Core takes time out to catch up with self-confessed techno geek Arkaei ahead of next week's exclusive Electrix Tweaker video interview from BPM. Here's what he had to say about BPM, Beatbattles and all things technological...
Hi, thanks for taking time out to chat to Core today - it was great to see you at BPM last week!
1) Can you tell us all why you were at BPM?
I've been doing freelance work as a showcase artist with different equipment manufacturers for quite some time now. If you're good at pulling off wicked performances, it's a really cool thing to pursue on the side - besides getting to meet a lot of interesting people from across the globe and being directly in touch with the industry, you also end up with a lot of free gear through endorsements which definitely makes life easier. Earlier this year I was at Musikmesse with my DIY-modded Akai controller I call the APC80. There, I ran into the nice people from Magma and Electrix and we had a brief, spontaneous "you show me yours, I'll show you mine" moment which resulted in me working for Electrix. They have just released an excellent performance controller called the Tweaker - I was at BPM to demonstrate what it's capable of, and I also took the opportunity to do a bit of networking and check out some exciting new gear. It was a great show, I hope to be there next year too!
2) What do you do in your spare time?…I've heard you're quite the DJ/producer - tell me more..
I essentially spent my entire childhood with headphones on, and I've always been bit of a computer freak to the point of choosing to go for a computer science degree in college. Geeking out is second nature to me, so I spend most of my free time learning and experimenting with technology - and whenever I master something cool, I immediately take it with me on stage to try it out; anything else would be pointless, really. I use all kinds of different gear - turntables, controllers, iPad apps, a modded game boy and and even a theremin. I personally believe that picking the right tunes to play at the right time and feeling the crowd are much more important DJ qualities than just being a good technician, because all the tricks in the world won't make a poorly-selected set work. However, after 10-something years behind the decks I can afford to blend the best of both worlds - and I'm finally ready to make some releases.
3) What are your favourite genres to play/listen to.
Growing up with access to a computer before the MP3 era kind of goes along with listening to a lot of tracker music and chiptunes - there are insanely talented people in the demoscene. I have to give credit to my dad as well - he's a proper audiophile and has an excellent taste in music, I'm grateful for every minute I spent listening to records with him especially since I rarely had the chance to do so (my parents are divorced and live in different countries - it's complicated). My first DJ experience ever was playing at a bar with two crates of techno records I didn't even know (you can imagine I had to learn really fast), but I soon became a great fan of all kinds of broken beats - from ambient, downtempo, trip-hop and big beat to nu-skool breaks, dubstep, drum'n bass and breakcore. What I play depends on the type of event, I'm as comfortable with chillout gigs as I am with peaktime sets. I get my inspiration from other genres like deep house, goa, metal, new age and classical music as well - I believe it's important for every musician to keep an open mind as a listener, everything else seems a bit like incest.
4) It's clear from BPM that you're a bit of a techno geek - what technology/software is floating your boat the most at the moment?
Ableton Live has thoroughly influenced my creative process over the years, I really love the fact that you can use it to create tunes and also play them live without ever leaving your familiar working environment. I'm very curious about what Bitwig will bring to the game and how Ableton will respond when they release Live 9. From what I understand, Ableton vs. Bitwig is sort of a domestic dispute, but in the end, as customers we can only benefit from it. When DJing, I use Traktor Scratch Pro because it suits a controllerist workflow perfectly - but I feel like I have to give The One a serious go when it finally becomes available, and the new Serato DJ is certainly worth a closer look. As far as apps are concerned, Liine's Lemur is essentially the only reason I bought an iPad. Then there's Spectrasonics' OmniTR which is an excellent (and free!) extension if you already own their Omnisphere synth. Moog have some impressive stuff too - Animoog and Filtatron are nothing short of amazing. I was reluctant to trust the iPad to be anything besides a touch screen controller at first, but I'm definitely over it. As far as hardware goes, I see a lot of people successfully experimenting with Microsoft's Kinect - and then there's the AlphaSphere which opens up entirely new ways to perform live. Exciting times ahead! I may have to sell a kidney though... I suffer from a serious case of gear acquisition syndrome.
5) Tell us about your success at the National IDA Championships, what made you stand out from the competition?
The funniest thing about it is that my approach to battling always has been entirely casual. I competed just for the heck of it and took the title two years in a row, but to me it was (and still is) all about seeing and hearing what amazing stuff other people can come up with. After all, you rarely get to witness so many jaw-droppingly skilled DJs in one place - it's really inspiring! Unlike a traditional DJ battle which is mostly about scratching and juggling, the showcase category I competed in allows the use any kind of gear alongside turntables, and that's exactly what I focused on: I used two computers (one running Ableton Live, the other running Traktor Scratch Pro), just one turntable and a few controllers to keep everything in check. I have to admit a bit of luck was involved too, but that's all part of the game.
6) Can you give us an idea of how you strategise for your Beatbattles… or do you just go with what you feel's best in the moment?
Beatbattles are to live performing EDM artists what IDA/ITF and DMC battles are to DJs. You have to prepare a few routines and be creative in showcasing them - standing there and pushing play isn't going to do the trick! The challenge is to decide what material to use for the eliminations and what to keep for the finals; it all depends on who you're up against. There is a certain level of unpredictability to the whole thing because competitors can basically use any type of gear as long as they play their own music. So in one round, you may see an MPC against a mobile phone and then in the next a laptop against a game boy. It's always a different and very exciting experience. Sometimes, the jury has a hard time making a fair decision and it falls to the crowd - so you have to entertain and win them over as well!
Stay tuned to Core to see our exclusive 'Tweaker' video footage next week!