"It's all about the rhythm section": The beautiful collision of Duran Duran and Erol Alkan
Ahead of their show at BST Hyde Park, Ralph Moore headed to Ibiza to host a conversation between Duran Duran's John Taylor and the band's new producer Erol Alkan
Being in conversation with Erol Alkan and John Taylor at Duran Duran's villa in Ibiza is expectedly delightful. Thanks in no small part to the mutual respect these two artists have for each other — Erol’s been a fan of the band for the best part of three decades. Even when Duran Duran wasn’t a particularly hip band name to drop, Erol included the Night Version mix of ‘My Own Way’ on his first proper compilation ‘Trash Companion #1’ in 2001. On the flipside, at Ibiza's International Music Summit (IMS) this year, Duran's singer Simon Le Bon revealed that he’d spotted a copy of ‘The Reflex’ when he’d visited Erol’s London pad. It seems like it was always inevitable then, that Erol would end up as Duran's producer — not only on their current LP 'FUTURE PAST', but also thanks to a Francois K-esque remake of key album moment ‘ALL OF YOU’, as an official remixer. Fans of classic Soulwax remakes through the years will find much to savour in the epic Erol Alkan rework which shares a spirit, ethos and chord sequence with Francois' classic remake of Depeche Mode’s ‘Enjoy The Silence’.
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Erol needs little introduction to Mixmag readers. Back in 2006, he was voted Mixmag’s DJ Of The Year and his independent London label Phantasy remains a top-flight electronic imprint for artists from Late Of The Pier and Daniel Avery to Josh Caffe and his own killer club releases like the mighty ‘Spectrum’. Our paths first crossed in 2003 when he curated a CD cover mix for Muzik Magazine called 'One Louder' — which featured the Night Version of ‘Girls On Film’, another nod to the Duran's evident early dance music connection.
So without further adieu, here is our conversation in full — as we talk dancefloor connections, keepin the bass in mind and full circle moments.
JT, what does Ibiza mean to you?
JT: “I never really got it back in the day and I didn’t get into that 'Balearic British' but during our talk at IMS, it reminded me of when Roger Taylor, left the band. I learned how to play with Roger. We have a great rhythm section. But when we came back together for the group reunion after 16 years, I found that what we referenced were the Ibiza compilations. It was all programmed but the rhythm section ideas all felt very on point: you know, this is what we do! So we took a lot from the Ibiza dance scene at that moment.”
Erol, you don’t have a traditional route to Ibiza either?
Erol: “Coming from an alternative background, I was a little bit anti-Ibiza because I’d seen Ibiza Uncovered and the hedonistic side. I didn’t connect with that and I was quite apprehensive to play here. It might have been as late as 2007 or 2008, after years and years of offers that a friend convinced me to play Space and it felt in phase with the electronic music I was into at that point. I saw why people loved it then! I saw the positive sides and I have been coming ever since then. To be here now, at this point with these guys, is a full-circle moment for me.”
It’s so great to hear that you’ve heard some of Erol’s classic DJ mixes — like that Mixmag 'DJ Of The Year' mix?
JT: “I’d also heard his Bugged Out mixes! I love the way Erol approached sound on our new album. Sometimes it feels like we are at odds with technology but there was none of that click track on this album. His level of care about sound is just so good. For me, the amount of patience that went into making the bass sound perfect was incredible. I need somebody like that in the room. I am more of a first-take guy. He would push and for me and Roger, there’s a level of energy that has to be down in that first layer. Because everyone is going to be listening to those bass and drum tracks for years — It's all about that rhythm section. So it’s got to be locked in, it’s got to be interesting and it’s got to have energy. We worked hard didn’t we?”
Erol Alkan: “The rhythm section, everything sits on that. If it isn’t in the drums and bass then it isn’t there at all, so it needs to be curated. In the beginning, we’re looking for that seed and then we’re refining it until it's right, and it’s a process. What can happen is you’ll hear something in your head, which then needs to exist sonically for it to be heard. On ‘Hammerhead’, you could hear it coming, like a tsunami in the distance. You have to be focused in order to coerce it out, to be patient until the moment hits and the whole room hears it, and when they do you'll witness the entire room lift! We relied on our instinct and senses to find the parts which felt right.”
Duran have always had great mixes, from Shep Pettibone on ‘I Don’t Want Your Love’ to Nile Rodgers on ‘The Reflex’ and now Erol’s mix of ‘All Of You’
JT: “At the time, the best-curated dance music was around ’77 and ‘78 and [that was when] dance music became stretched out. You had a bass and a drum and that sensibility was always a part of Duran Duran’s DNA. Erol completely understands how a bass and a drum can be exciting for nine minutes. But then you’ve got to put it back in the bottle. I love music like that. And I can listen to music like that all night long.”
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Erol, we must be pushing eight or nine minutes with this remix?
Erol: “It’s about ten minutes long!”
JT: “I love that psychedelic, hypnotic quality that good dance music or reggae has. The remix was something to showcase the different elements in Duran Duran. What struck me was how easy it’s been. In the 1980s. there were a lot of remixes. But what I heard here was that the remix had absolute faith and confidence in the parts. I know the parts are good because we spent six months getting it right! It was really about deconstructing the arrangement and making it a journey and that was wonderful to hear.”
Erol: “I was thinking about the Night Versions, the 12" cuts and Francois K’s approach to dub versions…”
JT: “We’re never far from the dancefloor! I don’t live in clubs but I’m always thinking, I’d like to dance to this. You wouldn’t have to look that far on the last few albums to get a version that can take the song to the floor. But it’s like anything. To do it well takes a lot of skill. Duran Duran is about a bass player, a vocalist, a keyboard player and a drummer —Erol gets that.”
What was your aim when you decided to remix ‘All Of You’? To make something you could play out or something else/something more?
Erol: “I had this version of 'All Of You' in my head even back when we were recording the album version! I knew it had the ingredients to make a great dance-floor cut and I wanted to create a version that felt like a journey that could be used by DJs who could recognise this. The art of the 12" extended version has morphed into many different things: but there’s something so pure about the sound of a band performing it, rather than a producer. My involvement was blurred between being part of the band and the producer, and the compass was pointing towards the band's own Night Versions from the early 1980s, which are among my favourite extended versions. The fact that the band and DJs have liked it has felt good, I'm really pleased with how it's turned out.”
Erol, to close out, we’ve discussed JT’s brilliant autobiography ‘In The Pleasure Groove’ before and I’ve just re-read it. I wondered what your main takeaway from the book was?
Erol: “I really liked John even before we met. His book was revealing to the point where I could relate to a lot of his experiences. I obviously wasn't the bass player in the biggest band in the world but there is a lot of what he talked about which felt relatable to anybody in the creative world and how it can be a struggle at times. I found it inspiring.”
Finally, would you like to work with Duran Duran again?
Erol: “I had a rule that I'd only work with a band once but that went out the window with Ride, so who knows! It'll be down to what kind of record the band are looking to make in the future and they may want to try somebody new or we'd pick up where we left off, I never view myself as having the right to be part of something. Collaborating with others is a beautiful collision as such and I never view it as anything resembling a career move."
Duran Duran headline London's BST Hyde Park on July 10th. Tickets are available at www.duranduran.com/tour.
Ralph Moore is Mixmag's Music Director, follow him on Twitter