Alex Smoke: Contrast is everything
Alex Smoke gives live laptop shows a good name. Working within the confines of a 90-minute set, he builds a gripping mood – intense and experimental, but anchored by a dancefloor pulse. It’s music that’s always moving. Likewise, his three albums (two on Scottish stalwart Soma and the most recent Lux on his own Hum+Haw imprint) bear all the signs of a producer unburdened by trends or expectations. Ahead of his return to these parts, the unshowy maestro gets musing with inthemix.
When you’ve finished working intensively on an album, do you need a period away from music?
I always want to be doing something, so even if I’ve just finished an album I’ll just be carrying on working new stuff. Maybe try a different direction or a change of angle. I guess the secret is just keeping yourself engaged and interested. The album was so delayed anyway. It was about two years late, so I was already on to the next thing.
What was the cause of the delay?
It was just personal problems to do with my business partner; he just had a shocking couple of years. So it was really just about that.
Lux was released on your own label Hum+Haw. Does your own label afford you certain freedoms?
It certainly offers you freedom, as you can really decide everything. Soma was always very open-minded, but on your own label you can take it anywhere. It’s more satisfying as well, as it’s just you. You’re responsible. If it fails, it’s your fault, and if it doesn’t you can feel good about it.
Does it require a different kind of thinking to be a label boss, and not just an artist?
Ultimately for me, it’s just about my music. I’m not a business-man. I have no great desire to start an empire. That’s not to say the label isn’t open to releasing stuff from other people, but for me personally it’s not a priority. For my business partner, it’s more of a priority, as he’s focused on the A&R side.
You’re a believer in the long player format. Are there ‘champions’ of the electronic music album for you?
For sure, particularly in the more experimental edges of electronic music. Big ones like Autechre, and so many others. Anything that’s not strictly dancefloor is an open book and you can do a lot of things with an album. People talk about the death of the album, but I honestly don’t see it happening. There’s always going to be a bunch of music that works together.
When you’re making an album, do you imagine how it’s going to be consumed? Do you hope people treat it as a whole?
You always have expectations. You think some people will find it hard to digest and others will like it more after a year. Ultimately you just have to do what you’re happy with. As long as I’m happy with it in myself, then it’s okay.
I wanted to ask if you’re incorporating more hardware into your process, as Lux certainly gives that impression.
It’s a combination basically. Since the two albums on Soma, I’ve bought more hardware. Particularly a DSP platform thing that’s got its own hardware; that’s been very important. You always change your processes and consciously make an effort to change how you do things. That’s good. It’s healthy.
I interviewed Henrik Schwarz last year and he said that people are consistently surprised he gets an organic sound from producing solely on Ableton. Is it the same for you?
Yeah, I do get that sometimes. People say, you use lots of analogue synths, don’t you? And I have no analogue synths. I have virtual analogue synths. These days the software is good, it’s much cleverer about giving things an analogue feel. It’s getting very close now. With hardware or software, it’s the way you react to it or use it that makes the difference.