Where are you right now?
I’m sitting in a friend’s house in Boston eating cereal. I’ve got a few days between gigs in North America so am having a few days holiday. My friend runs an artisan bakery so am making the most of the great food…
Where has music taken you this year- any extra special parties/moments?
I had a lovely start to the year by going to Japan, which is always a favourite. The people I met in Osaka were a particular highlight, as well as eating and drinking with my friends in Tokyo. St Petersburg was also a really enjoyable experience. It ultimately always comes down to the people.
As soon as I left I was looking forward to coming back… I got on really well with the guys in Cape Town which made it feel like a proper holiday, as well as the fact we climbed Table Mountain which was truly memorable. This time I’m getting a chance to see Jo’Burg too which is important to get a better feel for SA. I’m not a big football fan, but I have a few friends in SA to see the World Cup so that also adds another level of excitement… I can’t wait to feel the atmosphere!
Take me back a bit… when did your musical journey begin? Did your classical training merge with electronic music at some stage?
Music has been with me since my very earliest memories as my mum was always playing music with friends or practicing before a concert and I’d stay up and listen on the stairs. And obviously I’ve played instruments and sang in choirs for most of my young life so I’ve been totally immersed.
When I got my first computer, it just dawned on me that I could create music from scratch and really you just had to have the idea and everything else would follow, and I seemed to have plenty of those. At that point the two sides were merged as I’ve always written string parts in the way that I was used to hearing them and playing them in classical music. My first samples that I used were cheap orchestral strings and an 808 and 909 that came with Logic, so I wrote all my parts for cello and violin with an 808 underneath!
In 2006 you got the opportunity to remix Steve Reich who has been labelled “…the most original musical thinker of our time” (amongst many other lauding comments) what was the experience like?
I don’t know why Nonesuch (Reich’s label) chose me but I felt really privileged. I had his entire catalogue to choose from and the original session files for the track I’d chosen, so it was exciting to work on it. The sessions included all the outtakes, and the sounds of the choir rehearsing and I ended up using a lot of the speech and background noise as percussive elements….. You’re always going to be paranoid in a situation like that- that you’re going to be committing sacrilege, so I was also really nervous about the outcome. His music really captures peoples’ imagination.
Ha. It can be, let’s face it, but that’s also like saying classical music is all pretentious and flowery. Both statements are dismissive, but the truth is that there is some incredibly powerful electronic music with a huge amount of thought behind it, just as there is some classical music which is written with the lowest motives and is crushingly banal. I think there’s now a wider appreciation of the finer qualities of dance/electronic music and the monotonous element can in fact be one of its great strengths.
Does your understanding of the theoretical side of music give you the ability to push the boundaries?
I think it’s just a framework underlying my thought processes so that even if I have a big wild idea, I might pin it to something that makes musical sense to me. I think in a lot of cases that framework can be a limiting factor too though and to really push the boundaries it pays not to think too much and to just work on the premise that if it sounds good to you then it is good.
Resident Advisor reviewed your new album saying “Lux is another step forward in production mastery from an already accomplished beat scientist” – Tell me about the album… Do you feel as though the album is a step forward?
I think for a lot of people the album will make slightly harder listening than the last two, as it’s much less poppy and straight. For me, it’s definitely a stronger album though, and I’ve been living with it for nearly 2 years (its release has been massively delayed) so I’ve had time to get some distance from it. For me, an album has longevity if you can go back to it a few years later when your tastes have changed a bit and you can still find new aspects to enjoy.
I don’t necessarily think it’s as cohesive as the last two, but I’m much happier with the writing and production as its closer to where I want to be going. I can already feel that it’s been a stepping stone in some ways and maybe I’ll start to divide my efforts more between dancefloor, experimentation and classical composition.
Creating your own label, Hum & Haw has given you ultimate artistic freedom— did you ever feel confined creating music for other imprints?
Ultimately yes, which is not to criticise them, but it’s simply the way labels tend to operate and with good reason. And subconsciously (and even consciously sometimes) you end up trying to fill a certain niche or write a certain way and that’s totally anti-creative for me. At least this way I don’t have that mental pressure, although you have to have a check-mechanism in place so you don’t just write a whole load of self-loving crap that no one else ever wanted to hear!
Are there any plans to release other artists?
This has always been the ultimate aim I guess, and the next 12″ is by another artist called Automaton UK. We’ve also released an EP by the Unknown Wanderer. It just comes down to whether we like something enough to release it. The profile of the label has also been very low as I’m very bad at the promotional aspect of having a label and that’s important if you want people to send you good demos. We do get sent music and we listen to everything but so far there’s nothing that has grabbed me completely. It’s also easier to deal with yourself!
The live set is based around a central sequencer (Live) and then I’ve got a drum machine and synth for playing live and I’ll do a bit of singing. They can also expect me to sweat into my computer a lot. I’m really genuinely looking forward to it. Especially as I’m playing live this time. 🙂
Check out our competition to win double tickets to see Alex Smoke live and clothing from Supremebeing here.
We Are The Noise Presents Alex Smoke Live at The Woods, Johannesburg Friday 11th June, Supported by Rob Toca, Rob Sloan, Karmi, Andi Dill, Nick Lumb and Jimmy Chronic
Killer Robot Presents Alex Smoke Live at Fiction, Cape Town Monday 14th June, Supported by Ivan Turanjanin, Bruno Morphet, Jimmy Chronic
WORDS Heather Mennell