Aleksandir has been our buddy at Bolting Bits for quite some time. He had a chance to play in Montreal’s favorite open-air Piknic Électronik, he also started measuring djs shoes even more and he just released his first true album “Skin” on Swedish stalwart Omena. We were lucky enough to catch Alex in the busy days of the album’s release frenzy, so we threw a couple of questions at him and tried to figure out what he’s been up to lately.
Hi, Alex. How are you holding on? Where are you at the moment?
Hi! Doing great, I’m shacked up in my house in Istanbul, laying low for wave two to blow over and finally working on some new music. Now that the album is out, the inspiration feels like it’s gradually returning.
2020 will surely be a year to remember for the rest of our lives. How was this year for you? I bet there’s been a hefty dose of plans that needed to be amended, tours and gigs that didn’t happen and so on. On the other hand tho, you came up with a brand new album “Skin”, so maybe 2020 wasn’t totally grey and dull in your camp
Indeed, the pandemic obviously halted a lot of things. Right before it all hit, it felt like a good moment. I was starting to tour more and more and I was really getting into djing as well. In the beginning, it took me some time to start seeing myself as a dj really – I always considered myself a musician and producer first – and I think last year was the first time I started to feel like I may have something to offer through my sets. All that came to an abrupt end with the pandemic!
In terms of personal growth though, 2020 has treated me well, there’s been huge changes in my personal life, a lot of things I had to face and I think it’s all been for the best. Those emotions and changes lead to the themes that inspired this album, and in a way the personal growth has only led to growth in the music as well. All things considered, this was a great year, but I’d be lying if I said I’m not stoked to get back on the road.
Can you tell us a bit more about the album. How long have you been working on it, what it reflects and what message does it broadcast?
This is definitely the most long-winded project I’ve ever worked on. The first track I completed was ‘Technicolour’, and that was over a year and a half ago.
The album is equal parts losing vs finding love, isolation vs intimacy, all things that made up my 2020. It started as a break-up album, but changed moods as my year progressed. In the end it became a snapshot of a year or so of my life, all centred around themes of intimacy and affection, both romance and friendship. Many of those people and relationships became part of the album through samples laced throughout the whole thing, all the voices and foley samples you hear are recordings of friends and loved ones. All that found a new meaning in the context of the pandemic, as any skin but our own became something so rare to touch.
Listening to this new album reminds me a bit of the “Contrails” EP that you released a couple of years ago on Seb Wildblood’s Church label. “Contrails” had 7 tracks, “Skin” has 9, but on both releases tracks have rather different tempos, distinct textures and alternating moods. Would you say “SKIN” is some sort of evolution of “Contrails” or was the process and approach of creation altogether different this time?
Although Contrails is very special to me and was technically my first album, ‘Skin’ feels much more like a debut album than a follow up or evolution. Contrails was a collection of tracks made through a period of time, and they shared a sonic signature, however there was not much of a concept or album idea behind it for me. Whereas ‘Skin’ was something that had a life of its own and a true meaning to it from the start. Also, ‘Skin’ felt like the first time I truly found my sound. I’ve never been able to make music that I personally enjoyed on an objective level until now. Though still early, it seems as though ‘Skin’ is something I can really listen to and enjoy myself, it’s music made by myself for myself, and that brings me a whole new level of joy and makes me quite proud.
I was lucky enough to snatch your release on your own Artesian Sounds label in Berlin’s Hard Wax last summer. Love it to bits! How this idea of having your own label came to be?
Well here’s the story. Years ago, much before I’d ever dream of starting a label, I received a soundcloud message from Emre Can Swim. He mentioned a label he was planning on starting, and somehow we ended up deciding to do it together. To me it all seems really crazy now, deciding to start a label with a random guy on soundcloud, but it’s worked out so well, Emre Can’s one of my closest friends by now and it’s been a breeze running the label together. But the coincidence is another level, because I don’t think it would be easy to run a label with most people, let alone someone you don’t know at all. I’m not much of a believer of fate or anything, but this has always felt a little like that.
You had 3 other releases on the label so far and they featured Harrison BDP, your good mate and label’s co-head Emre Can Swim from Izmir and there also was a remix pack for your own ARS003. Are there any plans to release some new stuff on Artesian Sounds?
We took a step back from the label this last year to plan things out a little better for the long term and that’s something we’ve been working on a lot. We have three releases lined up at the moment and I’m incredibly proud of all of them. Once we start releasing we want to keep the momentum high and make a mark, so no specific release date in mind for the moment, but there’s some really good stuff coming. I’d recommend everyone to keep an eye on Scissorwork, hasn’t released much for a bit now, but has some serious heat on the way! ;)
Could you also tell us a little bit how you came in contact with Tooli, the boss of Omena records, probably one of the most prominent names is Swedish house music scene? (I’m a huge fan of Tooli, Local Talk and Omena myself, so your decision to release on Omena is just spot on!)
I sent Tooli a bunch of demos years ago and although we never made a release of those we kept in contact since then, exchanging music and chatting every now and then. He was one of the first to hear the album when I started sending them about and I think we felt a good connection through the album straight away. It’s been such a good experience working with him, and I genuinely believe that he trusts the music and sees it as something special the way I do, and nothing’s more important than that.
You’ve had a chance to spend quite a lot of time in two really great cities in Turkey: Izmir, the Mediterranean metropolis and of course the mind-bending and super-charming Istanbul. Then you went to the UK to study and had a chance to experience Bristol’s music scene first hand. I know that it’s tough to compare the scenes, but if you had to compare let’s say Bristol and Izmir and London with Istanbul. What are the most striking differences and can you draw some parallels if there are any?
So I grew up most of my life in Istanbul, my mum is from Izmir and I have spent a great deal of time there, but never actually lived there. It’s where Emre Can is from. Comparing the four cities is very difficult, but there’s obviously a great deal of difference between the countries. I would say that underground nightlife is very limited in Izmir, but still surprisingly so in Istanbul as well. We have a great deal to learn from London or Bristol. I think for me the greatest difference is the lack of producers, djs and people invested in this industry in Istanbul, I think that’s where it starts. Obviously we’re miles behind as the English have been partying for decades, and it’s where a bulk of the music originally came from.
I think that’s key here. Making music on your laptop is so easy to pick up, and I don’t think people are aware of that enough. I met electronic music quite late, after playing in bands for years and years. I’d love to see a new generation or wave of people in Istanbul who grow up playing around with this stuff, I think that’s the beginning of a wider scene that can then ooze into a more mainstream culture. Apart from that, things take time, and there’s definitely a lot going on and people trying to push this culture forward as well, but I think it’s key that there be more local creativity.
From the places you’ve already played, which ones left the most lasting impression? And from the places you haven’t, what’s on your bucket list?
Definitely Montreal, Piknic Électronik! It’s definitely the largest gig I’ve played, but more so the energy was a whole other level. Everyone was so into the music and I felt a bond with the crowd that I’d never felt before. I would love the opportunity to play there again.
Your favorite site and setting for a gig. Big room with lots of sound and lights, huge crowd or more intimate setting somewhere in the crowded basement with people sweating their best moves out? Or maybe somewhere on the beach surrounded by waves and palm trees during sunset/sunrise?
Intimate sweaty club all the way! Some of the best has been situations where I can really let loose and feel no pressure, playing home turf helps with that for sure. So many good memories at our local club Gizli Bahçe, where we threw MİKS parties with my friend Supu. At the end of a long night, 4 in the morning, 0 pressure, full of locals and friends, just playing whatever we want for the fun of it. Laughing constantly, throwing each other curveballs and testing the crowd.
Also, I remember playing in Sydney, and because of lockout laws the party seemed to die a slow death instead of just ending at the end of the night – people who left for a smoke couldn’t re-enter and they stopped serving drinks. So slowly there were less and less people. At the end of the night it was just me and maybe 10 people in this tiny room, I was playing fast, deep, rolling tunes, maybe some Mathew Johnson or Tom VR. I just love that kind of intimate moment, the occasional smile being exchanged around the room now and then, but apart from that everyone’s just got their heads down, in an almost meditative state, dancing. Felt like we could dance forever, until they turned the lights on.
And to wrap things up. Your expectations and plans for 2021 and your X-mas greeting for everyone who will be reading this. :)
Looking forward to seeing clubs open again, touring, partying, not social distancing and releasing more music. Happy Christmas, and thanks for having me!