Q&A: A-Trak on Holy Ship!
Montreal-born DJ and producer A-Trak is perhaps most recently known as one half of Duck Sauce, the disco-house production crew he has formed with Armand Van Helden. Clubbers will instantly recognize their smash singles "Barbara Streisand" and "Big Bad Wolf." But A-Trak also boasts a serious background as a turntablist. And in 2003, he served as Kanye West's personal tour DJ, and has contributed scratches to West's albums Late Registration and Graduation.
A-Trak is also an established house producer and elite remixer -- check out his club mix of Yeah Yeah Yeah's "Heads Will Roll" -- and owner of the record label Fool's Gold. With a keen interest in both hip hop and electro house he has developed into a prominent figure within the North American dance music scene.
Country Grind caught up with him a week after performing an opening set at Madison Square Garden opening for Swedish House Mafia. We chatted about his participation in the Holy Ship! festival, the three-day party cruise departing from Fort Lauderdale on January 6.
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New Times: When we spoke to Gary Richards [Holy Ship! organizer] he said that as soon as he mentioned Holy Ship!, you had big ideas for cruise activities such as shuffle board and DJ lessons. As an artist, is the potential to be involved on this level part of the appeal of the event?
A-Trak: I think that the appeal of the event is more interaction with the fans and taking this intense experience a little bit out of the comfort zone, and doing something that will be a little bit more wacky and fun. There's a bit of wildness...
What can cruisers expect from the A-trak DJ lessons on board?
It will be more of technical DJ lessons since my style of DJing is really more focused on the technical side. There will be a little bit of scratching, basic mixing - basically the technique of DJing, because in some ways it's a dying art. A lot of people don't even mix anymore and use laptops, but there's such a craft to DJing.
What do you have planned for the Fool's Gold Rap Party on the Sunday night?
We have put together the line-up with a couple of Fool's Gold artists, we added Danny Brown to the bill and DJ Craze and Nick Catchdubs, and my friend Brodinski was already going to be on the boat. Most people know him as a techno and house DJ, but he loves hip hop so I asked if he wanted to party with us and he was excited so we brought him along to.
Fool's Gold has a very strong hip-hop base and especially in the context of an event like this, which will be three days of electro, and hopefully this will break it up. I don't think anyone wants to hear pounding beats for three days straight and on the Sunday night people might be looking for a bit of a wind-down.
This is the thing as well that's cool with hip-hop; people know the specific songs. I think with electronic music people react to the sound and the vibe and stuff. But it's a different kind of reaction with hip-hop -- people respond specifically to the songs that you play and the vocals, it's a little bit more direct.
Do you think any aspects of being on a boat -- playing on a big open deck -- will augment your performance style or what tracks you will play?
No, I just hope that the wind and the motion of the boat won't prove to be too much of a technical challenge. We talked about it with the HARD guys -- as I mentioned, I use turntables and a lot of DJs don't, so if the wind gets crazy and knocks the needle off the records I might need to freestyle a bit. But none of us know exactly how it's all going to go down. As far as my actual music selection, I don't usually plan it that much in advance since I know my record collection and I come in and get a sense of the vibe and y'know...
How do you feel about interacting with fans and other artists during the cruise? Do you think part of the communal setting will add to the whole event atmosphere?
That's definitely a part of the appeal of it/ The line-up is so cool and there are so many good DJs and good friends on the boat that it's going to be great to hang out with good friends. We don't always get to spend that much time with each other. We're all traveling around a lot and see each other here and there for maybe a day at a time. But now we'll all be spending a few days with each other, so that should be cool.
Are there any artists you'll definitely be checking out who people might not know?
I think it's really cool that Gary booked Gesafellstein, the French producer. He's really good.
It seems as if an event on this scale probably wouldn't have been happening a few years ago and it's symptomatic of a rise in popularity of electronic music in the United States. Why do think it has happened, particularly considering many of these artists are very sonically different?
This definitely couldn't have happened three years ago. There's a big shift in America with electronic music. I think it's good that he [Gary Richards, HARD fest] is helping catalyze the whole development and growth of it. This is very much a moment right now. I don't think there's a reason; I just think there's just a mass movement of a whole generation falling in love with a sound, and an energy and an experience.
It's interesting how the new crowds don't discriminate within genres. The same kids that could go see a very commercial house show and then the next night go see more of a banging electro show, and then the next night go see a dubstep show. That's kind of new too.
Finally, what are your plans for 2012 once you've finished cruising?
There's plenty. There's another Duck Sauce single around the spring and then the album around the middle of the year. I've got a bunch of tracks that are just ready that I'll be putting out in the coming months myself. A lot of touring and Fool's Gold will keep me busy with more great releases.
Holy Ship! January 6-9, 2012. Port Everglades, Fort Lauderdale, to Port Lucaya, Bahamas. Cabins cost $449 to $1499, plus fees. 21+. Click here.
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