Amir Alexander: "I have and always will do it for the love..."

Words by: Stephen Flynn
Posted: 10/10/13 9:32

Amir Alexander It's no exaggeration to say that Amir Alexander is one of the most exciting house producers to emerge from the US for some time. His unique sound - coupled with his penchant for a groove and his scrupulously crafted productions – has endeared him to fans all over Europe and beyond, with the Vanguard Sound owner now leading a life that he daren't even dream of barely 5 years ago.

With this in mind, we thought it a good time to pick the brain of the Chicago native ahead of a secretsundaze gig at ADE, where he'll be joined by fellow house music stalwarts John Daly, YouandewanRoman Flügel and, of course, Giles Smith and James Priestley. And as we soon discover, Alexander's is a story that's almost as captivating as the music itself...

You've been a firm favourite with the Secretsundaze lot for a while now. How did it all come about?
A combination of things, if I remember one of my first conversations with Giles Smith correctly. But mostly, it was the fact that they were feeling my material.

The agency, which already hosted some of the finest talent the midwest USA has to offer (namely Delano Smith, Anthony (Chez Damier) Pearson, Patrice Scott, and Keith Worthy) wanted to add one more midwest artist to their roster to solidify that particular branch as well as the core sound vibe. Lastly, they liked my hustle. I had just self booked a nice 9 date autumn tour, and they were impressed at the fact that I was highly self motivated. A starter, follow through, finisher type of artist.

From your own experience, why do you think the guys are such good promoters?
From my experience, I would have to say that the fact that they love and believe in what they are doing ranks high on the list of things. I would go on to say that because James and Giles are both working DJs and fans of the music/ culture.

They have good taste, and are hard workers... and they have assembled an excellent team of highly skilled specialists/ heads/fans of the music who are all working in unison to contribute to the culture while earning a living in a more grass-roots kind of way.

Yet, I have and always will do it for the love....and for me, it has never been a bit part thing. I live this yo! It is not just a hobby...And how has your career changed since you first hooked up with them? Has hooking up with guys in Europe changed your mentality at all when it comes to DJing and making music?
One change is the opportunity to truly ply my trade, develop my skills, and further my discipline without having to be as caught up in the rat race quite as much as I used to be. Gigs yo - that changed. Ha ha! My mentality did not change but it has evolved. Now that I play out regularly, I can see real time what works and how in which context. Before, I had to draw on my memory since there was about an eleven year period that I dropped out of the scene and focused solely on my productions. Nothing makes you a better DJ/Producer than plying your trade in the environment in which the music is to be played, in my opinion.

Going back a bit, how was your childhood? When were you first first exposed to electronic music?
My childhood was brief. I grew up fast, but I remember music always being connected to good vibes from an early age. I was first exposed to electronic music at school at around age seven. We would sometimes get to listen to records there. If we were really good, the teacher would play what had to have been a Kraftwerk record and we world all dance and do the robot. That shit was ace! I loved those days. They were even better than film projector days (which were also a favorite!) I loved the out there synthesized sounds and the electric robot drums. Being a child who loved outer space and rockets, the music seemed very futuristic. Then, a few years later, I heard the full version of ''Planet Rock'' on the radio for the first time and my life was changed forever. I was so moved by that piece of work. Instantly I had my own music independent of my parents and their influence.

You turned 40 recently. Is it only recently that you've worked in music full-time then? What were you at beforehand?
I was a starving artist basically. It is almost easier to state the jobs I did not work. A vegan and vegetarian cook with an emphasis on Asian cuisine filled up a lot of years. I apprenticed under enough dope chefs that I was told by the last few that there was no need for me to waste my money on an actual chef certification since I already cook at that level of skill. I tell all my friends that I am still working to get the production and DJ skills on the same level that my culinary joints are!

At some point I either had to go back to school and become a certified chef so I could go work in a hellish pseudo military style environment as a sous chef executing the vision of someone else, or get backing to open my own restaurant because that was the only way to go any higher financially. Both of which dull my passion for food. So I decided to retire from cooking professionally and focus on music...

Until I got side tracked and spent about 5 years learning to, and then becoming an intermediate (sub journeyman auto technician/ mechanic). That was until I realized that unless I really took a risk and left the job I was at to focus on music, I was going to become depressed, go nuts and end up on the evening news, he he!

So I left the field that I spent over thirty stacks ($30,000) to become educated to do in order to do what I felt I was born to do, and moved to a small beach town in Florida and became a dishwasher. I worked that job until the universe told me it was time to go and for the last 10 months before my first tour I became one of the millions of unemployed in North America.

Were you always striving to get to a stage where your work was widely known? Or were you just as happy producing music and DJing as a more bit-part thing?
For the most part, I guess that I have always been striving to achieve some pretty lofty goals. Yet, I have and always will do it for the love....and for me, it has never been a bit part thing. I live this yo! It is not just a hobby.

Vanguard Sound is stronger than ever I would say. Since it was always more than just a mere record label, it grows exponentially of it's own volition, perpetually. Imagine us like a multimedia art house...Does entering the game at a later stage give you a different perspective to the younger guys? Or is that something that's even crossed your mind before?
I am quite sure that it does. I mean, that's the main benefit of having spent more time on earth. Perspective, i.e. wisdom. Knowledge of oneself and thus humanity in general. Time mellows you out and helps you to put things in proper perspective, I think... but I am still learning as I go.

How is Vanguard Sound going? Do you have less time to commit to it these days?
Vanguard Sound is stronger than ever I would say. Since it was always more than just a mere record label, it grows exponentially of it's own volition, perpetually. Imagine us like a multimedia art house. Expect to see many new projects encompassing audio, visual, cinematic, theatrical, and culinary arts in the near to mid term future...

And of course, music wise the upcoming projects are very exciting. The next 2 EPs are done. An Amir Alexander! And a Guerrilla Soul! But we have been delayed a bit due to the fact that our records are pressed in Detroit and we (Chris Mitchell and I), live in Europe and Scandinavia. We are passionate about supporting our pressing plant. Not to mention the fact that our mastering house does an ace job. So deciding how to keep our original manufacturing team has pushed the release schedule back a bit.

And what about your other label, Anunnaki Cartel, any records you're really looking forward to releasing through there?
True indeed! All of them. The next 2 are split EP's. The first features Traxx and myself. The second will be Nubian Minds and Chris Mitchell. Followed by some material from lesser known artists. As well as a few surprise projects from established ones.

You also recently made your debut on Albion Records. Do you get a lot more remix requests these days? Do you have to be extremely selective about who you produce for?
Not really any more remixes than usual. I get a few here and there. Me being me, I am always quite selective. Something about the project has to resonate with me. If I can't work with it I won't force it.

You're known for being highly trained in music. Do you think there are too many producers out there who are releasing music without really understanding what's involved? Or do you embrace the DIY ethos that seems to pervade contemporary electronic music?
Lately I am much too busy to exert extra energy being concerned about the next guy/gall. It really doesn't matter what I think about what's wack. I'm only focused on what's dope and that which holds weight. I embrace the DIY ethos strongly, but ignorance is ignorance. Just because one does things for themselves does not mean that one should accept incompetence. I believe that people confuse the two very often.

Amir Alexander: I have and always will do it for the love...So when you're in the record store, what sort of music are you looking for? What stands out in a record for you?
The kind that makes me feel something. In the record store, it takes me about 3 seconds to know if the record is for me or not. Pure gut vibes and soul. Plain and simple. I am a dancer, and very often at gigs I am one of the most experienced dancers on the floor, so if it moves me, it will likely move 99%+ of all the rest of the heads at the party.

My natural love of dance coupled with the fact that I DJ with the perspective of a dancer on the floor keep me tuned in and properly calibrated. The record has to feel right, and it must make me move. On top of that, it must be interesting and not so easily digestible. The more challenging (to a point), the more rewarding.

Last year, you went on your first tour of Europe. Was it everything you expected it to be from a cultural and musical perspective?
Yes it was. I try to stay educated and culturally aware, so there were no real culture shocks...It was very nice to discover that the music is alive and well, and that there was so much heartfelt and honest support for the culture.

Musically, I was impressed by the amount of kids buying gear and records. People uninterested in instant gratification or taking the easy route who take the time to learn the history, and thus preserve and further it.

And you're playing for Secretsundaze at ADE soon, right? What should we expect? And what did you make of Amsterdam the first time you went?
The first time I went was life changing! At the end of my first set there, many were left speechless and in tears, myself included. You don't get too many of those in one lifetime... maybe one. A couple few if you're extremely fortunate.

People should expect to be able to really let go and dance. I play for the dancers and heads, so mostly I am looking to facilitate some serious soul sessions on the floor. I will be playing multiple gigs so in order to feel like I am personally giving my all, I will be playing 3 different styles of set. One Acid, one Deep, and one Abstract Banger... Not quite are of what will be where, so catch all 3 if you can!

Secretsundaze (ADE Special) at Studio 80But yeah, secretsundaze parties are always special, as they are like mini family reunions for the roster/label mates. Therefore everyone is always in a good head space. No matter where people catch me, I'll be armed with nuff unreleased exclusive heaters. New tracks that are tearing up clubs every time I get to drop them.

The last time I saw you play was at Secretsundaze's Sonar party, in Barcelona. I gather we're in for a different musical trip this time?
Yes of course, I play for the moment and the crowd at hand. 100% improvised and unplanned. My set that day reflected the fact that we were in Barcelona in July with 30+ degree temperatures all packed in tight like sardines, yet still fully able to enjoy the sun and that light breeze that kept blowing through.

This time we are in Amsterdam. It will likely be grey and cool, much more urban, and a lot less skin on display... so this time it's all about creating "that dance floor experience" for any and all who would really like to go there.

Finally, what's next on the agenda for Amir Alexander?
So many new projects and developments...

I am creating material for 2 different live shows. One is an all hardware Acid solo project, and the second is like a modern take on Inner City with My Queen Clara on vox and me behind the boards. Both all hardware and computer free.

So of course there will be EP's of the new material to accompany the show. Lot's more Guerrilla Soul deepness, as well as the debut of my other alias "The Lone Gunman" insane out there acid and banging techno. The Gunman is the polar opposite/the antithesis of Guerrilla Soul yet both share a spirit of explorative adventure. That abstract element.

Hopefully more remix work too. More collaborations with the co owner of my 2 labels Chris Mitchell and the debut full album. All that, plus continuing to advance the works that are already in progress. My wishlist includes dates in Asia and to be invited back to every party I've played thus far to continue to build on the foundations I've laid. Lastly, more b2b gigs with Chris Mitchell...

Catch Amir Alexander at Secretsundaze ADE special at Studio 80 on 20th October, where he'll be joined by Roman Fluegel, Bleak (live), October, John Daly (live), Youandewan, James Priestley and Giles Smith
More info here...

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