Interview: Erol Alkan

Interview with Erol Alkan

Erol Alkan

Introduction

Erol Alkan first rose to fame in 1997, DJing at legendary London club night ‘Trash’. Thanks to his subsequent roles as producer, remixer and founder of indie-electro imprint Phantasy Sound, he’s remained at the cutting edge of the industry ever since. We grabbed the man himself for a quick chat about his latest mix for Bugged Out.

Questions and answers

This is your second compilation for Bugged Out. What did you want to achieve with the mix this time round?

Whenever you compile a mix album, it’s a statement of where your head’s at musically, and also where you want to progress to. For me personally, it’s not about just putting 74 minutes’ worth of floor-fillers on there, to act as a flyer for what you do. It has to be a good balance of quite a few aspects: you want to have different tones and rhythms and tempos to it.

So part of it is finding records that are off the beaten track, which complement the records that you actively play, to hopefully inspire people and make it more of an experience.

Do you get a buzz from giving forgotten or underrated tracks a second chance at success?

Yeah. I mean, why would you want to listen to something that you’ve heard a hundred times already? Personally, I would rather listen to something that I hadn’t heard before. And if I trust that the person making the mix has taste, then I’ll give it a whirl, y’know? I think every single track on the compilation is a great record in itself, so I hope that I put it together in a way that makes sense to people.

I’ve been saying recently that it doesn’t really matter when a record was made because we consume music in such a different manner to how we used to, even five years ago. If an older song’s fresh to your ears, then it’s as relevant as a record that was released yesterday.

Was putting the track list together an intuitive, free-flowing process, like a DJ set, or did you spend a lot of time agonising over it?

It all boils down to having a pool of records that you’re confident in, really. My approach was to find these records – some of which were super-obscure, some you might remember from a while ago and some you might know anyway – and then start putting the puzzle together. In terms of agonising over it, not really – it came together quite simply. And I mixed it live because I wanted to work off the energy of the music.

If you had to pick out a favourite track on the compilation, which would it be?

Oh god. Really, I love all the tracks so it’d be hard to single one out... But if I had to pick one for today I would say Factory Floor. And I think when you hear that record with quite wildly-different tracks either side of it, it works nicely in that context.

Your tastes are hugely eclectic, but you grew up listening to a lot of indie music. Is that where your heart still lies?

Yeah. I mean, as you get older and your tastes broaden, your perspective on music changes. But you can’t change your history with music: what you discovered first and how you discovered it. It’s not like I’ve wanted to rebel against my history or that playing dance music week-in week-out has changed my perceptions. I just find it really natural to be a fan of anything that’s good. I see music as a language, rather than in terms of stylistics. Some records are made with guitars and some are made with sequencers and synthesisers, but I don’t separate them.

I was always a bit confused as to why everyone was excited when people were putting together quite eclectic DJ sets ten years ago: that’s how I’ve always seen music. When I first met Soulwax and they shared the same abandonment about how they put DJ sets together, it was like, “Wow, some other people who think the same way as me”. But I suppose sometimes audiences can limit you as to how you put things together and how comfortable you are to be different or to change things. You just need to read the situation.

Who’s impressing you outside of electronic music at the moment?

Well, people know them already but Tame Impala’s new album is absolutely stunning. It’s not out yet but that’s the best guitar record I’ve heard recently. It’s incredible.

In terms of dance trends, do you think there’s still scope for another sub-genre, as big as say dubstep or electroclash, to take off?

That’s an interesting question. I think there is the chance, yeah. I wouldn’t want to hazard a guess what’s going to happen next. I can only speak about what I find exciting in my own corner of music. But there is definitely something happening in that way. I’m really excited by what Gesaffelstein and Daniel Avery are doing at the moment. They’re playing great club music.

So you’ve included your reworking of Connan Mockasin’s ‘Forever Dolphin Love’ on the album. What do you set out to achieve with the remix?

Well, I chose to remix that song in particular because I was almost being haunted by what my version/rework would sound like. I had to get it out of my head and make it exist: it was almost like some form of exorcism. And I think those occasions are where I’ve had the most success with music.

I wouldn’t want to remix a piece of music unless I loved it and thought I could make it work in a different way. For me, the ultimate compliment is if you’re able to take someone’s music, do something different with it, and the original artist loves it. I’ve experienced that myself: when Gonzales remade ‘Waves’, I was blown away by it. If I can do that to someone’s music and they love it, and other people love it too, then that’s as much as I can ask for, really.

Connan’s signed to your record label, Phantasy Sound, isn’t he? He seems quite a character... How are you finding it working with him so far?

Yeah, he is quite a character. I’ve been working with him for a few years now and it’s good fun. That’s part of the ethos at Phantasy; I only work with people that I feel I can work closely with. I don’t want it to just be a little, trendy imprint; it’s really about being absorbed in the creative process and trying to make the best records that we can.

What other releases have you got lined up at Phantasy?

There’s quite a lot going on. There’s a mini album by Babe Terror called Knights which is out now. And I’ve got a release with Switch which is called ‘A Sidney Jook’, with really brilliant remixes by Bok Bok and Willie Burns. And there’s a Daniel Avery EP coming, which has an amazing remix from Special Request.

You produced albums for Late of the Pier and Mystery Jets too. Do you have plans to produce any more bands anytime soon?

Most of the time when I work with people it’s because I have an affinity with them in some sense. With Late of the Pier, we were friends and hanging out for a long while before we even talked about me producing them. It just happened naturally.

I never want to be a jobbing producer because I can’t really snap into that mentality. I only want to be part of something if I can make it better, rather than just to be part of something. So, possibly...

Hypothetically, are there any bands you’d love to work with should the opportunity to arise?

I couldn’t particularly pick a name out of the sky. The people I love are able to make great sounding records themselves anyway, so I would just let them get on with it.

I’m answering this question all wrong aren’t I?! (Laughs) It makes me sound like I don’t want to do anything, which I do. (Laughs) Let’s put it this way: I’ve had quite a lot of offers to work with people but, for some reason or other, it didn’t feel like something I should do. I just use my instinct.

Finally, what’s been the highlight of your career so far?

Well, I don’t really see it as a career: it’s just who I am and what I do. I never dreamed about being, or even really wanted to be, a DJ until about eight years ago, even though I’d already been doing it for 20 years. It’s just music to me and I’ve never based any of my decisions on anything that’s going to further me in “a career”. So really, we’re talking about the highlights in my life.

The last night of ‘Trash’ was a big night for me, because it was drawing a line under something. And just the general warmth and enthusiasm and love from people for the club and everyone who’d been part of it, was special. That was something that left a mark on me. Just to be satisfied with something you’ve done: that’s a big thing for me.