Tramlines brings folk from all genres, talents, areas and scenes up to our city for three days every year – and that’s just the audience. Answering the phone in a chirpy manner is long-standing electro DJ, Erol Alkan who’ll be hitting up the festival this time round, he says his phone is a bit screwed so if it makes dodgy sounds and/or runs out of battery that he’s sorry, I explain that I had a late night the previous and to excuse me if I make any dodgy sounds and/or run out of battery. With that, we natter forth to discuss top secret projects, the big village that is Sheffield and the ever-evolving role of a DJ.
Hey! How’s it going?
‘It’s all good, i’m just getting ready to head back to the studio but I have a few minutes spare to chat to you!’
What’ve you been upto?
‘I’ve been keeping incredibly busy, i’m currently working on a new project…
Which I can’t really say much about until it’s done, it’s top secret right now. I’ve been working on it for a few months since getting into the habit of just focusing on one thing at a time, it makes for much better results I find.’
You’re set to play Tramlines this year, how are you feeling?
‘It’s my first year at Tramlines and I’ve heard a lot of really good things about it, i’m a huge fan of inner-city music festivals, they have a different vibe and everyone on the bill has this sort of magnetic pulse pulling them to performing instead of someone just getting booked ‘cause they’re available – i’m really excited. It’s an amazing line up from what I’ve seen and it’ll be great to play a venue [Code] I haven’t been to before. I spent a lot of time in Sheffield in around ‘06/’07 and visited a lot of the recording studios up there, so I won’t be getting lost at least!’
How do you work? Is it a very systematic process of creating music or a case of ‘when inspiration hits’?
‘I’d say that it varies too much to definitively say. I think the main thing is that it’s important to respond to good ideas however they arise. With some things I’ve had whole tracks playing in my head before I’ve even touched an instrument or sat down in the studio and other times I’ve had to experiment until I came across something interesting or unexpected. Being creative happens through all different means, but it’s important to seize an opportunity if it ever comes up. If something IS fully formed then you can play with it and switch it up while you’re creating it without ever straying too far from the original concept; it’s just key that certain foundations are correct.’
How has the DJ scene altered since the 90’s?
‘When I first started DJ-ing, DJ’s weren’t important; they were just the guys who kept the floor busy, not the guys who got people through the door. It was all about the event back then, the social aspect of going to a club and interacting with people and the role of the DJ was far different to nowadays when they have the occasion to headline, for me watching, it’s been interesting to see it develop. I started DJ-ing to play music that I loved and was excited by to masses of people at one instant and 23 years later I find that’s still my reason despite that the role and value of a DJ having changed; I always saw it as creating an atmosphere through playing records and bringing people from diverse musical backgrounds together in a shared experience.’
Which do you prefer, DJ-ing, remixing or producing?
‘I get asked this quite a lot and the one answer I give is that it can’t be quantified, it’s just a case of whatever gives you the best result. There probably are people that prefer being in the studio to being on stage; but for me? I’m just hungry to create.’
How does the idea to remix a certain piece or mash up two tracks come together?
‘I haven’t done a mash up for years! I had other things I wanted to focus on so stopped in around 2001. For remixes I think people approach me more so than I do them and we work from there, sometimes if I have a brilliant idea and know I can make something from it then we work from a different angle and develop it together through mutual wanting.’
How did music begin for you?
‘It’s just something that’s been there from the very beginning, I can’t remember a time when I didn’t have music around me, as a kid and growing up I was surrounded by records – it’s engrained into my blood! I think like most important things in life, it’s difficult to pinpoint an exact cause or time where it began.’
If you didn’t work in music, what would you do and why?
‘I have no idea! It’s a question I’ve never been able to answer; I can’t really envision myself ever having to do anything else or to be in any other situation. I’ve been involved in music for 23 years and to think of doing something else now just seems impossible.’
If you could collaborate with anyone, who would it be and why?
‘My best answer to this is probably Karen Carpenter, I just love the sound of her voice. It’s not a case of liking The Carpenters any more or less than anyone else, I just think her voice has the potential to do so much more now than it did when she was around.’
What’s your favourite piece of work of yours to date?
‘That’s a tough one; I think the album I worked with Late Of The Pier on is probably the answer. I listen back and think; “yeah, it all sounds right”. I only really make music that I like so i’m generally happy when I listen back to it. Remix-wise I think my favourites are the ones that come with interesting memories, two of my favourites actually came about in the same weekend; I worked with Justice on ‘Waters of Nazareth’ and Hot Chip on ‘Boy from School’; they were totally different and embraced by radically different people but that’s an excellent sum up of what I love to do, I don’t like to stay focused on one sound or fan base, I work when i’m inspired to create music I think people will like..’
See Erol smash his set at Code (Eyre Street) on the Friday (24th July) from 2am. You’ll be round and about anyway no doubt, who isn’t at Tramlines this year?