In The Company Of... Alex Smoke
Alex Smoke is a true musician. With three albums and a host of top notch singles on Soma, Vakant and his own label Hum+Haw, the Glaswegian has stamped his own take on minimal techno (via glitch pop and electronica). Not one for the latest trends and fads, this man takes hypnotic experimentation and downright dirty minimal funk to new levels.
We caught up with Alex prior to his live set, where he’ll be joining label mates Tolga Fidan, Mathias Kaden and Nico Purman for the Vakant Showcase in Room Two on Saturday 23rd October, and he dropped on us the following knowledge and a super exclusive download of a new track 'Turing' to boot.
Download: Alex Smoke - Turing
How would you describe the music you make?
I guess it falls on two sides of the divide of dancefloor and home listening, but it probably all has the same thread of melancholy and melody.
It doesn’t surprise me that you used to play the piano and the cello when you were young. The cello especially has a mellow moody deep sound that I would say can be heard in your compositions. Would you agree with that?
Yeah absolutely. I always used to write my parts with cello and violin samples first before converting them to synth parts so that makes a lot of sense... When so much of your time in your formative years has been spent with classical music it's inevitably going to show through.
What inspired you to start making music when you were younger?
I'd been studying at uni and had got my first computer. I hated university as it felt like simply being back at school - and largely just for the sake of it – and then I realised I had lots of musical ideas....so I quit uni and locked myself away to learn how to make music. I also went to the SAE for a bit, but it was too engineer focused at the time. I'd been listening to techno and hip hop for years and I loved clubbing so I knew what I liked.
You’ve produced three LPs; what do you think attracts you to the album format as opposed to purely releasing singles / EPs?
I really never considered any other way. I don't just want to have to write functional music for dancefloors as 90% of the appeal of writing for me is simply to make music for the sake of it. With an album you can stretch yourself in different directions and that is ultimately much more satisfying.
Do you see albums dying out as digital distribution has become so dominant in the electronic music industry?
I'm not sure, but I think it's unlikely to happen completely as the idea of a suite of music that goes together is a very old concept, from even before the days of recorded sound. I personally like to hear a single artist's take on a variety of styles, and I'm sure many artists will continue to make them for the same reasons.
With your latest album, Lux, how did the album come about? Did you have a preconceived idea of what you wanted it to be?
With any album I never have an overriding idea, it's more just a meeting of current influences and processes. With Lux, I was listening to an ever-wider range of music and in a climate where there are fewer genre expectations. On top of which I had a lot of new ideas about sound creation, so all these things came together. The album took so long to come out that now it is already out of step with my ideas, which is frustrating.
Why do you write music?
It is as Picasso said....simply to create. It's the pleasure of making something…
You included a rather ominous video for the single ‘Lux+’ what’s your take on the connection videos make to music be it live or pre-recorded?
Music and visuals are natural compliments to each other and video and sound have always held an added interest for me. The video is by a friend's company in Glasgow and I think he nailed the atmosphere. I'm less concerned by club visuals (unless they're outstanding), and I honestly have no idea why....maybe the music's enough when you're dancing.
Your affiliation with Soma and Vakant has lasted a very long time, what initially attracted you to the two labels and why do you think they are both so successful?
Everything really fell in my lap when I first signed to Soma and Vakant. My first EPs for both labels came out the same day. I joined Soma because of friends' connections to the label which is why I only really sent them my music... and obviously they're hugely respected which gave my career a massive boost. Vakant started I think when I gave Alex (the owner) a demo CD while he was working with Soma on behalf of EMI. That was the first EP. It all comes down to personal relationships in this business and I like to stay where I am if I'm working with friends.
What convinced you to start your own label, Hum+Haw?
The classic reason: to control what you're doing and to have ultimate say in your direction. I was also setting it up with a good friend with experience of the business side so it made sense.
What does your live set consist of at the moment?
It's a healthy fusion between hardware and software. I have Ableton as the main sequencer with all my loops, then I have NI Maschine for adding drums etc live, and also for controlling my synth. The synth is a small multi-faceted thing called a Plugiator which can fill the roles of drum machine, arp odyssey or minimoog emulation. I also have a mic and vocal box for when I do a bit of singing, oh and there’s another controller.
Has it changed in concept or technicalities since you started playing live?
Yeah completely. When I first started I was totally excited by the prospect of playing entirely with Live and a small controller, but I got bored of that as it's too limiting. It did teach me how to be inventive with loop triggering though. Now I prefer to have the extra instruments for playing live which keeps things fresher for me and the audience.