Aleqs Notal Cooks Up a Hot and Heavy Mix of Deep Percussive Jams
French DJ-producer Aleqs Notal has been an underground music lover for the entirety of his music career, which now spans over two decades. Born in the Paris suburbs in the ’80s, his first love affair with music came early in life with hip-hop. An obsessive vinyl collector, Notal first put his artistic predilections to the test as a turntablist, working his way up the ranks in his city’s hip-hop scene, which eventually lead him to be crowned a World Champion turntablist by Red Bull in 2010.
It was at the turn of the decade that Notal gave into his dance music desires, joining France’s famous ClekClekBoom Recordings crew alongside artists like French Fries, Bambounou, Chaos In The CBD, and more. It was at this time that he began to find his groove in the studio. After working at his production skills for years, he released his debut A.E.T. EP in 2014 — a lush and jagged four-track record with a mind for hard-nosed dance floors. Years later, in 2017, his production shifted to a more soulful and laidback sound, exploring his love for West African percussion and classic dance music from Detroit and Chicago. Allowing the fundamental sounds of disco, funk, jazz, and soul to exude between lines of four-four arrangements, Notal was picked up by Patrice Scott’s Detroit imprint Sistrum Recordings for his Ascending Nodes EP.
His technical skill behind the decks has landed him residencies at revered Paris venues such as La Machine du Moulin Rouge and Rex Club, along with numerous gigs at clubs Concrete, 6B, and over the airwaves on Rinse FM’s French station. His reputation for delivering rich and seasoned house sets has brought him to 17 different countries around the world, playing out at famed clubs like Panorama Bar, Tresor, and fabric London. His penchant for percussion has even brought him to Laos in Nigeria, where he was the first French DJ to perform at Fela Kuti’s historic New Afrika Shrine venue.
Our Label of the Month, Sistrum Recordings, continues to prove itself a perfect fit for Aleqs Notal’s silvery drum arrangements and eloquent melodies. With this in mind, we caught up Notal to go over the evolution of his lengthy career and dig deep into how his musical mindset tends to shift and grow. In addition to this, the prolific French artist has provided a seamless hour of deep jams that have been fine-tuned for both “your travel and hot moments,” wherever they find you.
You’ve been collecting records from a very young age. What were some of the first and most formative records that you added to your collection?
I use to buy hip-hop records when I started. I didn’t have the opportunity to play in clubs because I was too young, so I worked on my DJ skills in my room, scratching on acapellas like Jeru The Damaja or Guru from Gang Starr. I also remember going to a record shop with older friends in Paris downtown to find The Creator from Pete Rock & C.L. Smooth in the late ’90s. When I had the money, I also used to buy some breakbeat records with sound banks like percussions loop or vocals. I felt the light on these rhythm sounds at this time because I still use these sounds now in my productions. If you listen to my EPs on Sistrum (Lighten You Up and Ascending Nodes), the congas loop, some shakers, and percussion elements that I pitched up come from these records.
You kicked off your music career more involved in the hip-hop scene in Paris. Tell us about the style of hip hop you were listening to and how that music eventually led itself into your interest in underground dance music?
I never specialized in one genre of music. I always felt the energies of underground music with soul. But I also watched a lot of TV when I was young, so the first time I saw a clip of Prince, I fell in love with every girl in the video. Everything was beautiful and sexy. When you have 15, you are influenced by everything you find demanding and provoking, so it was normal for me to learn music through hip-hop. When I discovered and learned the origins of the music that gave me these strong energies, it was natural to go to house and techno. I felt as if it was in the same light as hip-hop, funk, or soul music.
Much of your signature soulful house style focuses heavily on complex percussive elements. Tell us about your record The Paris-Lagos Soundscapes, and how your time in Nigeria has helped influence your sound.
I made this record just after releasing Ascending Nodes on Sistrum Recordings and Disparity on Finale Sessions in 2016, so at this time, I started to find another kind of signature to my music. After the years working and releasing records with my crew from ClekClekBoom Recordings, I wanted to keep my touch of production by adding organic elements. On these two EPs, I used some percussions samples extract from my scratching records that I manipulated to create another groove of congas and shakers.
For the Paris-Lagos Soundscapes, I wanted to go further. When I started to make the tracks at home in Paris, I used some Nigerian traditional percussion samples like the talking drums. Because Nigeria is the birthplace of afrobeat with Fela Kuti, I wanted to go there and replace all the percussion samples by real instruments. I had the opportunity to go to Lagos, where I met a fantastic local drummer named Wura Samba.
We booked two days in the studio, and we recorded as much percussion as possible (talking drums, conga, bata, etc.). When I returned to Paris, I booked two days in the Red Bull studios to mix the track on the SSL 4048.
Later, after releasing the EP on Syncrophone‘s subdivision imprint, Phonogramme Recordings, I came back in Nigeria to do a show in Lagos with Wura Samba and local musicians at the New Afrika Shrine. This experience and human adventure completely changed my vision of life.
With over a decade of experience behind the decks as an award-winning turntablist and highly respected DJ throughout Paris, what was it that made you decide to get into production? Had you ever produced music before your A.E.T. EP?
It’s been 20 years now since I first started DJing, so after ten years of different projects, the natural evolution for me was to get into production. The game changed a lot during these years, so I wanted to produce the music that I wanted to play. It was another way to challenge myself and to compare my music with other producers. This is how we started the label ClekClekBoom in 2010. I produced music on ClekClekBoom and other labels such as Karve through a project called The Town before my first release in 2014 as Aleqs Notal with my A.E.T. EP.
Tell us about how you first linked up with Patrice Scott and Sistrum Records for your two-tracker, Lighten You UP.
I met Patrice in 2014 at my friend’s Bass Cadet Records Party with Aybee, Arcarsenal, and friends in Berlin. The year after, I had a residency in Paris in a club called Monseigneur, so I booked him. The magic happened during this gig. We have the same vision of life and music, the same approach, so he asked me to make an EP on his label. In 2016, the year before the release Ascending Nodes, we had another gig together in Nantes. The magic happened again because the promoters who booked us didn’t know about our friendship and the forthcoming collaboration. Two years later, I made Lighten You Up in the same way that we worked before.
How have you seen the underground dance music scene evolve in Paris since you got your first residencies at places like La Machine du Moulin Rouge and Rex Club? What are your hopes for the Paris club scene once the pandemic ends?
The music scene changed a lot! The past decade was intense in a good way because Paris was the city where you could listen to big DJ names playing with smaller locals names in a lot of different excellent venues with high-grade sound systems like Rex and La Machine or Concrete.
Then we saw a new wave of DJ appear because of a new generation of promoters and club owners. It became more difficult to find a place between all these new names even if you release good music. But I think this is the natural evolution of things. This is why I sometimes need to take some distance to find a better way to keep the light and keep the good energies going. Once the pandemic ends, it will be necessary for the Paris club scene to realize that they have to support the local scene. When I talk about the local scene, I talk about the local talent. I think that there are more and more DJs, but fewer and fewer talents. For me, this is the most important thing to save the music scene.
Tell us a little bit about the mix you made for us.
I was with a friend, and she wanted to listen to some hot tunes. So I made a selection of different deep jams from Patrice Scott to Leonid with the ’90s sounds from Alkemy to percussions from my brothers Chaos In The CBD. Recorded live from my studio in Paris, it’s made with your travel and hot moments in mind.