MEOKO are extremely proud to add Alex Celler into the mix series, who has supplied us with a wicked hour of stompy and sophisticated sounds. Featuring deep digs from as far back as 97’, this is a fascinating insight into Alex’s minimal mind with some stunning selections that ooze heat and grit. I caught up with the lovely Greek to find out a bit more about his love of modular, Villalobos and his latest release on Trelik. #207. Listen here.
Hey Alex! So where were you born in Greece and what were your early influences musically?
Hey! Okay I was born in Thessaloniki, Greece. It might sound cliche but my father actually did have a massive record collection (about 5.000 pieces) as since 1979 he owned one of the first Discos in town. There was tons of jazz there, fusion, funk, disco, soul and a bit of rock but recently i discovered some super rare original versions of disco singles too like Ahzz – New York’s Movin (1981) and High Frequency – Summertime (1980). I was very excited as you can imagine. While growing up my parents would listen mostly to funk, soul and jazz, so those were my first memories, along with music of the Greek composer Manos Hadjidakis which our nursery & elementary schools introduced us to, quite a choice i have to say.
Do you remember the first influential (house music) tune you heard? Also what was the scene like in Greece?
Kenlou – The Bounce was certainly the first track that really blew me away when i was young. That must have been back in the late 90’s. I was 13-14 at the time and a friend of my dad gave him a CD with some Greek DJ’s CD mix with loads of house tunes. It was the first house music i’ve heard, Masters at Work and other solid straight up house jams. The first record i bought was Attaboy – New World on Toko records from the UK. Cool deep house, but back in the day apart from a friend of two there was very few people to help me get started and introduce me to good house & techno records, so it took me sometime till i discovered the really inspiring stuff few years later. I left Greece in 2004 so i really didn’t get to see much of the scene back in the day. There were some influential clubs like Faz in Athens in the early 90’s, Plus Soda and Umatic also come to mind. Cavo Paradiso in Mykonos was a blast in the early 2000’s also and Decadence & Venue in Thessaloniki but i didn’t get to see much of that. When i was growing up there was loads of progressive house and psy-trance going on, i was exposed to that a lot, some very interesting records in those genres too, but not ultimately my kinda thing.
When did you start making music? What was it like?!
I started making music about 2001 or so. I still use the same program i used back then, the dated and archaic Sony Acid, which is – sadly – not in production anymore. People wonder, but in reality all you need is a good soundcard, good speakers and quality hardware. The DAW is not as hugely important as people think, although this is debatable. My first tracks were surely very average prog house mixed with tech house and also super hard techno.
And moving to London in 2004… How did that all come about?
Since the late 90’s i was reading DJ Magazine, Mixmag, Musik and i was really into what was happening in the UK, Fabric, The End, The Cross, Ministry of Sound, it was all a dream world for me. I knew that it was a very important place for electronic music and i did speak English, so naturally it was my best bet. Staying home wasn’t an option as i knew i wanted to be in the most influential place i could possibly be – in regards with house & techno. Thankfully my parent agreed to help me study music engineering so in September of 2004 i started my studies at SAE College.
I would say your music is deeper than your average track in terms of emotion and meaning. Do you always try to write about experiences / emotions instead of just making club music?
For me, that’s the exact goal, to hit the nail in the head and find the right balance between ”writing about experiences & emotions” and ”making club music”. If you focus more in one rather than the other, you mind end up with something which carries a lot of emotion but doesn’t necessarily move people and has little effect on the dance floor. Or the exact opposite: you might end up with a functional, groovy track which doesn’t stand out, it’s just a groove and will be easily forgotten. I see each track of mine as separate entity, as a unique existence and non-replicated event which has it’s own personality, it’s own story to tell, it’s own vibe and groove. If all these things don’t come together in harmony and if all the frequencies and the elements don’t coincide, then i don’t consider the track finished. That’s why although i have literally hundreds of unreleased tracks, i rarely release or share them with friends. Because i don’t think they are fully complete, mature or worthy of being presented. One needs to make no concession when making music, you gotta be strict with yourself and only present the very best of the best.
I know Ricardo is a big influence in your music, what is it about him that inspires you so much?
It’s impossible to put that in a box. Ricardo is a perfectionist and a complete purist in the way he approaches music and sound, in every possible way. He presents to you his compositions in it’s most perfect form, at least this is how i perceive it. Every single thing is inspiring in his productions. Where does one start? The infectious groove & the drum programming? The deep musicality and melodiousness? The absence of anything redundant and it’s pure edginess? The authority by which the music manifests itself, it’s stomp and its’ thud? His impeccable mixdowns and the audiophile level sound quality & recording techniques? The boldness, the fresh sound design on his synths or the inventiveness of the vocals? Or maybe the attitude of the actual groove and of the music, which caries tons of tones and tons of bravery too. Maybe it’s the unpredictability and it’ refreshing, futuristic scope that i enjoy the most, that’s what inspires me the most. His music sounds alien, from another planet, from the future; but is mixed with an unstoppable, infectious groove. It really moves you, but its also so edgy. Genius combination.
We covered your latest EP Haz on Trelik, how has it been going and how did you begin your relationship with Baby Ford?
So far so good, i am very glad with the way things are going. Releasing in a record label with such history as Trelik is a privilege and i am feeling blessed for that. In regards with the record getting signed and my relationship with Baby Ford, that goes back some time. In 2009 i set a long-term plan and made some decisions. I took a big loan and invested time & money in my studio. I also put in selfish amount of working hours in making music. Props to my partner at that time for putting up with that. I wanted to get signed with a big record label of Trelik´s caliber. At that time most of my friends smiled at me with some sympathy, mixed with amusement i´d say. That was of course expected, but you gotta be in it to win it. The hardest part is being patient: you usually only get one chance and you can’t waste it. I resisted the temptation many times to submit a demo over the past 5 years, as i felt my music wasn’t good enough. But come November 2014, i finally decided i had some tracks Peter may like and gave him a CD, in Fabric along with the 7th release in our record label Sylphe (run by myself and Kreon). Then Peter pulled of his bag the 2nd release of Sylphe and told me it was one of his favorite records that year, so i guess that helped a bit. A month a half later, on Boxing day 2014, we agreed with Peter for the next Trelik release, TR027, to be 2 track of mine Haz & Pacificon. A truly unique Christmas present i’d say.
And what was the meaning behind Haz in the end…
Haz is one of these tracks that was made in the flick of a moment over one session. Not much thinking put into it. My mind was in ”fun” mode, which is by far the most productive mode when in studio. Also, Haz was made with Gemini in mind. It’s my tiny tribute to him and inspired from his work if you like. Dedicated to his huge heritage and influence in our scene. Also, i’ll give you another insight. Baby Ford had initially chosen two other tracks of mine to release: Adios and Sam’s Shuffle. Then, one evening we were chilling in my studio and my girlfriend was around too. She said out of the blue ”Why don’t you play to Peter that track you have sitting around, Haz”? At that moment i was caught by surprise as i didn’t expect that suggestion from her and also never considered releasing or submitting Haz as a demo. Props to her, Peter was excited to hear Haz (and Pacificon a bit later) and decided to replace the initially signed tracks with the ones that came out now. Crazy how life turns out some time!
I know you are a big digger and this mix is full of wicked records… what were your thoughts / feelings when you were making this mix?
You’ll have to excuse me for this, i have to be completely honest: making mixes in the studio on my own, live or not isn’t so much fun, so i always see mixes or podcasts as a arduous, demanding task. I think that nothing beats the actual moment where you play in the club and interact with people. To be fair however, making a mix on your own lets you give another perspective to mixing, maybe a more chilled one where you can pick and choose records without the pressure of time running out and – why not – sometimes make better choices.
There is definitely a modular feel to all the tracks too. Do you have a modular system and how important are machines and these systems in your productions / track selections?
Indeed in this mix some tracks do have modular sounds/soundscapes, i do like edgy sounds i admit. I have been building a Eurorack modular system since 2011. It really is a beautiful thing, sounds beautiful and looks beautiful. It also it is a real addiction, should you decide to invest in it seriously. Modular systems are like women: You need time to understand them, but you never really know what they want. You to invest money for them, but it’s never enough! Modular systems have a life of their own, one day you can be patching and it sounds awful and next day for no apparent reason you got the most serious sounds going on. They really are at the forefront of sound design, presenting us to a whole new world of sonic capabilities, sounds from the future. To this day i have, curiously, met more people who actually have given up on modulars, rather than those who actually stayed true to them. I guess that’s partially because of the complexity and dedication they command. For me, being a wholehearted admirer of Ricardo’s work, they are of paramount importance both in my productions and DJ sets. I mean, i see it this way: I love the 808 and 909 drum & percussion sounds, they are always going to be within my sound palette, i used them all the time. They are the classical sounds of house & techno. But as a young musician, I consider it my duty not only to use these sounds that have been massively explored by most of us, but also to introduce new sound palettes and timbres into electronic music. The modular is exactly that, an open system which enables you to create all the stuff you have ever imagined, plus so many other sounds you never dreamed of. Of course this has been done already, but it has not been explored and abused the way other machines have. So because of its endless connection capabilities and it’s openness as a system, it creates countless possibilities for creating the most forward-thinking, alien sounds possible.
Stuff to look out for from you in the coming future?
More stuff to Trelik or Pal SL hopefully next year, but also a follow up of my last year’s Tuning Spork/Contexterrior release ”Kammsa/Plex Astunde” and a follow up of my release ”Polhammer” in Martinez’s label Concealed Sounds. Next month we are doing our regular Sylphe night at Paradigm in Groningen, with our guest being Margaret Dygas and also there’s another date i am doing for some Greek friends who run Silk Group on 12th of December here in London.
Next record you’re gonna buy…
Possibly some random 50p 12” in a dusty bargain basement! Always my favorite way of record shopping.
Catch Alex Cellar on NYD playing for MEOKO meets One Night at Bar 512 – More Info on event HERE
More Alex Celler?
Words by Marlon