“Oh f**k, cannae dance…”
A Chat with Alex Smoke
Multi-talented Glaswegian producer/composer Alex Smoke is bringing his brand new record Love Over Will and a fully immersive AV show to Sneaky Pete’s on March 27th. We caught up with Alex a few days beforehand to ask him all about the weird, hypnotic relationship between audio and visual, and discovered how his live performances can meddle with your brain-waves.
Equally capable of sparking a dancefloor or composing a delicate, creepy soundtrack to a BBC documentary, Alex Smoke has an unnerving grasp on the physical and emotional effects of the music he makes. His most recent release Love Over Will is an unsettling listen by any standards. Jittery, shivering percussion and post-apocalyptic synth collide and bend, creating an eerie, abstract journey that feels no less unnerving when Smoke’s distorted voice adds extra weight. Throw into the mix a fluctuating, geometrical dystopia created by visual artist Florence To, and you’ve got yourself a right head-fuck.
“The show is different from the outset…”
Alex Smoke’s brand new AV show is designed to offer an entirely different experience, set aside from a DJ set, a gig or an installation. “The show is different from the outset,” he explains. “It’s planned to be much more loose… it’s very liberating. I love making people dance… but when you don’t have to, then it means you can concentrate on music for music’s sake.”
“It’s meant to be immersive in the sense that there’s an element of synchronicity between the music and the visuals,” he continues. That’s what draws you in and turns it into something more. I always used to be quite dismissive of it all when I was younger, you know? When you go to shows and they have visuals, and it’s billed as live – but it’s really some prick who’s gone on the internet and found videos of ants or something. But obviously there are loads of people who do amazing things with live visuals and music, especially these days now that computer power is so much greater.”
“Oh fuck, cannae dance…”
Alex and Florence both play live, reacting to each-other organically and technologically – Florence’s visuals are projected above the audience, and react in a generative manner to Alex’s audio. This means that each show is similar in principle, but the live, unpredictable, human element gives each performance the potential to be completely unique.
They’ve staged the Love Over Will show twice so far, and Alex laughs as he describes these slightly hairy “early runs.”
“They’ve been totally different from each other! One of them was the album launch, so for that, you can do what you want – it’s my album, I’ll do what I want! Yeah, you can experiment a wee bit… and it was pretty wild and woolly. We had a few equipment… er… ‘joys’ too. Which is good, because you can iron out problems. I’ve got a modular synth which was doing all sorts of random shit, but nobody noticed! It’s not like the kick-drum’s coming in at the wrong time and everybody’s like, ‘oh fuck, cannae dance…’”
“You know how you can hypnotise people with a candle?”
As he’s said, he’s not fussed if you don’t dance: Alex Smoke’s planned these shows with entirely different objectives in mind. “Any time you try and dictate a mood, it never really works out how you intend it… best laid plans, and all that. But – there are certain frequencies you can use, which create what’s called brain entrainment. It’s when your brain operates at a different wave rate, the brain waves fall in line with what you’re playing and it affects the way your brain reacts.”
“It’s mad… Socrates noticed it, when people looked at a candle flame. You know how you can hypnotise people with a candle? That’s because it flickers at this particular rate, just by nature, so your brain syncs into it.” He laughs. “It’s well-known: Enjoy Googling it! You’ll find all sorts of dippy websites telling you that you can reach enlightenment by listening to this certain audio file… which only costs £10.95.”
While we can’t promise that Sunday’s show will help you discover your zen, we can guarantee that you’ll experience a one-of-a-kind, super trippy audio-visual experiment. As Alex puts it, sounding worryingly like a musical Derren Brown, “there are always techniques that you can use in an experimental show which you just wouldn’t risk first time on a dance floor.”
“People love to pigeonhole in this industry,” he says, firmly. “You do this; you do that. But it’s good to branch out. It’s always hard to predict how things happen, so I tend to just leave it up to providence.”
Alex Smoke brings L.O.W. (live AV) to Sneaky Pete’s on Sunday, March 27 as part of the club’s Night Music series – gigs that start and end a little later. 18+. Tickets from £8.