The producer discusses nostalgia, derision and the start of dance music for people who like guitars
For all of us, there’re bands, albums and songs that change everything. From the life-affirming gigs and essential albums to the comfort of believing someone out there is soundtracking your life, your CD/record/MP3/Spotify collection(s) are a tribute to that fact. But in true High Fidelity ‘all-time-top-five’ spirit, some stand on the shoulders of giants.
I missed the acid-laced, smiley-faced raves of British dance music’s 90s heyday (I was 11 in 1995) so the rose-tinted appeal of Britpop was much more within my pre-teen grasp. Growing up in North Wales, the Northern pride and proximity to Manchester made Oasis and The Verve definitive choices but a pick ‘n’ mix from the indie cast of thousands (see: Blur, Cast, Pulp, The Bluetones, Mansun…) also played their part. Yes, even Kula Shaker. That being said, Super Furry Animals and Manic Street Preachers took priority over all others with SFA at the Royal Court in 1999 my first proper gig (complete with booze and menthols) and a love for the Manics enduring time and, invariably, common sense over the years.
My interest in dance music back then was minimal, stemming from brief dalliances with the slew of CD compilations the 90s spat out at an improbably regular rate. Releases like ‘Huge Hits 1995’ and the ‘Now…’ series have a lot to answer for but skipping over East 17, Enya and PJ & Duncan inadvertently turned up The Bucketheads, The Chemical Brothers and Josh Wink, all of whom proudly sit in my record collection today. Without the live club context, however, I wouldn’t truly understand or appreciate dance music until a few years later—that’s where Erol Alkan changed everything.
From 2000 onwards, his desire to clash rock, punk, indie and electro together in a happy, trashy alchemy had built momentum that went beyond the confines of the much-lauded Trash and Durr nights with the likes of 2ManyDJs, LCD Soundsystem, Peaches and Yeah Yeah Yeahs helping push the sound and spirit forward.
It spawned a life of its own with clubbers, art students and indie kids getting creative in the crossover, and that DIY counter culture kicked back against the mainstream perception of dance with the money, sunshine and Ibiza bodies blitzed by glitter and guitars. It created a fusion that made it easy for those of us swept by the guitar sound of NYC (see: The Strokes, Interpol, TV on the Radio, The Walkmen) to get seduced by the idea of dancing to guitar music in a club, rush out to buy cheap CDJs and spend hours haplessly trying to beat match 128 BPM house tracks with indie staples. Driven by the explosion of blogging platforms like Hype Machine, thousands contributed to a digital swamp of frenzied upload noise. Looking back, it’s a period as derided as it is celebrated but one Erol believes was emblematic of the time.
“The reason that it’s derided in any way is when it’s called blog house,” he explains. “That’s not a fault of the music, or at least the better records in there, it was from people fighting to get a track as early as possible to put on their blog. It also invited a lot of opportunists because there are certain people in that scene who a year or two before were making tribal house and cashing in on that. It gave birth to a lot of shit but there were some great records, some great moments and some great artists came through.”
“That whole era was incredibly friendly, inviting and inclusive,” he continues. “There weren’t many egos and the alternative spirit was very rich. If the record was good and we’d come across a DJ that we really liked or believed in, everyone was happy to help one another and spread the word. A lot of the people that I am very close to never felt that they were like in it for the business or the popularity because we’re all fundamentally music fans, wanting to share music with the world.”
That positive outlook largely came to define the period. On any given night or line up, you could expect to see a troupe of like-minded DJs supporting, going back-to-back and creating a cluster of reciprocal remixes that would sustain the electro-house sound for years to come. That sense of community created a happy familiarity; a sense that everyone were mates, regardless of style or geography.
“It was very international,” Erol begins. “Justice were in France, the Dewaele’s (2ManyDJs) were in Belgium, Tiga in Canada, James [Murphy] and all the DFA guys in New York, then Pedro and the Ed Banger lot in France too. I was the only guy from London, really, so it wasn’t like a clique of people. Festivals or gigs were the only chance we’d get to see each other in that way as we were all pretty much spread across the planet.
“Many people don’t realise that around that time, we were all on iChat, sending each other works in progress. I’ve got various versions of huge remixes that never made it out because we just used to share so much music amongst one another. It’s probably one of the most drastic changes since then, not going ‘Oh, Tiga’s online. Have you done any new mixes?’”
That shared intent was the genesis for a remix glitterati; a sense that any track reworked by the group was feverishly worth hunting down. Erol’s remixes for Interpol, Franz Ferdinand, Bloc Party and Yeah Yeah Yeahs encapsulated the crossover intent but electro peers like Justice, Digitalism and Hot Chip also received reworks at his hands. That proclivity for tweaking originals has seen him create over 40 remixes spanning from 2004-2014—many of which found a home on his recently released ‘Reworks Volume 1’ compilation.
“I thought it would be interesting to bring them together, because there are different approaches across the mixes and there’s another 20 that still aren’t on there,” he starts. “It was one of those things where I was still playing a few of them 10 years after they came out and tracks like the Hot Chip and Conan Mockasin remixes are about six or seven years old now.”
He continues: “There are also some mixes that are still really, really important to me, ones that still feature in my DJ sets and also ones that people may not have heard before. I try really hard whenever I do this to really create something that I think will endure because my reworking or remixing is something I try not to make momentary. I want to do something that harks back to the approach of the classic 12” versions.”