We get to Webster Hall early. When we go to say “hi” to some friends backstage and see A-Trak on his laptop working on his set, my friend Charlotte does not understand why my dick moves. If you’re in Charlotte’s camp and don’t know what I’m talking about, that’s like seeing Bruce tune his guitar before a show, or like the fluffer getting Evan Stone ready for a shoot. Quite the thrill.
Donned in the same inappropriately heavy leather jacket and fedora as I saw backstage, he steps into the booth. It’s about 1:45 a.m. when he requests a few minutes to “prepare the mothership.” He puts on a pre-recorded track. The lights are still in “in between sets” mode, but the crowd does not understand that this isn’t part of his set yet, so they go nuts. Oh, the kids on the street never miss a beat.
Finally, his set kicks off by that first fressssshhhhh erray erray. I get psyched. The lights dim, save for the strobes from behind, silhouetting him with the intense fog machines. He instructs “New York City” to put our hands up. He then continues, beckoning for a “scream.” We oblige. He doesn’t tell us that the scream was subpar, nor does he ask for another. Is this a more mature Alain Macklovitch (A-Trak), now 27 years old? Or does his lack of asking for that second, louder scream mean absolutely nothing, and am I just weird?
Well, the set kicked ass. It was far from what I expected, though. He was only scratching to do his mixing live rather than pre-recorded. This was electro-something. I’ve heard it described as “electo-hop,” actually. It’s a far cry from the 15-year-old kid I watched win the DMCs when I was first getting into turntablism.
The songs with words, or really anything intelligible, only got seconds, as background tracks to hype us up. For example, he threw on Phoenix’s “Lisztomania,” but just looped "learn how to let it go" for about a minute. (Did I just plug Phoenix? No way.) There were a few recognizable songs that got more than the backing track, such as that "all the girls waiting in the line for the bathroom" song. Charlotte tells me this song describes her life. I was concentrating on A-Trak, otherwise I’m sure I would have asked her why. She did love the show though.
Anyway, it was a real show. He’s elevated himself into a legit performer who can rock a crowd, rather than the old A-Trak who focused on an art and seemed not to care what the audience thought, although they loved him.
I loved him too. But I was a little disappointed. I wanted the old A-Trak. I wanted the irreverence. I wanted him to flip me off and tell me something degrading through the mouthpiece of some 1980s rapper. I understand it’s a different kind of party – and I was probably the only person there who really expected the DMC champ to make a cameo – so he was acting accordingly.
Watching his hands work across two cd turntables, two vinyl turntables, dual mixers and a laptop was something. It wasn’t just fast, but if you know how to look, you can see his precision. You can see how much he does by hand, completely live. Most DJs might create the same kinds of sounds, but half of them are ripped from a mix tape or done in a studio. This guy takes everything raw and cuts it up in front of us. That’s fucking hardcore. Musical sushi you might say.
Photos from THE CULTURE OF ME.