Erol Alkan on the art of the remix and ten years of Trash

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Erol Alkan loves music. Freakin’ loves the stuff. From the most balls-out electropop to the kind of indie records that exist exclusively within the parameters of the Cherry Red office (and even then he prefers the early work). When we meet at a hotel in London’s trendy Shoreditch, the prodigious DJ and producer, clad in de rigueur black leather jacket, pulls up a chair and begins to espouse the virtues of various Langer and Winstanley deep-cuts, uninterrupted, for at least ten minutes. That’s how much he loves music. And you know what? The excitement is infectious.

Of course, it’s his job to make people excited about music. As the figurehead behind Trash — the seminal London club night he ran from 1997 to 2007 — Erol made a career of knocking down the walls of indie tribalism, dropping Buzzcocks next to Kylie Minogue, Public Image Ltd. next to Peaches. He cleared a few dance floors in his time, sure. But he also brought to Trash a sort of genre-free notion of togetherness. The kind of everyone-knows-your-name Cheers factor that comes from putting on a night for 520 consecutive weeks.

In the time since, Erol has earned a reputation as one of his generation’s most iconic remixers, taking his considered approach to tracks such as Justice’s Waters Of Nazareth and Death From Above 1979’s Romantic Rights and imbuing them with new perspectives altogether. Collected as part of the just announced Reworks Volume 1 — note well, they’re re works, not re mixes — they frame a corner of Erol’s career in perspective; an overview of one of dance music’s most batshit brilliant artists.

Hello Erol. What’s Reworks Volume 1 all about?
Well, I suppose I always felt remixing and reworking other people’s music to be a very creative thing. Early on, I tried to reproduce records just using their original elements, as if I was producing the band the first time around or making the kind of extended 12-inch version — which I used to really, really love growing up. I’d buy the 12-inch pop hits, like You Spin Me Round by Dead or Alive or Reflex by Duran Duran, and they were always so markedly different to what you’d hear on the radio. The 80s were such a rich era for that because they were usually created by the band and the production team, rather than being farmed out to someone to do. So I suppose the first few mixes I did, I kind of had that mindset, you know? I wanted to see if I could make the club version of it, without relying on whatever the contemporary club sound was. Working with just the confines of what a band would offer. I found that limitation to be something that really drove my imagination a lot more.

And is that, if we wanted to boil it down, what makes a ‘good remix’ — that idea of reproducing something rather than just chucking a dance beat behind it?
For me, yes. I’ve always felt it’s a way of working with what a band is able to do. Or how you can push a band and their sound. Duran Duran are a really good example, the night versions that they did, which was them making, like, a disco or aversion geared totally for a dance floor. I love those 12 inches. How they’re sometimes a lot wilder and weirder and faster or whatever. The one where I thought I definitely got that right was, I suppose, Death From Above 1979’s Romantic Rights. Making something that you could play in a club and could kind of direct people on the dance floor, you know? Direct their movement or their energy and do it with quite an aggressive kind of rock track, but with all those peaks and troughs and textures and release. I suppose it’s just trying to transpose that, while having the limitation of just what the band recorded.

Your press release describes you as “a dance music artist with an alternative sensibility, a psychedelic approach and a punk outlook”… Is that a fair assessment?
I suppose my journey through music was pretty much based down to pop music, hip-hop and acid house at the same time in 89, and then indie straight after that, through the passage of the Stone Roses, Happy Mondays and all those bands. At the same time, I always had an interest in electronic music. The good thing was, I think, in the music press I used to read, like the NME or Melody Maker, they always had pages devoted to dance culture, which were written predominately by people very much in that scene. Looking back on it, it wasn’t just like, indie dance-friendly stuff, they were into the really, really deeper end of things. So you had that parallel running all the way along.

At what point did you start combining those different styles in your own work?
I’ve got a tape at home from 1990 or 91, when I used to go to my friend’s house who’d managed to save enough money to buy two belt drive decks. I’d go to his after school and we’d make tapes together, mixes of indie records with rave records. It’d be like the Charlatans mixed over the top of Renegade Soundwave. Inner Mind by Eon over I Wonder If I Take You Home by Lisa Lisa and Cult Jam. But doing it in clubs… When I first started playing indie clubs in the beginning, I knew that if you played those songs at a time when the dance floor was busy, you could clear a room. Indie fans back then would only dance to records that they knew. But I’ve always felt it my job to introduce things to people. Not just to give people things that they expect.

Was there a moment when you realised people were becoming more receptive to hearing new things?
Yeah, definitely. I guess that happens when there’s a burgeoning scene or movement and there’s that appetite for it. People just gravitate towards it. I definitely felt that with Trash. 100%. There were times when, if you bought a record on a Tuesday, you had to wait six days to play it and the excitement would build up so much. That intrigue, on my behalf, was quite infectious, I suppose. Maybe I was feeling that people were wanting more. That people were wanting to look further and deeper. There was just something amazing happening in that moment. People were inspiring you to go further.

Have you thought much about Trash’s legacy this year, it being ten years since it finished — twenty years since it started (!)?
A little bit, yeah. I think the thing was that it started just when the internet was kind of beginning and ended just as the iPhone was starting. So it’s in a lot of people’s hearts and minds and there are some photos here and there, but it’s not like anything that came after it, that would be documented in such a wider form. There was so much great, understated music around that time. I thought it would be great to put that music in front of people. It’s part of my history. It’s part of an era that I’m proud of, not because of any input I had, just for how many people did so many amazing things around that time. I’m not one of those people who’ll shy away but I’m also not going to do anything to cash in on it in that sense. It’s just one of those things that was a specific point in time that I think sounded fantastic. 10 years… It’s an awful long time. But a lot of people have a lot of memories.

i-D, SEPTEMBER 2017.

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