Comme vous avez pu le constater, nous avons décidé pour 2013 d’adapter certains articles en anglais de façon à faire profiter à nos amis anglophones de nos découvertes. Aujourd’hui, nous vous proposons une interview d’Amir Alexander, DJ & producteur américain qui a été révélé aux yeux de l’Europe l’été dernier mais qui est actif depuis un bon moment ! Pour garder l’essence de la conversation nous avons préféré la conserver en anglais.
If you don’t know Amir Alexander, he could be easily resumed in pack 200% full of positive energy. When the guy is not mixing & dancing, he is the first to move his body on the dancefloor. If you go to speak a little bit with Amir be sure that he will answer to you as a kind and really open minded guy. If the person is sweet, so is his music. Regarding his work Amir Alexander is every thing except a new comer, but his name recently appeared on the European line ups. Regarding the guy, his state of mind and the two tours he did those last month, we thought that could be really interesting to ask him some questions during his last stay in Paris. This interview was made in two times, the first meeting was for a diner in a Corean Barbecue and the second for a lunch at PFC (Paris Fried Chicken – Stalingrad) .
Could you present yourself ?
Hey, this Amir Alexander representing Vanguard Sound (Chicago) and Anunaki Cartel, and I am glad to be here.
– You made your first tour in Europe few months ago and you have been touring since then. What did you think about this first glance of Europe ?
The strongest impression I was left with was the fact that music is alive and well in Europe. In USA for years I was fighting in a battle in order to save house music, but the first time I played in Europe, I realized that I did not have to fight anymore, the only thing I had to do is love. It was so encouraging to be in a room full of people knowing and loving the music as much as I do. It was so much joy for me!
It has changed everything I’ve done afterwards; my whole approach now is always “love”. When you see me behind the decks it is because I Have learnt something, just give the people yourself. That’s where my head is and where my heart is when I’m playing.
– You grew up in the cradle of house music, previously you were speaking about a battle. How the scene is going in Chicago?
These things in Chicago, to be honest, there is such a mood that I felt better to spend my time in my studio. The last time I came out was when my friend Dj Qu told me to come out. It has been like that for years, but let me do a statement, in Europe there are a lot of people married to the music. They love the music there are some people mid thirties, forties, fifties, they go out they support the music. In USA at thirties, people have wives, kids, and they don’t go out anymore. Also we don’t have young people in the USA in the early twenties to support the music. In Europe they do. There are people like me in Chicago, maybe djs or maybe producers, they play when my friends come out but nobody is coming out. I played my last gig of my last tour for 12 people and 5 of them had come with me. There is no support for the music, everybody is here for himself, they’re nice, but they don’t support the music, because nobody goes out during the week. The worst thing about Chicago to my humble mind is that there is only a few people doing and playing in all the parties. There is no Variety. There could be 10000 other djs who could be just as good as the others, who never got a chance. It’s really competitive, and everybody is thinking “ fuck you man, I’m just as good as him”, and everybody is divided, and nobody wants to support because everybody is bored to hear the same stuff and they never had any chance for them. That’s why I’m here in Europe.
– But you have a crew in Chicago, and your crew is really active right now. Could you present us your team?
The concept of my crew started years and years before it became real. It’s the Vanguard Sound Crew. For five years before Vanguard Sound had been just a website, just a place for my mixes. In the beginning it was me and my friend Chris Mitchell. We always wanted to do something together but then I moved to San Francisco. I’ve known Chris for 15 years, but for the last 13 years we have never lived in the same town but always with the desire to do something. Then I met Hakim Murphy through G Marcell, I loved what they were doing as producers and as djs, and in my mind they fitted to what I wanted the Vanguard crew to be. Later I met Lola (Dakini 9) and Dj Spider and then the team was Complete.
Basically when we met, we were a bunch of djs trying to break out, and we understood that we are better together. We did some cross promotion: anytime somebody had a record we would all post links so it had 5 times more impact and if one person got known, we would all got known. As a family and people who really care of each other, and respect each other, the Vanguard Crew is bigger than we are because we never expected for people to love it more than we do. Right now we will release some records together in a while. When I saw Spider in Berlin, we just picked up where we left off the last time we saw each other. We realized that the crew is so much bigger than any one individual. For a while, we have all been busy with our solos careers, but we are all aware that we will always be stronger together. It started as a family of support and shall always remain as such.
– Could you tell us a bit more about the guideline of Vanguard Sound as a label?
When we started, Chris and I did not have so much of a plan except we needed to have a label in order to put out our records. Nobody was putting out our records at that time, Spider and Hakim said, put out your own shit, so that what we did. Now the things have changed. Vanguard sound will be only for releases from Chris and I with guest appearances from the other members of the crews only. That is also why we found a sister label called Anunnaki Cartel in order to give the chance that nobody gave us for younger artists. All of my friends who don’t have records yet will have an outlet. The concept is just to represent the sound we have fallen in love with and to not repeat them but to push it forward to the new place. We always try to do a really raw sound but never copying someone else.
It is simple as it is. The challenge is always to keep it fresh and to always stimulate the interest of the listener. Chris and I decided that on Vanguard Sound we put out the records that no one else would put out.
I give you a small story: I have my new record coming out on Vanguard Sound it is called “Idiot Savant Masterpieces “, I released this record after a record called “ Gutter Flex” which has a good reception. This other one was so different that I had the fear that no one would like it, I was really concerned but then I was so happy because, it was one of the Top 100 records of the year for a lot of people and it was a validation to follow my heart”. So that’s what we always do, we do only what we believe in on Vanguard Sound. But first it was clearly a way to put records out, because nobody was putting them out.
– What was for you the added value to grow up in Chicago?
To be honest, I did not grow up in Chicago, I grew up in the whole United States, when your parents are in the military, you’re always travelling. I lived in more different places than many of my friends, I never stayed in one place for long time, spending a couple years there and a couple years there. In my adult life, I have chosen to live in Chicago and it is the place where I have lived the longest time than anywhere else. That was my home, not my parent’s home. I chose it for one reason. At that time, I was a pretty good dj in a small town I wanted to test myself against those guys, I wanted to see where my skill level was compared to the best Chicago had to offer, I was living for music and I was really searching to experience what is it to be a dj in Chicago. I have lived long enough and I have paid my dues enough to claim and represent Chicago as my hometown, and I am actively contributing to the legacy of the city with my releases, my mixing, and my skills on the dancefloor. So, I can represent Chicago, but I don’t come from there.
– Why do you think this success happens right now, and it has not happened earlier?
I don’t know why now it’s the time, there were some ingredients which needed to be together. For one, all of these classic houseand techno records are back in style, and since I stopped buying records for about 11 years back in 97, my sound is popular. Right now I am in a situation were there are new styles of music and all styles coming together. I think this is really important to watch in 5 years, the classic house and all that stuff is moving out and something else is gonna come. We went from deep house to minimal and all the way back, I’ve always been on this music that I’m on right now. I knew that it will maybe take one generation and that I was a too young dj when this sound first originated. I had to wait 20 years for these things become fashionable and come back. And all the records that I accumulated and a lot of people are now eager to listen. For me, I just had to stay where I was, and let everything revolve back around and not follow the trend. That’s probably the main reason why I am here. Thing go in cycles, so I just prepared for them to cycle back.
– You organized your first tour on your own; did you find an agency now?
Yes, an agency found me because I organized my own tour and they were paying attention to my music already. They came to me right before I left for the first tour. I was on tour and I knew that I would come back with an agency but I did not announce it until afterwards. I did the first one all by myself, and that was good but when I was booking my tour I was super busy everyday for three months for up to 16 hours a day booking a tour. I was always online, or on the phone waiting for somebody to get online for some answers. It was a lot of work,but now that I have an agency, I have my own time, I can be just a dj or a producer. I am pleased with my current situation.
Here is a metaphor…… before I had an agency, it was like if you want to eat, I had to be a farmer, I would have to crop the food, then I would have to harvest the food, then I’d have to cook it. Now the only thing I have to do, is eating it. I don’t have to do all these other steps, which are really important. Now that I have someone else who I trust in and who can do it, and I’m focused on the artistic side.
– Previously, you said you never changed your guideline, you and your friends have a raw sound, and there is a trend now with this sound. How could you explain this come back to the raw?
Two things, the first one is because everything goes in cycles. The second is because of the time we’re living right now. We’re living in very raw times. The art reflects what people are living. What’s funny about this sound, it is that for few years before it became the fashionable sound, we were really neglected. We were hearing something like “ Your sound is too old”, … We stuck to what we did and we supported each other’s during those years.
The cycle is back, as well as raw is what people are feeling right now. If people had money, if it was not a global crisis, maybe the sound would be more polished and smooth. But for now it will be this way because this is how it feels. Nobody I know has everything they would like. We may do with what we have but we could all use a little more. We just try to create a little bit of beauty in our world. It could by making the people dance, by making a record, it just because we are all human and we do what we do with soul, and it sounds like this.
– Do you think that house music and electronic music could have a politic orientation?
Yes and no, it depends of who is there, when and where, and first of all it depends about what they have to say. One of my Chicago contemporaries used to say, “ He doesn’t want to have the weight of the world on his Hi hat » and that is perfectly fine, but I do. I think there is nothing wrong doing some parties, with party tunes, but I see that is the perfect time to slide in a little depth when you’re really open and you’re on the floor. Political I think is not a good word but Philosophy is more accurate. It’s a way to behave and to be aware. Maybe I was more political before I started my tour, because I was fighting for a battle. Now I’m just trying to create awareness and give something to the people to make their life better and to help other people. That’s my policy : helping people because I think it’s the way it should be. It’s very political whether if you wanted to be or not because you might make tracks for parties and to get vibed out and lose yourself, but mine… I just want it to mean something, and it will always be political in some ways because you’re dealing with people.
– If we took Detroit Techno there is recurrent theme about Space and Escape deeply related to a political context and struggle. Do you think there is one in Chicago?
I really can’t say… The cohesion factor is non existing so that makes it hard for any universal themes to exist. If I had to pick a theme I would say that it’s survival of the fittest. That’s what I have witnessed.
In Chicago, I am my own one-man army, in that I’m just one person. There are lots of small units, but there are not enough united people people to make a movement… but I am not at all connected or afilliated with any Chicago Crews or oganizations so I am not the best authority. I do however try to stay educated. In my research, I have yet to come across the unity I see. United Crews of Chicago who are not just for self, holla at me if you’re there.
– In America you have Hip Hop, which was a contestative art but now it’s only a mass consumption product, do you think that house music will begin to be like this?
People tried to do it before they called it electronica, in the US, House Music is associated with disco and Disco has always been associated with Blacks, Latinos, other minorities and gays. We’re still in a homophobic country; we are economically and racially divided so the people who could make the money on the music are not that class of people who invented the form(s). What they do, they take, the main formula and they simplify it.
So yes it could be in a way a step forward a mainstream consumption of House music. In an other hand, they could never touch what we do because it’s always changing. If you go online, you check the music; every day there is something new. This is really great, and they could never capture the real essence of it. You will always destroy it if you do it for mainstream consumption.
– Regarding the thousands of records online every day, do you think this is helping good artists to emerge or not?
Yes and No, for somebody like myself who chose the hardest way in order to prove to himself that he was doing something and to get a sense of accomplishment, I would not change a thing, but for most it would be really frustrating and it takes long time and it can kill you with the depression that can go along with taking this route.
I would illustrate my answer with this metaphor. You’re on the moon, you’re looking to the earth trying to identify one tree. You can’t, so to be above the crowd and to be visible from the moon you must really do something to stand out from the crowd.
We took a page from the Wu-Tang book. They were unified, and they were all extraordinary like a team of Michael Jordans. With my crew, we got to a situation where everybody had something more to put on the table. Some were more focused on production, some were more on label managing, every one had something to work to but on a collective we are all stronger. I don’t reply to all the people who come to me and send me a track in my inbox with no hello, no nothing, but the other ones, I tell them to continue and to don’t ask to anybody what is good and what is not find your own sound and have confidence in it- Also,if you have friends doing music, you have to create a collective because the power is the number. There is support, and if you do it alone, it will be horribly lonely, before you have your chance you would have probally quit. There is a system that makes difficult to access true art via the medias, but it’s not made by mystake, it comes from a will to make the people not think for themselves, and to not be educated, but if you give it to the free thinkers that’s cool. Power to the people is what it’s all about.
– Do you think that frustration could be a good motor for action?
It was for me and I give you a very personal story, I was so frustrated for 5 years. I was thinking that the recognition I’m getting now, should have happened before, I was taking it personally and during the 5 month period from last January to may, before I began to break out, and I decided that if I did not make some major moves by my 40th birthday that my time on this planet gonna end. I was thinking to take myself out because I was really depressed, but I don’t want to die. I told a couple of friends in the crew, and I’m not the kind of person to say something I don’t mean. I put the ultimate pressure on myself. Do or die. For a guy like me, it works but I would not recommend this for anybody else. I’m just weird like this, I just wanted to take the hardest road I could and I needed this challenge. It’s not extraordinary if everyone can do it.
– Now that you have recognition, what is your motor?
My love with people. Watch me play, and you’ll see it. I have spent so many years doing my stuff only for myself. I do everything I do now because people need it, I need it. I just go and I spread love.
– Last words?
Live your dreams; never give up, treat people how you want to be treated, dance often.
Thanks to Amir for his time and his kindness!
Interview realized by @sousouphono