AL:X (real name Alex Talhinhas) is a Portuguese music producer-DJ based in Singapore. Making his mark in the industry here, he has produced music with the artiste Masia One, that was signed to Netflix’s Altered Carbon soundtrack. He started off his music career in Portugal, touring Europe and South America with the fusion rock band Macacos do Chines, and has had his debut Drum & Bass single Babylon Man receive a 4/5 rating on DJ Mag UK. Without a doubt, there is no stopping AL:X from progressing his music career in South East Asia to the next level.
Nez Senja speaks to him regarding his musical influences and inspirations in this interview, alongside a Spotify playlist curated by the Lisboeta.
Whaddup Alex, how are you? What is the current state of your musical mind during this circuit breaker period?
Yo Nez! First of all thanks for giving me this opportunity to speak about music. Secondly, it was hard was to put a playlist together, because my DJ mindset always forwards me from one track to another, and when I realized it was over fifty meaningful songs to me. That being said my musical mind has been very productive, finishing a new single for Skalator Music, and a new EP/mixtape with Masia One. Which has prevented me from going nuts.
From the looks of the playlist you have provided, it covers a wide range of music from the modern to the classics, as you kick off with My Favourite Things by John Coltrane, a modal rendition of the theme from the Broadway show from the 50s, and the film from 1965 The Sound of Music. Tell us, as a DJ, how important are classics in the music selection process, or even as music producer, in the remixing process?
The first time I heard it I was about 15 years old – it made me feel musically free, because of the way it flips the whole thing upside down (as you rightfully said it was a song from a Broadway show and from The Sound Of Music) but never getting harmonically complicated. It is the perfect example that you can be complex without complicating things. And everytime I hear it makes me feel something new, it’s a trip and I highly recommend many hearings. It’s a classic and sometimes you have to go back to go forward.
Classics are milestones. You can be DJing a whole bunch of new obscure tracks but when you drop a classic there’s an instant connection with the crowd, and if they embark with you in the journey, they get it while you choose to drop it. Like in any language, you must speak clearly so you make your point across, whether you are DJing or producing. Classics are a firm land from where you embark in new endeavors.
You then get into some Yussef Kamaal with Yo Chavez. When I first heard this track, I could hear break beat manipulation culture all over Yussef Dayes’ drumming. What do you think rave and break beat culture had an effect on the Yussef Kamaal project?
Yo Chavez was the first tune I heard from them and was blown away by the way they incorporated jazz from rave, break beat culture, and mostly Hip Hop, so I went researching ‘who are these guys?’ This song highly resonated with me because it reminded me of a genius crossover between Beastie Boys, Trip Hop, Cinematic Orchestra, 4Hero all mixed in the same pot, stirred and served. Then I realized how young they were and that they started with Hip Hop and then proceeded to study Jazz, so they had all that language of the new generation applying it to Jazz. It’s a genius tune. Again, it sounds simple but making it simple is the worst part. Everything in this song is in the right place.
Ricky’s Theme by The Beastie Boys! The Ill Communication album was in my Discman all day when I was thirteen, thanks to a hand me down CD from my big sister. Let’s go way back, tell us what were your musical influences growing up as a child and a teenager?
You have a big sister, I have an older brother that ever since I have had a recollection of being someone, he started feeding me music. He is an avid record collector and wrote for musical newspapers, had radio shows in pirate radios in the 80s. So I was exposed to Joy Division, Bauhaus, Dead Kennedys, Motorhead, The Sound, Cabaret Voltaire, Wall Of Voodoo but also Sade, Prince, James Brown, Led Zeppelin, Doors, Hendrix, and the list goes on. The amount of concerts he took me to, from Nirvana to Coldcut, Cypress Hill, De La Soul, Helmet, Senser, Tricky, Bjork, Portishead, you name it.
What he taught me was to be open, non judgemental and not to confine to a specific genre because there is music everywhere for all hours of the day, moods and feelings. People won’t realize but if music and the arts in general were erased, we would parish as a society.
Some people take the craft lightly, whether it is DJing or music making. Make meaningful from the heart stuff, not just what is trending. Each personal song is a piece of you. We are all different – individuals. And when you are DJing it is the same. Play what you love, not what you think they will love. If you do that, you are lying to yourself. I could go all day at it, but I stop here.. haha.
So Far To Go by J Dilla is a soulful track for loved ones, with a theme of faithfulness and dedication. This soulful sound is what I assume, inspires your liquid drum & bass productions – what inspires your style within the Drum & Bass genre?
JDilla is an inspiration in all that I do, in terms of how he manipulated sounds to express a feeling, and make sounds into textures that make you feel something. I go from funky rhodes, to Jamaican vocals, R&B vocals or soul classics like Marvin Gaye, I have used Miles, Marvin’s vocal snippets in Andrea’s Swing or his strings on the bootleg remix of Jordan Rakei’s Bassline.
Also Calibre, Dillinja and Photek are huge influences inside the genres because I love soulful stuff with a heavy drive and that is what I try to bring to my production and DJing, the right amount of both.
The track Kampong Boogie, is a homage to the famed lifestyle oriented party in Singapore. How was the process working alongside Masia One as an artist, and the two rappers from the region? As a producer in isolation, mainly working within the Drum & Bass genre, what rewards did you reap from working outside your comfort zone, in a collaborative group dynamic?
I don’t like to close myself within a genre. As a music producer and DJ I am influenced by every sonic spectrum, so I try to bring in a bit of everything (I have played Sonic Youth in a D&B set and it worked). Sometimes I make D&B in the morning, Hip Hop after lunch and Punk in the evening. This habit could be because I come from a rock city around Lisbon, was part of a Hip Hop band and I produce and DJ D&B. It’s just one more aspect of what I do.
Working with Masia is amazing because she is like a female version of myself, that has worked in all these genres, switching from a badass rapper to a badass Jamaican style toaster, so we have this deep musical communication. So I have been producing a lot of Hip Hop influenced tracks, but like me she likes to explore.
Kampong Boogie was amazing in the way that it was the first song we made together, was composed primarily in Vietnam, while working with the artistes Suboi, that ended up not being on the track, then the Filipino and Malay contingents joined in, and the vocals were mixed in New York by Ritchie Beretta. So the song represents a true community kampong spirit. The cherry on top of the cake was it being signed to the Altered Carbon Season 2 series soundtrack on Netflix.
Amazing that it got signed, congratulations! What was your involvement and experience working with the band Macacos do Chines?
The name Macacos do Chinês (Portuguese for Chinese monkeys) stands for a children’s game, and was a project that I hold very dear. DJ Riot from Buraka Som Sistema comes from the same DJ crew as me in Portugal (DnB Cooltrain Crew) and when he joined Buraka his cousin, little brother and their friend Pedro Silva from Cape Vert were forming a Hip Hop band and they were looking for a guitarist/back up singer.
So I got introduced to them and I was floored with what I heard, that came to be our first album. It was Grime, Hip Hop, Traditional Portuguese Music all melted into this sonically perfect package, with the most amazing lyrics and rap skills, sung in Portuguese and Criolo.
Macacos gave me a chance to step onto the stage at major festivals such as Rock In Rio, Exit Festival in Serbia, Eurocultured Festival in Manchester, Plastic People and Cargo in London, and Berlin among other cities. We had our music played in BBC Radio 1. Despite singing in Portuguese people understood our message in the music. We made two albums, one mixtape and a lot of amazing experiences through touring, that made me grow as a producer and as a musician.
Rock It by Herbie Hancock is as funky as it is electronic. What do you prefer when building a track, acoustic instruments or synthesizers?
Herbie Hancock is a musical genius and has has his finger in most musical genres, so I had to bring this track as an example of what I said earlier – people tend to put stuff into boxes, but I love musicians that experiment in all genres.
Sometimes you hit something sometimes you don’t, but get out of the comfort zone, otherwise everybody will be making the same stuff and some musical genres are reflecting that, everyone sounding like copies of each other. It depends a little on what style I am making, but I tend to use a mix of both but percentage varies, a punk song might just have acoustic instruments with some technology attached, or a Drum & Bass song might be mostly electronic but have acoustic drum samples to sound more organic. I like to do mixed technique.
How was life in Portugal? With the inclusion of Inner City Life, paint us a picture of life in Portugal, in the streets, in the inner city. Did experiences of the streets affect your perspective as a music creator?
For sure Lisbon plays a huge part of my music influences cause it is giving birth to a huge mix of sounds and textures, it’s culturally very diverse and intense, you can eat all kinds of food (but man try our own Portuguese dishes, cause you will be in love!) from all corners of the globe.
You can hear good music in a variety of non-commercial venues, it’s just a question of where you go or what you are in the mood for, of course you have your mainstream like here but it has a lot of left field clubs where you explore and play other sounds. And it is a city by the sea, if you cross the bridge or head north you are in the natural wilderness so you have the feeling of a capital but if you cross the bridge you have access to amazing beaches where you can surf, catching waves, which another one of my passions, and that is a big influence too. Lisbon overall, is a perfect mix of urban and sea.
To most people on this side of the globe, influenced by English language based media and entertainment, the Latin culture is a world away. How does Brazilian culture or Latin culture as a whole, translate to Portuguese culture, and how do you adapt that to being in a different part of the world like Asia, where you are based now?
It’s undeniable all the influence of both Latin and Brazil. We speak the same language, we listen to a lot of Brazilian music (hence Chico Science on my playlist), even the Latin American and Spanish cultures, but Africa has a huge impact as well. The rhythms of Kuduro, Semba Kisomba and Funana are rooted deep inside Portuguese producers, from Branko to Batida, Pedro, Riot, Scúru Fitchádu, Bateu Matou, Macacos, and many many others that make a unique blend of African rhythms with Rock, Hip Hop and whatever genre you can think of.
Being used to exposure to music from all around the world, was more of the experience of seeing and hearing it up close, and getting to know stuff that unfortunately doesn’t reach our shores, and I feel my production is starting to reflect all those influences.
How has your experience been working with personalities such as Joshua Simon of Kiss92 in the Singapore media industry. Can you foresee how Singapore art and music will progress. Are there any other works with Singaporeans in the near future that are in the pipeline?
Since I arrived I have tried to meet people and get to know the scene and felt welcome, there is always a level of suspicion (same back home) but once you start to play and show your love for music people welcome you, it is a universal language.
Became a Sub City resident, Afrodisia Family, Kampong Boogie (Bazooka Vijay!!!!) and am proudly the Suka Suka Sundays music curator and been working consistently with Masia One, in whom I have found a musical soulmate, for Joshua Simon I composed Tokyo which alongside Masia’s Kampong Boogie really reflects how much I immediately absorbed.
I will not stop, did a song camp for Funkie Monkies Publishing PTE and with Masia composed the theme song for MediaCorp’s Ti Tou Dao series, both the English and Chinese versions. Also there are artists in Singapore that I have seen and are impressed by their work like Fauxe, The Lion City Boy, Yung Raja, and still hoping my musical friends introduce and expose me to more.
I think, like in Portugal a few years back, Singaporean artists should incorporate more traditional roots sounds like in Hip Hop, but that can be applicable to any genre. If Singapore has such a rich history of bringing so many cultures under one flag, the music has to start reflecting that and not mimic what comes from the west, because that is where the cultural richness is.
Word up! Thanks for your time Alex, hope to hear more music from you in the near future!
Thank you for this opportunity, see you all on the dance floor or at a studio! Peace!