Alex “Omar-S” Smith has been dropping bombs on his own label FXHE out of Detroit since 2001. We had a chat with him while he was driving around with his family on a Sunday afternoon. For those familiar with his fresh sound that mixes Chicago’s jacking house rhythms with Detroit’s sublime atmospheres, this will help shine some light on the man. For those who don’t know, you better ask somebody.
AOS: “KORG VC-10 Vocoder in brand new condition!!, Dave Smith-Poly Evolver, Derrick
May’s Memory Moog he let me use, 1 out of 2 Roland-MC-909,1 out of 2 Korg MS 20, Derrick May’s Waldorf Micro Q, and AKAI MPC 2000.”
ISM(infinitestatemachine): What did you do first, deejaying or production?
AOS(Alex Smith): Deejaying, in the basement.
ISM: You were born in Detroit, right?
AOS: Hell yeah.
ISM: How old were you when you started deejaying?
AOS: Like 12. I was playing all that early Chicago shit, you know, like Farley (Jackmaster Funk) and shit like that.
ISM: So where did you hear that music initially?
AOS: My older sister, my older brother, my cousin. They grew up back in the early 80’s, they heard all that shit, when it first started.
ISM: Were they going out to clubs in Detroit?
AOS: L’Uomo, shit like that. I can’t remember the other ones. That was the biggest one, L’Uomo.
ISM: So you were just a little kid, and you heard what they were listening to?
AOS: Yep, I was real young.
ISM: Was there also an influence from Chicago? I can hear it in your tracks…
AOS: Yeah, that was the stuff back then. You know, WBMX, GCI you know, I had those cassette tapes.
ISM: Where did you get the tapes from?
AOS: Anybody had ’em, my cousins.. They were going down there to get them, alot of people were going down there and getting them, they’d just tape ’em off the radio while they were there.
ISM: Were you also into hip-hop when you were young?
AOS: All that stuff was new, everybody was listening to that. House music and rap music back in the 80’s. They both kinda got big at the same time.
ISM: Were alot of your friends into dance music at the time?
AOS: I was the only one, myself.
ISM: Who were your influences in deejaying?
AOS: Back in the 80’S, Jackmaster Farley was the man. And Silk Hurley. We ain’t know about Ron Hardy, all the rest of these guys from Chicago, and Larry Levan. Like Francois (K.), I didn’t know Francois mixed “Beat the Street” (by Sharon Redd) and all the rest of these records. I didn’t find that shit out till like last year.
ISM: So when was the first time you deejayed for other people, at a club or on the radio?
AOS: I’ve never played on the radio! I did some shit back in New York back in ’93. My sister’s boyfriend threw alot of parties and shit, I just went there and did some shit there, that was about it.
ISM: What kind of things were you playing at that time?
AOS: Uh… I don’t know, what was I playing? Masters at Work, shit like that. Chez Damier, Ron Trent shit, know what I’m saying? Back when Masters at Work was sweet…
ISM: Not like they are now…
AOS: Naw, hell naw!
ISM: There’s no interviews with you in English as of now, right?
AOS: No, there’s not.
ISM: Has anyone else tried to interview you?
AOS: They have, but never shit that’s published.
ISM: Any magazines?
AOS: Naw, they don’t care about this shit over here in America.
ISM: What kind of car are you driving?
AOS: An ’06 STI… (Subaru)
ISM: Why an import instead of a domestic?
AOS: Just cause… it’s a rally racing car, nobody knows what it is so people don’t wanna steal it, plus it’s fast as hell and you can beat the fuck out of it all day in a race.
ISM: You like to race alot? I read (in a poor Babelfish translation) the article in De:Bug magazine from Germany that you race with Theo Parrish and Mike Banks….
AOS: I don’t know about Mad Mike, they always be throwin’ shit in. Basically, I just go out by the airport, there’s alot of people back there. As far as Theo, yeah he be racing and shit.
ISM: How has your deejaying been accepted over in Europe?
AOS: Oh, they really like it over there. They love that shit. I just got back from Fabric, they said they never seen the room as packed as when I was over there.
ISM: What do you think of the new “minimal techno” that is so popular in Europe?
AOS: Yeah, most of that shit is garbage, I don’t really buy records no more, man.
ISM: Which modern artists are you listening to?
AOS: Man, to tell you the truth, I don’t fucking know!
ISM: Yeah, in my opinion, alot of people are just releasing bullshit and no one is telling them about it.
AOS: Yeah, people are making bullshit like Kerri Chandler, shit like that.
ISM: You don’t like some of Kerri’s recent records that have that techno feeling to them?
AOS: Naw, that shit is not techno, that shit is bullshit. Kerri Chandler was sweet as fuck, you know what I’m sayin’? Put it like this, Kerri Chandler and Carl Craig came out around the same time, right? Carl Craig might have had a couple years off, Carl Craig is still sweet as fuck. Look at Kerri Chandler. Like he came out with that Video Game EP (“Computer Games EP” on Deeply Rooted House), it’s no video game sound effects on it! I didn’t understand, he called it Video Games EP, there’s no type of video game type atmosphere or feeling on that EP.
ISM: Some of your stuff has a definite video game feeling to it…
AOS: Yeah, because I sample all video games! But yeah, there’s alot of that shit going on. Motherfuckers ain’t shit as deejays, neither. That’s why Derrick May is one of the best deejays, know what I’m sayin’? He ain’t made tracks since like 1998, he’s just a good ass fuckin’ deejay.
ISM: You’re into video games, what are your favorite game and system?
AOS: Robotron. For systems, I would probably say the NES. Maybe the (Magnavox) Odyssey 2. Shit like that. The Dreamcast was underrated, then Sega went out of business. Kid Icarus was one of my favorites (games) too. My grandparents owned an arcade back in the 80’s. Stargate, Defender, all that shit when it first came out.
ISM: Has anyone ever contacted you about playing at the DEMF?
AOS: Hell naw, they don’t know who I am, they don’t care. I don’t care neither, fuck ’em. As long as I’m playing overseas, then just fuck it, you know?
ISM: Do you deejay out much in Detroit?
AOS: Not at all. Detroit is just a bunch of player haters, you know what I’m saying? If you ain’t down with them, you ain’t cool with them. That’s how it is, you know, like some crabs in a barrel type shit. Make sure you print that shit, too. If you ain’t locked onto their dicks then they put you down. A bunch of old player hating ass motherfuckers.
ISM: On your second record (AOS 002), you thank “Rick Wholhite and Mike Huckleby” (sic)…
AOS: I said that because Mike told me not to sell my drum machine, and Rick hooked me up with the distribution.
ISM: Did you misspell their names on purpose or was that accidental?
AOS: Oh naw, I ain’t know how to spell their names, Ron Murphy he ain’t know how to spell their names neither so we said “Fuck it” and wrote it any kind of way.
ISM: A question about your “collaborator” on the Oasis records: who *is* Shadow Ray?
AOS: (Laughing) I don’t know man, I don’t know! Man, I don’t know who that is! Man, you’re Shadow Ray!
ISM: Your records state your preference for using hardware instead of a computer, what make you decide to go that route?
AOS: That shit don’t sound right, it don’t sound the same to me.
ISM: It’s all about the sound?
AOS: That shit is not easy either. For me, I mean, I just don’t like it, you know what I’m sayin’? Fruity Loops, I had that shit before just to fuck around with it, but you know.
ISM: Which hardware do you actually use?
AOS: (Roland) MC-909, shit like that.
ISM: I really liked AOS 006, you had a good variety of sounds on that one.
AOS: 006 was a DJ tool. What people don’t understand, alot of the shit I do is DJ tools. You get some of those stupid ass motherfuckers probably from the suburbs or some shit like that who don’t even know what the fuck he’s talking about, been listening to dance music for like 6 months and shit, ain’t been listening to since back in the 80’s like me, know what I’m saying. You know how those motherfuckers is. Alot of tracks back in the 80’s, like the shit I’m listening to now (turns up car stereo bumping tracky drum machine track), you had to make shit out of it, you could ride shit, you could have one record ridin’ for like 5 minutes and people won’t even fucking know it. Like Oasis 14 is really a DJ tool. But you know what I’m sayin’, you got people like “Is that all the record do?”. Yeah bitch, that’s all the record do. Yep your lazy ass needs to do some other shit with it.
ISM: You sell your records directly from your own website, you even take the orders yourself. Do you sell alot of records like that? What percentage of your total sales are from your site?
AOS: I sell probably like 5%.
ISM: Really? I would have expected it to be higher since you can get them cheaper from you than you can even from a store. But its interesting that you do that because it goes along with your hand-written white label release style, its very DIY…
AOS: Exactly, I mean, I want full control of my music, know what I’m saying. I really don’t do alot of shit with people or labels, doing shit on different record labels and licensing my shit out because basically those people, they don’t give a fuck about you. They just heard the name. That kind of shit. Basically I’m not trying to get ripped off in the long run. If anybody gonna rip me off, I’m gonna rip my own self off.
ISM: You did that joint with Theo and Malik on Sound Signature, and you’ve done stuff on your man Jus-Ed’s label, do you pretty much only work with your friends?
AOS: Yeah, basically yep.
ISM: And you release tracks from other people on your own label. What are you looking for when someone sends you a track?
AOS: I don’t know, just shit that’s really just different, not like anyone else’s shit out here. I’d rather work *with* people but you know, sometimes people come with some shit where it’s like “Damn, that shit is sweet, I’m have to release it”. This guy named Luke, he’s from Detroit, his shit is sweet as fuck… this other kid named Kyle Hall. They came up with some realy wild out different shit, especially Kyle. Also Jason Fine, he lives in California, but he’s from Detroit. He sent tracks to me over the internet. I think Gary at Melodies and Memories introduced me to Seth Troxler, I think that’s how it was. He came over to my house, shit like that.
ISM: Have you ever thought about moving away from Detroit, especially since most of your deejay gigs are overseas?
AOS: No. I mean, I like Switzerland and Berlin, but I would never move.
ISM: In Detroit, do you see a divide between the suburban techno scene and the scene in the city?
AOS: Yeah, I would think so.
ISM: Why do you think that is?
AOS: I don’t think its nothing on the racial type shit, it’s not like that at all in this underground music at all, because people from the suburbs move around people in the suburbs and people in the city move around the city. It’s still possible for them to come together.
ISM: On your myspace page, you posted a rejection letter from DJAX, what other labels did you try to send stuff to before you decided to release your own shit?
AOS: Nervous, Strictly Rhythm, this was like ’00. Cajual too. They rejected me. I’m kinda glad that they did. You know, when you first start out in the industry, you don’t know shit. I did my own thing. My brother came up to me one day, he said “I know of this guy who cuts records” he read an article, Ron Murphy had an article in the Metro Times, I still got the article somewhere. He said “This guy cuts records”. I made 4 songs real quick, I put them songs together, and he cut ’em for me.
ISM: Do you get your records pressed at Archer?
AOS: Yeah, Archer is like 1/4 mile from my house.
ISM: Since you’ve become more popular, have any other established record labels come after you for some tracks?
AOS: Yeah a whole lot of people, I reject them. There ain’t enough money in dance to begin with, you know, record sales ain’t shit. I might as well do something myself. I don’t mind helping people out, but I want to work with people.
ISM: Are you interested in using more live instrumentation? Your “Just Ask The Lonely” album had that bit inside the cover about “This album contains No Live Instruments”….
AOS: Exactly, exactly, exactly. You know I just be talking shit, trying to make people mad, know what I’m sayin’?
ISM: Are alot of your comments on your releases just to make people mad?
AOS: Yeah, just to fuck with people. I write nasty letters to people on email, just to get people’s reaction. You know? I don’t mean it, but fuck em, if they get mad, fuck em, I don’t care.
ISM: So when you’re going to work on a track, what are you looking for initially? A mood, an atmosphere, what?
AOS: I mean, people don’t understand, I just put anything together, just make sure it’s got a good mixdown. I don’t go with the same type shit. I just try anything.
ISM: How long do you usually spend on a track?
AOS: I spend a couple minutes and don’t even fuck with it no more. I went to the studio when I was in Berlin a couple weeks ago, I was in the studio for like 4 hours. I ain’t never done no shit like that before.
ISM: Working on just one track?
AOS: Yeah, just one track. I had an engineer too, which I didn’t like. I mean, i like the engineer, I just do all that shit myself. I kinda wanted to go to a studio where there’s alot of shit I don’t have, but I had all the shit they had. And I think they was recording on Cubase or some shit.
ISM: What do you usually record to?
AOS: To minidisc. Trackboard to minidisc.
ISM: How big of a mixing board do you use?
AOS: It’s a 12 track.
ISM: I like how you used the Motown sample (The Supremes “Come See About Me”) on “Day”…
AOS: Alot of people don’t like that song, neither. People in dance music, the only music they like is 70’s and 80’s. They don’t like shit from the 60’s or 50’s. I think I’m the only person in the world in dance music who likes that shit.
ISM: So what upcoming releases do you have in the works?
AOS: I’m doing another Side-Trakx, Vol 2. I’m working on that right now. I have four tracks done, I’m gonna make probably two more.
ISM: I liked the first Side-Trakx, your hip-hop stuff is nice. Have you thought about working with any MC’s?
AOS: Yeah I worked with Jay Dee’s brother, Earl Yancey. I never released the shit. The “Turn-And-Walk-Away” track (from Side-Trakx Volume #1), I did that for him. It just wasn’t the right time, I just put the instrumental shit out.
ISM: Did your Side-Trakx release sell as well as your dance records?
AOS: No, nobody wanted to buy that record off of me. I couldn’t give that record away at first. I only sold like 600 copies of that record.
ISM: How many copies do you usually sell of a release?
AOS: I don’t sell shit but like 1000-1500 records. Some people sell 5000 records, I’m not saying their names. Trust me, I see them in Archer, trust me.
AOS: “ROLAND TR-626-707-727, AND EMU-DRUMLATOR.I HAVE TONS & TONS MORE SHIT THEN THIS.”