These are the transcripts of the interview conducted with A-Trak (Alain Maklovich) in Toronto. A-Trak, Montreal born DJ, is Canada's first world champion DJ and the youngest and only DJ to ever win a DMC, ITF, and Vestax world championship. Recently, A-Trak released his DVD, "Sunglasses is a Must" and is currently working on an album. He is currently the DJ for rapper, Kanye West. The interview took place at 8 pm at Spin Gallery, and A-Trak performed later that night.
MVRemix: What is the difference between Alain Maklovich and A-Trak? Is there a distinctive persona you give to yourself as a DJ?
A-Trak: I guess, I don't really think about it too much. When I'm on stage performing, I have the persona of being a performer, and you have to look confident. But when I'm with my friends I don't have to put up that kind of performance or confidence that I would on stage. It can be labeled whatever it wants, Alain or A-Trak, whichever rocks your boat.
MVRemix: You are quite the accomplished DJ. A sort of wunderkind of the turntables. Have you been able to remain humble in the face of great success?
A-Trak: I hope so. People usually tell me that I've remained level headed. I'm always thinking about what I haven't done yet, what I can get better at, so I don't get carried away with the glamour and glitz of it all.
MVRemix: What is it that you love about DJing?
A-Trak: On all fronts, the whole concept of re-appropriating existing works of music and flipping them and making them my own and having that hands on feel of really manipulating something. It's the art of changing it and making your own sounds from something that someone has already created--but of course they didn't make it with the intention of their record being scratched on.
MVRemix: When hip hop began, the DJ was at the forefront of hip hop performance. But gradually, the DJ has become secondary to the emcee. Do you feel that same shift away from center stage that you are second to the emcee?
A-Trak: I mean that's definitely something that happened in the nineties. From the early and mid nineties to the late nineties there was a whole shift where you went from having groups where it was all about the emcee and the DJ, like Eric B. and Rakim and with Fresh Prince and DJ Jazzy Jeff shifting to the emcee in the forefront. Then DJing really developed and the DJ became an artist in his own right. So [today] you've got a lot of DJ's who don't back up an MC, who just do their own music. Now, DJ's have a new kind of role, in the mix tape world and that's a whole other ballgame. I mean, the music game has changed a lot and, the role of the more traditional DJ, which is what I work closely to, is something that isn't as common as it used to be—as it was ten or fifteen years ago.
MVRemix: You've said in an earlier interview that you don't often take yourself seriously. Has that helped you from not getting discouraged as a musician? That is, if it's not serious, than it won't seriously hurt you?
A-Trak: Yeah I think so, in the sense that I'm not afraid to laugh at myself and it helps when I try to look at myself objectively. I think that's important when you are in the public eye, or when you have a certain artistic output, it's easy to get caught up in your own bubble. And with that, there's always the threat of losing focus. To stay lighthearted and to always try to second guess what you do and be critical of yourself is important.
MVRemix: How would you respond to someone saying that you are one of the best DJ's in the world?
A-Trak: I mean I would say in my field, sure. And I don't mean sure in like, of course, but I mean, sure I can see why some people would think that. I aspire to be that, I've been told that by some people. I'm not the person who will say that's true. But I will say, yes, in my field. When it comes to like hip hop DJing, when it comes to bridging gaps between hip hop DJing, and turntablism and scratching, I try to be on top of my game for that.
MVRemix: When you were starting out did you ever want to quit, and give up?
A-Trak: Well, no I never wanted to quit. I mean it was always actually on the contrary—it was like a bug and I always wanted to learn more. And if it were a challenge I would feed off of it.
MVRemix: Do you still feel challenged?
A-Trak: Yeah, very much so. I feel that, on the technical aspect there's still a lot I can improve. If anything I could always keep coming up with more stuff, and especially with production there is always more that I can learn. And party DJing is something that never stops.
MVRemix: You have spent a lot of time on the road with various competitions and such. How did you find time to go to school?
A-Trak: Well, it's only since I started working with Kanye [West] that I've been on the road extensively for many months at a time. I mean I had been to all those places before, but it was only since Kanye that it was consecutive touring. I've been to Japan seven times and I've been to Australia six or seven times and that's been since '98 or '99. My first trip to Asia was in '97 for some DJ gigs. So I've been actively touring since I won the DMC. At first it was always just a few shows at a time or one off show, it wasn't consecutive tours. It wasn't until university---I would do shows during reading week and summer break.
MVRemix: What do you study at university?
MVRemix: Do you plan on having a career in science?
A-Trak: It's hard to tell. Right now I have to take a little break from school just to go on tour. When I have to leave for three months I can't attend class at the same time. I definitely plan on finishing my studies and from there to knowing what my long term plan will be---I don't know, I know I plan on keeping this music thing going for a while though.
MVRemix: If you were stranded on a desert island, what three records would you bring?
A-Trak: Hmm [laughs] I would bring a scratch record, probably Monkey Boy Breaks, something to scratch with. Also, Stevie Wonder, Music in the Key of Life. And I would bring anything by J-Dilla, 'cause that would be something to listen to and also something to inspire me.
MVRemix: Tell me about your album that's in the works...
A-Trak: In the works [laughs]. The album is basically made to showcase my production. Most of the beats are made completely out of scratching, so some of the stuff sounds different. It's basically me making beats that I enjoy with a different approach technically but at the end of the day just making something that sounds good. Every song is like a little experiment, whether I want to get an emcee on it or make it instrumental. But it's not something you would expect from a scratch or battle DJ, because it's not just about the technical stuff, it's about me going into the musicality of it and the production of it. I'm focused on the composition of it, but at the same time I focus also on the scratch aspect because that's me and that's what I stand for.
MVRemix: Do you feel you've missed anything in your childhood because of your career beginning at a young age?
A-Trak: I mean, it's hard to tell. It's the type of thing where if I wasn't going home everyday to practice or going to gigs or battles on the weekend I would have probably gone to more parties with my friends from school. I feel though, that I've gained so much life experience from the DJing and I've had so much fun from the music stuff. Through music and my own regular slash personal friends at home I've developed really significant friendships. But I feel a lot was lacking in my adolescence, but I don't feel like I missed out on the innocence or all that stuff. At the end of the day, I have fun with whatever I do, and I bring my own universe to wherever I go or whatever I'm doing.
MVRemix: In the DVD you said, "Hip hop is a state of mind."
A-Trak: [Laughs] Yeah, I was joking with that.
MVRemix: Any truth in that statement?
A-Trak: I mean, yes, to a certain extent. When I said that in the DVD it was to make fun of generic statements that you'll hear. But when you come up listening to hip hop, the whole attitude of trying to stay fly or stay fresh. I guess the battle mentality, which doesn't apply to everything, forces you to stay on your feet and have a swagger to yourself probably come from listening to hip-hop growing up.
MVRemix: Hip-hop has always challenged the perceived norms of music, art, etc. Do you feel you, as a DJ, challenge how people perceive and define music?
A-Trak: The specific aspect of DJing that takes other people's music and re-appropriating it to yourself would definitely challenge what people's perception of music and art is. When you do this type of approach with turntables and DJing, you're implicitly saying, this is my art; this is what I'm doing.