DJ Alexei Jumps “In the Mix”
Now that our latest masterpiece Best of the Booth Vol. 3 is on track to become the greatest mixtape in hip-hop history (except of course for Vol. 1 and Vol. 2), we have to take a moment to get to know the creator of said masterpiece, DJ Alexei, otherwise knows as one-half of the flyest gypsies to ever grace DJBooth's pages.
In addition (obviously) to his work with Fly Gypsy, Alexei and his music have been featured on MTVu and VH1 Soul and praised by the Source Magazine. His mixtapes have garnered thousands of downloads and as a DJ he has shared the stage with Wale, Cee-Lo, Goodie Mob, Bun B., Mike Posner, Big Sean and many others. In this five question interview, Alexei talks about how his globetrotting has influenced his diverse music, the importance of making club music, and the difference between an average DJ and a great one.
You were born in Russia, now live in the DMV and are constantly traveling. Do you think there's a link between all your travels and your eclectic taste in music?
And studied in the U.S., Canada, and Mexico! Splitting my time between NY and DC now.
No question. Growing up in Russia, Nirvana and, later, Oasis, reined. I was the guitar guy, so anytime I had to play, that was a big chunk of the repertoire. When I was studying in Mexico, Shakira ruled Latin America, but had not yet broken in the U.S. That's how that love affair started. In college, I had a lot of friends from the Caribbean, and nowadays don't go for more than 4-5 months without a trip to the islands, so there you have reggae and dancehall (of course, that's Brooklyn too). European travel gets you to electronic and club music. The London scene is particularly eclectic. Both DJs and audiences actively seek out new sounds from around the world, which is refreshing, especially when you compare it to the U.S. But I'm seeing more of it here and that's encouraging. What's even better is that mainstream artists and producers are incorporating more regional or non-mainstream elements into their work, which, in turn, gives it the edge that makes the product more marketable.
In the end, though, while travel and different experiences certainly play an important role, I'm a musician first and foremost, and as a true musician, I love and draw inspiration from all good music, be it Pearl Jam or Coltrane, Lauryn or Nina Simone, Stevie or Beenie Man, Dire Straits or Chemical Brothers. And today, it's easier than ever to find new music from around the world without having to travel there.
How have your experiences as a DJ affected the music you make with Fly Gypsy, and vice-versa?
I think the biggest impact has been on my production work outside of Fly Gypsy. I make plenty of songs that are more for the heart than the feet. More often than not, though, when I sit down at the piano, lay down a guitar riff or bass line, or create a drum track, I think about how it would translate in the club. With Fly Gypsy, my emphasis was more on writing material that translated well in a live performance because we were a live band. Certain songs work in both the club and live settings, but frequently, it's one or the other. Take Snoop/Pharrell's "Drop It Like It's Hot." It kills in the club, but none of the live performances of it have seemed to work particularly well. At the same time, Jay-Z/Just Blaze's "Public Service Announcement" is incredibly powerful live, but I don't recall ever hearing it in the club unless it's a very hip-hop heads-friendly set.
I will admit that after coming back from Miami earlier this year - we did three nights there - I decided to give Fly Gypsy a more club-friendly sound. It's important to be in the club if you're looking to achieve significant success.
Overall, Fly Gypsy was my N.E.R.D. in the sense that I didn't feel the pressure to follow formulas and make music that would sell. We had a devoted and sophisticated fan base that was very open to the different things we tried. We are not active now, but I might bring it back one day, be it in its original form or with another emcee, if my life slows down enough to allow some play on the side.
When someone hears one of your sets, what do you hope they come away thinking and feeling?
I want folks to have that overwhelming feeling that life is a wonderful thing. You know, the feeling you get listening to Kanye's "Good Life," Shakira's "Waka Waka," or seeing Angélique Kidjo in concert (well, maybe it's just me, but you get the point).
What separates a truly good DJ from an average one?
Good DJ: Know your music inside out, play for your audience rather than yourself, understand music fundamentals (it's not enough to just beat match - do the keys of the songs work together, do the drum patterns work on top of each other?).
A truly great DJ: know different types of music inside out, surprise your audience and expose them to new sounds, rework older material to make it sound relevant now, remix songs on the fly.
Employed DJ: drop your pride and rotate the floor so that folks buy drinks and the club makes money.
What songs are out there right now that you'd recommend DJs absolutely have to include in their sets?
I have a soft spot for Gyptian's "Hold Yuh" (though I had to add some drums to it to make it dance floor-friendly). Happy to see it's caught on big time in New York. Taio Cruz's "Dynamite." Usher's "DJ Got Us Falling In Love" is a winner. In fact, just about anything with Pitbull usually works great. Paul Oakenfold's originals and remixes are always safe bets. Finally, it hasn't taken off quite yet, but Crookers and Will.I.Am's "Fly Away" is quite incredible and my personal must-play.
Last words? Shout outs? Confessions?
I'm the only Russian who's never had vodka. I want to be like Pharrell and Kanye when I grow up. And I have a huge crush on Nicki Minaj!
Much love to Nathan and Z at DJBooth for continued support. You can check out more about me at DJAlexei.com.