Interview: Alex & Digby
The London double act of Alex & Digby have have a stellar 2017 so far in their relatively new home of Berlin.
From playing back to back sets for 11 hours, to the release of their own imprint Flash of a Rat, we sit down about their hectic schedule and performing at this years stalwart dance shindig Cocoon in the Park.
“London as a city can be ruthless on up and coming DJ’s.”
You guys were born and bred in London but took the plunge and moved to Berlin, how do the two cities differ for you as DJ’s?
London as a city can be ruthless on up and coming DJ’s. For a start, venue licensing is fairly harsh. Most party’s have strict curfews and have to close things down fairly early, which normally means there is only space for two or three DJ’s to have sets long enough to show their style. Fairly often you actually have to be involved in the running of the night in order to get a slot too. There’s also huge financial pressure on promoters in London, as everything from the drinks to the venue’s are much more expensive than in other cities – this probably encourages them to book ‘safer’ artists to come and play, who they know will sell tickets, instead of friends or other inspiring DJ’s who they feel are just as talented or deserve the time equally. We ran a night at Plastic People with our great friend Alex Harris for a couple of years, as well as running a number of club nights at other venues – It’s really tough – if the nights aren’t full, you can potentially lose thousands of pounds… It’s definitely not to say that parties in London are impossible to run well, but it’s certainly harder there than in most other places…
On the other hand, Berlin feels a lot more relaxed. Institutions like Club de Visionare and Hoppitose encourage people to invite talented, fresh artists to their nights – often regardless of what size of crowd the DJ will bring with them. These nights seem to be based on gifted DJs with great record collections, over ‘big name’ artists – which is refreshing. It’s amazing to see that by and large, most artists who play these venues are all paid the same fee. The overheads are much smaller for promoters too, so it’s entirely possible to put on something really special for a fraction of what it would cost elsewhere.
It seems common place in Berlin that the music scene looks out for each other – Jan Kruger kindly gave us the entire evenings fee when we played a Hello?Repeat night, as he knew that we had just moved to Berlin and needed the money.
I think on that same Hello?Repeat night we played for about 11 hours back to back – and that kind of commitment to the night is expected here. There’s a positive pressure for DJ’s to not only be able to play well for the two hours they are booked for, but also to be ready to play for much longer.
Do you think Berlin suits you as artists better?
Artistically Berlin has been brilliant for us. The lower cost of living means that we’ve been able to invest a lot more time into our own work.
Back in the UK we often had to work pretty full time on other people’s music in commercial studios just to make sure we hit the rent – fitting in our production around that. In moving to Berlin, it was really the first time that we’ve been able to solely concentrate on ourselves as artists.
Is working together something that you were always doing musically? Or did it take a while for the two of you to become a duo?
No not originally. We were both in separate bands for many years acutally. When we first started getting into this genre of production, we realised that we were very similarly minded when It came to making music.
Let’s talk about Flash as a Rat, you’ve been releasing EP’s through your own imprint for a couple of years and now you’ve shared the tracks of your first LP. What’s the concept behind ‘For My Process’?
We had a pretty tough start to last year where Alex very suddenly became very ill and was left in a coma for nearly three weeks. This album was was written during the recovery period and in some way is a sonic reflection of our process of recovery. In fact, we weren’t actually trying to write an album at all, but really we were just experimenting with a load of studio techniques that until that moment we hadn’t had the time to put into practice. Out of these sessions we found a very personal kind of peace that was very helpful in dealing with a traumatic period in our lives and we feel really proud of what we made.
It was important to us that the record be affordable for people to buy – expensive vinyl becomes elitist and that was something we wanted to avoid at all costs with “For My Process” – however we couldn’t see a way of keeping the quality as high as we would have wanted without releasing the record on 3 separate disks. So because of this, we’ve set the price as low as we can… The record isn’t meant to make a huge amount of profit and will hopefully be affordable for more people to own it and experience it.
You’ve had a track released as part of Matthew Dear’s DJ Kicks compilation earlier this year, how did this come about?
We met Matthew in the second week we arrived in Berlin. We are big fans of his. He had heard a couple of the early Flash As A Rat’s and seemed to enjoy them so we got together to do a little music exchange. The tracks from the compilation came from that pack.
This year’s Cocoon in the Park sees you guys play alongside a massive line-up including the legend that is Sven Vath, is this one of the stand out dates for you so far this year?
Of course! We can’t wait for this one! What Sven and his team have built with Cocoon is incredibly special and we feel honoured to be part of it.
You’ve also got some exciting festivals on the horizon including Gottwood and Houghton, are there any in particular that you’re looking forward to?
Houghton will be a big highlight. The line up is sensational and we can’t wait to see the location – you can always count on the Gottwood team to find a good venue.
Alex & Digby play this years Cocoon in the Park – July 8th