Alex Smoke’s Berlin Dust-Up (interview)
“I’ve been to Berlin so many times over the years that I knew pretty much what to expect, although living there was something else I guess. I had a friend’s flat to stay in for the first few months but the neighbours were ridiculous and highly over-sensitive to noise.”
“I should point out that I am very quiet, don’t have speakers and don’t party. They seemed to be upset by me using the hoover twice a week during the day.”
Scottish electronic auteur Alex Smoke moved back to Glasgow recently after a year’s sabbatical in Berlin though is back in the city’s ether courtesy of his fantastically dark tech-noir anthem Dust, which came out on R&S recently.
Though clearly upset about not being able to vacuum his Berlin flat every day, his melancholic masterpiece was instead inspired by more personal reasons, he admits, as evidenced by his muffled vocal lament on the track ‘don’t wanna’ be with anyone else’.
“Well I wrote it when I first got back to Glasgow, having just split with my long-term girlfriend and left London, so yeah it has a direct link to reality,” he reveals.
“But I’m not nearly that morose in real life; it’s just inspiration. I thought I would just be single and move to the country and live quietly, but then I got a grip and moved to Berlin for a year instead.”
Skrufff (Jonty Skrufff): How did the song/ riff come about?
Alex Smoke: “Sonically, it went through a few iterations, mainly involving changes to the drums. The basics of the track such as the chords and vocals were put down fast, like most of my tracks that I am happy with, as it’s that spontaneity which seems to bring the best results. You are essentially trying to channel something without ruining it in the transcribing process.”
Skrufff: Why was your move to Berlin so short?
I’m a homebody really. Berlin was a place where I could go and immerse myself in writing music, rather than a place to go wild, so once I’d written enough music and felt that I’d had some time away from Glasgow, it was the right time to return. I’d already lived away in London for years so was happy to go back, and avoid the Berlin Winter at the same time.”
Skrufff: You mentioned your noise sensitive neighbours, what else was different about Berlin than you expected?
Alex Smoke: “Unexpectedly the rent is now very high, especially as a sub-letter, so I can understand why Berliners are upset at the upsurge. I don’t understand why Governments don’t tax the hell out of 2nd houses because it really screws things up for poorer people. On the plus side, it is one of the great summer cities. Beer in the sun and the most permissive, relaxed atmosphere in Europe, although that is also changing as the money continues to flood in and the dynamics of the city are gentrified. I hope it can hold on to its character.”
Skrufff: It’s10 years since your career started; how much is life easier or tougher being ‘Alex Smoke’ these days?
Alex Smoke: “I’ve been lucky and on the whole I haven’t had too many long scary quiet periods in my career, which is the main potential difficulty in this kind of lifestyle. I have been able to change and develop as an artist and keep my head above water and that is all that I can ask of life. It’s all I need.”
Skrufff: Looking back what would you now do differently?
Alex Smoke: “I’m not a big one for regrets or what-ifs to be honest, as it’s all a learning process and an unfolding of potentials. If I did “that” differently it would no doubt impinge on what I am doing now, which may be to its detriment, so I just see it all as part of the natural flow.”
Skrufff: Anything else to add?
Alex Smoke: “Yeah I’m getting pretty sick of waiting around for some incredible director to come along and ask me to score their film . . . my threatening letters aren’t working and I’m not sure I’ve got David Lynch’s home address right anyways. If you know him, give him a prod.”
Jonty Skrufff: https://twitter.com/djjontyskrufff