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by Andy Morris | Photos by Press / Facebook

Erol Alkan on the spirit of Fabric, the legacy of Trash

'Clearing a dancefloor isn't a bad thing if you believe in the music'


Erol Alkan Interview on Fabric Mix and Trash memories Photo: Press/Facebook

Indie disco pioneer, Balearic remix specialist and label boss of Phantasy, Erol Alkan is without question one of the most influential DJs of the past two decades.

To celebrate his recent astonishing Fabric mix, he discusses with Gigwise his memories of his decade spent running London clubnight Trash, the joy of early Radiohead and why he's taken to buying entire record collections in one go. 

What was the track you were most proud of getting into the Fabric mix?
A really important thing for me was to make sure it was something that I could play at Fabric. I always feel that London gives me, as it's my hometown, the chance to take the most risks in a way. I can be as leftfield as I want to be.

Fabric is a fantastic environment to DJ at, especially in Room One. I wanted the mix to push a few of the boundaries of what I do a bit further out. The mix really evolves as it goes along - it's a completely different type of mix in the second half as it is in the first half. People tend to stay on the dance floor at Fabric: when they get on there, they stay on there. That's why I chose to put a few things on there that are quite rare. There's some really obscure tracks on there and there's also some things on there that are quite strange. The Zongamin mix of 'Square Lights' is quite an odd record, but if you hear it at 105 decibels on that dancefloor it makes sense.

I also wanted it to be a mix that's cereberal in places, it's not just designed to get people's testosterone racing, which I think electronic music has been quite good at for the last few years. I love energy - don't get me wrong, I'm not saying everything should be boring and flat - but energy needs to be considered and held carefully rather than a mindless display. 

The artwork is very Lars Von Trier...
I love the artwork. When you do a Fabric CD you get the chance to look at options for the artwork and the one we've chosen, I really love. It's probably contains some strange symbolism somewhere but I really like it.

You ran Trash at the End between 1997-2007. How many requests have you had about reviving the night?
I get quite a few. It falls on deaf ears now because I've always said that Trash was a combination of not just the venue (which we no longer have) or the DJs (who are all doing different things). It was also the audience (who have all moved on and grown up and had children). It was also the era, the bands making music week to week. When we closed Trash, the first thing I said was that it is somebody else's chance to do something. We didn't want to hog the stage.

It's easy to forget how revolutionary it was to have a friendly open-minded dancefloor...
We had to work really hard to get to that point. I remember part of my drive in trying to make Trash what it was was driven by my experiences in other clubs. Some clubs you'd go to you'd feel quite intimidated by. In some clubs people would spit at me for playing electronic music. I remember one club promoter wanting to punch my lights out for playing a certain record he didn't agree with. I don't understand how people can be so negative about something that to me felt like the truth.

You create somewhere that feels safe, especially as it was truly a polysexual club. You couldn't really tell what sort of group it was aimed at: boys felt very comfortable to express themselves and dress how they wish to. I have a close friend who was going through a sex change at the time and I felt a duty to create somewhere where she felt really safe.

You also feel a duty to people to the people who take the effort to dress up and make your night and your dancefloor look good. Without those people you're just a room with music! I think that's one of the things I'm really happy about was discovering that it wasn't just about me or the venue but the magic comes from the people coming together and creating that spark. You can't buy that. You can't advertise that. It just happens.

It can happen in any town. But Trash could only have happened in London in the same way that Optimo could have only happened in Glasgow. It could only happen in that time, with those people. We were lucky! We were lucky to be able to pick up on those new bands coming through - we were able to email the Yeah Yeah Yeahs when we first heard their demos and say "When you're doing London next could you do our club?" And they would [agree] and by the time they came over they still abided by that even though more people had heard of them then before. So 1000 people in a room going crazy to this brand new band that were about to set the world alight.

There were some amazing moments. It was just a really brilliant time. But It taught me a lot. It taught me how to approach how I want to have a label. Working at a club in a similar way - it's one thing to bring people together, it's something else to turn it into something that you can't plan.

As the label boss of Phantasy, are there any another record labels you particularly admire?
The three labels growing up that I always thought were stunning and inspirational were really obvious ones: Factory, Creation and Heavenly. They always felt like more than labels which is something I always want Phantasy to feel like for other people. When you see the name or the sleeve art, or see what they did with clubnights, it feels like a universe.

Island Records is also a massive inspiration as I really admire what Chris Blackwell did - he was signing artists and producing them as well (he had that real closeness, from signing The B52s and work on their records, or with Grace Jones or Bob Marley. The range and variety of those records: he managed to just completely nail it across all of them. It's quite astounding really.

There are so many small labels at the moment, people like Lobster Theramin who release exciting 12 inches, one after another of quite strange unique electronic music. It's a really exciting time right now for that. It feels like there's a real alternative approach to it all, an alternative ethos.

Which band do you wish would get back together to perform?
I could be so selfish with this couldn't I? What I'd love to see right now tomorrow is I'd love to see The Left Banke play again if I could. They're American, one of my favourite bands from the 1960s, just really sublime, beautiful melodies and arrangements. Gorgeous music, if you check them out I'm sure you'll fall in love with them immediately. I'd love to see them play but I think it's an impossibility.

I was going to suggest the KLF...
Well they never really performed though did they? They did a few live DJ sets at raves in the early '90s. And I saw them at the Barbican anyway [in 1997] when they did the Millennium event with Jeremy Deller. So I've seen the last KLF show so I've got that struck off my list.

Radiohead are due to return in 2015. What's your Radiohead track of choice?
I have ones I really like from each era: from the first couple of albums, I really love 'Talk Show Host' (it's a really beautiful song) and later on 'Idioteque' is a really interesting track. I saw Radiohead play really early on their first single supporting The Frank and Walters at the Astoria. What I can remember about that first time? They were loud - really loud - even for a support band. I don't think many people knew of them but back then I was a bit of an indie swot so I knew everyone's music from from reading the music press and listening to the radio.

I had their first single on cassette. I saw quite a few bands early when I used to go and see bands every other night when I was young - I suppose the thing of putting a band on at Trash was an extension of that because I was always around bands at that early stage. I like the excitement of seeing something evolving rather than the finished package right in front of you.

Who is the last indie band who really impressed you?
The last one who I thought 'Cor blimey they're brilliant'? Temples are the last band who I heard that I thought: this is a cut above most bands I've heard recently with guitars. It's not just because they a sound a bit like the era they are influenced by but also because I think they write really good songs and obviously [Alkan's Balearic side project] Beyond The Wizards's Sleeve just remixed their whole album. I was able to go through all the parts and the level of musicianship, the melodies and ideas in there are just fantastic, just really strong and beautiful.

It was just a really simply procedure to rework it - we did the whole thing in ten days, working from 9-6pm so not even pulling stupid hours - but it came so easily. You'd open one session up of their tracks and find something in there you could work with really easily. They've got a great sense of melody and it was quite a spontaneous situation really. 

You posted a picture of your vinyl haul from Stockholm [above]. What record stores do you really rate?
There are places like Music Mania in Ghent which is always worth a visit... and when I do visit I spend I end up buying a lot! For me every time I go in there they just keep handing you records that you love. I love it when people know me, know who you are and know what you like and they feed you! I've got no problem with buying as much music as possible as I really like it. I could walk into some record shop and they could just give me some music that's fashionable at the moment and usually it'll be a load of music I'm not that bothered by.

But what I have with a lot of record stops (like Phonica or Rough Trade) is that whenever I walk in they pull out a lot of stuff that I'm going to really like and I subsequently end up buying it all. I like it when there is that relationship, rather than just going in and being given the best-sellers of the week.

This one [that Alkan bought the above vinyl haul from] is Snickars in Stockholm which was great - it was literally someone's record collection that they bought and they were selling on. At one point I just looked at my watch and how much time I had and I thought 'There's literally nine crates of records here - should I just make an offer for all of them?' There was so much good stuff in there, so many records I had already so I knew whoever's collection it was they were on a similar wavelength. I had a flick through them when I got back home and they all sounded pretty awesome so I'm going to have to sit down and listen to them properly. I really have been quite into the idea of buying collections as well. I love discovering other people's tastes through their records - you can make great discoveries that way. If you're selling a lovely record collection, get in touch!

It must be great if it's a genuine collection - with the odd cheesy pop hit amid the super credible releases.
That's my record collection all over. There's a couple of Samantha Fox records for every five to ten Human League singles.

What advice would you give to someone on how to get into a difficult club? 
If you're into speaking in context of somewhere like Trash where we had a door code, it was mainly there to maintain the effort people put in week to week. People dressed up a lot and came with a great attitude. Sometimes if you had a bunch of incoherent drunk people trying to get in who were just looking for a place to keep on drinking, maybe it wasn't a place for them. So that's all our door code was. In regards to getting into difficult clubs, if it's too difficult then maybe its just not the club for you? Find your place! That's what we wanted Trash to be. It wasn't going to cater for everybody - but great clubs don't! A club is a place where you feel like you belong.

Describe your biggest DJ fail?
When I first played 'Silver Screen Shower Scene' [by Felix Da Housecat] for the first time everyone said 'What are you doing playing this electronic nonsense?" And just left the floor. Times were different then: this was a very early embryonic point in Trash's ascendence into something different. So I played it again later that night! I was adamant. I was like "Look, this pushed the same buttons as any alternative record was pushing at the time." It had everything that I wanted from music at that point. So sometimes you need to break these eggs to make omelettes. I played it literally about 45 minutes later! It wasn't even about "getting away with it": it's not that I didn't want to be wrong or anything like that - I believed in it. Clearing a dancefloor isn't a bad thing if you believe in the music.

Fabric 77 by Erol Alkan is out now. Tin Man and Kamera remixes of Erol Alkan's 'Sub Conscious' will be released on Phantasy on 19 January (vinyl) and 26 January (mp3). The full tracklist is at

Erol Alkan is currently on a European tour, including a set at the Bugged Out Weekender. Visit for full information.

16 January Libertine Supersport, Bloody Louis, Brussels
17 January Le Belle Electronique, Grenoble
18 January Bugged Out! Weekender, Bognor Regis
29 January DBE, Loughborough

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