An informal chat with DJ A-Trak, a Montreal native and champion DJ
By Ryan Duncan
At the age of 15, Montreal-born DJ and turntablist, A-Trak (born Alain Macklovitch), became the first Canadian and youngest person ever to win the DMC World DJ Championship in 1997. Since then, he has started two successful record labels, created a commercial for Nike, captured the world’s three major DJ competition titles, and been invited on tour with hip-hop icon Kanye West.
In the midst of his 10,000 lb Hamburger Tour, A-Trak took some time to chat with Where about his next EP, last minute line-up changes, and his very first turntable purchase.
A-Trak’s cross-North American tour, 10,000 lb Hamburger Tour, kicked off in Tampa Bay, Florida earlier this month. Coming up with the show’s unusual name was not something he fretted over, “ I called it the 10,000 lb Hamburger Tour because the tour needed a name, and I didn’t have one,” he says.
Finding a name wasn’t the only challenge A-Trak encountered. Before the tour began, his supporting act, M.I.A. protégé Rye Rye, announced that she was withdrawing from the tour because she was pregnant. Luckily, a replacement was quickly found: electronic and hip-hop rapper Theophilus London. He joins Treasure Fingers as A-Trak’s supporting acts during their stop at Calgary’s The HiFi Club.
A-Trak has played in venues around the world from London to Vancouver to Bangkok. Back in 2004, A-Trak was hired by Kanye West to become his official tour DJ, and he’s had a close working relationship with the hip hop star since.
When asked if international crowds react differently to his music he says that, “it’s actually trickier in America, the whole world is becoming one scene. It doesn’t matter to me where I am playing, what club or country I am in, that doesn’t phase me, it’s all about the event.”
Being an award-winning DJ has provided A-Trak the chance to try his hand collaborating on various other artistic projects. In early 2009, NIKE approached him to create a mix-tape for their NIKE + Original Run Series. The result? A sleek and upbeat 45-minute composition.
He recalls purchasing his first set of turntables with the money he had received for his bar mitzvah. “I was 13 when I was first starting out, and it took a lot of negotiation with my parents,” he says. “They didn’t understand why I wanted to buy a turntable–but fast forward a few months later, and they became very supportive.”
When asked about his earlier influences A Trak mentions the DJ Jazzy Jeff and Fresh Prince album He’s the DJ, I’m The Rapper. In early June of this year he shared the stage with Jazzy Jeff for a show in New York City. “It was fun, I’ve known him for a while,” he says. “He is forever young and forever relevant. One thing that really inspires me is his amazing ability to stay current.”
A-Trak owns two of his own record labels, Fools Gold, which focuses on club music, and Audio Research, which concentrates on indie hip hop. Running labels is nothing new to him, he and his brother started Audio Research in the late ‘90s. Being a part of an artist-driven label is important to him.
“There’s a trust between artists,” he says. “It fits the new reality of the industry and the culture. There’s so much connection now between image, the brand, and the artist. There’s finally a real community–largely connected to the audience knowing full well who is behind the music.”
Never one to rest, he also recently collaborated with DJ Armand Van Helden calling themselves Duck Sauce to create a 4 track EP consisting of a classic disco-house sound. He has already released singles “aNYway” and “You’re Nasty” to clubs worldwide and is anticipating a September release for even more new music.
His latest mixed CD, Infinity +1, which fuses hip-hop, house and electro influences, garnered glowing reviews from newspapers and music websites around the world. It features MSTRKRFT, Kid Sister and Dam Funk. “At this point I am happy to work with my friends, creating new sounds,” he says.
Between headlining tours and cutting studio albums he has very little downtime. “There’s always lots of editing to do, new talent to scout, new songs to cut,” he says. “It really doesn’t leave me with much free time.”