With the ever changing world of electronic music, from it’s production, to it’s distribution, to the club and festival mediums it’s heard in, we’ve taken some time with Alex Smoke to grab his thoughts on the status quo of digital life.
Kn: The sound you’ve focused on of late is definitely pushing things in a more challenging direction, as opposed to some of your peers, more so than ever after the Lux release. A natural progression you’ve been conscientious of?
AS: I think it’s down to your approach to music, whether it’s something that you do for a living or whether it’s something you do because you feel you have something to express. So for me it’s just a question of pushing at the boundaries of my own musical interests and moving forward. For others, particularly in a shrinking music market, it’s about consolidating your career and maintaining a particular musical style. I understand both points of view, but I care much more about music than money. I’m maybe also a little restless, and the idea of making just the one style of music ad nauseam would kill me.
Kn: There’s a lot of music out there at the moment, some great, but the majority could be categorised as an ‘electronic faux pas’. It’s been a while since the introduction of Beatport and it’s brought a lot of quality music to the world that otherwise would have been missed. However, do you think the online electronic vicissitude of recent years should have proceeded differently?
AS: Ultimately I think these things simply develop the way they can, organically and as influenced by the market and the technology at the time. I love physical music formats because of how we interact with them, but I don’t have anything against digital distribution and all its associated repercussions. The digital music world has led to a massive increase in people making music and people having a much wider knowledge which is why I think we now have so much music blurring the boundaries of disparate styles. People are downloading dubstep and jazz and afro-beat and techno and then making music which contains elements of all of them. This is exciting. It all comes down to artistic integrity and talent, and if you have these I think you can still make an impact, but you have to be prepared to fall in and out of fashion as you make your way because the media and the public are not so patient in following one career amongst so many other new ones.
Kn: On a similar note, there’s a strong global sentiment that retail DJ charts and the like often harbour a clique culture….?
AS: Ultimately it is a clique culture I guess, but I think DJ charts have probably always expressed the DJ’s personal relationships with labels and artists. In the case of Beatport charts, I don’t entirely see the point as by its nature it is limiting you to tracks on Beatport, and that cuts out about 80% of new music, particularly in other genres than just straight dance floor stuff. There are still DJ charts out there that are informative and illuminating, but you have to track down the individuals whose charts aren’t just a list of the 10 best promos of the month and their own releases.
Kn: Anyone with a laptop and pirated software can contribute to the world of electronic music production which has changed so much in the past 10 years. The debate of analogue/outboard gear as opposed to the exclusively digital approach has been thrown around more times than we’ve both taken breaths. How have you adjusted over the years and where are you now?
AS: Electronic music as far as I’m concerned is an expression of whatever technology is around, so really I’m open to everything on an equal footing. I’m no analogue purist, that’s for sure, and I suspect that most people ultimately feel pretty similar. It’s all about ideas and whether you make hip hop on fruity loops with tracks you got off bit torrent, or techno with a studio full of analogue modulars, most people listening won’t give a shit if it sounds good. Technology allows us to push forward and do new things which is important in electronic music I think so I wouldn’t want to limit myself by only using equipment that’s 20 years old.
Kn: There is a growing trend of digital retailers inflating costs of songs, especially high quality versions such as .Wav and .Flac files. In some cases, these come in at half the price of a Vinyl for a single track. How do you feel about this new music commerce?
AS: Utter, utter bollocks. The reason vinyl was and is expensive, is that it’s fucking expensive to make and distribute. Once you take that out of the equation, then the cost should reflect that. The artist will benefit very little from vastly inflated format prices, and really I think it’s just profiteering on the part of certain online retailers. All music should really be sold as WAV/FLAC now that storage costs are so low. MP3 was created to solve a problem that largely doesn’t exist now so I think we should start to be more vocal about demanding full quality music.
Kn: Do you think this has had a negative impact on the volume of sales, pushing more consumers to find an alternate, albeit more affordable medium to access their music? And, going one step further, if you were to set up a digital shop yourself how would you do things differently to attract more sales; would you set a lower price point (mp3 320 kbps vs high-quality Wav/Flac), or focus on ‘added value’ items such as gig tickets, merchandise, composition stems and exclusives?
AS: All music now should be full quality, although if people still demand small downloads then distributors will ask for it and shops will provide it. At the least, you should be able to get access to both for the one price. I think it’s more interesting to provide extras, but it takes imagination to implement it. Good music won’t need extras anyway.
Kn: This leads us to the question of direct artist to consumer exposure where online music retailers are bypassed. What are your thoughts on that and do you see it as a viable solution for artists/labels at all levels?
AS: It’s a very viable option, especially for labels, where the label’s job is to sell the product. For artists, it’s much less appealing, certainly for me. I don’t want to have to spend more of my time fucking about online when I should be making music, so I’d always want someone else to handle selling it for me.
Kn: You’re playing a club gig in Brisbane for the Auditree crew at an intimate venue, which is lining up to be a killer show. Club culture has taken a big hit in Australia which can mainly be attributed to the over saturation of music festivals. Is it a feeling you’ve picked up on elsewhere; if so, do you see it declining?
AS: Festivals in Europe have also blown up over the last few years, but many have also gone bust more recently due to over-saturation. A club is not a festival and as long as it can accent the difference and make it appealing, club culture will be fine. Personally I like both things, but if I really want to get the full music experience I go to a club. At a festival it’s more dilute, although the distractions are fun. There’s also the fact of attracting musicians and festivals can pay more so if Australians want to continue seeing good acts, then support them at clubs when they’re in town. I’m not being entirely self-serving when I say that! It’s just that having a healthy club scene in a town is part of what makes it alive.
Kn: Anything else you’d like to add, Alex? Any thoughts on your own direction and the ever changing world of electronic music?
AS: I like to take the long view. If you get too caught up in the ephemera of any current situation, you lose sight of the general lay of the land. The best thing anyone can do is to stay open-minded and inquisitive. There’s too much analysis and too much looking backwards. Personally, I’m going to make weird pop music, bang out straight techno and compose modern classical and see what happens.
Many thanks to Alex for putting the time aside for us. Full respect. You’ll be able to catch Alex Smoke at Barsoma, Saturday August 20, which will be run by Brisbane’s Auditree crew.
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