Filed under: Interview
“Rarely will anyone come up to you and say a bad word, so what you’ve got instead is people constantly walking up to you saying ‘I like your latest single’, ‘I like your album’, ‘I like your hair’, always saying nice things. So you can easily get a totally skewed vision of yourself. If you accept that you can see how your ego grows and grows and eventually becomes totally unbalanced and you become a wanker.”
Scottish Soma signing Alex Smoke is one of dance culture’s fastest rising young stars in today’s clubland, though outlining his theory of contemporary celebrity culture, admits fames not something he courts.
“I’m quite conscious of that process and it’s not that seductive to me, at all,” he admits, “To be honest, I like to be able to retreat into anonymity.”
24 year old Glaswegian Alex Menzies (aka Smoke) first made an impact in 2005 when Soma released his experimental relatively downbeat debut album ‘Incommunicado’ though is already distancing himself from the minimal category he’s found himself bracketed in.
“I suppose I’ve listened to more of what’s called minimal in the last year and I’ve DJed some of it, but already I’m starting to play more electro and techno again,” he points out.
“When I play live and when I DJ I’m fairly dance floor orientated, I don’t tend to play downtempo tracks for example, they made me nervous. I’ve been in enough clubs in my life to know that people don’t respond to them,” he continues.
“I do play different genres, and make it interesting that way but I tend to stick within a certain tempo restriction; anything between 120 and 135bpm is acceptable.”
Interview by Jonty Skrufff
Skrufff (Jonty Skrufff) : You’ve called your new album Paradolia meaning ‘the human ability to creatively perceive coherent images in randomness’, where did you come across the word?
Alex Smoke : Totally by chance, I heard it on some TV programme and they mentioned what it was and what it means and the word summed up quite nicely what the album is about. It was originally going to be called something else but I had to change the name, because it was crap.
Skrufff : I looked up Paradolia on Google and one definition said inkblot patterns and seeing images of the Virgin Mary everywhere, I was wondering if you’re a fan of the Da Vinci Code?
Alex Smoke : I’ve not read it though I’ve read quite a lot of occult literature that skirts around the issue, such as stuff on the (Knights’) Templars. I’ve read lots of (Alasteir) Crowley, obviously and lots of other random stuff about Kabbalah and that sort of thing.
Skrufff : Are you a believer in magic?
Alex Smoke : It’s a complicated issue, the way I see it, everything is the same, just approached from different angles, so for example Hindu Mysticism to ceremonial magic to Kabbalah, are all about different ways of obtaining the same goal. Magic as a term, the way it’s expressed, sounds fantastical, but it’s very subjective.
Skrufff : When you’re creating music do you feel a sense that you’re tuning into some source of energy?
Alex Smoke : On a good night, definitely (chuckling) though not most of the time, definitely more so when I’m writing. I believe you can definitely tap into a universal source. Yeah.
Skrufff : Your profile has exploded over the last 12 months, how are you deciding priorities between the studio and DJing?
Alex Smoke : I’ve got less and less disciplined actually as I’ve had more and more to do. It’s just the case that I enjoy what I’m doing so provided I’ve had enough sleep and not done anything too crazy, I can carry on making music
Skrufff : You’ve enjoyed this meteoric rise in the last 12 months and are now getting DJ bookings as Alex Smoke, the big name guest DJ, have you had any problems with jealousy from DJs, such as when you go abroad?
Alex Smoke : “Normally it’s great, the people I’m playing with generally do their best so that I’m set up as the main attraction but I have had a few gigs where residents have played unbelievable tracks before I’ve gone on like (Joey Beltram’s) Energy Flash or (Rolando’s) Knights of the Jaguar and it’s 11.30pm. You’re like ‘woah, calm it down, mate’ (laughing). Usually people are quite considerate. It’s not a problem when that kind of thing happens, as long as I’m feeling relaxed with the people. Sometimes I play really badly, normally if I have to go straight from a flight to the club and I haven’t had a chance to collect my thoughts; I find that quite off-putting. I need my time to acclimatise, have a beer and chill for a moment.
Skrufff : Do you prepare much in advance?
Alex Smoke : No, not at all, I just take along a lot of vinyl and hope for the best. The more vinyl I can take on the plane the better, as it means I have more choice. I still mainly DJ off vinyl apart for the odd track off CD if I cant get it on vinyl or some of my own tracks that I haven’t got pressed yet. Generally, I use vinyl, I’m old school.
Skrufff : You’ve done a quite classical sounding track Prima Materia and had classical training in your youth, are you still in touch much with the classical world?
Alex Smoke : Not in the sense that I’m hanging out watching orchestras with my friends but my Mum’s a full time musician and my brothers both play instruments.
Skrufff : Your biog said you can’t see your friends at the weekend because you’re away DJing all the time, what do your friends make of your success?
Alex Smoke : Everyone’s been really supportive and I think they’ve been happy to see one of their friend’s doing well. Recently it has become an issue though, because I’m always away at the weekends and during the week I don’t get a chance to see people either, which has become a little strange. In the meantime some of my friends have left Glasgow and you do start to feel that you’re losing contact with people. I’m definitely going to try and take more time off this year, if I’m allowed.
Skrufff : Are you friends working in music related jobs?
Alex Smoke : No, no the vast majority do the usual type of job, working in shops or marketing departments for whisky distilleries, all sorts.
Skrufff : Last time we spoke you told us about your girlfriend’s Dad kicking you out of his house because you didn’t drink or like football, what does he make of all your recent success?
Alex Smoke : She’s not my girlfriend anymore, her parents split up, and I’ve not see her since then to be honest. I’ve got a new girlfriend but I’ve not met her parents yet, I’ve only been going out with her for a few weeks.
Skrufff : I read in DJ magazine you’re drinking a lot more these days, is that right?
Alex Smoke : Yeah, I’m a total drinker. When I was younger I just didn’t enjoy drinking because it made me feel horrible but for some reason your tolerance goes up as you get older, whether you drink or not. Whereas in the past I’d feel pretty crap after three pints now I’m alright. And living in Glasgow, it’s pretty difficult not to drink, it goes with the life here. I’m quite grateful I can now enjoy a drink, to be honest, though I have to be careful when I’m away DJing now because you’re always offered drink all the time. You can see how you’ll get used to it.
Skrufff : Have you had many ridiculous rock star moments yet overseas, of penthouse suites. . .
Alex Smoke : No, in a word, No. (laughing). I’ve stayed in some nice hotels. I’m quite civilised when I’m on the road, I’m not one of these characters who gets mangoed (wasted) and starts hitting on the promoter’s girlfriend or anything like that.
Skrufff : Orde from Slam and your label boss Soma told us half of the Soma staff have had fights around Glasgow, have you had any fights?
Alex Smoke : That wouldn’t surprise me, but Glasgow is nowhere near as violent as it’s portrayed to be. The South Side is definitely worse and if you hang around the Gorbals at night you probably will get into a fight whether you like it or not. But every city’s the same. I’ve been in a few one sided fights where you’ve had some pissed guy crossing the road and punching you square in the face, for no reason. But that’s only happened to me once, four years ago. I was just walking down the street, it was Easter Weekend I seem to remember, and he was standing there with his mates, pissed. I remember standing there asking him what he was doing, then each time being punched in the face. Then I sprained my ankle running away.
Skrufff : You told DJ magazine recently ‘I couldn’t live in London, there are too many wankers. . .’
Alex Smoke : I stand by my comment (chuckling), my brother lives there, I love London and I was born there and have lots of friends there.
Skrufff : Do you genuinely think there are more wankers in London than Glasgow?
Alex Smoke : Undoubtedly, unquestionably, and that’s because the people that are there are there to achieve something and get somewhere so you get the pushiness coming in, which means that when people are talking to you, you always have that slight sense that they’re going to say by the way, ‘this is my new mix CD’. I always get that a lot in London, people saying either that or ‘this is a DJ mix that me and my mate did, it’s pretty good’. I hate it when people tell you they’re great. Though I guess it’s just that people who want to achieve something tend to move to London so I guess they’re just that little bit more pushy than people in the boroughs.
End of the interview
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