by Shannon Petrick
Leon Alexander is involved in every possible aspect of dance music: he assists in the running of three record companies (Hope Recordings, Polyester and Timo's 420), he's an international DJ, ex-club promoter, A&R co-ordinator...and I guess when he has a few minutes to himself, he churns out tracks like "Sudden Journey" and a remix of Infrared's "Never Need to Worry."
"Multi-talented" is an understatement.
He's been surrounding himself with music since 1988, when he went to his first club. He became promoter of the infamous Lakota club in Bristol, where he made contacts with artists like Timo Maas and Starecase. Eventually, this led him to start Hope Recordings in 1998 (the record company that represents DJs/producers like Ariane (James Holden), Ian Wilkie, Starecase, Timo Maas and Max Graham). He had been on tour with Timo Maas when they stopped in Miami to play at the Crobar.
This interview took place on June 16, 2001 at the Nash Hotel in South Beach.
Lunar: Tell me how Hope Recordings came about.
Leon: I started Hope Recordings three years ago. Our third birthday is tomorrow; we're celebrating it at the Centro Fly in New York [City]. I started it with a guy named Steve [Satterthwaite] who was the press officer at Lakota. I had Timo and Starecase as the originals. We were all remnants, really, from Lakota.
Lunar: Being the A&R guy for Hope, what do you look for in DJs and producers when you sign them?
Leon: Well, I don't look for DJs at all; I look for artists. The fact that they're DJs doesn't matter, really. What we do at the label is develop and build the artists, whether it's Starecase who are a live band or Max and Timo who are DJs. But what I'm looking for is not just the DJ but the whole package. The thing about Max or Timo or Starecase, any of those guys, is that they're unique. They don't look or feel or sound like anybody else.
Max and Timo are obviously two very different artists but at the same time they have a lot of things in common. Timo is doing very well for himself...it's only a matter of time before things catch up with Max and Starecase.
Lunar: You and Timo have very different sounds. How do you make that come together on tour?
Leon: Well, Timo and I have known each other for six years. I used to book him at Lakota and [Timo] being German, I can communicate with him in his language. We just kind of hit it off, really. Our relationship started as a friendship and everything else kind of carried on from there. We had to realize we had things we could help each other with. He had a lot of good music and I had a lot of good contacts the two just kind of gel. As a German, he needed to get into the U.K. scene to get further and I could help him with that.
Lunar: I read somewhere that you could sense what he was playing and vice-versa; that's why you play well together.
Leon: Yes, and that's why I warm up for him, I suppose. The warm-up, well, it's kind of a thankless task...to do it well, obviously, I've got to keep it on a level to keep the crowd happy but never give the crowd what they want until Timo's up there.
Lunar: So what are some of the tracks that you're playing right now?
Leon: It kind of depends. If I'm warming-up, then obviously I'm playing a very different set than if I'm the main DJ. I kind of use the DJ thing to play up-and-coming tracks. We have three labels now: Hope, Polyester and Timo's label, 420...so I tend to use a lot of music that we're about to put out. If I'm warming up, I tend to play abstract, funky house stuff.
Lunar: That's what you're going to be playing tonight?
Leon: That's probably what I'm playing tonight but it all depends. Miami tends to be more pumping then say...well, Centro Fly tomorrow night is going to be abstract house. Miami's going to be a bit choppier and a bit bouncier. But until I see the crowd I won't know. I'll probably start out with some abstract house and then see where it goes from there; maybe some deeper, funkier trance.
Lunar: Can't wait to hear it. Most of the DJs I interview mention the club you worked for, Lakota. What was your job there?
Leon: I was the promoter there on Fridays. Basically, I ran the Friday nights. It was kind of a techno and drum n bass night but not really in the sense that the techno extended into house and trance and the drum n bass extended into breaks. At the time, it was stuff that was really underground because everything in the U.K then was house, commercial house. This was back in 1995/1998.
Lunar: How did that come about, your job at Lakota? Did you start spinning there or were you just hired as a promoter?
Leon: Well, I was living in Bristol, which is where Lakota is this is around 1990 and then the opportunity came up at Lakota. Well, the job came up as promotions manager and I went to work really quickly. I'd had always kind of DJ'd but I had never DJ'd at clubs. I'd always wanted to be a regular DJ...I'd always put tapes together and stuff but they were pretty abstract. I just decided to make myself resident, as you can do when you have a big nice job like that. The other two residents were Jody from Way Out West and [Ian] Wilkie, who of course signed with us [Hope]. You learn about DJing doing Lakota every week, you know, just doing the opening slots and just building up from there. And I guess there, that's where you learn your warming-up skills for Timo as well...you know when you have to warm-up for Carl Cox or whoever.
Lunar: You've warmed up for Carl Cox?
Leon: Yeah...all those people I get to warm-up for.
Lunar: It's hard to imagine you warming-up for Timo or Carl Cox just because of what you played when I heard you in Atlanta [Mirage Massive, 1.10.00].
Leon: Well, I tend to be quite fair, I tend to adapt the style to what I'm doing.
Lunar: That's what will make you successful.
Leon: Yeah. I mean, some DJs have their one thing, this is what they do. And that was a rave in Atlanta so I played what I felt was suitable...I mean, suitable to me...I still had my style. I just wanted it to be a little different, you know, stand out from the crowd.
Lunar: Do you have a studio that you work in?
Leon: Yeah, we have a couple of studios in Bristol and Timo's got a couple in Hanover. We work at those, but, you know, Bristol's a pretty small town.
Lunar: Yes, I've been there.
Leon: You've been there, really?
Lunar: I've just come back from London, actually. I went there for an interview with a magazine but it didn't work out. Anyway, back to the interview! Do you have any tracks that are coming out?
Leon: There's a couple that have just come out: Mad Dogs, "Sudden Journey." Mad Dogs is what Timo and I do together. And then there's a another thing, "sunrise/infared."
Lunar: Have you done any mixed CDs besides the Hope compilations?
Leon: No, the only mixed CDs I do are The Hope Classics. I just did Hope Classics 2; I have a promo of it upstairs and I'll give it to you.
**Note: Score! This is why I love this job.**
Lunar: Okay, last question: what do you do to relax or have fun?
Leon: Well, this is kind of fun, actually.
Lunar: Sitting in a bar, being interviewed is fun?
Leon: Yeah, that and traveling the world, playing records, running labels....
The rest of the interview was spent talking about how shy he is (hard to believe!) and his house in Bristol (and how he should buy one overlooking the water). A few hours later, Leon played an amazing opening set for Timo at Crobar. If you get a chance, pick up the new Hope Classics 2 CD, which includes tracks from Mad Dogs, Starecase, Ariane, Max Graham, Muse and Ian Wilkie.
Hope Classics Vol. 1
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