Interview with A-trak by Ariel Coto
Say Whoa- A-trakA-trak (Alain Macklovitch) has been showing the music world his stuff since he was just a kid. He was killing DJ competitions by the age of 15 and became the youngest Canadian to win the DMC world championship. Simply put, the guy is one of the best known turntablist DJs around. It was his prowess with turntables that landed him work touring as Kanye West’s DJ. Since then his music has only grown and evolved. A-trak has always personally been one of my favorite DJs so getting him on the phone was awesome.
So what first got you into DJing?
A-trak: I started DJing when I was 12 or 13 and the way I got started was really just scratching, just the technical, specialized side of short scratching turntablism just trying to make those weird sounds with it. I just happened to have a knack for it so i picked up on it really quick and got hooked and, you know…haven’t looked back since in the 14 years or however long it’s been.
Right on, so you got your start scratching in DMC competitions and was DJing next to guys like Mix Master Mike and Mista Sinista (I was really into that as a kid). What was it like being a younger DJ and playing with guys like that?
A-trak: Honestly to me at the time it was a dream come true, I mean those guys were my idols. I learned a lot of what I knew by watching videos of them during DMC battles and that sort of of stuff, and within a few months or a year, I started meeting them. I won a DMC myself and suddenly was kind of doing shows with them… Suddenly these guys were my peers but they were still my heroes and they were all so cool to me. I mean honestly they all really greeted me with open arms. I think they saw that I really cared about it…I think they saw that I had the same spirit that they had. Some of the other DJs were going about different ways and either getting too nerdy with it on one end and also being too show-offy or whatever it was. I think I was really, purely about the love of DJing and they seemed to pick up on that with me. I don’t really know what it was but they really greeted me with open arms and saw me as the new generation of what they were doing.
So after your scratch-work over the years, you ended up working with Kanye West. What was it like working with him?
A-trak: When I met Kanye, his album had just dropped and he hadn’t toured yet, and it ended up being his first tour. But I was already a fan, of his production at first, and then when he put out the album he suddenly became the next favorite artist in hip-hop. He was bringing back a certain spirit to the music that was missing for so long. So I was huge fan and suddenly he asked me to come on tour with him and it worked out great.
Not everyone can work with Kanye. I worked closely with him for 4 years, so I saw a lot of people come and go. Some people couldn’t hang and some people could. He moves really fast, he has high standards, and he also expects a lot out of people. Personally, that’s the people that I like to work with. I really get along well with that character, and I’m up for the challenge. I want to push myself also, so it worked out really well.
Cool, how has working with him changed or influenced your own kind of music and your own sets and presentation?
A-trak: I think it took me out of a mentality that was getting a little bit closed over the years, just being in the same scene, doing the same DJ shows, and sort of being in one scale I would say. [Working with Kanye] I went to a scale that was much bigger, with Kanye performing in front of tens of thousands of kids, and doing MTV and Grammy stuff, and bringing music into a wide scale of people who could appreciate all different types of music. For me to bring my craft to that, I had to sort of find what was universal about what I do, and also find what was most impressive about what I do. I also had to find a way to take what I do in DJing, which was really specialized, and see how to present that to people who had never heard anything close to turntablism and still keep it interesting.
Would you say you had to do a similar transition as you moved more towards electro-based shows? Doing more techno and that kind of stuff?
A-trak: I wouldn’t say it was the same kind of transition. It was another growth I think where at my DJ gigs I ended up playing more party records and faster tempo. I was finding different kinds of club music and finding whatever was original and kind of weird and cool in those sounds and slowly I graduated to more electronic music. I approached that with a more hip-hop feel to make my own name within that.
So, Hard Summer is coming up in August. Your going to be playing with guys like Underworld, Bloody Beetroots, Crookers…..What are you hoping to bring to that show?
A-trak: Well, what I play is less aggressive I think. It’s a little bit more hip-hop influenced and more quirky and less about destroying people’s brains. Like when you listen to Bloody Beetroots songs, they’re super aggressive and even some of Crookers’ stuff is hard, clubby shit which is fun and I love it. I just approach it a different way. I’m a hip-hop DJ who’s doing electronic music now. The way I DJ technically is pretty involved with dance, and I try to showcase that at my shows. I like to show my personality, have fun with it, and do it my way.
One last question: What’s been your favorite thing about DJing so far in your career? What has been sort of your driving force?
A-trak: Not to sound selfish because I want people to enjoy it, but I DJ because there’s a passion inside me that pushes me to do this. I love doing a good show. I love producing a good track. I love technically pulling off a trick that’s really hard to do. That’s sort of why I DJ. There’s always a big show that’s so good, and your always kind of striving for another one.
A-trak is a musician who, again and again, displays the passion and skill with which he approaches DJing. His background in turntablism offers a different take on electronic music that is sure to entertain. Try to make it to HARD SUMMER if you can and catch one of the better DJs of the hip-hop, turntablism, and electronica genre.