You can't question the credentials behind A-Trak's creation of the hashtag #realDJ. While it's not unusual for bedroom-bound teenage boys to spend hours practicing their wrist action, Brooklyn-based Canadian Alain Macklovitch spent his formative years focusing his own nimble hand movements into becoming one of the greatest turnablists ever — winning the DMC World Championships at the age of 15, then going on to also claim the ITF and Vestax titles.
Having subsequently spent time as Kanye West's tour DJ, these days, as head of his own Fool's Gold label, he's more likely to be found applying his scratching nous to festival-sized trap and electro bangers at festivals and clubs across the globe. With a new single out now, the chirpy piano house of 'We All Fall Down', featuring the vocals of Jamie Lidell, we spoke to Alain about hover-boards, his Duck Sauce partnership with Armand Van Helden and tearing up invisible rule-books...
Your new single features Jamie Lidell. There’s a supermarket in the UK called Lidl, which an MC called African Boy wrote a song about. Do you know it?
“Yeah [laughs]. There’s also Lidl in Paris in the hood neighbourhoods, that’s their market. I remember when African Boy made that song, I thought it was the coolest thing. I haven’t shopped there myself much but I’m not opposed to it.”
Hover-boards have been a big thing here and I saw you talking about how they were your trend of 2015. Have you ever used one?
“Those things are unstoppable! I tried one on stage. For some reason rappers love those things, and I hang out with rappers so it comes with the territory. There was an article in the New York Times explaining how no one can work out whether they're legal or not. E-cigs and hover-boards are the hot topics in legislation right now.”
Your Twitter handle is a top pun, The Collagen Dropout. Are you still tight with Kanye? Have you tried to get him on one of your tracks?
“I am. He's a dear friend and always will be. We worked together for four years and spent so much time together. I saw him more than my family in those four years. That's a bond that doesn't go away. I don't ask favours from my friends really. Everyone asks something from Kanye and I think part of what makes my friendship with him what it is, is that I don't ask him for stuff. I'm frank with him about his work too, and he is with mine. I think it's important to have balanced friendships and not lean on people too much.
“Years ago when I was producing Kid Sister, he rapped on the song 'Pro Nails'. I never asked him to do that. That was a huge boost, it was the first year of Fool's Gold. That put such a jet engine in Fool's Gold's rise in the beginning that even if that's the only verse he ever does for me, I'm perfectly happy with that. That came in at a perfect time.”
Last time we interviewed Armand Van Helden he said he’d semi-retired. Will there be anymore Duck Sauce?
“We still hang out regularly. He's been saying he's semi-retired for five years now. Armand is in this really beautiful place in his life where he doesn't feel the urge to play the game too much. So he makes a track when he feels like it. But he's Armand Van Helden, he's got the golden touch, so when he makes a track when he feels like it, it's a hit because he's so good. He's not in the studio everyday, he's hanging out, going to the flea market, buying funny t-shirts and fez hats. He spends the day buying books off people on the street and talking about aliens with people. That's Armand. That's my band mate, he's the coolest guy on earth.
“Once in a while we get together and make Duck Sauce records. It's been like that since I met him. We purposely took 2015 off because we put the album out last year and that really closed one chapter. We put a lot of work into the album and we wanted people to be able to sit with it and digest it. We will, at a leisurely pace, try some stuff in the next few months and see what happens. Duck Sauce is the only thing in my life where it's a que sera, let the force guide you kind-of thing. Everything else is thought-out. Then when I link up with Armand, I feel like I'm sitting in a room with a genie. We'll see where the genie takes us...”
What else do you have coming this year?
“More music. At the end of last year I put out the song 'Push' with Andrew Wyatt, and that was the first of a series of singles that are more focused on the A-Trak sound. 'We All Fall Down' is really the follow up to that. I'm just about to mix-down the follow-up to that. So I'm just doing this series of singles under my name. In general I've been pushing the #realDJ agenda on my socials. The response to it has been pretty good. It makes me want to get involved even more in the DJ scene as a whole. “Electronic music and this whole DJ thing exploded so much in the last few years that everyone got really competitive. Everyone was looking over their shoulder and making sure they weren't losing their spot. It became a little bit too much of every man for themselves. Maybe I'm getting older, but I want to pull DJing together a little bit more and hold conversations and spread the good word of what DJing stands for, without ever it being a moralistic kind of thing. But really on a positive note, trying to celebrate this art-form that we've had for 30-plus years and spread more knowledge on it and bring people together a little bit more.”
Is there a gap between this knowledge in the USA and Europe?
“I'm a huge fan of the history and lineage of the music and DJing in the UK. I just think that sometimes people get a little bit caught up with these separate genres and separate scenes. There are too many unwritten rules of what you can and can't play at this club, on this night of the week, in this neighbourhood. People just need to chill with that a little bit and enjoy good music.
“What's important is to say where it's come from, but also celebrate where it's going. That's why to me the most exciting places to play in the world are South America and Asia and the emerging economies — there's an excitement and enthusiasm which is way more fun to be a part of, as opposed to places where people are standing there with their fucking rule-books. Have fun with it, be doper than the next man... but celebrate the next man at the same time. And just make some good fucking music. That's it.”