Turntable wizard A-Trak will put Pacha Macau in a spin
DMC World Champion when just 15 and Kanye West’s tour DJ for almost a decade, the Canadian literally started from scratch to build a multifaceted empire that goes beyond music
The world of turntablism – featuring that particular breed of DJ who can do incredible things involving cutting, scratching and all the tricks that turn a mixer and two turntables into a musical instrument in their own right rather than just a way of playing records – is generally a pretty self-contained one, of interest mainly to scratch nerds and other DJs; its stars rarely break out into the mainstream. A-Trak is an exception.
Winner of the DMC World DJ Championships, the Oscars of DJing, in 1997 at the remarkable age of 15, he is not just one of the most skilled users of a turntable in the world and an endlessly entertaining live DJ, but also something of a Renaissance man – one who’s broken out of the turntablist ghetto and expanded into other areas, not all of them musical, to become a highly influential arbiter of taste.
Canadian A-Trak, real name Alain Macklovitch, who spins at Pacha Macau on Saturday, certainly wears a lot of hats: DJ, producer (both in the electronic music sense of music-maker, and in the more traditional sense of musical facilitator and mastermind), remixer, specialist scratcher, collaborator with everyone, owner of the much-lauded Fool’s Gold record label, fashion designer and streetwear icon. He even has his own travel blog-cum-portal, Infinite Legroom.
After winning the DMC, he racked up wins at every major DJ competition between 1997 and 2000, becoming known in particular as one of the most accomplished scratchers on the planet, and was even made an honorary member of revered crew the Invisibl Skratch Piklz, just about the ultimate accolade for any turntablist.
But he’s also been releasing his own music since 1999. His early singles, like his early influences as a DJ, were grounded solidly in hip hop. But he has moved more into electronic music over recent years, first yoking the two successfully together on his seminal Dirty South Dance mixtape from 2007, and creating a template for blending the two styles that has pretty much taken over the entire musical world in the past few years.
While A-Trak has torn up dance floors with singles of his own, such as Sunglasses is a Must (2006), Piss Test (2012) and Tuna Melt (2012), he’s had most success as one half of funky house duo Duck Sauce, alongside big-name American DJ Armand Van Helden. By far their biggest hit was 2010 earworm Barbra Streisand, a playful, off-kilter, euphoric, Boney M-sampling Euro-disco stomper, which was followed by the twisted house of 2011’s Big Bad Wolf, with its genuinely unforgettable video, by turns amusing and alarming.
It was an even bigger-name collaborator than Van Helden, though, who first catapulted A-Trak to public attention: Kanye West, who selected A-Trak as his personal tour DJ in 2004, a role he filled for about a decade. It was A-Trak who introduced Kanye to a lot of the electronic music that came to infiltrate the hip-hop polymath’s sound from about 2007, while he also performed the scratches on Kanye’s 2005 and 2007 albums Late Registration and Graduation.
Unsurprisingly for one with his skills, he’s in demand both as a remixer and as a specialist scratcher. He has remixed tracks for the likes of Kanye, Phoenix, Justice, The Rapture, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Tiga, Mstrkrft and Boys Noize, while his scratching has appeared on the work of Kanye again, Drake, Common and electro-funk band Chromeo – one half of whom is A-Trak’s older brother David, aka Dave 1.
But A-Trak’s interests have always extended well beyond the production of music. For a start, since 2007 he has co-owned the influential Fool’s Gold label with record producer Nick Catchdubs, after he had run his previous label Audio Research with David for a decade from 1997. With releases from the likes of Kid Cudi, Kid Sister, Crookers, Lil B and The Cool Kids, Fool’s Gold quickly became a byword for reliable quality, reflecting the tastes of its founders; those tastes are also reflected in the sophistication and complete consistency of visual identity across all the label’s releases. Fool’s Gold also organises the hugely popular Day Off concerts across North America.
A-Trak has also become something of an expert at parlaying non-musical areas of expertise into opportunities. Long recognised for his sharp street style, for example, he has collaborated with brands including Nike and Zoo York, and even has his own Sunglasses is a Must line. And then there’s Infinite Legroom. Launched in 2013 and aimed at a particular type of in-the-know, smart-casual, boutique traveller, the site came about because A-Trak reasoned that, given that he travelled so much for his work as a globetrotting DJ, he should share some of his knowledge of how to make that travel as pleasant as possible.
As if all that weren’t enough, he also developed his own notation system for scratching in the late 1990s, and is currently in the middle of writing a book about DJing. Catch him in Macau while you can – he’s a busy man.
A-Trak is at Pacha Macau, May 7. Tickets, from HK$200, are available from www.studiocity-macau.com