Illuminating Electronica: Alex Banks Interviewed

Brighton producer in conversation…
Alex Banks

It seems awful to say this, but without two near-fatal motorbike accidents, Alex Banks might never have become Monkeytown’s newest signee.

“There’s a weird theme,” jokes the Brighton-based producer, who stepped in for The Gaslamp Killer at a Zurich gig after his shocking scooter collision. Also DJing there was 50Weapons’ Phon.o, who as a result played some of Alex’s tracks to Sebastian Szary from Modeselektor. Two months on, and Apparat’s Sascha Ring suffered a crash that had Moderat postponing their tour, thereby enabling Alex to debut his live show on their last three dates.

To work out how someone completely unknown came to prick up the ears of the Berlin doyens, we go back to his school days, where between classes Alex would lock himself in a cupboard to practise guitar chords. Breezing through his early A-level in Music Tech, he then got a Diploma in Professional Music, which was “quite jazz-based”.

“I was learning a lot about harmony and theory, getting really technical, but at the same time going to Glastonbury, out to raves,” he tells us. What struck him there was “how these studio-based, anonymous DJs became almost like bands – Orbital and The Chemical Brothers were just these two guys with a load of synths on stage.”

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Alex Banks, ‘All You Could Do’ feat. Elizabeth Bernholz

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Still, Alex kept his head down for two years on the production of debut LP ‘Illuminate’ (premiered on Clash), and was preparing to push it out to labels with his manager when the email from Modeselektor sailed in. Alex hopped on Skype with Gernot Bronsert before joining the duo in Berlin for a coffee and kebab. “People talk about a family vibe in a company, but you really get that with those guys,” he enthuses.

The influences of the German pair and particularly Moderat are heavily present on the album, which deals out a hand of different moods, via heart-racing drums, industrial tech and the melodic murmuring of Gazelle Twin’s Elizabeth Bernholz. Meticulously layered and bursting with kinetic energy, it’s clear why its powerful club potential commanded the attention of the duo.

“The first gig we did was in this absolutely colossal venue,” Alex describes. “It was beautiful – a disused coal mine, and I was playing ‘Initiate’, which is one of the heavier, techno-y tracks on the album, and there’s this big breakdown which always gets me, even though I’ve heard it about a million times. I couldn’t see much of the audience because of the lights shining up in your face, and I was just opening up the filters, bringing in the track, and I just got the feeling that people were really listening, and feeling it.”

What was previously an insular endeavour has brought Alex out onto the main stage. “I felt totally comfortable up there, because I’d put so much groundwork into making music as good as I could make it. So that’s why I do it. That’s what inspires me to get back into the studio.”

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Words: Felicity Martin
Photo: Phoebe Arnstein

Alex Banks online. ‘Illuminate’ is out now on Monkeytown.

Related: listen to ‘Illuminate’ in full on Clash

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