Alex Nemec has been a force in the music industry for many years. Starting out back in 1998, he is now a respected label owner, producer, DJ and businessman. Best known as half of Alex & Filip, the pair split in 2012 and Alex has gone on to greater things with the label, Mirabilis, recently celebrating its 50th release and now a monthly syndicated radio show. As a solo producer he has also had continued success with collaborations with UK producer Nik Feral. DJing is still his number one passion and he still gets to play all over the world. His style, if you haven’t been fortunate enough to hear him, falls somewhere between progressive and techno: a kind of cinematic house. We caught up with Alex during some unusually quiet downtime to discuss the label, his career and the future of the scene.
Hi Alex, thanks for finding some time for us. Tell us, whats a normal day like for Alex Nemec?
Hi guys! First of all thanks to you all for having me on the podcast, really a pleasure! I am usually woken up by my little girls and then I make coffee, that’s how I kick things off every morning, weekend included! Oh, forgot to tell you this means around six am…
Music is really a passion for me, but I don’t live out of it, so I got a daily job, well actually me & my wife just started a family business so all my energy is now focused there. Working for others just didn’t pay off enough. Plus I want to be my own boss to deal with time and all that on my own. Beside the work and my family I also love to cycle, I do a pretty good amount of km every year.
You grew up in Slovenia during a difficult time for the country. What exposure to dance music did you have growing up and how did the scene develop in your home town?
Yep, when I was in my teens it was a hard time as Slovenia left the Yugoslavia and became a country on it’s own. I remember there was crisis, a bit like today. I was exposed to more rock, punk and metal music like Nirvana, Metallica and that kind of stuff but then I heard a few tapes with italian dance and house music from friends, I was quite grabbed by it. Then I started going out to local clubs and completely fell for it. At first it was more commercial music, but then after started digging deeper into dance music and dreaming about DJing, I fell in love with proper house music. I was a huge fan of Masters at Work, Steve Silk Hurley, Joey Negro and that kind of sound.
My home town is near the Italian border, so our DJs, clubs and people had been quite influenced by the italian culture as well. The scene at the time was quite strong and in a much better shape then today. I remember we had about four clubs working both days at the weekend and all did good nights. Nowadays it is almost impossible to have a club working both days around here.
We hear the dance scene in Slovenia has turned towards a more commercial sound of late. Clearly that impacts on your bookings, so where do you find yourself playing out most these days?
Nowadays it is all about the more mailroom house or the cheesy tech house indeed. There are a few promoters and clubs who run the proper underground thing, but they use to bring in the bigger names. The amount of gigs I used to play has dropped extremely, so I now play only few dates a year in Slovenia. On the other side – I like to spend my free time with my family and go clubbing a lot less then I used to. Then there’s the label and my studio work. I prefer making some music then spend time raving all weekends, just makes more sense to me and I love it. Plus there’s still lots to learn for me on the production front! I play some dates in Italy every year, which I just love for the good crowds, then I did a few dates in Serbia earlier this year and it was fantastic as well! Now planning something a little further, but nothing sure just yet!
I recently made a prediction that 2014 would see the return of vocal progressive tracks with big reese basslines. Its a sound close to my heart and reminds me of a time when I was starting out in music when speed garage was the It Sound. Those initial influences, I think, mould you as a DJ and play an important part in the evolution of your own sound. What do you think was your defining sound and how has it affected how or what you play?
As mentioned before I started with more soulful and disco house vibes, but when progressive became big in the 2002 – 2004 I think around here, I felt this was my path. I wasn’t exactly grabbed by one sound or genre only, but was always exploring the whole plethora of sounds. That was reflected in my sets as well and still is. I like the deep and more soft end to the peak time stuff and darker vibes. I reckon you might be right about the vocal prog thing. There’s quite some of those tunes doing the rounds and I am myself working on a collab with Mark Ridout, the voice behind Triangle ‘Five (We’ve Found It)’, in that kind of vibe!
Whats your DJ set up look like these days?
Since the Alex & Filip days I have switched to Traktor fully and now I use 2 decks within Traktor and a remix deck or two to spice things up with one shots and loops. I use a X1 and F1 controllers for easily controlling the whole thing. And I prefer Pioneer to Allen & Heath mixers, more performance friendly to for my taste.
Have you ever considered a live show?
I have, but in the end I have always come to the conclusion that playing only my own tracks could be a limitation to me. There is so much music that I’d love to play out at every gig. I could probably play sets of 12 hours and still there will be some tracks I’ll have to leave out.
Of course being a record label owner isn’t all glamour and sparkle, theres a lot of hard work involved. Whats been the biggest learning curve for you over the years?
It certainly is not, It’s mostly hard work and lots of passion. We started Mirabilis with a small plan, but it grew bigger over the years and I feel very proud of it. I have always given every release the proper amount of time to promote it, push it and pitch it to the media and all that. I rather not release more than one single a month or two if I know or feel like I won’t have the time to do my work as a label manager properly. We all know sales have dropped drastically over the last few years and there is not as much money in music making in these times. My goal is to give every artist at least some proper showcasing of his hard work to the world! I know from my own experience as an artist that releases that don’t get promoted and get noticed properly get lost and forgotten quite soon.
Lets talk up and comers for moment. Firstly, where do you find them? Are music hosting sites like Soundcloud as useful to you today as they have been in the past for discovering talent?
I get sent quite a lot music via email and Soundcloud and there are lots of talented people out there, thats for sure! Soundcloud has lost its magic and since the upgrade is quite useless to me. I much more prefer to get emails then being send stuff over Soundcloud or Facebook. It is hard to keep up with all that. Funny thing is I just got a fabulous EP sent over via Soundcloud as I am writing this! On the other hand, being sent lots of promos to me as well, I discover new talents from other labels as well and then I reach out to the artists I find interesting.
If our readers wanted to send you something for the label (after they have researched the label etc!) what would make their email stand out from the crowd?
If anyone wants to send me demos for Mirabilis please feel free to send them to alex[at]mirabilisrecords.com. It might take some time for me to reply, but I will get back at you! I hate it when I get a track sent to me and 20 other labels, all in cc by chance. It irritates me when people just send a link with no introduction of at least few words etc. It does not matter if your English is bad or whatever, just try to introduce yourself and don’t skip that part. Music is the most important at the end of the day and will be the biggest factor in our decision.
We noticed you’ve released some more collaborations with a UK producer Nik Feral on Praveen Archary’s excellent Juicebox label. Can you tells us about how you and Nik met and started working together?
I had Nik signed to Mirabilis a while back and after I ended my part in Alex & Filip, I was a bit lost as my engineering skills are quite poor but I was full of ideas. I asked Nik if he would be up for doing some tracks with me and our collaborations just keep flowing. The best we did to date was for me the remix for Juicebox without doubt, but we are working on some quite exciting stuff these days! Beside Nik, I have worked recently with fellow country man Alexander Madness on a EP which got signed to a legendary techno label and I am sure this won’t be the first and last we did together too! Plus there is a long time project with Autophase we got to finish as well.
Are we looking at a new dynamic duo, or do you prefer to work solo these days? I imagine there is benefits to both sides of the coin…
I’ve always been a team player, so for me it is easier to work with someone as we can share ideas and as they say – two heads are better than one! Me & Nik are surely going to keep working together, we kind of share the same vision and share the love for the music. I still got to learn better mix down and all that before I do something purely on my own. I got to admit I am working on that but still not good enough on this front.
Whats your current top 10? and what makes these tracks so special?
Ian O’Donovan – Black Widow [Tronic]
Fantastic track from with an evil bassline from Ian, played it out a few times now and always works.
Tommi Oskari – Mind Tingle [Juicebox Music]
Great progressive stuff with moody synth lines, this is just up my alley.
Marc Marzenit – Alchemist Desert [Selador]
Wicked stuff from Marc. Moody groover that just builds up and saves the best for last.
Autophase – Ghost Synths (Red Square Remix) [Mirabilis]
Wicked remix from one of the best in techno artists at the moment for me, and so proud to have him on Mirabilis on this fantastic release from Tom Collingburn aka Autophase. Tom’s originals also worth checking out! Sorry for the shameless self promotion!
Romanthony – Floorpiece (Kevin McKay Dub) [Glasgow Underground]
Great take on this classic from one of my fave labels of all time.
Super Flu – Jo Gurt (Stephan Bodzin Remix) [Monaberry]
Wicked synth lines on here, just grabs me with its melodic techno but also sinister feeling.
King Unique – Raydrop (7 hours) [microCastle]
Been waiting for this follow up for Black AM for a few years now… No other words needed.
Tiga & Audion – Fever (Maetrik Remix) [Turbo]
Slick rework from Maetrik, just keeps rolling and the repetitive vocal gets stuck in my head.
Dosem – Streetout [Suara]
Dosem has been a huge presence in my sets for the last few years and this brilliant groove is no exception.
Dave Angel – Tomahawk [Bedrock]
Cracking tune for my sets, just the kind of techno I like and works so well on the floor, groovy and melodic.
The mix you’ve sent us contains one of my favourites of recent years – Xpander, in its Neil Browne Re-Edit guise, have you ever been tempted to take on a classic track like that?
Yes, that one is a great rework! Neil nailed it! Me & Filip did some re-edits and some were quite huge, like our XX booty which was played by Mark Knight and Tiesto among others. I have said it a thousand times that I got to do some bootleg action but never find the time for it these days. But it will happen soon, you have my word!
Tell us about your studio, what toys have you got and which DAW do you prefer to work with?
I run all things from ‘the box’. I use Ableton as my DAW, but thinking seriously to going back to Logic as I found my self more comfortable there. Been using Logic since day one of my studio adventures and I am only on Ableton because when me & Filip went apart I was left with Ableton as Logic was his property. I also have Native Instruments Komplete, Spectrasonics Stylus Rmx and few Waves plugins is use Sylenth quite a lot and now looking into Maschine. I like to have less stuff and know it better. Plus I tend to buy all my plug ins etc, so I rather think twice before spending my money. The Flux plugins are also great sounding and I use them quite a lot too.
How do you approach making a track? Can you start from scratch or do you have a bank of pre made loops you go to?
I usually start right from the scratch when doing a new original. I start with the kick and then develop the groove and then start working on the melodic side and once a short loop works for me, I start arranging the track. I don’t have pre made loops or kits, I tend to search them while I work. It takes more time, I know, but I am already used to that! If it is a remix I am working on I firstly go through the remix pack and choose which samples or parts I want to use and build my remix around them. Most of the time I go in the studio with a fixed idea in mind and then it turns out something completely different, this mostly happens when I intend to make some darker and techier sounds and then I find myself in something deeper, totally melodic stuff.
Whats been the best track you’ve made?
Tuff one! The one that was and still is doing quite a damage on the floors is Alex & Filip ‘Aeon’ which was part of a V.A. on Spektre’s Respekt Recordings, simple one but very effective. I also really like ’Tell Me’ with the fantastic vocals from Alec Sun Drae. And of the recent remixes surly my fave is the ‘Homenaje’ remix for Juicebox. It turned out really good to my ears, the perfect combo between techno and melodic prog. Just the kind of sound I love the most!
Whats happening at the label this year? You guys are going from strength to strength.
We are working hard to bring some bigger names to the label, so the release schedule will be quite interesting for the next year! Lots of top notch releases are on the way! …and now that the radio show is up and running we will definitely try to get more Mirabilis nights around! Nothing certain just yet and nothing planned either, but will work that way for sure!
Thanks again Alex. Its been an enlightening interview and we wish you every success for 2014 and beyond. Is there anything else you would like to add?
Thank you guys for having me on the guest mix and for the chat! I hope you like the mix and enjoy my sound! I wish you guys a This Is Progressive all the best and success as you are really working hard on the site, I have became quite a visitor myself!. Lastly, a big thanks to all my and Mirabilis fans! It is all pointless without you!
01// Luke Mandala – Infinite Agave [SELADOR]
02// Kosheen DJs – Take Me (Original Mix) [SKELETON]
03// Jamie Stevens – Tribe Of The Disco Kings (King Unique Remix) [TULIPA RECORDINGS]
04// Kaiserdisco – Devon (Just Be Remix) [SUARA]
05// Guy Gerber & Dixon – No Distance [RUMOURS]
06// King Unique – Raydrop (7 Hours feat Natalie Arnold) [MICROCASTLE]
07// Santosh Khan – Floating Pin Wheel [SELADOR]
08// Gavin Rochford – Watermark [MIRABILIS RECORDS]
09// Craig Townsend & Adam Weiss Pres. Dark Architects – Architectuality (Yuriy From Russia Remix) [BAROQUE]
10// Dave Seaman – Justified Replacement Of Lulu [SELADOR]
11// Sonic Future – L.o.v.e. (Original Mix) [SUARA]
12// Marc DePulse ft. Overnite & Hollis P Monroe – No Need To Worry (Freakme Remix) [NOIR]
13// Thodoris Triantafillou & CJ Jeff Feat Thomas Gandey – Body Clock [BEDROCK]
14// Autophase – Slimy Eel Rush [MIRABILIS RECORDS]
15// Sasha – Xpander (Neil Browne Rework) [CDR]
16// SQL – Velour (Wehbba Remix) [FLOW VINYL]
17// Rob Hes – Love the Enemy (Original Mix) [TRONIC]
18// Ian O’Donovan – Black Widow (Original Mix) [TRONIC]
19// Autophase – Ghost Synths (Red Square Remix) [MIRABILIS RECORDS]
20// Autophase – Ghost Synths [MIRABILIS RECORDS]