- Sun, 2005-05-08 12:52
Highly acclaimed DJ, club pioneer and Bugged Out! resident Erol Alkan released his long awaited debut mix album A Bugged Out Mix on Resist Music in April. I Like Music caught up with Erol to chat about remixing, Bugged Out, Trash and recognising the crowd.
“I Like Music because… it was the first thing I was exposed to as a child and it’s been with me ever since. I’m a music addict.” Erol Alkan
ILM: Your debut mix album A Bugged Out Mix is out on Resist Music next week – can you tell me a bit about it and describe its vibe?
Erol: In a nutshell, the reason I chose to do it at this point was because I was able to get aside two distinctly different sides of the music that I wanted to present to people. It’s all fair and well being a DJ, playing in clubs and stuff, but as someone who inflicts music on people I wanted to also get across some other things that I was into; music I thought the world should hear. I sometimes find the whole concept of a DJ mix album very vacuous, so I wanted to do something that had a bit more heart and soul to it.
I’ve always felt that the whole notion of making a recording or putting something down for someone else to listen to, for me personally it's best when it embodies other elements. I mean all my favourite recordings, there’s always been an element of something coming from a personal level, bands like the Smiths or artists like Leonard Cohen, and being a DJ you don’t get that opportunity. It’s more seen as a lifestyle that is probably based on going to clubs and taking drugs, and that’s something I’ve never really been.
The first side is just an approximation of how I like to play music in clubs, although I find the whole notion of trying to capture what you do in a club and then put it on a CD difficult to do, because of the simple fact that there’s not a few hundred or thousand people in front of you who are influencing you. You can’t read the crowd, so you just try to balance it as best you can to get across what you want to get across.
ILM: It includes your own Deaf Disco Revised re-edit of Alter Ego's monster chart hit Rocker, among other re-edits. What’s your overall objective when you re-edit a classic hit?
Erol: There’s lots of different elements. For instance, with Rocker, there was this notion to make a record which was being loved by everyone, to make a version that was almost despised by everyone, hence all the black metal samples that were in the original version, and to do something that would detract from the fact that this was a record that everybody loved, because you’re not going to be able to beat it. And there’s no point trying to better the original because you’ve got to take your hat off and say, these guys did it. It seems like an egotistical thing to try to better them or copy them at their thing. So, I just wanted to put a spin on it. I did it originally thinking nobody in their right mind would want to play it in a nightclub, but it backfired and turned out that a lot of DJs who I really like are playing it.
I was actually speaking to Roman Flügel from Alter Ego the other week in Berlin, and I asked him if he was happy with the outcome in the end (we’d not met before, just communicated via e-mail), and he said that’s the best remix we’ve ever had because it just went somewhere else with it. And he didn’t mean any disrespect to anyone else who’s made records for them, it was just he could see I was coming from a different background and could only do what I do, you know, making a version that a minority will understand and loads of others will disregard. He could see it was embodying a different attitude and trying to make it interesting in a different way, so I was really happy with that.
And I’m my own worst critic. I mean, when they asked me to do that I actually said ‘no’ three times, because I thought "I can’t do it, it’s just too good a record, I’d be setting myself up for disaster." Even half way through it I sent a rough demo to Damian Harris at Skint, and was like "what do you think" and he said it was good, but I realised it had to be a lot more mental and completely deranged. It’s like making a horror movie. You can imply at things but unless you’ve got that bit where someone’s head comes flying off towards the camera with blood everywhere, you don’t really get that gore element. So I just had to make it as bonkers as possible.
ILM: It must be good when tracks turn out well despite your early misgivings?
Erol: The thing is you never know how things are going to turn out, because the one thing that binds the magic of music is the element of surprise, and sometimes you can be tinkering around on a computer and something might just happen which you weren’t expecting. You might move a little thing here, or twitch a little thing there and stuff can happen. And it turns out to be brilliant, and that’s the whole beauty of it. Nothing is too much of a mountain to climb, nothing is impossible; it’s just how you approach it and what you expect from the initial stirrings of doing something.
There are some things that shouldn’t be done, because perception will never allow them to be seen as... Like remixing Pet Sounds, there’s no point doing it because it’s unanimously loved enough as it is, but there are things you can kind of screw around with, a certain holy grail of things.
ILM: And after you’ve listened to something a certain amount of times, it must get harder to tell if it’s any good or not, especially if, like you say, you’re your own worst critic.
Erol: Tell me about it. It’s only at this point that I’ve actually allowed things to be put out. I’ve actually been remixing people for a good couple of years previous, but the first thing I allowed to come out was Mylo. Although I have done stuff in the past, but because it didn’t reflect me I didn’t use my real name. So there’s lots of stuff that’s me that I never said was me.
But I was a bit too concerned with who I was and wondered how people would take to it. Also, I would finish things and I would think it was great right up to the point where I’d finished it and then I’d think it was rubbish, so I just wouldn’t hand it in. These are things that now I listen to them and feel a complete idiot for not handing them in because they’re actually really good. And other DJs I’ve played these tracks too are wanting to use them on their own mix albums and would ask why I hadn’t put it out. So I’ve learned from that. I spent a lot of time and lost a lot of confidence doing that.
ILM: You’ve produced a specially commissioned video using all your footage from Bugged Out appearances showing the many faces that have contributed greatly to the enjoyment and appreciation you gets from being a Bugged Out resident. Explain.
Erol: At all my gigs I was always filming the crowds. I’ve always liked the look of a thousand people facing you with their hands in the air, so I kept filming it. And there was a review that came out that said, "the DJ is photographing the crowd, which is a complete spin on the whole notion of the superstar DJ; like pop has eaten itself, because usually it’s the crowd photographing the DJ," so I thought maybe I could make something of that.
So I did the concept for the album sleeve and the camera relates to me recognising the person in the crowd or buying the record. And making the film is a way of bringing home the point … I think the image that DJs get is that they stand there for a couple of hours and then bugger off home afterwards, but I’ve documented the last few years, put it all together and presented it in a way that’s like, we’ve all had some really good times together, and that’s what it’s all about. It’s a lot to do with recognising people in the crowd from all around the world.
And it’s like a universal language, because no matter where you go in the world, people react the same. You go all around the fucking world and it’s the same, people just enjoying themselves. But I think it’s something that’s been written out of club folklore for the last few years, where we’ve gone from having this very cold electronic music, about dressing up and pouting more so than letting your hair down and just embracing music. Then we’ve had the very serious thing happening for the last few years…(and I’m not dissing any of it because I love all of it), but you can’t ever forget that the thing that binds it all together is that we’re all uniting as people, and all want to end our day our Friday night or Saturday night in a better place, and makes mundane life more interesting.
And look out for the person walking backwards, a popstar I can’t mention, because her people don’t know she’s in it.
ILM: You’ve been a resident for Bugged Out for 4 years, how did you get your Bugged Out residency?
Erol: I met the people at Bugged Out when they were covering me for Trash and they knew I was into a form of dance music and David Holmes couldn’t get over from somewhere, so at the eleventh hour they rang me up and said "could you fill in for David Holmes please at Fabric?" And I was going anyway, so I said I’d love to, so I did and they asked me if I wanted a residency straight after my set because it went really well.
I believe in Bugged Out, they are the club in the last few years that’ve taken risks and put people on when they were small, when a lot of people didn’t know them and they went on to be huge, and it all began there. I remember playing with loads of folk at Bugged Out who’ve gone on to be big names now. And I believe they have that quality. That’s what I look for. I look for that spark where they’re using their initiative and intuition more so than their wallet. They’re great people as well. The whole dance thing is a hobby anyway (I don’t mean that to disregard what I do), but it was a chance opportunity to be able to play these records out to people. I was an Indie DJ and I still am to a degree. I never had this aspiration to be Mr dance DJ being pictured sitting on my record box at an airport or something, not at all.
ILM: What advice do you have for DJs looking to get their demo heard by the right people or who want to release a mix album, should they do it and send it to record labels or how does it work?
Erol: If you want to be playing out you could do no worse than putting on a night with your friends for your friends, that’s the best advice I’d give anybody. If you’re in the middle of nowhere don’t expect to be booked to play gigs in the big cities immediately, just set it up locally for your friends, because you’ll understand each other best initially, because you’ll all be bound together by your common influences and the things that you’re exposed to. And if you start small and build at your own rate, you’ll build the right foundations you can exist on. Some people can take it up in a day and be a success within a week, but that’s down to the individual, but not everyone can do that, and you’re not crap if you can’t do that. It doesn’t make you any lesser if you don’t get snapped up immediately.
Just work at your own pace and just enjoy everything you do. If you’re not enjoying it don’t bother doing it. And never ever stop doing something because people aren’t noticing. I know so many people who’ve been doing it for years and have gone unnoticed and eventually I’ve been proved right, because it just blows up for them overnight and because it’s been build on solid foundations, that success will last for as long as they want it to. It’s more solid.
If you feel you’ve made something that will ignite the entire world, you can put it on the internet or burn it off for your friends. Or make a mix CD and start a small night somewhere and let it grow from there. It’s moving at such a pace now where you can get your music heard, it’s incredible. So just get it out there, because if it’s good it’ll stick.
ILM: What is your track of the moment, what’s on your decks?
Erol: I really like that Arco De Fire record and I’m into weird world music. And I’m into my mix album.
ILM: You’ve travelled the world headlining gigs from Berlin to Brazil – where is your favourite place on earth to DJ?
Erol: Trash, because it’s my life and my baby. If it wasn’t there, it’d be Belfast. There’s so many places and it’s hard to grade them, because you can’t say one place is better than somewhere else, because that’s rarely the case. People don’t jump higher in a certain place, y’know.
ILM: You were the first to play The White Stripes Seven Nation Army off acetate and Guns'n'Roses Sweet Child Of Mine was a staple of your set in 2003. How important do you think it is to dance music to fuse it with other genres to rock it up some?
Erol: I was given it as soon as it was on acetate. It depends if you’ve got an idea good enough to fuse it in with a dance record then that’s great, but I do believe the worst thing you can do is just to throw something in for the sake of it, and be like, "look here I am, I’m going to play a quirky rock record to be different." The reason I was playing Sweet Child Of Mine was because it mixed perfectly into Bootchi Bag by Andreas de Reer – the way the two pieces of music followed each other and it just worked. And the reason I played Seven Nation Army was because it had a brilliant kick and a really great bass line. So you do it for the purpose of it being good music, more so than to be novel. What followed then was people started to throw things in just to be novel, and it doesn’t make sense.
I played Sweet Child Of Mine one night at Nation at Bugged Out in Liverpool and there were people just jumping off the speakers, just diving into the crowd. The people at Nation had seen nothing like it before. They were like who is this crazy guy with funny hair?
ILM: What DJs do you rate currently? Do you get to see others much?
Erol: I’m going to be a complete nepotistic bastard here, but the guy who plays at Trash, Maz, he’s my favourite DJ because he’s introduced so many different elements to the club, and takes it into areas I’d not have thought of, so to me personally he’s of great interest, because he excites me what he does. There’s loads of people I enjoy listening to, but to be honest when I’m in a club I want to be playing, I want to be in control. I don’t want to be standing about listening to someone else do it, because I just love doing it so much. Like a footballer doesn’t relish being on the bench.
Years ago when I was growing up I’d go and see people all the time I’d be down the front, and my local Indie DJs were my Masters at Work, and getting down to Stigmata by Ministry (obviously not the club, the band); that was my education.
If I go somewhere now and I hear something being done differently I’ll lend my ear to it.
(Note: at this point Erol Alkan’s phone rings with a ringtone that seems to be the intro to Easy Lover)… and off Erol Alkan goes to do some more mad stuff with a whole range of great music. (Check out Erol’s remix of The Chemical Brothers latest tune).
Erol's fantastic Bugged Out Mix is out now!