Alex Metric talks ‘Safe With You,’ crossing-over and eclecticism in the face of worldwide club advocacy
For British producer Alex Drury, variety has been an essential spice of life. Now formally found under the revered guise of Alex Metric, his leaps between the mainstream and underground dance spectrum have continued to assert that for an industry thought to be made up of opposing sides, concentrated eclecticism can still be a key driver of success. From the Ammunition EP series for OWSLA, to production duties alongside Steve Angello and Ian Brown, his genre-hopping approach has kept loyal fans and newfound advocates in constant rotation, all to the avail of an early inauguration to North American club land and a proven ability to hold his corner whatever crowd, club or nation. With a discography scattered with French touch, breaks, big bass and stirring pop crossover records, it is easy to see why Alex Metric has held his corner consistently across dance music’s proven tendency to leap and bow to modern cultural influences.
This month, however, all eyes turned to much anticipated collaborative duties alongside British peer and national treasure Jacques Lu Cont, alongside whom commercial crossover anthem “Safe With You” found a comfortable nest amid Ministry of Sound’s burgeoning output of club offerings. Dancing Astronaut took the opportunity to grill Alex on crossing over to the ‘dark-side’, juggling eclecticism with consistent popularity and whether this long fabled album will ever see the light of day amid his industrious reckoning.
You seem to have avoided the typical European groaning regarding what is going on across the North American circuit. Is it fair to say you are sold on the development of that scene?
I think its really fucking exciting, especially this year. I was going over quite a bit last year and have been going over for a long time now, certainly this year things really stepped up. What I find exciting about it is its had this big EDM boom where this whole new generation of kids have been introduced to dance music. Sure, there’s always been great underground dance music in pockets but there’s this massive generation that has been introduced to it and now you really feel like now that they’ve come into the culture they are looking for other things.
From your personal experiences, have the crowds gotten any more adventurous since you first starting touring out in North America?
Totally – that’s the exciting bit for me – these kids are hungry for what’s new. I find that I can go over there and play records they haven’t heard and they go with it, they are really open to it. It’s like they are totally hungry to hear new stuff. I played HARD and on my stage it was Duke Dumont, Julio Bashmore, Oliver and myself. That was probably my favorite US festival set ever. No one had to compromise what they did, there was no playing tracks I didn’t want to play, I didn’t really play many records those kids would have known but the energy and enthusiasm was just incredible. It’s fucking easy for European producers to be snobby about America and sitting in Europe dismissing it for the whole EDM thing, but it’s actually an opportunity to show these guys a different shade of dance music. If you don’t go out and show these people the records then sure, the scene will stay the same. For me being able to do that is fascinating.
As far as your recording career so far is concerned, it seems fair to say that you have avoided any cookie-cutter schematics. Has the eclectic nature of your work been a conscious decision or simply the way things have panned out for you?
I am and always have been one of those artists that just makes the music I want to make. I’d like to think my sound is defined by being a mash-up of many different genres and elements. Obviously when I make records some of those elements and influences rise to the top and some don’t. My sound has definitely involved over the years and it has been a product of lapping up what I love at the time and what I am playing in my sets. It can come down to the personal circumstances that surround you as well in a strange way, but I think there is always a core base to what I do and whether I make a house track or a disco track or a techno track I think you can always tell that it’s me. I think one thing that’s changed is the way I’ve made music. I’ve bought a lot more analogue equipment and synthesizers and that has definitely changed my sound.
Given your break beat roots and French electro detours, does it ever feel like history is repeating itself where the music is concerned?
To an extent, yes! More recently I feel like I have been heading back around to where it began. I went through the pop phase of singing on my own records and I guess the bigger room things are now going down really well. For me it’s just about keeping myself excited, I never want to be one of those artists that just does one thing. Creatively that is a dead end. I want to be able to jump from record to record and let each one inform the next leap. That allows me to do these big crossover house records like “Safe With You.” I can do that and then move on to something really slow and disco-esque. I react to the last record wherever possible, but seldom directly repeat it.
Given how easy it is to be pigeonholed in the modern market, does keeping things eclectic make continuity as an artist seem like a hard feat?
I think there is a big challenge in it. I dare say if I did one thing through my career I’d be more successful than I am now, because it is easy to pin a label to people and go ‘that’s him – he does that!’ and know what to expect from you. I think it can be a detrimental thing having these badges on things but I think it’s over relied upon but if its good music and it moves you as a DJ or a person then you should play that record. My sets go all over the shop and it just comes from wanting to play good records that I have some connection or feeling with regardless of whether it’s a fucking deep house record or a techno record. My love of eclecticism comes from my upbringing during the big beat era with Wall of Sound Records, Fatboy Slim and Skint Records. That was very much a period of throwing everything in the blender. You could go from hip-hop to techno, then to Brit pop. That was exciting to me! I don’t want to hear the same music all night and the same relentless beat from start to finish. I want to be surprised at what’s coming next.
Do you believe that we will ever fully see a recurrence of that natural eclectic musical scope within the digital market again?
I think it did happen again around 2007 with the whole Ed Banger crew. They were very much a product of that same era and I think there is always an alternative – that’s always where I like to look. That alternative always gets a different name as the years go on but it is kind of essentially the same thing: just slightly left of center and not completely clinical. I dare say the mainstream of dance music has actually become more samey and clinical than ever, I think it would be refreshing if some of those big guys actually did take some risks and broke the formulaic approach. There is a big culture of safe options and that is a shame. When you have such a huge audience like that, that is the time you can take the most risks, surely? If you have a huge following then that’s the point when you have the platform and stability to be different at your mercy.
“Safe With You” sees Jacques Lu Cont and yourself test the barriers of the club / pop crossover. How did you find the process of working with such an esteemed and equally diverse national peer as Stuart?
Penning “Safe With You” was a real dream come true for me. I’ve been a huge fan of Stuart’s since I was a teenager. It was always an aim of mine that one day I would love to make a record with him. Somehow it happened and we’ve become friends through it. Hitting the studio with him was an amazing experience, let alone to meet and hang out and forge that relationship. Then the fact that record turned out the way it did was even better. I am immensely proud of the song, it’s everything I hoped that I could do with Stuart and it’s definitely a product of both of us. Neither of us could have achieved that sound on our own. I feel lucky to have worked with Stuart and hugely proud of what we accomplished.
You’ve already alluded to the fact that being diverse comes with its challenges, but is there a considerable challenge in motivating yourself against the safer status quo options?
For me the biggest challenge is always challenging myself to keep being creative and doing things that are interesting without repeating myself. Whether that’s a remix or an original, I am trying to do something different and not fall into the trap of doing the same shit. Being able to keep it fresh for yourself every time you make a record. I definitely try that with every remix and that’s why I’m very selective about doing them because I just never want to hit the same formula. That’s not an inspiring or creative way to do this for me. If you look at my original tracks they have all been so different and as you alluded to already, there have been a lot of different labels along the way, but that’s what keeps it exciting for me. The challenge is always one of creative. “Rave Weapon” was probably the last defining record I did and it would be easy to keep doing that 808 90s thing, but I’m just not into doing that. It’s not about repeating yourself because you know it will work. I do this to be creative and put some heart and soul into the music.
Given all the positive notions of your career to date, what can we be expecting from you in the near future? Are we any nearer to getting a full-length album from you?
I feel lucky that every year that goes by my career keeps rising. I just want to keep on that trajectory. I would love to finally do an album. That’s a thing that’s really on my mind right now. I did an album two-years ago and sacked it off and never put it out. I kind of think back to that and want to write those wrongs and make the record. At the moment that is my aim, getting to a place where I know what I want to say and then putting it into a full-length record. The next couple of things are potentially poppy and vocal tracks. Doing vocal tracks with other people has been really exciting for me and I think that whilst doing underground records is exciting, with a vocal in the equation the sky is the limit. Once you have a crossover record people seem to be split as to their response, but the mass audience factor really excites me.