Q&A: DJ A-Trak On The Importance Of Bringing DJ Culture Out of Clubs and Into Live Venues
In 2004, Kanye West, after having just released his debut, The College Dropout, recruited the young Canadian to be his tour DJ. Then, in 2007, A-Trak launched his own label, Fool's Gold Records.
And, through the signing of buzzing acts such as Chromeo (which features his brother David, also known as Dave 1), The Cool Kids, Flosstradamus, L.A. Riots, Jokers of the Scene, Kid Cudi, Kid Sister and, more recently, Lil B, he's been at the epicenter of blogosphere cool ever since.
Most recently, though, he's made some bold moves to step into the spotlight himself. In 2010, his collaborative project with Armand Van Helden, Duck Sauce, put out "Barbra Streisand," one of the most difficult-to-avoid house tracks released in the past few years.
And, starting tomorrow night at Trees, he'll be hitting the road and headlining on his own so-called Magic 8-Ball tour, which will feature fellow scratch DJ Gaslamp Killer and live performer Kid Sister.
In advance of tomorrow's show, which will serve as the official kickoff for the tour after a quick dalliance at Coachella, we caught up with A-Trak late last week to talk about the importance of bringing DJ sets out of the nightclubs, the ways in which his role has changed as Fool's Gold has grown and, because we're kind of obsessed, whatever became of that planned VEGA release on his label.
Read our Q&A with A-Trak in full after the jump.
It's a sweet lineup you've got on this tour, what with Gaslamp Killer and Kid Sister joining you. I know you work with both of these acts in the past, but how'd this bill come together?
Kid Sister is a longtime collaborator. I produced her album and have been working with her ever since she started, so that was kind of straightforward. And then she put out a second album that came out, like, a year and a half ago. But, in the last couple months, she's kind of had a new burst fo activiy and buzz because of the mixtape she put out in January. So I was happy to get her out on the road with me and to add some fuel to the fire she's got going right now -- she's in a really good place right now. So that's her. And then Gaslamp is, first of all, a friend of mine, but also a kindred spirit in DJing in the sense that he comes from the scratch scene like myself originally. It's funny, though, because we've each taken it in different directions; 10 years ago, we were pretty much doing the same thing, just sitting in our bedrooms and scratching. Then I went in one direction and he went in a bit of another, but the one thing is that we still have the same approach to DJing in that it's very performance-based and very much a show. I love his DJing. And there's not a lot of people that still take approach. So when I see someone like him doing something fresh and new, but with a lot of scratching, I'm like, "Oh, great! Someone else is keeping this alive. We need to keep this going."
You don't always see DJs and live performers sharing bills like this tour is planning to do. A lot of times, it's one or the other. Is doing both on this tour part of promoting that same idea of DJing-as-performance?
Yeah. One thing that I've been trying to push for a while in general is bringing DJing into live venues and onto live stages and pushing the concert aspect. For this tour, I'm actually having a whole new stage show built for Coachella and then for the tour. This is going to look different from any other A-Trak show you've seen before. There's a lot more production. There's a whole hi-tech thing going on on-stage. I don't want to give away a whole lot of information on that. it's just best people come to the show.
You mentioned the importance of taking DJs to more live show-oriented venues. Dallas has been pretty big into DJ culture for a while now, with its usual DJ-centric places. Recently, we've seem more and more DJs coming to town following your route, though, and playing more rock-oriented venues. Why is this an important trend?
First, I guess I just need a stage to fit this giant thing that I'm traveling with, first of all. And, also, even just the fact that there's tickets. If you're going to go on a tour, you might as well go the whole touring route; people can buy their tickets in advance and then kind of look forward to it, just like any concert they would go to -- which is a far different experience than just going to a club and walking in.
Is that a statement on DJ culture as a whole? That maybe it's time to switch things up?
Yeah. DJing is in a place now where it can be approached this way. I wouldn't say it has to be done this way, but this is a way for DJ culture to grow, for it to just go in a lot of different directions. There's a lot of sub-branches. And this can be one of them.
What's happening with Fool's Gold at the moment? I know we have a local tie here in town with Fool's Gold because of VEGA. Seems like that project's kind of on a holding pattern at the moment because of Neon Indian, but is there anything you can tell me about that?
Yeah, VEGA is signed to Fool's Gold, and we're going to record the album in the coming month. We're really excited to be working with bands now. The label really started as a very club-centric label, with mostly DJs and rappers at first. But, over the last year and a half or so, we've started signing more of a variety of music. Just because that's the way music is progressing. It's not just about club music any more. We signed VEGA. We signed The Suzan, this Japanese band, whose album came out last fall. But it's going great. The company keeps growing, and, every year, we throw a bunch of events and tours. It's not just label stuff and record releases. Now, in the coming months, there will be a whole bunch of other things -- collaborations with other brands, like sort of lifestyle and design components. There's some clothes coming out, we're about to open a shop in New York.
It's always made sense to me that a DJ would run a label -- like, instead of curating a night of music, they're just curating a roster of bands. Is that how this all started in the first place? You were just coming across stuff you enjoyed and wanted to release?
Yeah, exactly. As a DJ, you're always researching music, and you end up stumbling across music that's maybe not released at all, and you end up having music on your hands that makes you think that someone needs to do this right and release this music because people need to hear the songs. It was pretty easy to transition from that to, then, saying "I can do this myself." And then it's a question of running a company. There's a certain amount of business sense needed as far as making it work. But the initial process of finding music and enjoying the curating aspect, I think that comes pretty naturally to me.
How have things changed as Fool's Gold has grown and your own career has grown? How much are you able to actually do as far as the day-to-day business is concerned when you're on the road and whatnot?
More than people would think! The more the company grows, the more work there is. On one hand, it's exciting to always think about how there's always more that you can do. But we've expanded and added more staff. And we've been able to get involved in projects that we never even would think of at the start, and that's what's exciting.
Like going to the live band route.
Yeah. That or even for the events we're organizing -- hitting bigger venues or getting the attention of certain people in the music scene that we didn't think were even aware of us.
You've been a well-known entity for some time now. But, for better or worse, your name's often tied to two people. So here's the question: Who are you more sick of talking about in interviews, Kanye West or your brother, Dave 1 from Chromeo?
[Laughs.] I can't really get sick of either of them. Working with Kanye was interesting for a long time, and one of the reasons I stopped tour with him was because Fool's Gold was picking up and I didn't really have the time any more. The other was that I didn't want to stay behind someone else. He gave me a great platform to showcase myself and, when I felt ready, to keep growing by myself. But, since then, now that I don't tour with Kanye any more, I still work with him, but it's more of either a studio capacity or more of a peer relationship where we can have collaborations going and it's no longer about who the biggest artist is, it's about exchanging ideas and helping each other out. And Kanye's a very active personality -- there's always a million different things going on in his brain -- so to be able to tap into that is great.
Last time I interviewed your brother, we got talking on that VEGA release, and he mentioned that he might be producing that disc. Given that you're kind of the boss man on this deal, can you confirm if that's still the case?
Yeah, yeah. That's still the plan, for sure.