For: The Warehouse Project
Erol Alkan is a Bugged Out! house DJ if ever there were one. A presence at the London-based brand since 2001, Alkan has appeared at Bugged Out! events across Europe and has followed up the unrivalled success of 2004’s ‘Bugged Out’/’Bugged In’ compilation with this month’s two CD compilation, released on !K7 Records. Following the same template as 2004’s release, ‘Another Bugged Out Mix’ and its ‘Bugged In’ counterpart were recorded live and the collection features Jimmy Edgar, In Flagranti and Factory Floor on its dancefloor-orientated A-side, and the downtempo likes of Bibio, Jai Paul and Walls on its flipside. It’s his long-term relationship with Bugged Out! that sees him return to The Warehouse Project this October, on a huge line-up alongside live appearances from Boys Noize and Simian Mobile Disco and DJ sets from the likes of Paul Kalkbrenner and Green Velvet.
Yet despite his position in the Bugged Out! world today, Erol’s first set at the club was more by chance than anything else, thanks to a last-minute no-show. “It kind of came about by David Holmes missing his flight home. He couldn’t get back from Amsterdam and Johnno [Burgess] said to me “There’s a set there, do you want to play?” I was a little bit nervous but really excited. I said yes. About halfway through the set, he just said “Look, do you want to be a resident?” And that was it. I sometimes think about it; if David Holmes hadn’t missed his flight, I never would have got that opportunity.”
This marked his foray into club music, of sorts. At the helm of the cult Trash clubnight, Erol’s sets typically ranged from Manic Street Preachers to LCD Soundsystem, alongside live performances from guests including DFA1979 and Klaxons. Though the music policy at Trash had eclecticism at its core, joining the fray at Bugged Out! gave Erol his first taste of DJing the heavier electronic dance that has now become his calling card.
“I’d pretty much credit Bugged Out! for giving me my first real gig and opportunity inside what I’m doing now, really. It’s interesting because I have so many people come up to me and tell me they want to be DJs and ask what they should do, and I never really know what to say to them because for me, I was kind of DJing in my own little world, playing indie clubs, whilst always keeping on eye on as much music as I could do. When I’d met Johnno [Burgess] through doing Trash, I was always talking about electronic music and club music but never in the way of ever assuming that I’d ever get a gig or play alongside, or even be in the same venue as, people like The Chemical Brothers. It always seemed very alien to me.”
“I was very satisfied and excited by what was happening at Trash that when it came around to start playing clubnights on the weekends with a completely different set of music, my life took on a whole parallel existence. I was constantly thinking like two DJs at one time. But there were a few records that crossed over, especially considering what was happening at the time. I didn’t really want to go out and do what I was doing at Trash at Bugged Out! and vice versa, because I really wanted to keep Trash as its own thing with its own playlist. For me, that night was as much about the other DJs and the crowd as it was about what I did.”
While the opportunity to play at Bugged Out! on a regular basis was a catalyst for Erol’s move firmly towards the dance aspect of his DJ career, the spirit of Trash lived on through his approach to dance music; a desire to play club records as distinctive as the alternative music that defined Trash meant that even at their most hard-hitting moments, Erol’s sets retained the spirit of Trash’s heady nights at now closed club The End. Erol’s history at Trash and Bugged Out!, and his famous 9-hour sets for the latter, have shaped his latest release, pulling together a similar dynamic to the all-night affairs that have seen him do away with support DJs in favour of running the night from open to close. Building a steady, growing momentum, the collection showcases the thrilling and discerning style that has made Erol’s live appearances some of the most revered in clubland.
“I think every record on it is a great record. It’s as simple as that. I’ve just tried to put them together in a concise way, it’s no more than that really. What I mean by put them together in a concise way is that I’d prefer it to have a beginning, middle and end, with some kind of tension inside it. ‘Journey’ is the right word to use but I always try and avoid it. I’ve never wanted a mix album to be a flyer for what I do on the weekends, that just wouldn’t feel right to me. Doing the 9-hour sets, they’re just challenges for myself. They’re a way to not rest on my laurels, a way to challenge myself and the people out on the floor as well. It’s not really all that new to me; sometimes I would play at Trash for five or six hours.But at the same time, I think it could be quite easy to get lost in the dynamic of what people see in DJs now. There’s no real hero worshipping when I’m there from the very beginning. If you’re the first person through, it’s just me and you. In a sense it breaks down these perceived boundaries between audiences and DJs. You really have to work hard to remain interesting across nine hours. If the club is still rammed at the end of the night, after nine hours, then I’d do that for myself.”
The eclectic approach of Trash has fed into Erol’s label, Phantasy. Releasing Connan Mockasin and Babe, Terror alongside the more dancefloor-orientated likes of Daniel Avery and Alkan’s own collaborations with Switch and Boys Noize, the label has eschewed a trademark ‘sound’ in favour of an approach that seeks to combine innovative producers with striking aesthetics. The artwork and packaging of the label’s releases – from Daniel Avery’s ‘Need Electric’ EP, on 12” vinyl with a locked groove, to Erol and Boys Noize’s ‘Lemonade’ EP, a picture disk designed to look like an oversized CDR – represent an approach designed around an experience of music beyond simply listening.
“I do actually subscribe to the fact that if a record’s good, it doesn’t really matter how it’s made or what it sounds like, to a degree. So the fact that we can release a record by Babe, Terror – 35 minutes of backwards noises – and then we can release ‘Lemonade’, which is just an all-out club track, it just keeps it interesting. When people say ‘Are you developing a sound within the label’, I want to make it as wild as it can be. There are things I want to do in the label that go further beyond. I don’t care if someone only likes one record in our catalogue. For me, if some kid really likes ‘Lemonade’ and then they hear Connan [Mockasin] and goes ‘Wow, I’ve never heard anything like this before’ and loves it and then they hear Babe, Terror, you’re talking about pulling people across quite a broad musical spectrum. That, for me, has always been one of the most satisfying things I’ve had in art in general, in music as an artistic statement. That makes what we put out timeless; our releases on the label still sound good now, I don’t think anything’s dated. We’re going to re-release all our music all over again. It doesn’t matter if a record was released three years ago or released tomorrow, it’s just if it’s a great record. I’ll be happy to go down and press another 500 vinyl and get it out there. I just think what we’re doing is adding to something, I don’t see it as a conveyer belt.”
“You just look at dance music now and how fast it moves, it’s frighteningly fast. Some releases feel like they’re only hanging around for ten days, because you don’t really need to invest much money in it – you can just upload something straight away, some digital platform will put it out there and there you go, that’s your record released. We want to make something tangible. That’s why on our new website, we’re celebrating the artefact. For me personally, I feel more comfortable if we’re going to release someone’s music then try to present it in the best way we can do. We can’t guarantee tens of thousands of sales, because sales aren’t really getting much better, but we can make a statement.”Making a statement is what Erol stands out for, as much in the studio as onstage; recent collaborations with Boys Noize and Switch have shown that his own production is as identifiably him as the relentless, thrilling techno sets that see him return to The Warehouse Project twice this season. A spiritual home for the London-born innovator, Erol remarks that “the last two have been two of my favourite raves that I’ve ever been part of. I’m really looking forward to it.”