Erol Alkan: "Anybody With Intelligence Knows Underground Is Not Amateur"

There's very little Erol Alkan hasn't done during his odd two decades in the music game. As a DJ, he's garnered some of the international dance music industry's top accolades, including Mixmag's prestigious DJ of the Year award in 2006.

As an A&R visionary, he's broken cutting-edge new electronic artists like Daniel Avery and Ghost Culture on his Phantasy label. 

He's produced records for indie rock acts like Franz Ferdinand and Klaxons, and remixed dance heavyweights like Daft Punk and the Chemical Brothers, all while honing his own forward-looking electronic production sound.

And despite all his achievements to date, Alkan shows no signs of slowing down. He's certainly as inspired as ever behind the decks, as you'll have a chance to find out on Saturday when he delivers a rare headlining performance with SAFE at the Electric Pickle.
New Times: Legend has it you used to sneak out of your parents' home as a 12-year-old to play your first DJ gigs. How did you first get drawn to the world of DJing and dance music? And what keeps you inspired and motivated as a DJ after two decades?
Erol Alkan: I suppose it began with me wanting to play more Smiths records in the clubs we went to. My friends and I were sick of hearing Green Day and Pearl Jam — we hated it and wanted a change. So as I had the record collection, I felt the duty to do something about it. And that ethos is still with me now, although you can substitute Pearl Jam and Green Day with other music. Music, I still think I understand it, yet find that it surprises me in equal measures. I believe the search is never over. There is no thirteenth note, but the fact that we are all trying to find it is the exciting part.

Did you have a concept or vision in mind for Phantasy Sound before you set out to launch the label? What is your criteria for selecting artists to sign and records to release? Are you looking for any specific sonic ingredients or aesthetics?
Not really. It's all done by instinct. Nobody I signed was hot when I signed them, but in my eyes they had that magic ingredient. We used to go watch Connan Mockasin play to 3 people, and we were 2 of them, but he had that magic even then.

What's been going on with you on the production front this year so far? Any forthcoming projects or releases we can look forward to?
Yes, I hope to be able to announce something shortly, which has kept me busy since the turn of the year. I'm really excited by it, but tend to not talk about anything until it's complete. As well as that, I've just remixed a new project by Todd Rundgren, Lindstrom and Emil [Nikolaisen] from Sareena-Maneesh. It's probably the most epic (a word I never really use to be honest) rework in a long time.
 You were Mixmag's "DJ of the Year" in 2006, but remain pretty firmly planted in the electronic dance music underground. As a DJ who has received the industry's highest accolades but is not a commercial EDM bigwig, do you have any thoughts about the much-publicized recent comments from Axwell & Ingrosso about underground equaling amateur? How do you feel about the current EDM bubble and the hyper-commercialization of the DJ?
I haven't picked up on their comments to be honest. I don't read any EDM-natured magazines or websites, so that wouldn't reach me. I think anybody with a semblance of intelligence knows that underground is not amateur. The truth is there really is no underground in the sense we may have perceived it — although I am aware of many artists who are truly underground in the sense they make music to distribute for free and barely make money to live, but work within their means. There's no exposure on them at all — as many papers and sites don't have them on their radar, they wouldn't shift magazines or entice clicks — but they are making vital music I live next door to a very illustrious and famous writer, and he knows I'm a DJ. I fear what he thinks I do, as his perception of the "DJ" may be informed by what EDM and the media has created. I feel the need to take him to one of my gigs so he can see what it is I actually am.

We're looking forward to your gig at the Electric Pickle on Saturday. What can we expect?
Well, I hope that each record I play is a great record — that's half of what I strive for. The other half is for it to be coherent and enjoyable, and transcendent. I'm very much looking forward to coming, I've heard nothing but great things about the Electric Pickle.

Erol Alkan. With Diego. Presented by SAFE and Powered by Beck's Access. Saturday, April 18, at Electric Pickle, 2826 N. Miami Ave., Miami. The party starts at 10 p.m. and admission costs $10 and up. Call 305-456-5613 or visit
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Sean Levisman