It’s all about the song for Alex Metric. Whether it’s an original track, a remix or producing a band, there has to be a personal connection. If he doesn’t feel it, why would anyone else. “It’s always about making something with real emotion,” says the 28-year-old DJ from London. “My core philosophy is to do whatever’s right for the song and to try and make it have some meaning to me. I put so much love into everything I do.”
You can tell. Alex's album for Virgin, ‘Open Your Eyes', collates all three strands of his music output —his own productions such as his recent single ‘Open Your Eyes’ , those for other people, see Black Sky by Infadels, and most importantly of all, the best of the string of remixes that have made his name over the last two years. It’s a varied but far from disparate collection. A common thread, that sense of communicating genuine feeling, runs through the album, making sense of the different elements.
It opens with Alex’s version of Lisztomania by Phoenix, which transforms the winsome indie dance groove of the original into a dancefloor gem of juddering electro house bass and an explosive vocal-driven chorus built around the line “These days I’ve got to be someone else”. It’s his favourite remix, not least because they are his favourite band. “ Nine times out of ten I get asked to do remixes,” says Alex. “There’s only twice in my career that I’ve asked a band if I can remix them. I heard Phoenix had a new album out. I’d met Phillipe Zdar in Ibiza a few times. I knew he was producing the record. I e-mailed him and said that it would mean so much to me to do the remix.” Turns out it’s the band’s favourite remix ever as well. “That was a real pinch yourself moment,” says Alex. Other stand out remixes include the hands-in-the-air house rework of Quicksand by La Roux, a disco take on Stylo by Gorillaz and his faithful but cleverly done dancefloor tweak of Personal Jesus by Depeche Mode.
Of the original tracks, Alex points to ‘End Of The World’, one of the brand new stand-out tracks from the album, as a personal favourite. Up-and-coming singer Charlie XCX supplies the vocals. It was originally supposed to feature on her album, but it was so good Alex “wrestled it back off her”. It’s something of a departure. “It’s quite a sad song, not a club record at all,” he says. “It’s like nothing I’ve done before.” Then there’s the soaring epic house of ‘Open Your Eyes’, his collaboration with Steven Angello from Swedish House Mafia, as representing where his head is at. “It doesn’t sound like anything I’ve put out before,” he explains. “It’s an odd record, seven-minutes of waiting for it all to kick in and it doesn’t happen until the very end. I was conscious while I was making it that I could have had the piano riff all the way through and it would have worked and it would be successful. But I wanted to see what I could do to flip it on its head. I didn’t what to do the obvious.” It begs the question: why not? “Because I’m not interested in doing the obvious. There’s a view that dance music is disposable. People don’t see it as anything other than something for people on drugs to dance to. For me that’s not the case. Just because it’s an electronic record that gets played in clubs it doesn’t mean you can’t make a statement.”
Which is why the vocal version of ‘Open Your Eyes’ featured Ian Brown, one of Alex’s heroes. “I grew up on the big dance acts from the ’90s,” he says. “ People like The Chemical Brothers, who brought people in from different worlds to sing on their tracks.” Again, he says the obvious thing to do was get a “wailing house diva and take the cheque the bank”, but he wanted to get someone he loved involved. As a teenager, he was obsessed with The Stone Roses. “ To have Ian Brown walk into the studio was pretty mental,” he beams. “And he gives it a totally different feeling to the standard house vocal.”
Of his productions for other people, ‘Black Sky’ by Infadels is his proudest moment. “I ended up producing the whole album because they liked that track so much,” says Alex. “Producing bands is something I want to do a lot more of. You can get lost doing your own stuff because you become attached to things. With a band there’s no emotional attachment to any part of the song. You can just go: I like that, I don’t like that, that arrangement needs re-doing. Great.”
Producing other people’s records is a grown-up dream, but even as a teenager in Salisbury it was something Alex wanted to do. He could sing and learnt the keyboard at an early age, but was never in a serious band. “I didn’t feel like I knew how to do anything well enough,” he shrugs. A formative experience was listening to ‘Golden Slumbers’ by The Beatles when he was 15. “At the start of the track, I could hear a synth that wasn’t there,” he says. “I started wondering how you could put it there.” Initially an indie kid, his conversion to dance music came when he once missed the bus home. He decided to kill some time in a record shop. Fat Boy Slim’s 1996 album ‘Better Living Through Chemistry’ was playing at one of the listening posts. “I was blown away. There were guitars, these big broken beats and this mad energy. I bought it there and then. It was a massive turning point.”
After studying music at college in Guildford, Alex released a string of singles on a series of small dance labels, a mix of progressive house, breakbeat and techno. His break came in 2006 when he signed to Adam Freeland’s Marine Parade label. “I’d been making proggy, breakbeaty stuff and I was doing OK at it,” he remembers. “But one night I was DJing in Russia and I realised right there on stage that I didn’t like the records I was making. I had an epiphany. I thought: What’s the music I love? French house, rock music, electro. Why don’t I chuck everything I love into one record. The result was his 2007 single ‘Whatshewants’ release on Marine parade, the starting point on the journey to where he is now, one of dance music’s most exciting new talents.
He sees ‘Open Your Eyes' as a summary of the last two years, but also the start of something new. He’s already working on his full artist album. Actually, it’s his second, but he canned the first one because he didn’t think it was good enough. “There are two sides to me,” he says. “I have this love of ’80s synth funk, but also this epic, tears of MDMA joy sound.” The unreleased album was the former, but the latter defines him now. “Because I put my heart and soul into my remixes, they haven’t dated. That’s really important to me, that they don’t date like a lot of dance music does.” he says.
He pauses. “For the last year I’ve been figuring out how I want to sound. It’s all clicking. I think it’s important to figure out what you want to say before you say it. Now I have and it feels fantastic.”