A-Trak: Visual Music

He was the first ever to conquer three of the top DJ competition titles and also made sure to take home the most coveted DMC championship in the world while in the process at the age of 15. Since then, the renowned DJ has seemingly raised the bar with each new endeavor by not only aligning himself side-by-side with arguably the biggest icon in the modern era of hip-hop, but also establishing his renowned Fool's Gold record label and of course the bread and butter, his work behind the wheels of steel. A-Trak took a moment to share with us his new personalized live setup conceptualized by himself and Kanye with the help of Canadian design company Moment Factory.

What was the motivation behind this new stage set up you have?
It's a combination of two things, the pretext for it was at our performance at Coachella and our Magic 8-Ball Tour. For both events, I knew I wanted to come with some sort of new stage production, so at that point we began brainstorming a concept.

Kanye West worked closely with you on this project, how was it working with him from a designer standpoint and can you explain how the concept was conceived?
I was actually working with Kanye in the studio, and I just so happened to show him some of the stuff real quick. I asked him to take a look at this stuff and let me know what he thinks, because he’s been behind all the stage productions you see for his shows. This is definitely something he likes to do, just as much as he likes to make videos and music. It's like one of his passions.
So we teamed up and finally came up with this idea. Kanye suggested, why don’t I make this big “A,” and he started pulling out a sharpie and began drawing stuff. So one of the ideas he drew out was this idea for me to be in the hole of the “A,” and then add some lights, some smoke and stuff and make it look really dope. So he gave me the idea, and then I found this company in Montreal that I wanted to work with for the execution and creation of it. I sent the idea over to them and then they came back with an idea of making it out of wood, using unique lighting effects and the whole depth of it. From there we just went back and forth and now I’m happy with it.

In terms of personalized stage setups, do you think this will start a new trend moving forward when it comes to live electronic music shows?
All the bigger names amongst DJs and producers are kind of racing to come up with their own stage shows and a lot of them are using very flashy lights, LEDs, video walls, and it’s kind of all becoming this new thing. Like when you go see a lot of DJs, they have these big shows, and everybody’s got a big flashy stage production. Really flashy, and using video screens for example, that just emit of light flashes and what I think what’s missing sometimes is sort of an underlying significance.

With that said, you seem to be implementing a different approach with your stage setup with a more simple pallet such as wood, as opposed to the customary high-tech electronic stage shows. Can you share some insight on that concept?
The simplicity of the material and for the fact that it’s wood goes against what everyone else is doing because everyone is doing this high-tech lit-up stuff and I’m coming with something that looks like furniture, yet there’s a completely high-tech side to it also. The way it lights up it along the framework, and how the top of my DJ table is all gold, it allows the light to reflect upwards in a particular way to showcase everything. It’s super bright, and it’s nothing like you’ve ever seen.

So all these elements were thought out in order for it to look the way it looks and differentiate itself from what other people are doing.

You mentioned “simplicity.” What was the importance of that to you in this design process?
What really makes it stand out is the material we use, especially right now in electronic music. I think what’s so brilliant is Daft Punk’s pyramid stage setup. Just for the the simple fact you can call it something with just one word: pyramid. People can describe and talk to their friends about it, like “yeah I saw Daft Punk and they had this big huge pyramid. Even when people see Chromeo, their reactions are usually “I saw Chromeo and they had these big light up legs!”
I like it when there’s a concept that can be simply summarized like that. So that was really important to me when I was looking for a concept for my show, and for it be a simple idea that you can understand in two seconds when you look at it. The simple idea of people to being able to say “A-Trak had this gigantic A” was really important.

Can you share with us some of the functions on this new live setup?
There’s buttons there for me to control for the light cues, in addition there’s usually a light operator that travels with me to do the light shows, but on the DJ set there are several buttons and functions that I can control and I can hit for certain cues that can light up the “A” in certain sequences and patterns. Then there’s five buttons behind my turntable that are labeled 1 through 5, and also five sliders over to the side and four knobs which all have special functions that manipulate the lighting and effects of the set. One of the knobs turn on the video feed that projects on the front of the set as well.

Can we expect any other design-related projects from you in the future?
There’s a lot of stuff coming from my Fool's Gold record label side. A lot of times when I get approached by brands to do a collaborative project, whether it be clothing items or accessories, or some DJ equipment, mainly I’ve been a lot channeling that through Fool's Gold. But this new stage setup is the main project from me right now.

What are some of the projects you have going on right now and in the future?
We’re finishing up some projects but we’ll be announcing more details on that soon. There’s also a new shop coming, some new record releases, and we also just signed this kid named Danny Brown who’s an amazing rapper from Detroit, so we have a lot of music coming. On my side, I’ve got the Duck Sauce album that’s nearing completion which will come later in the year.

If you weren’t DJing right now, what would you be doing?
At this point, I’ve been DJing for more than half of my life. I was always a serious student when I was younger, and I was studying science and went to a university for biology. Maybe I would’ve been a doctor or something. Or maybe some sort of other position in the music field. I do enjoy running a record label and managing projects, but it’s tough to imagine how I would’ve gotten into all that if it weren’t for DJing. It definitely opened up doors for me.

Any final words?
Be sure to check out the Magic 8-Ball Tour when it comes to your city and to keep up with my various hijinks and adventures. Visit my Twitter and my blog at DJAtrak.com and expect the unexpected!

You can see the stage set in action on A-Trak's Coachella recap video. Meanwhile, his Magic 8 Ball Tour is currently underway and dates can be viewed here.

Interview: Davis Huynh
Photography: Kirill Bichutsky