Producer Spotlight: Alex Stein
Producer Spotlight: Alex SteinDecember 16, 2021
Despite being living in Berlin as a child, studying audio engineering in Frankfurt, and later returning to the capital to live and work as a musician, Alex Stein has never seen snow in Germany like the kind that’s coated Berlin on the December morning I call him for our interview.
“The whole city’s covered in a few inches of snow. I haven’t seen this much snow even since I lived here as a kid. It’s very pretty.”
Today we’re talking about Alex’s new Loopcloud sample pack: Alex Stein – Rise Techno, which is Stein’s first foray into the world of sample pack design – and a process he really enjoyed.
“It was a bit of a journey in the best sense of the way. I really tried to gather all of my favourite sounds – I even dug into some old hard drives and tracks of mine from the last decade. It was super cool going down memory lane and digging out sounds from back then, giving them new life, bringing them more into now but still keeping their character.”
With releases on techno labels like Terminal M and a strong reputation as an internationally touring DJ, Stein has created a musical identity for himself that’s resonated with fans across the world. Now he’s distilled that signature sound into a sample pack, which he hopes will inspire others to discover their own artistic identity.
Where did the name for your sample pack Rise Techno come from? Is it a reference to your 2021 track “Rise”?
That name actually came from a good friend of mine. Now that I’m teaching production classes, it’s opened my eyes to how much you can see from the inside compared to from the outside. I asked a few people who are close to me how they would define my work, because for me it’s very hard to define my own work. When people ask me what style I do I don’t really know!
The name was partially a homage to “Rise.” I also wanted a word that was short and easy to remember and I thought that it fit the sound of the pack really well. There’s a lot of uplifting stuff, there are a lot of melodies and I love big epic moments so it just kind of came together. When my friend mentioned that word it just really resonated with me.
What kind of sounds can we expect from the pack?
I tried to include a bit of everything: some melodic stuff, some driving stuff and everything that makes up my sound and who I am.
Of course there’s also my kicks, my drums, all my percussion – anyone who really follows me knows that I’m really into drums. It was about sharing those samples and giving something to everyone. I wanted to make it as pleasurable as possible for people messing with the sounds.
How did you reinterpret those older sounds?
Everything is so cyclical in the music world. One moment something is really cool and then suddenly it gets overused and then it’s uncool. Then it gets forgotten for a few years and because of it not being used, it kind of becomes cool again.
Taking those ideas and melodies, taking the general shape of a sound and thinking, “How would I do that now eight years later?” – that’s what I was trying to do. I’m not going to spoil anything but people who have known my sound for a long time, they’re going to recognise a couple of things in there.
Did going back and listening to old projects inspire you to use techniques that you hadn’t used in a while?
For sure. The biggest thing is rediscovering simple techniques done really well which, as technology has improved over the years, producers have left behind. In the end you want as many people as possible to connect to your music, and the simpler the language the easier it is for people to connect with it.
I’m thankful for being approached by Loopmasters because the whole process of making the pack showed me so much and inspired a lot of ideas. I’m probably the person with the biggest takeaway from this project.
Can you give an example of an old technique you rediscovered?
There’s a track of mine from around 2016. The whole track was based around a bassline that I wrote on my Moog Sub 37, which I had when I was living in Brazil. Back then I had a bunch of hardware but when I moved to Berlin I sold everything.
Because of that for the last four or five years I’ve basically been creating music with soft synths and I’ve never done that since, so it just hit me when I listened back to it. It’s been all these years since I just wrote a bassline and based a song around it. Creating a song like that is now on my to do list.
Do you use melodic loop samples or do you prefer to write melodies yourself?
I like to write melodies myself. Of course I’ve used melody samples in the past and sometimes still do but I’ll mainly use them as a source of inspiration. Sometimes I’m stuck and don’t know where to go so I’ll go through different loops and a couple of notes will catch my ear. That’s all it takes for the floodgates to open and all the creativity to come rushing back in.
I’ll also use melodic samples in different creative ways. For example I’ll chop them up, put them into a sampler, and mess with them in different plugins. I’m getting back into granular synthesis now where you can take a little sound and it becomes something completely different.
You mentioned you use samples to get inspired, how else do you beat creative block?
Over the years I’ve developed a few routines that help me with writer’s block. It’s an inevitable thing, everyone goes through it. If I’m in the studio and I can’t get anything going, getting my head outside of the computer can help – this is one of the reasons why I’m getting back into hardware more.
Before getting hardware I would go out for a walk, take my headphones with me and listen to music. I have a playlist that I made for myself that is full of the stuff that got me into music originally. When I do get an idea I’ll screenshot my phone to see what was playing and at which point the idea happened, then I’ll go back to the studio and listen to that same moment. 90 percent of the time that will get me going.
Another more pragmatic approach is to break down a track into several layers and spread it out throughout the week. So I’ll do drums on Monday, and all I have to get is a good kick and snare, maybe a bassline and then I don’t have to do anything else – I’m off the hook. The rest of the days would involve other elements and then Friday is the mixdown. I do that to take the pressure off having to make a track. It’s easy to get stuck when you’re looking at the big mountain you have to climb and not just the little pebbles along the way.
What are your favourite tracks on Beatport right now? If you could pick one classic track, one current track, guilty secret what would they be?
The classic track would be Vitalic’s “Poney Pt.1.” My favourite current track at the moment is Josh Wink and Truncate’s “Be Aware.” This one isn’t so guilty for me, but the guilty secret would have to be Mirwais’s “Disco Science.” What a great track!
And finally, what are your favourite sample packs on Loopmasters? If you could pick one classic pack, one current pack and one unusual pack, what would they be?
For the classic pack I would pick Thomas Penton’s Essential Series Vol 3. It’s such a classic pack that brings me a lot of memories. Thomas Penton was my go to back in the day. For the current pack I’d have to pick my own, Alex Stein – Rise Techno. When it comes to unusual packs I normally go for any drum and bass or jazz pack – they are such great sources for new and weird sounds that you can incorporate into techno music.
Watch Alex Stein demonstrate how to make a techno beat below.