Floating Between Two Worlds – The Curtis Alto Interview
Following the tragic loss of their Brother, Maxim, Curtis Alto‘s Mathias and David moved forward into the Summer of 2018 to give some of electronic music’s most inspired live club and festival performances of the year. We chatted to the guys to review their live and studio activities and ask about some of the band’s crossover successes too.
Hi Mathias & David – How has the Summer 2018 festival season been for you guys?
We really enjoyed this summer. We had a lot of new experiences, had the chance to perform at really cool stages and played loads of unreleased music. We played for the very first time at mainstage Tomorrowland which felt very special. Our thoughts were with our brother and we are sure that he would have loved it. We’re grateful for the reactions of the crowds.
Do you find yourselves playing more traditional ‘music performance/live band’ gigs or dove-tailing into what would be viewed perhaps as the standard ‘DJ’ environment (Tomorrowland etc)? Also, your most memorable live gigs are..?
We don’t really see ourselves as a typical DJ nor as a typical band. For us it is important to maintain the freedom to ‘float’ between these two worlds. Bringing our live set-up to more DJ-minded festivals gives us so much energy and it creates a special bond with the crowd. With our set-up we also have the possibility to be very flexible in what we play and how we play it. One of the most memorable live sets was probably the one at The Gathering at Tomorrowland. There was an insane big crowd, they were super energetic and we had many close friends with us.
How does the DJ performance aspect of Curtis Alto integrate into your live and programmed musical parts? For example, do you drop in beats, sequences, acapella parts, and if so, are these always solely Curtis Alto pieces or other bands/tracks? – hint: we noticed some clever use of Prince samples in your Tomorrowland set recently
In our live set-up we have one Ableton session, operated by a big controller where all the components of our tracks flow through – except for the percussion/drums, keys and vocals. Everything comes together in the Denon mixer. In our session, we have a library of sequences, beats and samples lined up. The Prince guitar lick is an example; we can trigger it during the set.
Speaking of beats, Curtis Alto have a wide variety of beats and grooves to offer – way beyond traditional ‘drumming’ – mixing live played and sequenced rhythms is obviously inspiring for you?
Yes, exactly! We still want that flexibility between triggering loops and playing drums live. We don’t want to be “bound to the kick”.
Your music obviously has a much more widespread appeal even beyond the ‘dancefloor’ and surely is moving toward Curtis Alto been a respected electronic music ‘album’ act (a rough comparison may be for example, ‘Royksopp’). Is this perhaps a strategic aim, or a natural evolution?
We make the music with all of our passion, the music represents how we feel; so it isn’t really a strategic aim. You can call it a natural evolution. We are really excited for the upcoming EP. We have already dropped ‘Hold Me Close’ and ‘Clear Vision’ and this represents very well what we bring live. Music is one aspect, but we also focus on the art work, on the lyrics, on the visuals, on the live sessions etc. We want to put meaning in all this, and represent the Curtis Alto state of mind.
There are some obvious and very clever programmed sequences, melodies and sample/vox/effects happening in your music – is this an area you guys really enjoy creating in the studio and live environment?
Thanks! We definitely love messing around with different samples, vocals, vocoders and effects. Especially if we are playing live, we love to do this.
Let’s discuss one of your most popular compositions, ‘Afraid’ – what was the catalyst for the track which seems to speak of a lost love affair and, how did you choose the vocalist for such an evocative piece?
Back then we were always searching for new vocalists; pretty much everywhere on the web. For this we basically sent the singer the song, she liked it immediately and then we went on to record it. It all went very smoothly. And we love The Neighbourhood. Since then we have evolved a lot though, and when we’re performing now, the track doesn’t make part of our sets very often.
What is the writing process for new Curtis Alto music – does it start with a lyrical theme, a simple melody, a groove or..?
The idea is for us the most important thing. From there on we start messing around with different sounds and create something we like! The lyrics could go two ways. Sometimes we write something on an instrumental or sometimes we have these lyrical themes where we build a track around.
Another Curtis Alto monster, and one of our favourites, is your collaboration with Julia Anrather on ‘You Might’ – can you recall some good memories from making this track?
For the music video we went shooting it in the southern part of Belgium, in a picturesque landscape, in the midst of woods, cliffs, a river and a castle. It was just the three of us, one cameraman and the singer (not Julia). It was a beautiful day.
Do you guys enjoy getting involved in the creative process for your ‘official song’ videos? What too has been your favourite video experience?
Yes, we really love to think about the creative process and to execute it. For us it is really important to be hands on with everything we do. For our music videos we often go and play in a cool, unique location. That’s always an adventure; last time we went to a huge, old ship of the French Marine, currently being dismantled. It was intriguing to see how such a big ship gets demolished and to imagine what has happened on that ship for the last 50 years.
With the obviously tragic loss of your brother Maxim and the overwhelming sadness that no doubt followed, was it a difficult decision to carry on as a duo or was it clear that Maxim would have insisted you do?
Our brother will always be in our hearts. We love what we do, it is our passion. So for us it felt like the right decision to carry on.
What are your highlights on the Curtis Alto schedule for late 2018, early 2019? – studio work, new material, recording, live performances etc?
We have just released two tracks of our upcoming EP. The sound of this EP really represents what Curtis Alto stand live for and we’ve been working quite a bit on it. The tracks are energetic, sometimes raw but also have a dreamy vibe to it. Together with these new songs, a lot of video stuff and live sessions will be released – some of them already have been. All of it will be released on our new imprint Curtis Alto Music, as part of Spinnin’ Records. We are really looking forward to release it all and showing it to you guys! Next to that we have a lot of studio work planned.
It’s great you’re integrating the Denon DJ Prime Series gear into your live sets – what features and qualities of the SC5000 media player and X1800 mixer speak to your creative performance?
The Denon gives us a lot of opportunities. Not only do we use it as a mixer when we’re DJ’ing, but we also integrate it into our live set. We use all the channels of the mixer to input our beats, vox, percussion and keys. The design looks high-tech, the sound is clean, and the effects have added value.