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Alex Smoke

Alex Smoke delivers the second instalment of the IA x Krake Mix Series with an extensive 3 hour recording of his DJ set at Suicide Circus from last years Krake Festival. In the interview we discuss his involvement and experience of Krake Festival. We also discuss his early relationship with Soma, his now defunct imprint Hum+Haw, his latest Wraetlic production alias and how his approach to music has developed over the past decade.

What have you been up to over the past couple of months?

I’ve mainly been sat in my wee studio for the last few months, making music as if my life depended on it, which it probably does.

How did you get involved with Krake Festival last year? What were your initial thoughts about it?

Well the request stood out because it was for a long DJ set, covering any genres I like, rather than the more normal request for an Alex Smoke live set. That is a fairly hard thing to turn down as I love DJing, and don’t get asked as much as I’d like, and it is also a chance to play anything rather than just the normal requirement of peak time dance floor tunes.

Your mix is a 3-hour recording of your DJ set at Suicide Circus from Krake Festival in 2012. Can you tell me more about that specific night, the mood you were in as well as the atmosphere in the club?

Actually I was quite nervous as I hadn’t been DJing much recently, and I guess I had lost a bit of confidence with it, as happens when you’re away from something for a while…but the club had an excellent easy atmosphere, and the crowd were clearly open to whatever so that gave me a chance to start extremely abstract and make myself comfortable.

I had spent a long time picking out records and digging into my collection so was looking forward to playing some less-known music that I love. I also had my cousin from New Zealand and a close friend from Madrid visiting so it made for an even more memorable night.

I first discovered your music in 2005 thanks to your debut album Incommunicado released via Soma. Being from Glasgow was Soma a label that you had aspired to release on? 

In Glasgow there is no getting away from the influence that Soma have had over the years, so yes it was an obvious label to harass with demos.

I am also friends with several people who worked there, which made it an even more obvious choice as I could bombard them with music very easily. I know Jim (my label partner who worked for Soma in those days) was very instrumental in making sure the A&R guy Glenn heard my music.

Can you tell me about your method of production and how it has developed over the past decade?

In many ways it hasn’t changed much at all. I still prefer to use Logic and work mainly inside the box, although I have had periods using hardware synths in that time too, especially the Nord Modular and Elektron Monomachine. But I had to sell the Nord when I was skint so it’s back to software!

In that time I also bought a Kyma system, which is a kind of hardware-based DSP system in the same vein as MaxMSP, and that is now extremely central to my working process. I have always put the focus on working quickly and getting ideas down fast so as to minimise the amount of deviation from the original idea and to get the music in my head out fast. Hence software is the best way to work. However Kyma forces you to work in a much more laborious, experimental way so that has been good for me in expanding my musical horizons.

You founded your own label Hum+Haw in 2008 – What’s the label currently working on and how are you developing it?

Hum & Haw is dead. Having a label was not the best idea to be honest, as I have no interest in business or in having a stable of artists. Jim was more into the label side of things and I was simply into the idea of releasing my own music, but even then I wasn’t really making the kind of music that had a big market so it was financially a total disaster. Then I got ill and didn’t even have the gigs to support it so it became a serious burden. I am still proud of at least some of the music we put out.

Have your aims and aspirations changed since you established Hum+Haw?

Now I just really appreciate having someone else to do that shit for me, as PR and business and money are anathema to me. I just signed with a new larger label so that means I can relax and get on with making music, which is what I am in this business for. Not money, not parties, not girls, not drugs, not fame. But everything in moderation is fine!

Do you have a personal philosophy on sound?

For me electronic music is about the limitless possibility of sound, and the infinite avenues of exploration. It is also personal for me and a big part of it is the process of working alone.

A lot of people ask about collaborations and who I’d like to work with but on the whole it is not something I really aspire to…I am selfish and I like the isolation.

I also love the sense of progress, of learning new skills, new software, new techniques and also of incorporating new influences, whether they are musical, academic or philosophical… I guess I thrive on new input.

Krake recently released ‘Krake001’ featuring your track ‘LiveOn’ – Tell us more about this track, when did you produce it and what character or atmosphere do you feel the track embodies?

It was written in the first few weeks of being back in Scotland after leaving London. I wrote a mountain of new music in a month or two, which was just an expression of a weight being lifted. The track very much embodies that time. Music doesn’t need much explanation really but it signifies something important to me.

What environments or even states of mind do you prefer to write music in?

My ideal would be a large bright room full of windows, located in a garden and overlooking a loch or forest in Scotland…and that will be a reality in a couple of years I guess.

I need to learn to drive first but after that it is going to be a lot more time in the country, composing and living quietly. I generally find that working late at night produces the best results as the brain is in that almost meditative state and the brainwaves have actually changed. That’s when ideas are closest to the surface and most original.

This year you released a new album / moniker called Wraetlic on Convex Industries. Can you tell me more about your decision to release under this new name and what you set out to achieve?

I simply wanted to have a bit of a change as I’d got bogged down with worrying about what people expect from an Alex Smoke record, and it was stifling my creativity a bit.

I’d also been ill a lot and was finally able to work properly so it was a fresh start. I wanted it to be short songs, with freestyle production of no particular genre and with vocals being the central element. I also collaborated with a visual artist for the first time, which was an important aspect of the project. I was lucky to find Vokoi in Japan as he id an amazing job of it.

Do you have any more Wraetlic records lined up for release?

There will be a single new track on Convex this year, but other than that it is all about the 2nd album, which is nearly finished. There are no plans for it as yet but it will most likely be out next year. And I won’t call it anything pretentious like “II” or “The Second Album”.

Are there any particular unexpected/funny moments from Krake 2012 that you’d like to share with us?

I’m the wrong guy to ask. I have the worst memory of any musician I know and that’s saying something. I just know that I loved it and had to look after my pals as they loved it even more.

What are the strangest places you’ve played at?

As I say, my memory is utterly feeble. Most unusual city was Saratov in Russia, but the club was normal. Actually my first gig in Moscow was probably the strangest. We were having dinner at this lovely Asian restaurant with Boris the promoter and his girlfriend Alison, and it was getting pretty close to the time for setting up so I was getting a bit anxious…so I was like “had we not better get to the club?” and he’s just “oh we are at the club!”…and I played in a corridor between the restaurant’s 2 dining rooms. In his defense, Boris had organised it just to check me out before booking me for his normal club night, but it was still very random.

What other activities or hobbies do you get up to apart from music?

I am a guy with simple tastes. I love cooking, cutting about (especially in the country), reading and kicking kittens to death. But not every day.

What are your views on music journalism at present? Are you influenced by people’s interpretations of your music?

Hmm…as with everything in the modern world, the mainstream is now far too much to do with corporate agendas, sales, PR and so on. It’s largely a conveyor of hype. Hype is exhausting, and I reckon I have only heard 3 albums this year that lived up to or exceeded any of it.

On the plus side there are of course a wealth of independent voices out there, writing blogs and talking about what they’re passionate about, and that is where the good stuff is to be found in my opinion.

The tastemakers are just that, manufacturers of taste according to their own sets of criteria, and heavily influenced by financial and editorial considerations.

Do you have any final words, words of wisdom perhaps?

Ha…. I doubt it. But I guess if I had to leave with any parting shot about music I would say to ignore the hype, stay open minded and look for the true artists hidden amongst the pros and the chameleons.

Krake Festival 2013 takes place in Berlin between the 5th – 10th August.