Exclusive Interview With Techno Maestro Alex Banks
Photo Credit : Alex Kozobolis
‘Falling Down’ is the 3rd single from ALEX BANKS critically acclaimed second album ‘Beneath The Surface’ on Mesh. ‘Falling Down’ perfectly showcases Alex ability to blend raw beats, and melodic emotion with genres like Techno, Electronica and Old Skool Rave Breaks.
Following his debut album on Modeselektor’s Monkeytown Records, Alex reflected on his experiences as a DJ and live performer to produce the ‘Beneath The Surface’ album for Max Cooper’s Mesh label earlier this year which harnessed elements of live performance, at times free-flowing and unpredictable, seamlessly fused with forward-thinking technical production. The Falling Down E.P. package comes with a crunching remix from ITAL TEK and an additional edit of Falling Down itself.
In the words of Alex Banks:
“Falling Down was the last track I wrote for the album. There’s something liberating about having almost finished making a record and then crafting one more tune that encapsulates all of its aspects, and concludes the writing process. Drawing influence from dark techno club experiences, its fierce rolling beats and driving bassline contrast with melodic elements and warm nostalgic synths. Designed to move dance floors and inspire emotion with a euphoric build giving way to filth laden raw beats.”
Listen to ‘Falling Down’ EP on Spotify!
- Tell us about that first track that put you on the map in the electronic scene and the journey since. How did you get started?
The first track that got my name out there was a remix I did of Bonobo’s ‘The Keeper’ which was released in 2012. Ninja Tune were putting together a remix album of Bonobo’s legendary ‘Black Sands’ album, one of the A&R guys there knew my manager and asked if I’d be up for having a go at a remix. As a huge fan of Bonobo I couldn’t have been more enthusiastic! I spent a month working on it and obsessed over every detail of the production. It paid off…the remix album was very successful and my track went on to get millions of plays on YouTube and Spotify and appeared in DJ sets and Radio stations all over the world. It’s a really big moment for me! Shortly afterwards I did another remix for Andreya Triana (who’s vocals had featured on the Bonobo track) which kept the momentum up and lead to a recording and publishing deal. I also started putting some DJ mixes together and got voted mix of the year for the Ninja Tune Solid Steel series, which lead to my first international DJ gigs. From there I started working on my first proper full length album ‘Illuminate’ which I signed to Modeselektor’s Monkeytown Records in 2014. I got to tour with Moderat in Europe and then started getting booked all over the world for my live and DJ sets. After a few singles and collaborations, I spent a year back in the studio, taking a break from touring to work on my latest album ‘Beneath The Surface’ which was released recently on Max Cooper’s Mesh label.
- Tell us about the ‘Falling Down EP ‘?
‘Falling Down’ was the last track I wrote for the album. There’s something quite liberating about having nearly finished making a record then and deciding to have a go at writing one more banger! Making an album can a very long and involved process, working on a lot of tracks over a long period of time, often slowly refining them and tweaking them to a finished state. Having been through that process, it was great fun to just crack on with a new track and make it quite quickly, using the experiences learned from all the work I put making the album to conclude with something that felt really fresh and exciting. I’d just bought a TR8-S drum machine and Moog Mother at the time so the beat started on the drum machine and the main synth hook from the Mother. Getting hold of new tech gear can really help get the creative flow going and keep music making exciting. I made the track from start to finish in about two weeks which is really fast for me. The label were pretty much ready to call the album finished before they heard this but when I sent it to them, everyone was saying “this HAS to go on the album!”
- What single night out has been the most memorable for you as a DJ and producer?
Supporting Moderat in a huge disused warehouse space in Poland has to be one of my most memorable experience in music. My album ‘Illuminate’ was about to be released and I was so excited that the world was going to get to hear it. Moderat had invited me to support them on some dates in Europe, this was the first of them and my first live set playing the new material. I remember the feeling about to go on stage in front of 3500 people to start my set, immense feelings of nerves and excitement. And then the sensation of dropping my first track and the bass resonating through me and filling the room, it’s literally what it’s all about for me!
- Tell us something we wouldn’t normally find out about you.
As well as the music I make as ‘Alex Banks’ I’ve written loads of music for adverts for TV and Internet that no-one ever knows is me. I’ve worked on projects for some of the biggest brands in the world for their worldwide campaigns so there’s a good chance that some people reading this will have heard some music I made and not known it was me they were listening to. Sometimes I get to work on some cool music for those projects, sometimes it’s the cheesiest ‘un-cool’ stuff you could imagine! But doing this work sometimes helps pay for my studio rent and passion for buying analogue synths so it’s good to do occasionally. It also takes the pressure of having to make a living solely from my artistic work, so if I want to spend a year or more making an album for artistic reasons, I can do that without worrying too much about finishing it quickly just to earn a living
- Give us the name of one track that never gets old for you no matter how many times you listen to it?
Nathan Fake – The Sky was Pink (James Holden Remix). The way this track develops and how the melodies and sounds work around each other to keep the momentum driving forward but in an understated, subtle way is total genius. It’s been in my DJ collection for a long time and it still sounds fresh if I drop it in a DJ set.
- What tours / residencies / upcoming events do you have in the pipeline that we mustn’t miss out on?
After the album was finished I started putting together an exciting new live set, featuring audio reactive visuals and custom built LED pyramids. I’ve done a few shows to test it out but am currently working with a new agent to bring get the show out on the road. More news to come on that soon…
- Does your English heritage have any influence on your EDM production style?
Definitely. I first started going to raves in the mid-late 90’s when Jungle/Drum n Bass was really starting to kick-off and hardcore was big. As I was getting into making electronic music I was heavily influenced by the sounds I was hearing at these underground events. Whilst I don’t make Drum n Bass as such, my love for old skool jungle basslines and hardcore textures I think comes across in the music I create. I was also influenced and inspired by well known UK acts such as Chemical Brothers, Orbital, The Prodigy that were breaking out in the 90’s. I was excited by the way they made electronic music that wasn’t just heard in clubs but also huge festival stages or on the radio. As well as interesting cool production, they had great vocal hooks and melodies, and sometimes long evolving compositions that had more detail than stripped back club music. You can definitely hear that influence in my music where some of my tracks start off in one direction and end up somewhere totally different.
- How do you get a track started? Tell us a bit about your production process. How long does it take you to complete a track on average?
A track will usually start with a beat. As mentioned, I’ve enjoyed playing around with my TR8-S recently but before that, I found other hardware drum machines inspiring too, as well as Native Instruments Machine. I can make beats perfectly well clicking with mouse and looking at the screen, but something about playing with a drum machine and hardware has an immediacy and fun element to it which can really help get a track started. Even if I then end up changing the beat entirely later down the line, it’s about getting the creative flow going! Once I have a groove I’ll usually start messing around with some of my hardware synths and see what comes out. Again, I really enjoy the immediacy of the hardware and will try to capture a lot of those early sound experiments in my DAW whilst the ideas are fresh. Sometimes a part might require a lot of thought and refining, but other times, the best sounds can come from just hitting record and having fun messing about with a synth! I also do a lot of sample manipulation, importing a lot of random samples from all kinds of places, old vinyl, fields recordings, or beats I’ve created myself. I use granular processing, stretching stuff, re-pitching and warping, running it through plug-ins and hardware reverbs/delays to see what comes out. I recently bought some Eurorack units which can create some really cool, unexpected effects that are creatively inspiring. At this stage I’ll be just getting a couple of 16 bars loops going and adding loads of sounds and melodic ideas that could work together and not worrying too much about perfecting the mix or details. All my synths are connected to my 24 track desk so I can quickly get a rough mix going just for vibe without having to do much work on the computer. I have a couple of vintage 1178 compressors in the studio and usually I’ll put one of them on the mix bus to push some of the sounds together and bring out some textures. I love the intensity of the sound it gives and sometimes I’ll get some really cool results but smashing a mix through the compressor and hearing the way the sounds bounce off each other and work together. Usually after a couple of sessions I’ve got enough ideas to build a track out of and I’ll sit down with different head on and start to filter through the ideas I’ve laid down. I’ll edit and refine them, taking the best parts and working on the sound design and structure, often then writing more parts to fit with the whatever direction it’s going in, but whilst also trying to preserve the original vibe and excitement of those early writing sessions. Whilst I managed to make ‘Falling Down’ in a couple of weeks, with some of the album tracks I was working on them for a year on and off, as I kept coming back to them, working on them for a few days here and there and then putting them down for a couple of months whilst I worked on other tracks.
- Do you ever get writer’s block?
I don’t ever get writers block as such…I’ve learnt that even if I don’t feel I’m in the mood I can usually write something that sounds pretty good. However one of the creative struggles I come up against is writing something that’s original that I’ve not done before. Particularly whilst I was making an album, I felt like I wanted to make a collection of tracks that sound like me, but explore new musical territory and have something new to say. I find it quite easy to make music that sound like something that already exists but creating something new and different can be difficult, but also very rewarding when you achieve it!
- Latest track / EP? What are you working on currently? Tell us more!
I’ve been collaborating with Berlin based producer Ryan Davis on an EP which just came out on Hunter Game’s label Just This. The project started about 18 months ago when Ryan asked me to remix a track he was working on called ‘Nightfall’. I made a long, evolving, deep atmospheric techno remix which took a lot of tweaking and refining. As I’d almost finished it, I had an idea for another remix in a totally different style, with old skool sounding breaks and deep bass hits. I sent both of these over to Ryan which influenced him to rework his original, so we had a nice collection of tracks together. We then decided we’d make a new track from scratch together called ‘Sequence’, bouncing ideas back and forth between Brighton and Berlin until the we had the finished EP.
I’m currently working in the Canary Islands just off the coast of Africa for a couple of months, escaping the worst of the UK winter and making some new music. Sometimes it’s fun to write music in different places so I packed as much gear as I could fit into my flight case and have setup a small studio in a house here looking out to sea. I’m looking to have some ideas for a new EP sketched out by the time I leave return to the UK and will take these ideas back into the studio and develop them in to full tracks ready for release next year.
In the meantime, we have a whole collection of remixes from my recent album ‘Beneath The Surface’ which we’re really looking forward to releasing in early 2019.
- Fan question – “The relationship between the audience and the DJ is crucial, and yet it seems to be a fragile one – how do you see the balance between giving the crowd what they want and treating them to something new?”
It can be a difficult balance to get right for sure. I recently did a DJ show where I had lots of really cool, interesting new music that I wanted to play, but when I was actually up there in the DJ booth, realised that it wasn’t the right place for it so changed my direction to fit and played a straighter set. Other times you think you might want to play dance floor fillers but end up going in a more experimental direction, so it’s definitely good to read the crowd and be influenced by that to some degree. I think the important thing is that even if you’re in a situation where maybe you don’t feel it’s the right place to be experimental, you still have a lot of music that you like and and enjoy playing that will work different contexts. I’ve learned that if I’m in a situation where an audience is likely to be less open to hearing a something new and I’m playing some of the more accessible tracks from my collection, if they’re still not working well and people want me to play something different, then I’m probably not the right DJ for that event!
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