When you’ve won the most coveted DJ competition in the world by the ripe old age of 15, one would wonder how you would top that. Aligning himself with the biggest jaw-breaking hip hop superstar the world has seen since the one-gloved moonwalker, you start to get an idea of the heights that DJ A-Trak has taken his incredible career. Taking the honourable position behind the wheels of steels for two mammoth Kanye West sold out tours, A-Trak still sells out clubs, festivals and arenas on the back of his own moniker. He has fast tracked a knack for cutting, scratching and blending to become this generations most known and revered DJ. We were fortunate to steal a few minutes with the Unibro on the eve of his Australian tour where he will be headlining Fuzzy’s Field Day Festival and causing havoc with many a side show.
Hey A-Trak, where in the world are you coming to us from today?
I’m in Paris; I’ve been here for like a month, as a little change of environment. I’m going home tomorrow.
Back to Canada?
No, New York.
Your life has been crazy hectic for a long minute now. I don’t think people realise just how much work goes into being a world-class DJ. How did you train yourself to survive? I mean, you rock five shows in three cities!
Yeah yeah, I don’t know…I just kind of get through it, I try not to think about it.
There’s obviously a difference between doing club gigs, festivals and then stadium shows with Kanye. Would I be right to say that Kanye’s shows are more structured than your own gigs?
Yeah exactly, with the Kanye show, it’s not like ‘mmmnnn let me put this record on now’. You know what we’re playing and the crowd reaction tends to be even crazier because you know, he’s a big deal. I definitely play a wide range of shows from hip hop clubs to the indie ‘play whatever you want’ clubs, techno, festivals and places with different sizes, but playing a wide range of shows is just something I’ve been doing for a really long time. Even back when I was playing DMC stuff I used to do experimental music festivals, which would delve into really abstract kind of stuff then I would go onto a hip hop club and play a party set. Playing that kind of range of shows is something that I’m used to, and it’s just something I’ve been doing for years.
You were so young when you won the DMC… Were you influenced by your brother or your family?
I used to just listen to records with my big brother, yeah. It was what we used to do, just go buy records, then one day I started scratching and then I was like ‘this is for me!’
A lot of other cats that have won the DMC in the past have got stuck in the hip hop genre. Do you find you run the risk of branching out too much, and sometimes want to bring it back to your roots?
I try not to follow the trends too much and play stuff my way. I don’t get bored, because everyday is like a different adventure.
You seem to be a very neat DJ and know exactly what you’re going to play, but do you ever mix it up on the fly?
There is a lot of a room for adapting myself to each club, each party. I definitely have certain mixes that I know work well and I’ll probably play at all my shows. I also have certain selections that I can adapt to whatever party I’m at. Definitely, if I’m at a show and I see something working well I’ll steer towards that. It’s also fun to take a shock left turn once in a while. Something can be going well and it’s easy to stay in that comfort zone, but it’s also great to be a little more daring and switch directions and change the tempo up, which can make it even better.
You also take out such a massive chunk of your time to chronicle your amazing life in your blog. Do you get any sleep?
A couple of hours! Even as far as blogging, it takes a long time to write that stuff, and I make sure I take a lot of pictures. Last year I was really busy doing my last couple of tours with Kanye, and I didn’t write as much, and at the end of the year, I looked back and I was like ‘man I really wish I’d taken more time to write this stuff down…
Is it more for you then?
Yeah, there is so much fun stuff to share, and if you don’t force yourself to take the time to write about it, it can just kind of go by and people don’t find out about it. Or you forget about it, so this year I went back to making sure I post about everything.
You seem to have dope shoes on in every photo on the blog! Are you into sneakers and collecting?
I don’t really like the word ‘collector’, not that I want to rub anyone up the wrong way, I just don’t like the idea of buying something I won’t wear, which to me is what I would call collecting. I’ve never done that; I’ve been into clothes and fashion a little bit. I’ve been moderately interested in sneakers and yeah, I try to wear a nice sneaker because it is part of dressing well. With some interviews, they will be like ‘what’s your favourite sneaker?’ and I’ll just sit there like ‘I don’t know, I like the ones I’m wearing now’, ya know.
A lot of the artists coming up in the music industry have collaborations coming out and are repping some sort of brand…
I actually do have a sneaker collaboration in the works, and I’ve been collaborating with streetwear brands for many years now, it’s a part of what I do. I’m just stressing the fact that it’s not like a ‘collector’ thing; I’m more into fashion than just having a box of every colourway of every AF-1 in my closet. I’m not interested in that, but I’m definitely interested in fashion and collaborating and having my own custom… anything!
Is design something you’re interested in?
Yeah, I have a little clothing line and I’ve been putting out stuff for many years now. I was one of the first DJs to do that. I look at it as something I would wear, that’s the main thing for me. That’s why I never put my name on clothes. I always called it ‘Sunglasses Is a Must’ because I think people know that name is me, but there are only so many people I would expect to wear a shirt that says ‘A-Trak’. I prefer putting in a name that is still my brand, but that I could actually wear myself. I don’t want to walk around with my name on a shirt.
You’re into your headwear though, you’ve worked with New Era…
I did a cap with them and the process was soooooooo long! It took a year, but by the time the hat came out, the whole reference of it had been done to death, but I still thought it was cool and I wore it. But it definitely took way longer than I thought it would to come out. So by the time it dropped I was like ‘shit! I wish this was out six months ago’. I also have this pack coming out with Zoo York that I started in June ’07 and it’s not coming out until Fall ’09.
Actually it’s a varsity jacket, so that should be good.
You also worked with Nike to create ‘Running Man : Nike+ Original Run’. How did that all come about?
They called me one day and said ‘hey, do you want to do this!’ It was more about the music. We did a short run of the Nike iD sneakers to coincide with the release of the mix but it was definitely more music and marketing.
I remember when you played at the Esplanade Hotel on your last Melbourne show and Kanye rocked up, and you started playing ‘We Are Your Friends’, which was at the time when Justice had just taken the award for best new video at MTV over ‘Touch The Sky’. The crowd completely lost it, because everyone knew the reference. Obviously Kanye has a good sense of humour!
Yeah of course, he’s the first to laugh at himself!
So you’re not playing with him anymore?
I’m not touring with him anymore nah, but I just finished a tour with Unibros (A-trak and Boyz Noise) in Sept-Oct. I’ll always be a Uni-Bro at heart
Me too…I’m a chick and I’ve got a Unibro
(nervous laughter from A-Trak)
What are you looking forward to on your return to Oz?
I have some friends in Australia that I look forward to seeing. It’s summer time, it’s going to be nice weather. I always have good shows down there.
Great, we’ll see you when you get down here, I’m going to let you get some sleep now.
Oh yeah, I gotta go start my day now. I’ll see you at the show.