BYT caught up with Canadian DJ/Producer/Former Turntable Wunderkind A-Trak while he prepares for his upcoming performance at this weekend’s Coachella Valley Music Festival. While there’s no denying the inherent awesomeness of a music festival, which those of us without tickets to this year’s Coache11a are unfortunately missing out on, A-Trak will be making a stop at U Street Music Hall and he’s bringing along Kid Sister, Gaslamp Killer, Willy Joy, and Harry Hotter. Now time to pick this mixmaster’s brain.
BYT: You gained quite a bit of attention when you were first starting off—a 15 year old turntable prodigy in the eyes of many. Can you tell me about the time you first realized music, specifically mixing music, was a talent you had?
ATrak: For me, it all started with scratching and the really technical side of DJing; in the beginning, I wasn’t very interested in playing other people’s songs or mixing. It was more about mastering the very specific craft, and as soon as I tried scatting for the first time, I had a pretty good knack for it—I picked up on the techniques pretty quickly. I was 15 when my brother was playing with a live band, I started coming out to his shows setting up a turntable and scratching with their band. They were getting some press locally, and pretty quickly I got some local attention being this really young looking kid who knew how to scratch well. Within less that two years I became a world champion… it all picked up very fast for me in the beginning, all on a very specialized and technical level.
BYT: Being related to Chromeo‘s Dave-1 (a great interview by Cale after the jump) must come with it’s share of benefits, but have you ever found it difficult to prove yourself as a talent outside of your brother’s shadow?
ATrak: No, I started DJing before Chromeo started—my brother was playing in bands in high school when I started messing around with scratching. He was definitely the first person to encourage me to start taking this seriously. [He’d say] just practice everyday and soon that turned into my craft; so he was very much the first person that motivated me with my DJing. Through the years we worked on a lot of projects together, we had a couple record labels together, produced stuff together, and after a while he started Chromeo. We used to be in different scenes; at the time I was still DJing hip-hop and Chromeo was starting a new sound which no one else was doing really. Then over the years as a lot of the genres in music started intersecting more and merging more, eventually we were all a part of the same scene. Now we’re all doing a lot of stuff alongside each other—this weekend for instance we’re both playing at Coachella—now its fun to just help each other out and see one another working with similar people in the music scene.
BYT: Is it ever surreal for you, considering at one time you were just starting off, to be helping to jumpstart the careers of new artists? Names that come to mind are Kid CuDi, Kitsune, Kid Sister.
Atrak: I wouldn’t say surreal necessarily, but it something I enjoy doing. I like getting feedback from people who show a lot of potential, and it’s exciting to witness to new talents developing and bourgeoning. I always try to stay around the newest stuff, I don’t like to stay with something that’s kind of old or approaching it.
BYT: Are there any rituals that you do to hype yourself up before a set?
ATrak: Not really, I try to just clear my thoughts a bit before a set. I definitely think about what songs I want to play or whatever but that half hour before I hit the stage, I’ll just kind of go to my dressing room, just clear my head, and just think about how I want to start my set. I don’t really plan my sets out completely in advance; I’ll just think about the first couple songs… and then I just kind of dive in and take it from there.
BYT: What would you say was one of your most memorable?
ATrak: I’ve played so many shows over the years and so many types of shows so I couldn’t really narrow it down to a few that I prefer. I think part of what I like is the variety in the shows that I play. I love playing a big festival in front of 10 or 20 thousand people, but I also love playing a little club for 500 people where I can play whatever I want and have a more intimate rapport with the crowd. I can never choose between one or the other, I think what I like is to jump back and forth between those two settings and have all of that combined be my experience as a DJ. But when it’s time to choose one, and say what’s my favorite show or favorite venue, it’s too many different things that I like with what I do.
BYT: Do you enter with any expectations when performing, specifically when playing a new venue?
ATrak: Nah, when I get to a show or a venue, I get a feel for what that place is like and I adapt my set to that setting. There’s always parts of my set that are improvised, so it’s just a part of that experience of getting into that moment–getting that feeling that you get from a night when you’re playing, and seeing what sets you can create from that.
BYT: You’ve taken the creative leap into other markets as well, namely apparel—how has it been calling the shots at your own label, “Sunglasses Is A Must”?
ATrak: Well, that doesn’t really exist anymore—it was kind of just a name I gave to some collaborations I was working on with different brand when I was first connecting with the design and apparel world. Lately I’ve been redirecting a lot of those collaborations to Fools Gold, where it’s Fools Gold now that does collaborations with other brands whereas before I would just do it myself. It’s kind of just one part of what I enjoy doing—connecting with brands that I’m already a fan of and figuring out projects we can make together.
BYT: You’re a really busy man, I assume you don’t get very much time to just be—but perhaps you can prove me wrong. Do you ever make it out to clubs just to scope the competition or support other DJs? Any favorites?
ATrak: A little bit, that’s kind of part of the research that I always have to do—just being aware of what other DJs are doing and seeing the audience a bit and getting that perspective as well.
BYT: Any thoughts on the new generation of talent emerging—have you noticed any wunderkinds popping up on the circuit?
ATrak: Well, usually when I see a DJ and I like them, I sign them to Fools Gold so everybody coming up on the label, guys like Kingdom, those are new names that I found exciting and that are really bringing new sound.
BYT: Which producers/DJs/artists are you most looking forward to working with right now?
ATrak: That’s a question a lot of people ask me in interviews, but I get to work with a lot of my favorite producers already, there isn’t really much of a list of artists that I’m sort of wishing to work with. Really, at the end of the day, I like working with Duck Sauce, I really love working with Kanye—guys that I work with a lot, that are my main collaborators are also [people] that I’m a huge fan of, and I really enjoy the interaction also, it’s who I like to work with.
BYT: Which record changed your life, and why?
ATrak: I would say The Beastie Boys’ albums Paul’s Boutique and Check Your Head… both those albums were a huge influence on my life—probably still so today. It was the music which helped me to get into hip-hop—talking a lot about sampling. From a style/aesthetic standpoint, it laid the blueprint for the white guy in hip-hop; those albums kind of set it off for me.
BYT: What’s currently playing on your ipod? This seems like a throwaway question, but it really does say a lot about what’s currently influencing you.
ATrak: There’s a rotation of older stuff like Fleetwood Mac to newer things like the new Holy Ghost! album or The Weeknd, I really like the Weeknds’ mixtape.