Alex Levine

“Sometimes it’s hard to tell which one is in front. I try to keep the music in front but my obsession with the technology sometimes gets the better of me.”

AL: Anybody who starts off with computer based stuff and is able to focus and get it done is really impressive to me. I started composing computer based stuff when I was 13 or 14 but I couldn’t get focused until I took myself out of the box and played with synthesizers and hardware and drum machines and actually internalized all of those models. Then I could return to computers. To start with computers is really abstracted and horrifying to me. You could sit there for hours. Click. Let’s try this out. Now let’s try this out. Now let’s try this out. I don’t deny that you’re learning something, but as far as getting it done and making a song, give me a four-track and keyboard and a drum machine and I’ll make a three-minute song in six seconds. I meter my computer time very specifically. If I’m going to be making a song on a computer, I have to have an idea going into it. The idea needs to be fermenting while the computer boots up. I have to do it and be done because otherwise, I can get lost in there.

WinS: So you started creating when you were pretty young?
Yeah. I grew up playing piano. I was a band geek. I picked up a lot of instruments. I played in punk bands in high school. That’s when I started listening to a lot of Aphex Twin and Radiohead and got into the idea of the studio as an instrument. Brian Eno’s Music for Airports, [Radiohead’s] Kid A and [Aphex Twin’s] Richard D. James album specifically were three touch points that moved me away from radio-ready rock and the idea of punk as marketed by Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater or whatever. At that time I was kind of pretentious and I wanted something with more art value. I started a band with no vocalist. We did Explosions in the Sky-style melodic post-rock. It was twee and I’m kind of embarrassed about it.

What was it called?
A Lesser Known Faith.

That’s the perfect high-school post-rock band name.
Yeah. I started recording with that project and the obsession spiraled out of control from there.

What do you identify as? Do you call yourself a producer?
I think “technician” is a better word, but I try to have a really musical appreciation and application of the technology. I’m not a pure technician. I can use a soldering iron. I know how to fix things. I just bought a Yamaha DX7 that didn’t work and I spent about 30 minutes of bench time and $2.00 worth of materials and fixed it. So now I have a functional DX7 for about ⅓ of the price. I’m a technician who DJs. I’m a technician who is a very musical person. I make music with the technology. The music and the technology are very important. Sometimes it’s hard to tell which one is in front. I try to keep the music in front but my obsession with the technology sometimes gets the better of me. I had an album come out on my birthday that’s really cool.

When’s your birthday?
July 8th. It’s on alexisicon.bandcamp.com. It’s mostly hardware tunes. There are a couple tunes I wrote on my cell phone using the same procedure I showed at Girls Rock! camp last year. I don’t know if that’ll stick with any of the campers but I want them to see that it’s possible to take your phone out and start making a melody, start making a beat and get something satisfactory.

I know you’ve made a lot of albums. How many?
This album will be the 60th release on my label. I’d say 40-45 of them are me. In addition, I’ve released on Phi-Tunes, Aud-Art, Now is Why, Bleepsequence, Gays Hate Techno, La Squadra, and a few other things in the works I can’t currently discuss. I’m pretty widely published, especially in the compilation scene. When I was more active in breakcore, I was on a lot of compilations with North American Breakcore League and Brokecore Records, which is different than the now-defunct label I ran with my younger brother Isaac Levine, Broke Whore Records.

What?
Eh, it’s a really long story about survival sex work as a way to fill in the gaps between being a pro-audio nerd. I get it done. I always do. Ha.

I love you.
As I last checked, I have over 40 hours of my own recordings finished and put out there. I don’t know what to tell you. I didn’t do it for anybody else. Oh and I just mastered olivia ii’s new record on Hoko which is amazing. I also recently finished mastering the new Serpentine record. Phenomenal work from two of the coolest songwriters in town.

They’re both great.
Yeah. I won’t say that my current imprint, Purple and Pink Records is emphatically a queer or transsexual record label but I’m friends with the people I’m friends with for a certain set of reasons and it’s going to be reflected in what I publish.

I know very little about electronic music genre-wise.
Genres for electronic music are for record stores.

Do you lump a majority of your releases into any one genre?
No, I use a set of signifiers. The distributor I work with is connected to a couple different sorts of retailers, some of which are targeted at general listening, like Spotify and iTunes. Genres will say something like “electronic dance.” We also have retailers like Juno and Beatport which are targeted towards the DJ market and DJs want to be able to look at a word and get an idea of the sound, the vibe, the structure, the arrangement. Is there gonna be a drop? If so, what kind of drop? The stuff that I release, there’s definitely a range to it. I would say techno. I use a lot of drum machines and synthesizers. The idea of house is there but I wouldn’t say I use house proper because the samples in my songs are my own voice or me playing instruments. I don’t use records. I think that’s a beautiful practice but that’s not what I do. I get lumped under deep-house a lot but I’d disagree. The other big signifier I see is acid. I’m not big on drugs at this point at my life but there was a time when using psychedelics to process post-traumatic stress disorder and that aspect was really important to me. The acid sound has a couple defining features but also an attitude of overwhelming textural elements and repetitive to a point where it trances you out. I do make some things that I call trance but I don’t really know what trance is. I think we live in a society that is intensely trance-phobic. I feel the genre of trance was over-pollinated and populated during the turn of the 21st century and that people are afraid to make joyous, beautiful, emphatic dance music anymore. I call what I make trancegenre. I don’t really think about the genres while I’m making it. It’s just a classifier. Kind of like a Dewey Decimal system.

Wait, are you saying trance? T-r-a-n-c-e? Or trans? T-r-a-n-s?
*pauses.* *smiles* I dunno.

Ha. Perfect.
I mean, I do know. I’m talking about both things. I’m saying that for me, having an ecstatic experience of music is not that different than having an ecstatic experience of gender. I don’t really see why we’re so afraid to have fun, to use melody, to use swelling arrangements. Not to make a drop where you fall off the edge of a cliff and you’re like “Waaaah Skrillex yelling in my face!” I don’t wanna get yelled at in the face when I’m dancing. I want there to be a good beat. I want it to be groovy. I want there to be a bass line that carries me. I want a melody occasionally. I want it to be meaningful. I don’t want to be locked out of certain forms and functions because of this historical idea that trance/trans is bad. That’s just plain wrong. There’s a reason it was so popular. Just like disco was popular. Remember when disco was popular? Remember when disco wasn’t popular? Pick one! Who cares? There is a latent element of queerphobia that is inherent to the distrust of many forms of dance music and to me this I no different. Literally I have nothing to say about music that doesn’t make me feel good and I don’t know why there’s so much energy spent in any other direction.

So when you DJ are you playing your own stuff?
It depends. For example, the last party I DJ’d was the Thundercunts party at Spirit hosted by Julie Mallis. That was an Alexis Icon set. That means it was 30-40% my own material mixed with 30-40% of tunes that I’ve pulled from local artists. The other 30-40% is songs I grew up with dancing to that are really important to. They take me to a good place.

What’s your current setup like?
I live in a one-bedroom apartment that has a lot of open floorspace in the non-bedroom part. The center of the studio is a digital mixer that’s hooked up to my laptop so I can do 16-channels in and out. I don’t actually multitrack most of what I do. I usually just record directly from the stereo output with my trusty Zoom H2n parallel with my monitors. I have a DJ setup where I’ve got two turntables and a mixer with a wall of records on some IKEA shelves. I’ve got crates that I’ve organized based on different promoters, parties, ideas, whatever. So that’s the record part but I also have the recording and music-making part. Right now I have two stations set up going into the same DJ mixer. The one on the right side is primarily Korg. I have the Volca Bass, Volca Beats and a Kaoss pad. I use the Kaoss pad to loop my voice and process it and the synths. On the other side, I have a setup that’s more audio loop based and less sequencing. I have a Korg Electribe drum machine and a Roland EF-303 that I use for the bassline, but it’s mostly about using a Yamaha CS-01 into a simple loop pedal and some guitar FX, with the whole mix into a Kaoss pad to make rhythmic textures or muck it up so I have two different choices of drums, bass, loops and I can mix and match them together through the main mixer. I use Equator D5s for monitors. It’s a powered 5” monitor that has a coaxial driver so instead of the tweeter and the driver being separate packages, the tweeter is in the center of the woofer and it creates a larger sweet spot. They’re nice and flat and affordable. Like $350 a pair right now.

I’ve been considering those for myself.
Yeah, I think they’re a great investment. I live in an apartment and I’ve never had a noise complaint. When you have good speakers and good ears, you don’t have to turn up that loud. Funny how that works out.
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www.alexisicon.bandcamp.com
www.submistress.bandcamp.com


- Women in Sound 2019 -