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A-Trak Talks Fool's Gold and the Makings of a Perfect Remix

Mastering the science of remixing is no small feat. It is, in fact, an art form—one that Canadian DJ/producer/Fool’s Gold imprint co-founder A-Trak has refined over the past 10 years through a variety of techniques (including the ability to go from traditional vinyl turntablism to software and a string section)—ultimately becoming a true innovator across all music genres.

In celebration of 10 years of remix mastery, A-Trak selected 13 tracks originally by artists like Phoenix, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and Boys Noize (to name a few) to create In The Loop: A Decade Of Remixes, which will be accompanied by a 32-page booklet detailing completion of each track. We hopped on a call with A-Trak to discuss the inner workings of his remixes, his brother (the one and only Dave 1 of Chromeo), and what’s new with his Fool’s Gold label. Check back next week for an exclusive playlist, and in the meantime, get inside A-Trak’s head via our interview below.

What makes a “good” remix?

The thing that’s cool about remixes is that there are no rules anymore. Remixes can be as abstract as the remixer wants to get—sometimes they barely keep anything from the original. To me a good remix just has to be a dope track in itself. I don’t even think that it has to stick to the original too much.

Remixes are a cool exercise for the remixer to express their creativity. Personally, I like to make song-based remixes. So, I’ll keep a lot of the vocal of the original most of the time, and I’ll produce it the way that I would have produced it if it were my song. That’s the lane that I choose a lot of the time, but there are other producers who will just take little fragments of something and take it completely left—and I love that too. I see it as a sketchpad for the remixer to do their thing and have fun with some files that are given to them.

Very cool. You mentioned in a recent interview with Forbes that “by doing remixes I learned how to produce.” So, in what way has remixing affected you as a producer?

It really has played a huge role—the process of doing remixes, especially ten years ago—in me kind of defining my sound. I wasn’t really producing a lot of original songs at that time yet. Remixes were a way for me to try and kind of find my hands at production. It gives you a starting point, so all you have to do is finish it up. So, I did a bunch of those before I started making original tracks. It’s by making those remixes that I also kind of chose what was going to define my sound. After doing a couple of remixes and there ended up being some characteristics in the choices that I made—in the production choices—even just the references stylistically when I was producing with those remixes that came to define what my sound is.

That makes sense. You also hinted at a Phantogram remix. Is that underway or can you even talk about it?

Yeah, my Phantogram remix is done. It’s been delivered for a while and it’s gonna come out in few weeks. That’s the other thing about remixes—it’s the label of the original artist that is responsible for releasing it. I’m hired to do a remix and I deliver it. Then their label puts it out. It sometimes has pros and cons. If I were to work on an A-Trak project musically I’d probably want to do a collection of a couple of songs, probably an EP or something. If I finish one song, it’s not gonna come out right away because I’m gonna want to finish the other songs that go with it. So, sometimes it takes a while to get your original music out. You do a remix, it’s a one-off thing. You hand it in and then they put it out. It’s a good way to just have music out there regularly. The only flipside to that is you don’t really decide when it comes out.

I hate that you’re not able to release it now. I’m so eager to hear it!

Haha. It’s for a song called “You Don’t Get Me High Anymore.”

Nice. Another really cool remix that I like is “Kilometer.” I read that you enlisted a string section for that remix. Can you go into detail about that?

Yeah, sure! That was back in the day when I would take way too long to do my remixes. Yeah, people can’t really do that anymore. The electronic music scene has developed so much that things move faster now. Those were like the indie days when we as producers could kind of take our time to craft something and everyone would deliver everything late. It was kind of how it went.

So anyway, I was really excited to do a remix of Sébastien Tellier, especially that specific project (“Kilometer”). He did this album called Sexuality that was produced by Guy-Manuel of Daft Punk. So, I was psyched to even just get the parts of music and to listen to how it was made. I started working on the demo and what my remix was gonna be. I actually went to spend two months in Paris and I remember working on it out there. I came back and it still wasn’t done. That’s when I ran it by my brother, Dave from Chromeo, and he had some ideas for it. He liked how it was sounded; he was like, ‘This is dope, but you’re missing an ending part. It needs to kind of go somewhere.” He also said, “You know, if you want to really kill it, you’ll put some string sections on here.”

He and I used to talk about remixes a lot. We would look at it like as a way to try stuff—try an idea that neither of us had ever done on our original songs, then try it on a remix…then if it works out you can pursue it on an original. So, neither of us had ever recorded a string section before, so we were just like, “Let’s try it on this remix.” We hired a small string section. Usually a string section is like 12 players, but that was too expensive so I hired four players and then did an overdub to make it sound like 12. I had a roadblock and that gave me that last piece that I was able to finish the track with.

That’s cool that your brother gave you some feedback. Does he do that fairly often?

Yeah, we’ve definitely helped each other out a lot with our music. When I started making music, he had already been producing for a long time. So, he was giving me a lot of feedback in those early days especially. I was well-established as a DJ, but then I would sit down at a little home studio and it was like starting something new for me.

Happy nine-year anniversary to you for Fool’s Gold! You had a massive party and it looked like you had a ton of fun. What’s new with the label? Do you have any new signees?

Yeah, right before you called me there was a big premiere where we just launched our first official clothing collection. We’ve been making some clothes over the years, but putting them out as smaller drops with a couple of items at a time. Now we just made a Winter ’16 collection and premiered that with a newly redesigned web store and a look book that we shot. There’s a lot more coming on that end, on the lifestyle side. We have a shop in Brooklyn for five years that we’re moving to a bigger space in the spring.

On the label side, that’s exciting too. We released a single by K$ace, who is one of our new signees. We’ve been developing Leaf for a while. Her album is about to get mastered in a couple of days. That’s gonna come out at the top of the year. Then, a bunch of great producers too.

Photos by Kenneth Cappello and Tim Saccenti.

Stay tuned to Milk for more from the most masterful DJs in the game.

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