Filed under: Interview
“I don’t want to get eerie but at one point I was obsessed with EPV because I’ve actually spoken to the dead myself It’s from a recording made by a German woman who had lots of samples on it, I’ve always been fascinated by it.”
Murmuring conspiratorially, London alternative/electro tastemaker supreme Erol Alkan chuckles as he recalls the hauntings that he’s experienced in his childhood North London home.
His tale involves Second World War bombs and carnage on his Holloway street prompting ghostly sightings for both Erol and his family members, and while he prefers to keep details private, he’s happy to admit that his interest in EVP (ghost sounds) was first sparked by his passion for The Smiths. Wearing a vintage Queen Is Dead T shirt under his black leather jacket he admits he remains a massive fan today though hasn’t included any Smiths songs on his new compilation for Bugged Out.
“To be honest I did want to use the end of Rubber Ring on the second CD, that bit that goes ‘You Are Sleeping’ but it was quite difficult to do,” he explains. “I was trying to track down the sample from its original source and it was actually on an EVP recording, electronic voice phenomena, which is also something that I’m very interested in.”
What the CD contains instead is two very different CDs of music he loves. Firstly, a DJ mix reflecting the eclectic electro-tech sets he spins at Bugged Out and his own club Trash, and Bugged In, a decidedly more esoteric choice of after hours after-party ambience. CD1 includes relatively old club tracks such as The Creeps’ Freaks, Josh Wink’s Higher States and Vicarious Bliss’s stomping theme (soon to be re-licensed by Skint) as well as newer tracks from mates such as Soulwax (E Talking) and The Rapture. In contrast, CD2 includes 80s gay disco pop icons Imagination (their still magnificent Just An Ilusion) and Nirvana, reflecting Erol’s clubbing roots as an indie kid rather than raver.
“I know people talk about those acid house memories, all that ‘1989, insert big name DJ, I was there’ stuff, but I can’t say I was on the floor listening to Danny Rampling in 1989 and having a beautiful moment, because I wasn’t,” he says.
“A defining moment for me instead might be hearing Lithium by Nirvana in 1990 at the Tufnell Park Dome. That to me will probably equal, if not beat, anyone else’s acid house moment.”
Nowadays he’s providing regular defining moments for a new generation of clubbers at his Monday night weekly Trash, where he’s already helped break stars from Peaches to Mylo.
“I’m meeting a lot of kids in bands now who tell me they used to come to Trash every week, Tom Vek for example,” he continues.
“He played the club recently and told me he remembered hearing LCD Soundsystem’s Losing My Edge for the first time. He used to come every week with his mate, who now directs his videos; I find that amazing.” Trash talk aside though, he’s holding court in a non descript coffee shop on Holloway Road, to promote his Bugged Out Cd, his first serious compilation.
Interview by Jonty Skrufff (Skrufff.com)
Skrufff (Jonty Skrufff): Why have you waited until now to release a serious compilation?
Erol Alkan: “One factor is that the last four years have shot by so quickly that it’s felt like a year it’s only recently we’ve had to the time to even think about doing it. Doing what I do has never really felt like a career for me, whereas I know a lot of other people do compilation albums quite early on in their careers because they’re coming up and they do it as a kind of musical stamp to say what they’re about. I’ve been working so constantly since 2001 that I’ve literally not had the time, not only with running my own club but also DJing three other times a week, travelling round the world, and doing all the other things I’ve been doing. To do a mix album properly, to think it through in a sense different than just putting your latest set down, you need to sit down and think about it property- that’s what I thought anyway.”
Skrufff: What kind of matters were you considering?
Erol Alkan: “Just about how people are going to perceive you, mainly. I don’t want to get caught in that trap of just being seen as a dance DJ, I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with that but I wear a number of different hats when I DJ, it’s never just about doing one thing. I wanted to something that’s as varied as possible that captures as many of the different areas as I do, yet at the same time fits various other aspects. For example, the CD is for Bugged Out, so I want it to reflect what I do for them. I’d also been offered the opportunity to do mix albums on many different occasions too. In 2001 and 2002 I was offered five figure sums from major labels to do albums very similar to Soulwax’s mix album, because they saw that I was their friend and they were like ‘if you do one we can sell loads off the back of that’ but I refused that because I didn’t want to insult their creativity by trying to ride on their coat-tails. I waited until I felt I had something different to offer. I’ll admit I deliberately didn’t take up many of the offers because I could see what their motives were for asking me.”
Skrufff: Was it easy to turn down five figure sums?
Erol Alkan: “I don’t need it, not because I have lots of money but rather because I don’t need that type of money. My life doesn’t depend on money, I’m happy as I am. I’ve been involved in this club field for a long time and I’m well aware that being given a large sum of money in one go doesn’t necessarily make you a rich person because, for example, that money halves, the moment you pay your taxes. I’ve never been impressed by large numbers so when those figures are bandied around to me it’s not the hook I go for, not at all. My whole ethos of doing anything is about whether or not I’m going to enjoy myself. I’ve never been interested in taking huge sums of money off people, I wouldn’t know what to do with it. I really wouldn’t. In fact, the last time I came into a lot of money it all went a bit pear-shaped (wrong), I just ended up going out too much, I don’t mean that in a revelry sense, my whole thing is I enjoy being creative and if you’re out partying every night then you’re not doing what it is you’re doing. It’s a point of discipline. I’m also not going to sign my life away for a few years and find myself at the mercy of someone who’s given me a bunch of money which could be potentially written off as a tax loss for them if the project doesn’t work out. I don’t want to end up working for two years for a bunch of people I don’t like. I’d never allow myself to get in that position, I’m older and wiser and I’ve seen it all before, I’m not interested in being at the beck and call of a bunch of cunts. Do you know what I mean?”
Skrufff: Were you signed to major labels at any point in the past?
Erol Alkan: “No, no, but I’ve been DJing for 13 years and I’ve got a lot of friends in bands, both successful and unsuccessful ones, I’ve seen the process and how it works. I’m not meaning to rant against the music industry as such that’s just how I felt when these offers were coming in, I wasn’t impressed.”
Skrufff: The articles on your website date back to 1997 and the reviews talk of you presenting acts like Soulwax and Peaches in 2001, way before anybody else was onto them, how do you tap into these acts?
Erol Alkan: “I’m constantly looking for where the best energy is coming from and the most interesting things. Peaches was an incredibly interesting performer, whereas Soulwax were making very interesting concoctions of music and it just excited me. I always work on that initial spark, that feeling where you go ‘wow, that’s really good’. It all makes sense. Then you take the risk, following that instinct. 80% of those bands we were supporting back then at Trash became major artists 4 years on, though the other bunch of them were equally interesting, it just didn’t happen in the same way for them. There are always people who’ll go on to be huge but as long as you operate on the principle of being honest and supporting people you genuinely like, rather than because you’ve heard someone else saying they’re really good, you’ll do fine.”
Skrufff: You must be bombarded with CDs, emails and records all the time, were are you finding your music generally?
Erol Alkan: “Things gravitate towards me or I gravitate towards them. Finding new music or great artists usually happens from chance meetings, they come together. Maybe it’s a support band you’re playing alongside. For example, I was DJing two and a half years ago and there was a young guy playing great stuff before me and I said what is this stuff, can I get a CD?’ and he was like ‘it’s all my own stuff’. He was like cool, sure. That was Mylo. That happens, then some band might send me a CD and I’ll like it. Rory at Trash also gets sent stuff, he’s also involved, he got given a CD a while ago and it was Bloc Party. It just happens. If you’re doing things for the right reason and you’ve got an environment where people come to and they know what it’s about and you’re not trying to scam their money or give them a load of bullshit, then people will come. I get blown away by the fact that people get inspired by what you’re doing at the club; that it seems to resonate with loads of people. That’s why its so easy to find bands, because they’re there- you make yourself a beacon and people come. To me, it’s the easiest thing in the world and it’s natural. I don’t break things down to grade forms- it either has it or it hasn’t. If you’re in your natural environment, then nothing is hard. Like when Bob Dylan said ‘he doesn’t write songs, they come to him’, that sounds so easy. But that’s what happens when you’re doing what you do and it’s natural and obvious, then you don’t have to steer anything.”
Skrufff: You seem to have an incredible focus, where does it come from?
Erol Alkan: “I think my focus has developed from having a very strict upbringing and being heavily disciplined but in a good way. I was never impressed by nonsense, by that I mean big shiny things that can drag people off the track. I spent a lot of time on my own when I was young, thinking, so I suppose that’s made me not be impressed by cheap, sensational kinds of acts or fronts.”
Skrufff: Did you go to University?
Erol Alkan: “No, I did art and I was actually accepted on the strength of my portfolio to Middlesex, which is quite rare but I didn’t go, for some reason I felt that after having quite a repressed like to that point I didn’t want to carry on. Which is a shame because I love art and painting. Music was always my first love and I’d started DJing in clubs then, I started when I was 17.”
Skrufff: How easy was it going from a strict background to DJing?
Erol Alkan: “I had to sneak out the house behind my Mum’s back, go out and DJ, then sneak back into the house again. That was for the first year. It was only fairly recently, a few years ago in fact, that my parents actually admitted I’d done the right thing when they saw what was happening.”
Skrufff: Did they try and stop you DJing initially?
Erol Alkan: “No, not really but they’re first and a half generation (immigrant) people living here and they grew up here in the 70s with a different perspective on what life’s life. If you think back to what it must have been like coming here from Cyprus and settling in this area they must have had a different perception of live but they still wanted the best for their kids and from their experience I can see why they thought going to nightclubs wasn’t the best thing to do. I can understand that, though I knew they were wrong because they weren’t seeing what I was seeing.”
Skrufff: Mainstream house culture seems to be jumping onboard the kind of music and mixing up styles approach you’ve been pursuing for years, what do you make of the club scene right now?
Erol Alkan: “As always there’s good and bad, with innovators and followers. I don’t personally feel there are people out there doing what I did before and I never look at it in that way. I judge records, particularly dance records on the kick. I can tell a record’s spirit from the very first kick. That’s my universal rule.”
End of the interview
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