Having started his DJ career in Spain, and in the humble surroundings of many a local bar, the nineties were spent learning the basic skills so often lacking in today’s break-through ‘DJs’. Eventually catching the ear of someone that mattered, Arnout began playing more familiar outposts like DC: 10 and Pin Up in Ibiza, Dance Valley in Amsterdam and Circo Loco in London. On top of that, his finely sequenced journeys through all things house have also won him a residency at London’s definitive Sunday session, Fuse, as well as gigs at the most revered of them all… fabric. A pure passion for 4/4 (which has been burning ever since first hearing House Sounds of Chicago albums in the mid eighties) naturally lead Alex to begin experimenting with his beloved sound in the studio. Over the course of the last decade, the fruits of said labours have been bountiful: there have been releases alongside Daz I Kue from Bugs in the Attic; with an old school friend by the name of Leiam Sullivan as Ceramix (with whom he remixed Peace Division and Low End Specialists and earned a No.1 on Pete Tong’s Essential Buzz chart with ‘Can You Dance?’) and more recently under his given name on Adam Shelton and Subb-an’s fast-rising Brum label, One Records. The track was ‘Vanishing Point’ – a prowling deep house record lapped up by the likes of Visionquest that is indicative of his analogue aesthetic overall.
You’re a huge part of London’s underground culture but originally from Sheffield is that right? Can you talk about what it was like to grow up there and what was going on in the city that sparked your involvement with music?
We were lucky because Warp Records opened a shop and a label there, when the label started out it had more of an industrial techno feel to it. Sheffield was quite an industrial city at the time and a lot of the music that came out of there reflected that. Some of the early Sheffield house tracks were made by Rob Gordon and championed by Winston Hazel in the clubs. They were also making music together as Forgemasters which eventually came out on Warp. When Warp opened up, Rob Gordon seemed to be engineering most of the early stuff, he was a major influence in the sound and for the label, and us as music lovers – it was like the Detroit of the UK at the time.
So, did you start DJing there, influenced by the sound of Warp and the records you were picking up?
Yeah totally. Obviously there was the house music movement before the Warp thing kicked off. As teenagers we were listening to all sorts really, always hungry for new music. It was a friend of mine who put me on to the early Chicago House albums. We kind of got hooked on it after that, as far back as 86 when we were 13, Warp came a bit later but by that time we were going to the clubs and we could appreciate the music on big sound systems, which fuelled our record buying and our passion to learn to mix them up. So yeah it was a big influence on us because we could get all the new Warp stuff as well as the stuff coming out of Chicago and Detroit. I remember,only a couple of us had decks so we used to go round to whoever had them with our records and try and learn to mix there until you could afford to get your own ones. Good
And you did set up your own label, Dogmatik. There’s an interesting story there about it how you really literally took it out onto the street yourself and self-distributed can you tell us a bit about that? The first release was from Maya Jane Coles – how did that come about?
I’ve had mates that had labels and had mates who were producers so I’ve always had an idea of how the industry worked and by the mid 90’s it was an industry that people could follow. You had distribution companies with vans and they would go around the city and around the country and deliver all the records but if you couldn’t get on one, you literally walked them round the record shops yourself. When I started Dogmatik, I was unknown and the label was unknown so I really couldn’t get a distributor so I started off by pressing them myself and walking them around the shops and kind of built up all up from there. Then I found myself a distributor and kind of went on from there until now. We’ve now got ourselves on Clone in Holland which is in my eyes one of the best distributors in Europe. Again it’s just a story of believing in what you do and pushing it in people’s faces, take it into the record shops they might only take three or four but you might get a phone call two weeks later saying those records have gone can we get some more.
With Maya she came to me when she was 18 and her stuff was better than what I was buying as a DJ in the shops, so I knew she was something special. I had my own label which I cared deeply about and my first artist who was Maya and all I had to do was get traffic towards the label and her. I really believed in her and I really believed in the label so I’m pretty glad about where it’s got to now.
You founded Dogmatik Records. What are three things you look for when signing an artist?
Good ideas, good arrangements and a good understanding of how things should sound.
In three words, describe the you first starting out over 20 years ago.
Adventurous, young and determined.
How important do you think the live gig is? Do you think listeners can gain a totally different perspective or view when simply listening to you via their speakers?
It’s just like any music, if you like it enough, you want to experience it on the loudest system while sharing that moment with the artist.
Musically speaking, was there someone quite influential during your youth?
I would say so, apart from the explosion of new music, I had a friend called Leiam Sullivan that was actually producing and releasing tracks as early as 1989-90. I used to sit and watch him in his studio for hours; from that point on I knew what I wanted to do.
What is your opinion on collaboration versus competition? Is one healthier than the other in terms of musical output and inspiration?
The music unconsciously unites people from different countries and cultures, so collaborating only seems natural for the music to carry on growing.
One thing that’s changed in the music industry since you first started?
It’s not run and diluted by the majors anymore. You don’t have to deal with clueless A&R guys trying to add their two pence in so the record can sell more commercially.
Are you into the ‘encore’ shtick?
I don’t really class things as worthy or unworthy. If it’s a good party and the vibe is good and all the equipment works, that to me is a good night.