It’s hard to say for sure just how many people have been impacted by Didier Dambrin, but some of the most talented producers in the world cut their teeth on his creation. Developer of the music making programme Fruity Loops, Dambrin and his Belgian Image Line company count swathes of world class producers among their ranks as ‘Power Users’: Metro Boomin’, Sir Spyro, Martin Garrix, 9th Wonder, Camo & Krooked, and plenty more besides have been able to launch Global careers through its use.
Alexander Grant is yet another internationally acclaimed producer who began his come up with Fruity Loops. Known as ‘Alex Da Kid’ and raised in Wood Green, London, Alex takes me back to the start of his career. By 19, Alex was an ex professional football player when he made the music discovery that would take his life in an entirely new direction. “At the time it was the end of house and garage like, grime was just starting to take off, Channel U was just starting to take off. That really made it feasible for someone like me to put music out. It felt like, before that there was a gap between someone like me and the music industry.” Alex took to the DIY ethos that has always lay at the heart of grime culture, “putting things out on white label and stuff, putting out your own songs, pressing up a song – anyone could do it.”
At a quiet table in the marbled bar of the Langham Hotel in London’s Marylebone, Alex charts his journey; “I used to basically be like a glorified intern at MTV and I used to help log all the interviews – any American superstar that came in for an interview I’d give them my record. I would sell it in shops. So yeah, that was my first dive into not just making music on Fruity Loops but like, pressing it up. Giving it to people. Marketing. Just taking my first steps into the industry. I was my own marketing company, online, digital person, my own PR person. That was the first part of me finding out what it means and how it works.” So what was the early Alex Da Kid sound? “It was kinda grime but it was at the very start of grime, y’know? People were still calling it garage. [my music] was uptempo dance music, it wasn’t songs – I couldn’t – I didn’t know how to record vocals so I was just making beats basically.”
Alex left MTV, returned to College and later University to study music – “I wanted to be around people that loved it as much as me,” – absorbing every trick, and always focused on the love of the process. “I didn’t leave [the UK] until way later, like, 28,” he breaks off a laugh looking somewhere into the distance, a full broad grin on his face before he continues; “when I started I mean, I was so bad but I thought I was great – that’s why you need those delusions of grandeur – I always thought like, from the day I started I always thought: ‘ah yeah, I’m going to be a huge superstar in like three weeks!’ Everything was only three weeks away – if someone, if this person listens to my music – it took me like nine years to get to a place where I could call myself a professional producer, making money from it. But I always thought it was just three weeks away – and you really need that.”
“I had no blueprint no one around me was doing what I was doing, I didn’t have any family members that were like, in the music industry or anything. So in the early stages I needed to be resilient. The thing that kept me going was that I just loved making music so much. I just wanted to be close to it. I wanted to like, sit at my computer and make music all day. I didn’t want a life or a job, I just wanted to do that. And that love for it, for the process kept me going. So even if I would get an influx of ‘No’ coming my way, I just would go back in front of my computer and make more music. It doesn’t even make any sense, it was like going into a trance or something – I couldn’t even explain it like, even to this day I can’t. It’s almost like dreaming or something, it’s like I’m not even fully conscious – it’s kinda a strange thing. I don’t know if every single creative does that in every single discipline but for me?” he nods to himself taking a moment to capture the feeling in question.
There was no English producers working in America that were successful – the chances of me doing it were pretty much zero.
We talk some more about the idea of ‘mastering’ an instrument, “I feel like it takes about two years, and then it becomes instinctive,” says Alex. To be creative he describes a sort of surrender to the process, “Then, the instrument, the tool? Doesn’t really matter anymore and you can just kind of, become one with the idea. I feel like it’s the same with me and the laptop – I always say the laptop is my instrument. I ended up learning Logic and learning the programme and just became one with it. I wouldn’t have to watch my fingers, music would just happen.”
Alex has always held the desire to be as close to real knowledge as possible, by the time he left the U.K for the U.S he’d already begun building contacts with MySpace, “I always wanted to be around where the global decisions were made. The UK has been hugely influential to global music before, but at the time, it wasn’t. I wanted to be around the people making big decisions, signing big things, changing culture. So my thing was I’d rather die trying to do that than survive doing something I was ‘OK’ at. I’m a very extreme person, so even the timing made no sense. There was no English producers working in America that were successful – the chances of me doing it were pretty much zero, I would just prefer to do that the best I can.”
Culturally, there were obvious differences between the two, something that has become much less significant now thanks to a shared internet culture, “when I got [to America] it was way more segregated,” Alex recalls, his own Southern English accent still firmly intact, “the music was way more segregated, on the radio like, people were – maybe it’s slightly different in New York – but everywhere else is very much like, you belong to ‘this’ group. I never grew up that way y’know? I went to such a multicultural school so I just really loved the different types of music so it just reflected in the things I made.”
Since making the move, Alex has built a greatly varied and multi-platinum discography from Dr. Dre (‘I Need a Doctor’), Nicki Minaj (‘Massive Attack’), B.o.B (‘Airplanes’ featuring Hayley Williams), Eminem (‘Love the Way You Lie’ featuring Rihanna), Diddy (‘Coming Home’ with Dirty Money featuring Skylar Grey), Imagine Dragons (‘Radioactive’) and even Cheryl’s (‘Under The Sun’). I ask Alex how he feels he’s able to express himself as a producer first, but also as a British man of mixed race, who is living in America, and working with some of the music industry’s biggest names. “I start with drums. They’re at the root of everything I do, and whatever I put onto that can be different. The way I make music now is a lot different to how I made music before. It’s more about what song we’re trying to convey, what kind of artist I’m working with.”
For me as a producer? My goal is to get to the truth, as a songwriter especially. And, a lot of times the truth is not easy to talk about y’know?
The latest single from Alex Da Kid, entitled ‘Go’ features both Rapsody and H.E.R. Back in March I sat down with Rapsody, and when it came to collaborations I recall her telling me then, “I go off energy. Like, I’m really big off energy. If your energy is good? I wanna create with you. If it’s not? Then like, I’m good. No matter how talented you are.” So I ask Alex how he goes about building the rapport and trust needed between artist and producer? “For me as a producer? My goal is to get to the truth, as a songwriter especially. And, a lot of times the truth is not easy to talk about y’know? You might go into the studio with an artist or songwriter and you’ve known them for 10 minutes. And for me, it’s like how do you get to the things that may not fully understand themselves? So my approach? I definitely try and get the uncomfortableness of telling someone something’s bad – I’ll just make fun of them straight away – that’s probably because I’m English too” – he says with a laugh, “I’ll just tell them everything they do for the first 10 minutes is terrible, but laugh about it so it gets it out of the way, so when it’s actually terrible, there’s no – a lot of times producers get stuck in the loop of – if it’s a big artist or big ego or whatever – they can’t really say something is bad and they gotta bring the manager in to have a side conversation, almost like, baby the artist? And you can’t really have a direct conversation.”
Artists I work with now, they’ve put out lots of albums, they know the process so you want to get something out of them no one has before.
“As a songwriter I think I’m good at asking questions of people I don’t even know. I get accused of this in my personal life, if I meet someone I just start like, and before you know it, by question 12 I’m like, ‘so, why do you hate your mum?’ but I’d say it in a way where most people wouldn’t get offended. I love just trying to get to the truth of it, then once you get past the barriers of being awkward you can really get into the truth of what this person is trying to say. The best songs are the ones that are honest, and the ones that might be hard to get to. Especially artists I work with now, they’ve put out lots of albums, they know the process so you want to get something out of them no one has before.”
Alex chose both H.E.R and Rapsody to feature on ‘Go’ two women in contemporary music offering something different and true to themselves. With ‘Laila’s Wisdom’, Rapsody as a musician is acclaimed for her ability to chronicle life’s teachings, and the heart is in each story told. While H.E.R is a young artist whose very persona is a comment on celebrity culture and anonymity, so I ask Alex what he was hoping to say when he aligned the two on ‘Go’. “I chose H.E.R because I’ve known her for a while, and she’s just so talented, I love what she’s built but also like, I know what’s underneath the persona. She’s such an amazing talent – she can play anything, she can write, she can sing – she’s so young, she’s like 19, so almost like, a freak of nature. She’s built such an interesting thing that is so relevant to right now, y’know? The new wave of R’n’B. We connected, got back in the studio pretty much wrote song in 20 minutes at the end of the session when we were working on another song. So, once we had the bones of that I was looking for someone to compliment that. I met 9th and Rapsody probably 2007, they were super gracious I went to North Carolina, around the studio for a few days and just made total sense. What Rapsody was doing at the time – she’s built this whole big thing, she’s working with Kendrick – everyone loves her stuff. I just liked the idea of two females, people that represent the new wave of what’s going on, I just loved the way it felt.”
I can see where music is now, and where it’s going simply by talking to the young people involved.
Both in the UK and US the industry has undergone seismic changes streaming and social media has brought fans and artists closer than ever before. “We’re only seeing the start of it now but like, the next 10-15 years will be so interesting. I’ve been lucky enough to sit with a lot of new R’n’B artists like 6lack, H.E.R, Sabrina Claudio – all these young people that are taking over the genre. They all have a definite vision, I can see where music is now, and where it’s going simply by talking to the young people involved. I think [R’n’B] is going to be super dominant in 10-15 years.”
Having earned his position as one of the industry’s bright sparks, Alex continues to turn his attention to creating the kind of infrastructure that will benefit the next generation. “Internet culture is changing everything, anyone can have a following. Like, my mum told me yesterday she’s got 56,000 people that follow her on trip advisor! All of a sudden she has a fanbase because she writes these reviews when she goes on holiday – my mum has 56,000 people following her? That’s nuts!”.
Money will change all the relationships you have with people you love, unless you manage it.
‘Celebrity’ seems to manifest on every level of our lives these days, so I ask Alex if fame was ever in the forefront of his mind? “My goal was always to be respected, by other producers and songwriters, but I never wanted to be famous. I teach some of the young people I work with about money first of all. Because money will change all the relationships you have with people you love, unless you manage it. Especially if you don’t come from money. It changes all expectations and you have to be able to manage that. Money can mess up everything. And the other thing I teach them about is this premise of fame. Y’know? Never being able to walk anywhere and not get looked at can change your art drastically.”
I don’t want to be famous, ever, but I want to create platforms for other people to be famous, and be known and have fanbases, that’s definitely important to me.
“You can’t be that fly on the wall anymore, you can’t observe and see what’s going on – watch that couple for five minutes and see how they interact. Because, if you’re Eminem they’ll turn around and be like, ‘ah that’s Eminem!’ and you won’t have that real moment in front of you anymore – you can’t be an observer and that’s huge if you’re a creative person. I write from a place all the time, of observing other people so when you become famous you have to manage that. I don’t want to be famous, ever but I want to create platforms for other people to be famous, and be known and have fanbases, that’s definitely important to me.”
Alex founded a creative agency that works outwardly with brands and his company is presently working with both IBM and Spotify to uncover new talent, “this whole project, the premise of it, I built a tool with IBM, like an app using their AI around discovering new talent because I think we identified there’s something like 30,000 new songs out every week on Spotify – it might be more now – so it’s like in an internet world where there’s so much out there, so much content how do you find artists anymore in a sea of stuff coming out every week? So this app with IBM’s AI and Spotify’s data allows me to set certain criteria and parameters for artists that are indexed in specific areas, whether its sales, streaming, streaming in certain markets, social chatter – whatever. For me it’s really important. Using the tool is how I found Rapsody. So the project is all about that really, we’ll tell more of that story as we go along but I love building platforms and infrastructure, even if you look at the music coming out of the UK now there’s no much more infrastructure than when I left y’know? Channel U was just starting kind of but now it’s so feasible to have like a whole career without like having to have a hit song on the radio – that was a pipedream when I left.”
Download or stream the new single ‘Go’ by Alex Da Kid featuring H.E.R & Rapsody now.