand the people. I took a few years of French in high school back in the day, so even though the language is not my native tongue I really understand the culture. Things are going exceedingly well because I am now doing what I was put on this earth to do. It also helps to have a lovely Parisian Muse to coax levels of creativity out of me that I could never access alone. (Thanks Boo)
Youre playing the secretsundaze NYE party in London in a couple of weeks, is this the first time youll have played the UK capital?
It will be the 3rd actually. The first 2 were back in September. I played a nice little underground party with my good mates Carl Hardy and Brendan Clark of Northern Purpose, then I did a 3 hour afterparty set for Jaded at Cable. That set was actually recorded for those who want to check it.
You run the Vanguard Sound label, the dictionary definition of Vanguard is A group of people leading the way in new developments or ideas so it seems appropriate to ask whats in store for the future with the label, for next year and beyond?
Next Up is Chris Mitchell's new solo EP Snakes Heat and Concrete on Vanguard Sound, specifically. We will also be releasing the V/A comp entitled Introduction on Vanguard Sound's brand new sister label Anunnaki Cartel. That project will contain tracks by Chris Mitchell, Joey Anderson, and me, as well as a collaborative track by Chris and me. Vanguard Sound will be exclusively for Chris, me, and the other 4 Vanguard Crew Members (Dakini9, G. Marcell, DJ. Spider and Hakim Murphy). Anunnaki Cartel will be the label that we release other likeminded artists on.
For us, the last 20 years have been us doing what it takes to carve a niche and get a voice within this movement. The next 20 will find us using our respective voices to continue to enrich the form, to inspire (others as well as ourselves), to further develop as sophisticated worldly gentlemen, and to create opportunities for positive growth and change within the culture. Vanguard Sound was always a movement. It was never intended to be just a label. More like a hub or a nucleus around which like minded souls could coalesce.
Do you prefer to work in isolation, on your own as a musician? I ask because on your bio on the Vanguard site, it says you completely disappeared and went beneath the underground to focus solely on your production skills.
Yes and no. My preference is to work efficiently being that I never seem to have enough time to do everything I would like to. When I work alone, I know that I can keep up with my demanding pace and hardcore work ethic. In the past, I have been in some great bands who made wonderful music, but we were always wasting time. I love the collaborative experience though. I feel that it is highly rewarding when more than one person works together to develop and convey an artistic idea. I just have not been able to find myself in any such situation for quite some time.
I guess it all depends on what I am trying to say at the time. Usually it is best said me alone, but I am always open to natural and organic evolution(s).
I completely disappeared because I got tired of telling people that I was valid and had things to contribute. I just decided to show them.
Its so refreshing to hear you talk about a desire for permanence as an artist, it feels at times with the rapid developments in music creation technology and the never ending stream of hype that the industry spews out, that everything is becoming more disposable. You seem to stand directly against that...
Indeed I do Staunchly!
Finally, once your current tour of Europe comes to an end, what do you have in store for your growing legion of followers for 2013?
I plan to find a flat in Berlin for my label partner Chris Mitchell and I so that we do not have to fly over the Atlantic Ocean every time we need to go to work. Continuing to challenge myself as an artist, and to give the people more than they expect. To tour tirelessly and spread the message of love, peace, tolerance, understanding, wisdom, and excellence. To dance and work up a sweat with as many lovers of my work as possible to show my love and appreciation for them. To be a humble and kind person. A lot of quality (and hopefully timeless) releases. To spend as much time with my Muse as possible. A couple of label nights, and the first annual Vanguard Sound Dinner Party in Berlin when Chris and I get our place sorted. I hope to continue to become more and more well adjusted and empathetic. More compassionate and tolerant, and hopefully someone who inspires. All that while continuing to keep the faith and supporting vinyl...