TSC Behind The Decks | Aleksandir
While at university in the UK, Aleksandir received an extracurricular education in dance music via Bristol’s club scene, quickly becoming adept at distilling the remains of a night out into hushed strains of house back in his bedroom studio. Adopting the transliteration of his birth name into his native Turkish as his moniker, Aleksandir’s first release came in the form of a mellow excursion on Blind Jacks Journey entitled ‘The Turtle Nipper’ (2016), followed by a deeper dive into the heads-down part of the dance with the ‘Contrails’ LP (2018), on Seb Wildblood’s Church. His breakout hit ‘Yamaha’ (2018) on London imprint Tessellate, meanwhile, hinted at a more club-ready sound. Inspired by the galloping arpeggios of Nordic disco heard on a formative weekend at Club to Club Torino, ‘Yamaha’ became an overnight hit and snuck into the big room via heavyweights like Dixon and Tycho.
The following year saw Aleksandir explore peak time with ‘Hard to Explain’ EP (Artesian Sounds), spiked with electro, breakbeat and auto-tuned vocals taking cue from The Strokes, one of his favourite bands. What followed for the producer and DJ was to hit the road far and wide, including a North American outing, multiple festival appearances throughout Europe and an upcoming Australia tour.
And if that’s not enough, Aleksandir co-manages the “Artesian Sounds” label with Emre Can Swim and co-curates the MİKS nights with Supu in Istanbul.
The Sound Clique had the absolute pleasure, to speak with Aleksandir as he was preparing to release his latest LP “Skin”on Omena Records.
Hi Aleksandir, thanks for being my guest in today’s interview. Where am I catching you and what have you been up to lately?
Hi, thanks so much for having me! Been busy with the album release and working on new music. Less than two weeks left until it comes out, constantly between feelings of happiness, excitement – and major stress if I’m honest!
Your birth name is Alexander Lawrence. What was your motive for your music name – Aleksandir? Your Turkish roots?
Aleksandir is pretty much how you would spell out Alexander in Turkish if someone were to read it to you, a transliteration. Within time however, I’ve realised that there are no cultures or languages in the world which spell the name Alexander in that way.
That uniqueness and lack of a specified culture ties in to how I’d look at myself, and would like people to look at me as an artist.
I think it’s very important to think above and beyond country borders and nations that define people.
You have a background in classical and rock music, and music has always been a big part of your life. But what would you have done if it wasn’t for music?
I ask myself this question very frequently these days, especially faced with the possibility that the post-corona world will not accommodate as many musicians and djs and that maybe one day I will have to find other work. The idea of most office jobs and other lanes of work scare the hell out of me. I would like to imagine that I would have turned out to be an artist in most parallel universes, as a kid I was very interested in drawing and painting. Likewise – film has always been a passion since I was a child. And still, I think if I could be anything, I’d be a director. Who knows, hopefully one day I will.. I have friends who are interested in cinema, and I always joke that one day I’ll use their credit to for a quick transfer to the film industry!
You are half-British, half-Turkish, but spent most of your time growing up in Istanbul, Turkey. What was it like growing up in Istanbul, and how has that influenced you as a person, but also as a musician?
I think culturally I’m still most “at home” here, and Istanbul is where I see myself spending my life in the long term. In terms of growing up a musician, the school I went to and my friends there who I made music with were a huge influence for me, without them I may have never realised these dreams. However, I think in terms of cutting edge music – especially in the realm of electronic music – there’s a serious lack of innovation and creativity in Istanbul, especially considering the amount of culture and youth in this city. I think Istanbul is a city full of inspiration, but my time in the UK was much needed to find my own blueprint of what electronic music could be, and that was possible by consuming a lot UK based artists and their music.
What would you say now to your mate from university – Phil, who you credit with as being a big influence on you when it comes to electronic music? Would we be even talking right now if it wasn’t for Phil?
Phil is definitely one of the biggest factors in who I’ve become as a musician, and you may very well have not been talking to me if it weren’t for him. The things he showed and recommended to me may not have been hugely out of the norm for music heads who grew up in the UK, but my years in university sharing music with him were a crash course in house, techno, disco, dubstep and all things UK. He was one of the most dedicated diggers I know – always up to date with new releases. I remember first year, when he bought the cheapest turntable and mixer he could find, along with a potluck selection of records on ebay. Turned on max volume in dorms, blaring random dirty techno tunes out the window at midday. That was also back when I bought my first ever records (Floating Points – King Bromeliad I think!).
He didn’t have a digital dj controller back then either, so he’d mapped the controls of virtual dj to a 2 octave midi keyboard and would dj using the piano keys! Which to this day is such a funny image. He’d turn off the lights and switch on his flashing bike lights and dj for us on his midi keyboard, good times.
On top of all that, later on I learnt to dj on his Pioneer ddj setup, every week we’d have a little session just playing tunes and chatting music for a couple hours. Was probably when I learnt the most regarding djing, up until I got my hands on cdjs when I got my first gigs.
We had the chance to book him and play one our MİKS parties in Istanbul with him last year, must be one of the best nights / gigs of my life. Can’t wait to do that again.
Honestly, I simultaneously laugh a little and feel a tad guilty that life led me here and I became the dj, not him. Thanks Phil!
In December you are releasing your latest album “Skin”. “…a collection of disparate influences brought together by a producer with an intimate knowledge of the club scene and what it is truly about.” Why Skin? What is the story behind “Skin”, and what did you want to express and convey to the audience with this album?
Skin came together in a very strange period of my life, initially I started making this album in a break up period, having just ended a very long relationship. By the time I ended the album, my ex-partner had again become a best friend, and someone who was a stranger when I started the album, had become someone I loved. Meanwhile, Coronavirus hit the world and relationships with these people and all my friends alike met a sort of distance, that we’d never experienced before. The combined meaning of all these experiences for me was a simple concept of touch, affection and love. How we felt with it and without it.
Skin has a years worth of moments of heartbreak, falling in love, sadness, euphoria, friendship and everything in between.
Also, it contains audio samples from all these people I’ve mentioned from real moments I shared with them. I didn’t know why I recorded these things when I did, but I guess now I do.Buy Aleksandir 'Skin' LP
For the ones interested, on what equipment and software did you produce your latest album “Skin”? And were there tracks that came along easier to produce, versus some that were a lot more challenging to finish (if any)?
The whole album was composed in the box with no hardware at all (Logic Pro). For me the arrangement of some tracks and the use of vocals were the newest things I experimented with. Tracks like “I Used To Dream” came together without any true idea what they would become, featuring erratic arrangement that flips the song on its head with lots of different sections. I really wanted to sing on this album as well, despite not really having the voice for it. This came from the realisation that good pop / singer-songwriter style music can be incredibly beautiful (thanks to repeated listens of Frank Ocean – Blonde throughout the breakup blues). The blueprint in my head was to merge Frank Ocean with Overmono. And in some way I like to think that that can be heard.
The hardest track to finish was Prado. I’d almost finished everything else but still needed a 4×4 clubby track to finish the album, and found that so hard to come back to after taking my head completely out of the house / techno realm. But eventually it came to me in a random moment of inspiration and came out pretty quick!
You recently released the first single of your new album “I Used to Dream”. The music video is directed by Nauzet Gaspar. What is the story behind the music video and why did you choose to work with Nauzet Gaspar for “I Used to Dream”?
I met Nauzet through email many months ago when he got in touch and told me how he’d be interested in a collaboration some time, with the album on the horizon we found it only natural to reach out and start working on a video together. Coincidentally, he lives in Madrid – where my girlfriend is from – so throughout the last year we met multiple times, both discussing the work but more importantly becoming friends and creating something natural together. It’s always amazing how the internet can bring you together with new people, new minds and create meaningful relationships so randomly.
One thing about the video that I love so much is that he filmed most of the footage in the northern coast of Spain, somewhere I had visited on a one week road trip just a couple months beforehand. It’s a region which means a lot to me, and is full of memories – the same memories that create a part of this album. Some of the scenery Nauzet filmed were just a couple kilometres from spots that marked some of the most beautiful moments of my summer. I love how all these connections came naturally, and while a viewer would never know, this sort of depth makes it all feel much more fitting with the album’s authenticity.
I have to touch upon your monumental release “Aleksandir – Yamaha”. I first heard it on “Houseum” when it was released back in 2018. The track of 2018 if you ask me! And not only me, the general feedback from listeners and clubbers is amazing! Here are a few from YouTube: “This track has everything – subtleness, progression, build-up, energy.” “It’s one of those tracks that comes with its own story and captures your mind!” “The loop is intoxicating!” “Just when you think it can’t get any more gorgeous, it keeps on building and building!” In your own words, what do you think makes this track so special and well received by anyone that listens to it (sober or not)?
Love the end of that question, and just need to touch on how humbled I am by the countless YouTube comments from people listening to Yamaha on acid… big thanks to all of you, I’m touched!
I think it’s a special tune because I made it in a sort of artistic sweet-spot. I think there’s a beautiful time in a producers evolution, where they’re both technically developed enough to accomplish polished and well-produced tunes, but they’re still not out of that initial period where their own creative bounds haven’t been established. At that moment, I didn’t worry about who I sounded like, my image as an artist, what fans would want, if it was “cool” or anything else. I still don’t think these limitations are really part of my daily thinking, but it’s impossible to think truly outside the box once you’ve consumed so much music and spent so much time thinking towards it. I feel like I used to make much weirder and truly creative things in those months, a lot of them didn’t work and sounded pretty wack, but there’s a possibility to create special things when you’re trying out bat-shit crazy ideas with ease!
I know the making of ‘Yamaha’ happened “over the course of a very hangover Sunday, and it was very loud and very repetitive”. But what about the production process behind it, the inspiration and motive for composing it? What equipment/software was it made with? I would love to know more about that.
As always, no equipment! Logic’s built-in Retro Synth was used for all the main synth parts. It came with ease, I remember finishing it very quickly, and that everyone in the house I lived in (Phil in the room next to me included) hating me for blaring it out at max volume for days as I made it. The inspiration was mainly seeing Todd Terje at Club to Club Torino 2015. I wanted to make something akin to the galloping arpeggios in nordic disco tunes, with a more emotional edge that’s a constant in my own tunes, the result was Yamaha!
I read that before Harrison BDP started releasing on Artesian Sounds, you ‘met’ online. Have you since met with Harrison BDP in person? In the past he has remixed yours “Hear me Through” track, but will you guys join forces to work on something together?
Yes that’s true! Harrison is the sweetest man in the world. He agreed to release on our label over an email exchange, just because he could tell that we were genuinely committed to what we were doing. It was our first release and we had nothing to show to gain his trust or respect. In the end the release sold out in a week or two and put us on the map as a label.
I’ve met him a bunch of times since and he’s organically become a good mate since our release with him. He’s played at Artesian Sounds showcases with us in Istanbul and Izmir, I’ve played with him in Paris. All-round great guy, super fun, super nice, can’t wait to party with him again once this stuff is over and done with! Always down to work with him in the future, time will tell.
Any exciting upcoming releases on Artesians Sounds, you’d like to mention?
Lots forthcoming. We took a step back from the label since my last release on there (ARS003) to do some A&R and have lots of releases ready for the year to come. Not sure if I should say who, but we have 2 confirmed releases, one from an old household name who’s been off the grid for a little while now, and the other from a completely new artist (who excites me oh so much!), and working on a third with one of my current musical idols. All in all, loads of good music coming in 2021!
How did you spend the time during the lockdown? It was apparently productive, with the release of your new album “Skin”, but was it also a breath of fresh air? A time to reset and recharge? Did you make good new habits out of it?
Lockdown was surprisingly unproductive in terms of production if I’m being honest. I finished off the album but most of it was spent planning the release, the artwork etc. It definitely was a breath of fresh air to take a step back from everything if I’m being honest. I watched a lot of good movies, listened to good music and bought a Playstation 4! I think the best new habit has been a new found passion for cooking though, been making a lot of interesting foods, my favourites being various noodle dishes, sichuan style to ramen and pho!
Something we ask our interviewees, and I am keen to hear what your thoughts are. Do you reckon that the clubbing as we know it, is a thing of the past after the Covid-19 pandemic?
Sadly, I think things will keep being hard. I don’t see clubbing disappearing or stopping, but there’s a definite professional and economic fallout that will hit us once this is over. I don’t think there will be as much space for djs and creatives in the future of this industry, not as much as there was before.
In what felt like an already saturated market, there’s going to be less clubs, emptier rooms, social distancing, and as a result less money and jobs to go around.
It hurts to think of all the music that we will never hear as a result of this, and I think it’s important that our industry stands up for itself and hopefully one day receives the value it deserves.
As we are wrapping up, two last questions. What do you hope for in 2021 and what do you wish your fans and the fans of electronic music?
An end to coronavirus and lot’s of partying again.. For myself and all my fans alike! Hopefully see you on a dancefloor some time!
Thank you for the interview Aleksandir. Stay safe!
Honestly, really enjoyed the interview, thank you very much for having me!