Visiting San Francisco's Mezzanine this Monday is one of the world's most versatile DJs, Montreal's Alain Macklovitch, better known as A-Trak. He's recognized for running the Fool's Gold label, working as Kanye West's touring DJ, and dominating the DMC World Championship 11 years ago when he was just 15. A-Trak's most recent project, Duck Sauce, with house mastermind Armand Van Helden, even has television's Glee singing its praises, and Howard Stern issuing its critiques. Midway through his tour with Gaslamp Killer and Kid Sister, A-Trak spoke with All Shook Down about his opening DJ, performing in his leather jacket, and why some people just seem to hate so hard.
Some people might wonder why you chose Gaslamp Killer as an opening DJ. Did your decision have anything to do with his style of scratching?
Yeah absolutely, also because he's good and his style and play is amazing. He does scratch in his sets not so much in the old-school way, but modern scratching with music that's current. A lot of scratch DJs don't also do mixing sets. Or when they do, it's sort of separate. It's really hard to find a DJ where scratching is also part of the performance.
How much do you improvise in your sets? Is there a need to have a consistent set now that you're on a tour?
It depends for what show. Usually the way that I like do my sets is that I have certain parts that are prepared in advance, like the intro, and then three or four more technical solos, and then a certain selections of songs. Then I just go up and improvise the assembly or order of songs on the fly.
However, for this tour it's different, because there's a big stage production that I prepared and the whole set is closely knit to the light show that goes with my stage set. Because I have to stick to certain cues, the set is more planned out than usual. I still have some latitude, but I'm sort of sticking to a general outline more than I usually do. But I like it, because it allows me to get more intricate also.
This tour has you onstage with a giant A. We've also noticed DJs like Rusko and Wolfgang Gartner have been building giant contraptions as well. Is it the trend this year?
Yeah, a lot of DJs are getting into stage production in the last two to three years. It's almost like a nuclear arms race to try to outdo the next guy.
What was the building process like?
I hired some people from Montreal, who are professionals. I brought to them some of the concepts for the A. It actually came from a conversation with Kanye, who helped me come up with this basic idea of having a big A onstage. We came up with some ideas, and they turned it into what it is now in terms of the actual shape and the fact that it's made from wood.
Duck Sauce's "Barbra Streisand" is everywhere. It's heard in places such as Express and Vitamin Water commercials. How do you guys respond to this sort of commercialization of the track?
We didn't really go out and try to get these companies; they came to us. And it was good exposure. Certain brands I wouldn't approve of, like if I had an ethical problem with a brand, I wouldn't approve it. But it's Vitamin Water, so I don't have a problem with it. They didn't change the song, they didn't dumb it down. I mean it's already done enough (laughs).
You guys have gotten some raised eyebrows and got some flack recently when "Barbra Streisand" was featured on Glee.
People have been asking me this so much. I'm a little surprised that people keep asking me. I mean, it was never meant to be an underground thing. I was looking at a Facebook page after the Glee episode happened, and some kids were like, "Oh man, I can never listen to that song again, it's ruined!" I mean, that's not something you say about a song that has 50 million YouTube views. If we were an act that were niche or underground favorites like Little Dragon or the Weeknd only a few people know about, I can understand a few fans getting really outraged. I mean, it's Duck Sauce. This song was already #1 in more than 10 countries, so to me it's just kind of continuing in that trajectory. It's really cool that this song is getting this new breath six months after it's released.
It seems like fans either love it or hate it.
I think most people were happy, but some were really upset. I don't understand that mentality. It's like the angry fan in the basement when a song he likes or a band he likes does a song outside certain areas. Why such an anachronistic mentality? That reason doesn't make sense anymore. No one is selling records anymore. What do you want the artist to do? You have to find other leads to get your music out. As long as nothing is diluted and it stays the same art I think it's fine.
You're so busy with Fool's Gold, Duck Sauce, and touring. How do you keep such a positive and light-hearted mentality?
I think it's my character. I'm a pretty calm person. Even if I'm under heavy stress, and I can still find little things in my everyday life to make me laugh and keep me entertained.
We're glad to hear San Francisco is the last stop on your tour.
It was ... but we just added a weekend after.
So we're not that special.
You guys were special! [laughs] No, I like San Francisco. Ever since I was a teenager, I looked up and hung out with scratch DJs like Qbert. But the music scene has changed a lot. There was a hub of turntablists in the late '90s, and then the DJs moved elsewhere like L.A. and N.Y. And then, there was that whole dot-com thing at which time I wasn't going there as much. But in the last five years, I've been coming back more. World of possibilities!
People also talk and wonder about how you and your brother (Dave 1 of Chromeo) consistently wear leather onstage for almost every performance. Even in Texas. How do you guys do it?
Oh, do you think it's just because we're Canadian? (laughs). No, kidding, but my body adapts to the fact that I'm wearing a jacket. Like some people wear wool sweaters in the summer like insulation. Most shows I'm able to keep my jacket on. You just get used to it.
I'm glad we got that question of the year answered.
Yes, the style and mechanics of performing in a leather jacket.