Photo Credit: Dustin Beatty
Almost exactly two years ago today I was getting one of my first true LA underground experiences courtesy of a certain warehouse party where Simian Mobile Disco was billed to play. Not knowing what I was getting myself into, I called up the info line for the secret location and off I went – driving into the night straight to a random neighborhood near downtown where I wouldn’t dare visit on any other occasion. Skinny white kids such as myself don’t really belong in these areas unless we’re going to a rave of course. Anyway, I was instructed to wait for a shuttle bus to pick me up from the parking lot and drop me off at the hidden venue. It felt like some crazy movie scene, but to everyone else this was the usual. Needless to say, Simian Mobile Disco killed it for the lucky sub-1000 person crowd, but the party’s resident main man really laid it down. I had no idea who he was at the time, but I later learned it was Alexandre Mouracade – a life long DJ and true master of the vibe. Since that night, I have seen Alex play many different environments – from rooftop pools to converted industrial spaces, his crates go deep enough to make each party memorable. These days, Alex seems to be at the busiest he’s ever been, but each time we run into each other he seems chill as can be…I guess that’s California for you. Earlier this summer, Alex put out an EP on Throne of Blood Records as his Split Secs project, which is a collab with his good bud Travis “TK Disko” Kirschbaum. Also brand new is his SONNS alias, in which he teamed up with vocalist Red Baron resulting in a debut solo EP entitled “On My Mind.” The single recently made its way into the sets of staple figures such as Tensnake, Sinden, Bottin, Cosmo Vitelli, and plenty others. On top of all of the above, Alex runs his own independent label, Machine Limited, alongside his Split Secs partner TK. While both Split Secs and SONNS offer different styles of the underground house music spectrum, the label is a solid representation of what both projects are all about – and it’s quite simple; quality tunes with zero tolerance for BS. Well produced – not overly produced. With the release of the SONNS “On My Mind Remixed” EP just around the corner next month, I couldn’t think of a better time to sit down with my friend Alex for some serious questioning.
Hey Alexandre, how’s it going?
Hi Cooper, I’m doing great.
Clearly you’ve been very busy over the last while. Tell me what a usual day you is like.
These days it’s been mostly about making music, playing music, and enjoying life.
Where are you originally from and when did you move to Los Angeles? Musically, what were you all about when you first came to LA?
I was born and raised in Paris France and moved to LA when I was 11. I loved it all pretty much, from Classical Music, French Pop to Disco. Paris has always been an inspiring, and musically rich city…with amazing radio stations.
Growing up, what sort of records were you into? Do you come from a family with a rich musical background, or did you kind of dive into it all by yourself? Was there always music playing around the house?
Luckily, I was immersed in a wide range of great music at a very young age. My parents are music lovers. We were fortunate to have a decent hi-fi stereo with big speakers, my dad was obsessed with quality sound and we had tons of records. I remember at around the age of 7 listening to Earth Wind & Fire or Phil Collins and practically get choked up, thinking to myself “Woah, music really has an intense affect on me”. I have vivid memories of driving around Paris in my dad’s car listening to American Soul, Funk and Reggae jams-we’d crank it up loud.
Were you ever in any bands as a kid?
Yea, I had a few. My first band was a three piece named ‘Hollow Tree’. I Started it at the age of 16…I sang and played guitar. Our music was like a fuzzy version of CAN meets The Specials. I was really into putting swirling stereo effects and delays of my guitars. We won the battle the bands at my senior year in high school and then we also opened a big show for Sublime, which was an incredible experience. I also started a couple Soul/Funk instrumental bands with full horn sections, one was called ‘Stout’ and the other was ‘Engine #9’. We used to play at local clubs from Los Angeles to Newport Beach; we’d cover some of our favorite hip-hop cuts growing up, and ride that pocket groove for hours. I really miss those jams.
Was it until after you began immersing yourself in various music scenes that you began DJing, or did you have an interest in mixing records long before going out a lot?
I started collecting techno and dance records long before I started DJing, I only had one shitty turntable and tons of records. I just wanted to make my own mixed tapes and then I just started getting booked out, playing my friends’ parties and opening up at random clubs or shows. Eventually, I was playing like three or four nights a week.
Photo Credit: Dustin Beatty
Outside of the music world, what are some of your main interests or hobbies? If you weren’t doing music fulltime, what do you think you’d be doing?
Fashion has always been my other gig…I’ve always loved cinema and writing.
What was the scene in LA like when you were getting started here? How is it different today? Tell me about some of the most influential DJs and events that you caught in the early years here in LA.
I think the entire world has changed drastically; scenes are nothing like they were back in the early 90s. The excitement of seeing a DJ roll up with two big bags of records through the crowd and absolutely rock your socks off to music that the great majority of people had never even heard of or knew. When good techno and house music was still very underground for most people, everything felt fresh and you were part of a movement which I don’t think is as evident nowadays. With the Internet and everything so readily available it’s just different. Now it’s almost impossible to throw an underground without risking to get shut down. Back then, a rave or after hour dance party just happened all the time. You’d have to call info lines like “The Dirt Line” where all the parties were announced by a real human voice. You could just call, find out who was playing and get the party info in one call-pick of the litter every weekend. Now, you’re lucky if the DJ gets to play longer then an hour set on a decent sound system.
I used to love watching J ROCC kill it with his records doing quick mixes, juggling doubles and just throw his records on the floor playing everything from the Whatnauts to the illest new underground hip-hop jams into some New Wave b-side. Some of my favorite DJ experiences were undoubtedly from the Wicked Sound System dance parties—Jeno, Thomas, Garth and Markie. They blew minds and still do to this day.
I remember you telling me how the DJ culture in LA at the time wasn’t so much about house music and that your sets were very eclectic with bits of new wave, post punk, weird disco, etc. You seemed to be doing something different than most people at the time, but was there ever a point where you felt like things were coming together in the form of actual dance music?
For me, it’s always just been about good music. When I DJ’d somewhere, I just played records that I loved and felt good playing. As long as people were dancing, we’re all having fun. I love playing eclectic sets and still do today whenever the time is right.
And later down the line you began throwing your own underground parties and brought out guests that would normally play superficial Hollywood settings due to the nature of the game. I even attended a few and they were always exciting and refreshing. Seeing Simian Mobile Disco at a warehouse was almost too good to be true. Explain your experience of throwing your own parties and the things you learned as a DJ.
Yea that was an EPIC night! One of my favorite Making Shapes for sure, Jas and James are some of the nicest most talented dudes I know.
With throwing parties, I always want to build a setting that is somewhat reminiscent of my formative years in dance culture, a certain feeling of intimacy even though its packed, everyone should feel special - part of something electric and ALWAYS with great sound.
I’m a fan of having multiple areas when it’s done right. I really miss the ambient rooms at good dance parties-you could just relax and listen to killer down beat mixed by usually the best and most under-rated DJs.
I definitely love the “one DJ, one floor, all night” action but it’s nice to switch the vibe up-get your mind blown to some different rhythms, forward thinking music that’s not always necessarily dance oriented.
Let’s talk producing. What do you have to say about your passion for going the analog route in the studio? Do you feel that using hardware is about more than just the finished product, but also the process? Would you say that even though it may take longer to make music the classic way, the time put into it may be more worthwhile?
There’s something special about using machines to create grooves. I do love analog circuitry but digital synths are very exciting to me as well. I just enjoy recording passes, twisting knobs, playing an instrument - an all around hands-on approach is the way I’ve always made music - the computer just helps me glue everything together. As far the process, it doesn’t necessarily take longer for me; it can actually go a lot faster at times, especially to develop an idea.
How did Split Secs come to be? Compared to working as a solo artist, what are some of the main difference when creating with a partner? Do you and Travis have your own separate roles in the writing process, or do you guys usually alternate duties?
Mutual friends introduced us. Two minds at work can make for some interesting dynamics that would otherwise not be there. It’s also just great to hang with one of your best buds doing what we love most. We both do all the writing and arranging together. Sometimes he’ll start an idea and I’ll add to it, and vice versa.
The two of you also have a label, Machine Limited. Did you have any label experience prior to forming this project, or did you just want to give it a shot?
Travis worked at a couple record distribution companies for a few years and we’ve both watched our friends run labels and record stores…We just decided to launch a label to put out our music whenever and however we want.
What’s some of the best advice you’ve gotten in regards to starting and running a record label? Are you able to mention any upcoming releases?
Still learning myself, but I would say-just do it. Yes, next up for Machine Limited is the SONNS remixed ep with some incredible remix work of On My Mind and Starts Tonight by Kasper Bjørke, Geoffroy Mugwump & DC Salas, Golden Touch, Tuff City Kids and Night Plane. Out in mid-September. This will be followed by another Split Secs Original EP and then we’re bringing our good friend Alona in the studio for another cover version of one of our favorite forgotten underground jams. After that, the next Sonns EP and possible LP. All of these releases will have some remixes by some of our favorite producers at the moment. We’ll be leaking some of these tracks on the SONNS and Split Secs SoundClouds prior to the release dates for anyone who is interested.
A lot of people speak negatively on the topic of record labels in 2013, but I figure there’s always going to be a bright side to look upon. What are some of the best things the label has brought into your life, and some of the benefits of being involved in a project like that?
It’s like having a beautiful kitchen with all your favorite spices and cooking utensils, when you’re ready to chef it up its all there for you.
Do you feel that you represent or push a certain vibe or sound with your work as both SONNS and Split Secs? As far as being a producer and putting music out, what other artists or labels inspire you to keep at it?
I think both projects have their own sound. Too many to name really, but I honestly don’t have a choice-I just need to make music and have it in my life as much as possible…It’s been my passion since I can remember.
Tell me a bit about the process of creating the debut SONNS EP “On My Mind.” Was this EP something you had been working on for a long time leading up to the release? How did the vocal collaboration of Red Baron come to be? Are you responsible for the lyrics as well?
‘On My Mind’ was a beat I started on my MPC like 10 years ago, I just recently added the bassline and all the other elements. I met Toby (Red Baron) from Travis actually. The song needed vocals so I asked him to come try. We clicked and every session since then has been magical. We both write the vocal melodies and lyrics together, it’s a very relaxed, inspiring and productive dynamic. I’m truly blessed to have such an amazing performer and artist to work on music with.
When you reflect upon your productions, what is the most common setting in which you imagine your songs ideally being played?
Each setting can have its own charm and inspire differently. In the wilderness with big speakers surrounded by stars and waterfalls seems pretty ideal-although not so common.
Do you go to the studio everyday? Does creativity only strike at certain times, or do you try to make something everyday for the sake of learning? Do you have any habits or routine with making music, or is it usually just a natural flow?
Practically everyday, or as much as I can. It’s always different but usually my mornings are great for mixing and the technical side of producing, evenings for composing and arrangements.
Your solo material seems to be a little more laid back compared to the warehouse vibes of Split Secs. Are you aiming for a mid-tempo daytime feeling with the SONNS stuff, or do you plan on exploring all sides of your tastes?
No rules really, for now I definitely feel that SONNS has more live instruments and is vocal driven. There’s definitely no set tempo, some housey jams, some slow slung grooves whatever I’m feeling at the time musically, working with Toby’s voice permits a wide range of vibes.
What’s coming up next as far as your solo releases as well as Split Secs? Who will you be releasing with soon, and are there any exciting remixes you can finally tell us about? I read something about a Throne Of Blood release, a label that seems to be on the same page with what you’re all about.
For Split Secs, we have an Original Single called ‘I Stand Alone’ coming out on Mike Simonetti’s (Italians Do it Better) new Imprint ‘New Jersey’ packaged with some killer remixes by Mike himself, Secret Circuit (Beats in Space), and Monty Luke (Planet E, Black Catalogue). We also have some remixes coming out in the next couple months on Bpitch Control, Matt Walsh’s Clouded Vision, on Future Classic, and few others to be announced soon. As far as SONNS, I just finished a remix of ‘Grown Folk’ coming out soon for ‘Young Adults’ and yes ‘Throne Of Blood’ is putting out a SONNS EP later this year…DEF the same page…T.O.B. is a family affair.
Apart from making music, what else is in the works for you? More parties? Travels? What are some of your biggest goals of the near future?
I’m currently in the process of producing a few different events, a festival next year and our Label Night called ‘Machine’ here in L.A. There’s talk about possibly throwing another Making Shapes but haven’t confirmed it yet. Working on the live P.A. is high up on the list.
Alright, before we wrap this up how about some shout outs, thanks, or final things you’d like to mention?
We are finishing a Music Video for “On My Mind” directed by the always amazing Ryan Heffington, produced by my dear friend Guy Logan for Royal Interactive Media.
Shout out to the big fam!!
Thanks man, talk soon!