Chicagoan Amir Alexander has been one of the most prolific and preeminent underground house producers and DJs of 2012. Dunkel Radio's Daniel Bruhn Jensen had a lengthy chat with him about his recent European tour, his first releases, his career and his future.
2012 was probably the best year of Amir Alexander's musical career. He has had a string of top notch releases on labels like Argot, Hypercolour and Finale Sessions, his own label Vanguard Sound is selling out every record since it's launch in January, and he recently ended his first European tour. He is already returning to Europe in december for his debut at the Berghain/Panorama Bar in Berlin - presumably the best club in the world at the moment. On top of all that, he is about to drop his fifth EP this year, this time on Vanguard Sound (FIY, he gave me a test pressing of it when he visited Copenhagen back in september - it's out-of-this-world good!).
Amir's music career spans nearly two decades. Having DJ'ed since '93 and produced since '98, it wasn't until 2008 that he started releasing his music. Not long after his first release he hooked up with New York heavyweight DJ Spider (who is playing in Copenhagen in november, by the way) and did an EP for his label, Plan B Recordings. This connection was essential to Amir Alexanders future career, as it was part of the reason that he formed the Vanguard Sound crew and record label with DJ Spider, Hakim Murphy, Dakini9 aka. Lola, G. Marcell and Chris Mitchell.
I've been wondering, what was it exactly that made you want to wait until 2008 to start releasing your own music?
I waited 10 years to release music because I wanted to wait until I was making shit that was worth releasing. I'm not trying to add to all of the mundane clutter sounds out there, you know? It is my personal opinion that the whole scene would benefit if more artists would take that route. I am highly critical of my own work, but being so critical works for me. In the end, it's all about what you're in it for. I make music because I have to, and because I love the culture. Whether it was getting released or not really didn't matter to me. I just wanted to make the best tracks I could possibly make. Releasing it on labels for others to hear and consume was a very natural evolution. For the most part (my EP on Plan B being the exception) all of my releases have come about because the label owners requested music from me. I just kept making tracks for 10 years with the idea that, when they were worth releasing the labels would come and ask for them. It is a very frustrating and lonely route to take but once you get "on" you have the pleasure of knowing that you are self made. No one can ever say that they were my quote un quote King Maker. Nobody "put me on". That means a lot to me because easy come, easy go in this business. I was often frustrated that things were taking so long to happen to me, but I was comforted by the fact(s) that if and when people finally did notice me I'd have hella back catalogue. Something that separates rookies from veterans.... and that's pretty much what happened.
What about when you started working with DJ Spider on Plan B? How do you feel that connection has helped your career?
What's funny about my association with Plan B is that I am considered an integral artist on their roster, but I've only ever released one digital EP (one I consider a lost EP because I only play records), one actual track on a vinyl V/A comp, and a remix of Chris' debut EP. So that's what? Only 2 vinyl tracks and a digital EP that most people have never heard.The time that the Vanguard Crew all met and formed was a very special and magical time in all of our careers. Right time, right place, right people. It helped me immensely because Plan B actually promoted their music. On Bearatone that was not the policy so much, so my releases on that label were just languishing into obscurity. The fact that Plan B did what it took to make people aware of the music they were releasing gave me renewed purpose and vigor. I now felt like if the music was good enough I might have a chance of people actually hearing it. Lola and Spider helped me to find an audience. (Thanks Yo!)
How was the European tour? And how has it been being back home again?
The tour was amazing! A life changing experience to say the least. I'm used to playing for empty rooms (if I get to play at all), so it was nice to have an audience for a change LOL. I met a lot of amazing people and was totally overwhelmed at the amount of true and honest love I received. Being home is bittersweet, I guess. It's nice to hang out with Melvin the Dog. He's always glad to see me. It's also nice to be in my studio surrounded by my records, gear, and work computer….And it's definitely nice to be able to have a real cup of fucking coffee LOL! I'm going to have to start bringing my own beans a grinder, and a drip coffee maker out with me on tour. Espresso is nice but sometimes I want a large cup of caffeine juice.
Chicago is an amazing city and I love just walking the streets, however I played the last gig of my tour here in Chicago to and empty room of about 12 people. That I don't miss at all.
What do you have coming up? Is there anything you're especially looking forward to?
I'm looking forward to everything in general. In specific, I am looking forward to the day that I get to share the decks with my good friend and partner Chris Mitchell. That will happen (hopefully) some time early next year. I'm also looking forward to the new label Annunaki Cartel, and the releases we have planned. EP's by Chicago's Traxx, a new and young artist from Italy named Andrea Lander, Joey Anderson, a V/A with Chris Mitchell, Joey and Myself, as well as a re-release (perhaps) of one of my rare and unavailable EP's. And of course solo EP's by Chris and Myself. And then I'm really looking forward to my next European Tour/trip, etc. I am due to play Panorama Bar, so that's pretty exciting. The Monkey Bar in Barcelona is also on my schedule. I've heard lots of great things about that place, so it's nice to have a chance to play there. It appears that I will be "on the road" for both Christmas and the New Year this winter, so I am interested to see how those days and nights will be spent. Be it in a hotel room by myself or playing parties with and for people..... who knows???? I guess we shall see - I also have some EP's due out on some great labels in 2013 I'm working on. I just need to find the time to complete them..... and lastly I am looking forward to figuring out how I will relocate to Europe so that I do not have to fly 8 hours just to be closer to work opportunities, etc.
How did your first records get released? The first few were on G. Marcell's label right?
My first releases came because my friend G. Marcell asked me to submit some tracks. Bear in mind that I have had label owner friends the whole time I've been making tracks but I would never ask them to put them out for me because I felt like if I was making shit worth putting out they would ask me... That finally happened. G. and I were friends for about a year before he asked for some tracks. Mostly we would talk on the phone or whatever. There was about a 2-3 month period where we didn't talk because we were both really busy. This was right after I had decided to suspend my DJ activities to dedicate myself to production full time. I had just completed a hip hop album with me doing everything. Raps, beats, production, live instruments… everything. G. called me out of the blue to see what I was up to. I told him that I had just completed an album just for the fun of it (and so that I could teach myself how to record and work with vocals). I think that he liked the fact that I was always "working on something" regardless as to whether I was trying to "put it out" or not. It was in that conversation that he told me that he wanted to add more artists to the roster of his label Bearatone Recordings, and he asked me to submit some tracks if I was interested. My first 3 EP's were digital. No mastering and no promotion. It was nice to have "something out" but no one was really checking for me. Besides the sound quality of the first EP's was shit, so it's good that no one was checking I guess. Then some time after G. came to the auto shop I was working for at the time and played me a couple tracks he was going to put out. They were his 2 mixes of the Breathe track. I really liked them and was excited for him. His plan was to put them out with another Chicago artist who's name I cannot remember. I had recently finished a track (just for the fun of making tracks) that I decided to let him hear, since he had been so kind as to let me hear his. That track was Necessary Sanctuary…
G. loved it and said: "Fuck that other guy, let's do a record together". That record is the reason any of you know who I am now. There was never a plan to put out records and to become famous. There was only a kid who loved this music and had dedicated his life to it regardless. I was just being true to who it is I am. If things happen when you're just doing what comes naturally, the outcome is always better and more impact-full that anything planned or contrived.
Now with your increasingly impressive discography you must've been getting a lot of new requests from labels. Anything in particular that you could share?
Not as many as you might think really. A few people have heard of me, but not too much has changed yet. I still live as a starving artist. I still have to decide between going to the dentist, buying food, or a new record bag...
I get a fair amount of offers to contribute a track to V/A comps which is great for the label(s) and at this point hurtful to my career due to possible over saturation, you know? But only a handful of serious offers from established labels. None of which I can really speak on at the moment unfortunately. I am most interested in full solo EP's. That, and finding a reputable label that wants to put out my first artist album. The point at which single tracks on V/A comps would be beneficial to me has now passed I believe. I sometimes believe that because I have my own label(s) and because I have such a track record of being so independent that that keeps some of the labels I'd like to record on from approaching me. Perhaps they feel that I would not be interested in working with them, which is not the case. Either that, or they just aren't feeling my sound. Who knows? There is one Chicago Label in particular that puts out crazy music that I would love to record for. The owner is a true visionary who is definitely a leader and not a follower. I am not sure if he even likes what I'm doing, and I respect him and his label so much that I am happy to just enjoy them as a fan, and not add to the clutter he has to sift through everyday. I am very cool with waiting until the time is right. My whole career thus far is based on it, so we shall see what the future holds.I am just enjoying myself and trying to be a wonderful human being. Everything else will work itself out if it's meant to be.