You could forgive A-Trak for taking his foot off the pedal. A world DMC at the age of 15, a stint touring as Kanye West’s DJ, selling out clubs and festivals around the world; it would easy to adopt the “been there, done that” attitude and allow your career to plateau. Yet the Canadian steadfastly refuses to let this happen – instead constantly altering his DJing style, starting new projects and taking his label in interesting new directions. He spoke to Juno Plus from a Lisbon hotel room about managing fan expectations, the Duck Sauce project and signing bands to Fool’s Gold.
Hey A-Trak, how is the European tour going?
I’m really enjoying it, I’m about halfway through now.
Do you have to tailor your European sets differently to what you’d play in Canada or the US?
I don’t really look at the differences between Europe and the US, because every party is different. Tonight I’m playing in Lisbon, and I know where I’m playing has more of a disco house vibe, they are really into my Duck Sauce stuff. But next I’m playing at Matter in London, that’s an entirely different proposition.
Obviously your sets have changed a lot down the years – how do you find crowds cope with that?
I have been playing in Europe for 10 years, during different phases of my career, and I’ve found that over here there is a bit of a lag when it comes to my transitions in style. It’s just a case of getting audiences to understand I won’t be playing the same sets as I played five years ago. If you look at how much my sets have changed in the past few years, pre-2005 I was only playing hip-hop, a lot of DMC scratch stuff. From that I moved to more uptempo, club edits, but I still incorporated hip-hop into my sets. Then it got more electronic, and now I’m reinfusing more scratch stuff into my sets again. I’ve always been bringing that baggage with me, I never completely stopped playing hip-hop. Now I’m trying to stay on the pulse of what is most interesting, what young people are most into; you know, new music that speaks to me and to the crowds.
What kind of DJ set up do you use now?
I use Serato – that’s the base of my DJing. With that I have two turntables and a Pioneer 800 mixer. Sometimes I’ll use a CDJ too, so I can use loops and samples. At festivals and bigger gigs I’ll add an MPC sampler into the equation.
It’s interesting you described your DMC background as baggage – do you think that past can be a burden at times?
I haven’t had as many problems as some of my friends from the DMC world. I still have gigs where there’s five dudes in caps standing next to the decks, waiting for me to do some scratching. They couldn’t care less about what else I played, but I think, give it a chance, you might enjoy it! People ask if I’m going to do my DMC stuff from 1997, but that was 12 years ago, I’m going to play some new stuff now. I find it happens when I go to a city for the first time, you’ve got some die hards who have been waiting a long time and expect to see something different to what they get. And you can’t knock that, but you do have to shake those expectations. It’s like, let’s erase the board, let’s start again.
Tell me about the Duck Sauce collaboration. What was it like working with Armand Van Helden?
Very easy! We are going to do more tracks in the same vein as “aNYway”. It was new territory for me. I’ve been around many artists and we’ve collaborated on a loose level, but I haven’t done anything like this, where we get in the studio together and knock something out. It’s the same with Armand, he did stuff with DJ Sneak in the 90s, so it’s kind of new for both of us.
“I still have gigs where there’s five dudes in caps standing next to the decks, waiting for me to do some scratching. They couldn’t care less about what else I played, but I think, give it a chance, you might enjoy it!”
You write your own blog, which you update regularly – do you find that is a good way to keep in touch with your fans?
For me it’s a great way to build and maintain relationships and friendships with people. I started it when I did my first shows with Kanye West and I thought, wow, this was something I need to document. But now it’s good for keeping an awareness up for what I do. A lot of people know me for one thing or another, but may not be aware of all the things I do. And I like to go back and look at the archives, pictures and details. It’s easy to let the years slide by and not appreciate what you are doing.
Do you still keep in touch Kanye? Would you ever consider touring with him again?
We keep in touch, yes. I spoke to him a couple of days ago. We became good friends as a result of touring and I definitely want to stay in touch with him, but I’m not sure if I’d tour with him again very soon, because there’s so much music I want to do as A-Trak and Duck Sauce. Working with Kanye is a big time commitment, a big time investment. But at the same time he is so creative and inspiring. I feed ideas to him, tell him things I see out in the field, so to speak, and in return I can feed off his drive. After I have spent some time with him I come out with this supreme motivation, because I see how hard he works.
And are you working on your own material at the moment?
Yeah, I have just starting to work on my own record. It is so early on it’s not really worth saying anything about it, but I’m at the stage where I’m turning down all remixes to focus on it.
“After I have spent some time with Kanye I come out with this supreme motivation, because I see how hard he works”
And what about your Fool’s Gold? Are you involved with the day-to-day running of the label?
Very much involved with the day to day, more than most people think. If you could see my inbox you’d know! We share the tasks, I just happen to be answering my emails from a hotel room in Lisbon rather than an office.
What is your vision for the label over the next 12 months?
We want to start signing bands, and in 2010 we’ll be releasing some full length albums and a full label compilation. Until now it’s been a steady flow of singles, you know, one or two a month, that has been our connection with DJs. But everything we do, be it tour t-shirts for the artists, it’s part of the whole Fool’s Gold experience. That’s our base level, we now want to add more diversity. We’ve got some bands pretty much ready to go, but I can’t say too much more than that at the moment.
Your brother is Dave 1 aka one half of Chromeo? Is he someone you still keep in touch with and look to for advice and inspiration?
Well he lives across the street from me, so I see him about five times a day. He’s involved with Fool’s Gold, but on more of a “pop in for a bit and leave” level; we can him our spiritual advisor. He helps with a lot of stuff, and I try and hold him down because he leads a pretty crazy lifestyle!