A-Trak has been really busy. Since winning basically every DJing competition in the world before he was 18, he has traveled the globe as Kanye West’s tour DJ, released an autobiographical DVD, started a successful record label, done official remixes for everyone from Sebastien Tellier to the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and is now part of a house music duo whose latest single is charting everywhere.
And he still hasn’t stopped. When I called him over the weekend, A-Trak was in London to DJ a party as part of a video shoot with French director Roman Gavras. We spoke about sibling rivalry, Chinese food and Kanye West’s (nonexistent) drug problem.
Arv: I wanted to talk about family for a little bit. Your older brother is Dave 1 of Chromeo. Whose music do your parents hate more, yours or your brother’s?
A-Track: Hate more? [laughing] They like both. I’m really surprised when they like my music though. For them to like Dave’s music is easy to imagine because he’s making songs, and they like the songs he writes. But when I’m making some remix that’s really a dance floor thing, more of like a club joint, my dad will be like, “Can you send me that MP3? I want to put it on my iPod.” And I’m like, “You like that?”
But I remember when I was growing up and DJing, learning how to scratch and practicing every day after school in my parents’ basement. Back then my parents didn’t particularly want to hear it. My dad would always make me practice with headphones. I think that changed when Dave and I both moved away to New York because there’s a distance.
Do you have another sibling who’s just a totally normal person with a 9-to-5 job?
No, that would be funny. It’s just me and Dave.
Dave 1 of Chromeo and A-Trak
So do Thanksgiving dinners ever devolve into a competition with you and your brother trying to list all your accomplishments of the year while your parents struggle to figure out what the hell you guys are talking about?
No. First of all, Canadians don’t do Thanksgiving. And second, Dave and I are not competitive at all, and we don’t usually talk much about what we do. The most comparable thing would be like if there’s some kind of family function, and there’ll be some aunt who’ll just be like, “So tell me what scratching is.” Then it gets really awkward.
You’re playing a big event here in New York during Thanksgiving weekend called Turkey Soup, so I thought we could talk about Thanksgiving a little more. Do Canadians really not celebrate Thanksgiving at all? I thought it passed in early October.
There is a holiday called Thanksgiving in Canada and it’s in October and it’s like super unimportant. So to Canadians, it’s really strange to first find out that in America Thanksgiving is such a big deal. It’s only when I started touring more and traveling to America that I was like, “Why is everybody gone on this weekend?” And people would be like, “It’s Thanksgiving.” And I’d be like, “So?” It’s a holiday that no one talks about in Canada.
My first Thanksgiving experiences were when I toured with Kanye ‘cause I’d be out with him for months at a time. I toured with him for four years, and I think during three of those four we were somewhere in the world on Thanksgiving and had some kind of Thanksgiving dinner. There was one tour where Thanksgiving day fell on a travel day, when we were on a big tour bus, and me and a couple of Kanye’s rapper friends and the tour stylists went to the bus driver’s daughter’s home in rural Louisiana. Those are my only Thanksgiving experiences. It’s still kind of foreign to me.
Let’s talk about music for a little bit: You have a collaborative project with Armand Van Helden called Duck Sauce … I think that’s probably the worst name I’ve ever heard for a musical act.
Oh, you’re crazy.
Why did you name your act after a Chinese takeout condiment?
Because it’s the best thing ever. You must be on crack-cocaine.
You just love duck sauce?
OK. Duck Sauce’s song “Barbara Streisand” has been blowing up. The video is great and shot in New York, but it’s funny because it seems to be bigger in Europe. Why do you think Europeans are so much more into dance music than Americans?
Well that’s just kind of a general thing in music where there’s a lot more of a market for dance music in Europe than in America. America’s just been really discovering dance music in the last couple of years, and there’s been a lot of really big strides for dance music in America lately, but it’s still not really at that point where it’s far up the charts. In Europe right now, it’s kind of crazy how far the song has gone, I didn’t expect it to do quite this well. I played in Belgium last night, and it’s been number one for like the last five weeks there. It hit number three in England, number three in Germany, I think number one in Holland, something like that. In America, it’s doing alright. It’s like up in the dance charts, like the specialized charts. But in Europe, it’s in the for-real charts. This is definitely the most success I’ve had with any song period, so I’m just enjoying the ride.
You did some work on DJ Hero 2. Is that game any fun? I haven’t played it at all, even the first one.
[laughing] I haven’t played it either. I don’t usually play video games, but I basically got an X-box when I got hired to work on this. So I got the first game and familiarized myself with it, and then worked pretty closely with the developers who actually program the game. I made two tracks for it, and then they used a couple of my other songs in the game.
I went to do some press for the game a couple of weeks ago. I went to LA to talk to people about my contribution to the game, and they had the game there, so I played it. I tried one of the levels.
Were you good at it?
Oh no, no. I’m really bad at it, that’s the funny thing. But even with the first DJ Hero, I’m really really not good at this game.
And yet you’ve won a series of world-class DJing competitions.
Yes, I am a world champion DJ, and I still am pretty bad at DJ Hero.
You mentioned Kanye, who personally selected you to be his DJ on tour, and you also did a lot of work with him for two of his albums, so I guess I can ask you: How much coke does he do?
Kanye doesn’t do any drugs at all.
Nothing at all? That crazy look in his eyes?
No, no drugs. He’s just a very passionate man.
Originally published on Street Carnage.