Alex Smoke Interview

Alex Smoke is a producer who for 10 years has steered away from dance floor tracks and harnessed his penchant for dark, gloomy, moody and textured material. His music serves the listener best on gray walks around a concrete city or for melancholic bus rides on the way home from a disappointing night out. There’s no big beats or big sounds but subtlety and atmosphere abound. His beats move with a pitter-patter that carries but doesn’t distract. His processed vocals sound more like something already talking in your head than a voice coming from the outside.

His latest album, Love Will Over, his first full length on R&S Records is a continuation of his ability to stay true and interesting and suits the seminal label well as a middle ground between the melancholic nostalgia of Nonkeen and the doom-laden sounds of Paula Temple or Lakker.

It came as a great surprise for RE:VIVE when we heard he had remixed two of Lakker’s tracks off of Struggle & EmergeWe’re not sure about why he chose the tracks he did, “Ever Rising” arguably the darkest and heaviest track on the maxi-EP and “Emergo” the nostalgic, Boards of Canada homage.

If “Ever Rising” was about the impending doom from the sea, Smoke’s version is the assessment of the damage done. A tense shuffle carriers the listener on a tour around a destroyed village while “Emergo”‘s natural sounding nostalgia is replaced with a futuristic arpeggiation that sounds more sci-fi than Lakker’s nod to 60s Dutch films.

We reached out to Alex Menzies to find out a bit more about his work process, sound sourcing and archival skills.

1. Do you normally work with raw field recordings? There’s lots of sound design in the Alex Smoke records, but where do you start from a compositional stand point?

I do work with raw field recordings, though I’ll normally use them in Kyma as a sort of random input, or else I’ll chop them into constituent parts and create kits from the bits. I do like beds of noise and random activity as a foil for the more structured parts above, as it can often provide a tension that is hard to create another way. As for the composition part of things, I’ll either start with a melodic idea played in on the keyboard or programmed in. Or I’ll start with the sound design and just go mental with the process and enjoy the texture. From that point new ideas will suggest themselves. The hard part is not reaching for the same 3 instruments of the same kind of sounds you use “in this situation”. You always have to be on your guard from falling into lazy patterns of behaviour.

2. You dived into the Lomax Collection a bit with your new record. Are archive collections on your radar as places to source material?

Well I use very few outside samples generally, but the online archives can provide a vocal part that fits a particular role, as in that case. I really wanted a prison song from America and the Lomax archive is the place to go for that kind of thing. Some of the blues stuff on there is just incredible. It is heartening to know that even today there are people out there recording cultures as they exist now, simply as a way to keep a record as traditions disappear and communities change. It’s very important.

3. Did you consider the theme and background at all of Struggle & Emerge for the remixes or did you just approach them as two stand alone tracks?

Yeah I don’t tend to let intellect get too involved in the creation process to be honest. The intellect has its place but it can dominate if you give it a chance and it ain’t nearly as smart as it thinks it is! We live in an age which lionizes the intellect but actually it’s a bit out of hand. For me its best to let creativity flow without too much thinking.

4. Do you archive all your samples and sounds?

Yeah absolutely, I’m a paranoid archivist! The main problem is keeping the disks in order so I don’t wipe anything or forget to back something up. I recently lost 2 hard drives in quick succession and lost some of my earliest samples which I’d created back in the early 2000s, which was a bit of a gutter. Lesson learned (again).

You can download the remixes for free via R&S here and pick up a copy of Smoke’s newest LP Love Will Over here.

Image via Nationaal Archief, CC BY