DJ ALX (aka Alex Sanchez) has risen through the ranks in one of the capitals of the modern Dance Music era: Miami. Holding a residency in the legendary Space Nightclub, ALX is amassing a movement that is near ready to be taken on the road worldwide. The launch of his new label and party ‘Descend’ marks the beginning of his outward expansion beyond Miami, into a world full of new fans eager to discover his brand of Techno music. We had a chance to speak with him about how he got started, some questions about his new label, and his approach to his extended DJ sets at Space.
Thank you for taking the time to speak with us at Decoded Magazine. In the beginning, what got you into DJing? What is your story?
In high school I messed around with a lot of hip-hop. I have a couple of friends who were performing hip-hop and I got together with them a lot and played a couple of house parties. I got out of it for a short while after that. Then one day, my DJ friend just left all his equipment at my house after a party. I messed around for a week, and when he took it back I immediately went to buy my own equipment. It just went upwards from there. I played a lot of different kinds of music at the beginning, until I eventually found what I really like, which is Techno and underground music.
So it was a fortunate accident that your friend left his stuff there! What were some of your musical influences and inspirations? What did you listen to while growing up?
Growing up I listened to a lot of hip-hop, but I also liked Rock as well. I don’t really listen to hip-hop anymore, mostly just the old stuff. I don’t really like a lot of the modern stuff. I listen to a lot of Classic and Modern Rock nowadays.
You started out as a DJ. What sparked your interest to get into production?
At first I was DJing just for fun, and when I started getting more serious I realized that if you didn’t produce it was going to be almost near impossible to get anywhere with DJing alone. I knew I had to start jumping on production. I took a lot of classes and workshops, anything I could do to help me get better at it.
How do you approach your music when producing? What does the process look like for you?
I like to start with my basses. A lot of times I will sit down with an analog synthesizer and make my own basses. In a session I will usually make 6-7 different basses and save those and go from there. I will then do a kick and some drums, some synths, and eventually some FX and break it all down, but I always start with the bass. When I listen to Techno music, if it doesn’t have a good bass I won’t play it!
What is your primary DAW that you use, and do you have any favourite VSTs/Plugins?
My DAW is Ableton, even though originally I learned on Logic. I am familiar with both, but I prefer Ableton. Everyone is easier to get around to there, and easier to get done. As far as VSTs I love the NI Maschine. I love the UADs for compression and stuff like that, and for synthesizers I like Massive, and some low-key underground ones. When it comes to synths I jump all over the place until I run into something that I like. Synths usually take me the longest, I find everything else easier to do. Bass for me is the quickest. I will make like 6-7 basses in like 20-30 mins. It comes more naturally for me.
You have catapulted to the top of the Miami nightclub scene. What really sealed the deal for your residency at Space? How did that all come about?
About 3 years ago I played at Space for my birthday. They gave me a shot for my birthday, and from there they just kept giving me more gigs. A couple of months later there was another gig, and the time in between gigs just got shorter and shorter. One day, I realized that I was playing there anytime I was in Miami on Saturday. It became a residency at that point, and they told me they wanted me to be exclusive to them in Miami. Now, I just had my own party on the Terrace this past weekend. The party started at 1am and ran until noon the next day. I had Giordani with me, who is a great guy and very talented. He played in the middle of the night, and I played from 5am-noon, which was fun.
This must be your concept party night that you started called “Descend.”
Yes, and it is also my label. We are prepping and finalizing everything to launch right now with a few EPs. I am going to be doing a lot of marketing with my own party throughout the year. I want to throw a big showcase at WMC next year with the artists that have played the events, and the party will be at Space for the time being until it gets big enough to take on the road. It is a very dark theme with regards to decorations, lighting, mood of the party, music, etc.
I had the pleasure of visiting Space Miami at the last WMC. I saw some crazy stuff during the afterhours! What is the craziest thing you have ever seen at Space?
There’s a lot! For me, the craziest thing at Space would have to be Loco Dice’s 20-something hour marathon. The club never emptied out the whole time, and it was packed all the way to the end. I think that is as crazy as it gets there.
Through all this craziness, how do you manage to grow and keep such a loyal fanbase? What are some of the key elements to your success thus far?
I think it is just being yourself, and being humble and approachable. I don’t really just get stuck in the DJ booth. I will walk around the party and if someone says hi to me, I will say hi to them. If someone wants to take a picture, I will take a picture. I end up having short conversations with people, but if it’s a great conversation then it will turn into a long one! I just think that being humble is the best thing you can do as an artist. You were once where they are. You were once a fan, and enjoyed the music and the artists in the same way. I don’t think we should ever put ourselves above the fans. Why should we try to make ourselves seem bigger than them? They are the ones putting us where we are.
Let’s talk about the DJ/Promoter phenomenon. How do you feel about promoters requiring DJs to bring people through the door? Does that happen in Miami?
It doesn’t really happen here. I mean early on you will get booked a lot of times if you have a really big group of friends, or a following that you can bring. In Miami, I don’t think it is that big of a deal though where you have to bring people. It helps if you bring people, but it’s not a requirement, I don’t think, which is great. I think the artist is there to play the music and set a mood. The DJ should have people dancing, not promoting. That is what promoters are for.
When it comes to DJing, how do you prepare for your sets?
I really don’t prepare much. I spend quite a few hours online bi-weekly on beatport looking for music, going through promos, and then I will throw it into a couple of folders I have setup and just play. I get to a club and feel it out. The first 20-30 mins I will feel out the club and the mood, and see what people are vibing to that night. Once I feel like I have read the crowd and have them in my control, I will start getting into what I like to play. I think it is bad to over-prepare, and it’s good to feel out the crowd and play to what’s going on.
What does your DJ setup look like?
I use Traktor with two X1s. Behind it I have Ableton running with Push that I use mostly for drums, high loops, etc. I like adding more elements to songs like drumrolls on breakdowns and stuff.
What are your views on the Laptop DJ versus the Traditional DJ, particularly around the use of the sync button?
If you are going to use the sync button, you have to be going above and beyond. If you are just playing two tracks and using the sync button, I feel like that is being lazy. If you are using it, then make it worthwhile. I have four channels running with Traktor, and I use the sync button. In this case it doesn’t mean I don’t know how to DJ or I am being lazy. I am running four decks with Ableton Push, so I am running sometimes five different decks with five different things going on at the same time. So, just try to take it up a notch and do something different with it rather than just using it to make it easy.
What were some of the greatest challenges that you faced while building your music career?
The biggest challenge was breaking into the scene. The first few gigs you get are tough, and they are not very good for the most part. Lots of bad promoters that do not do a good job, don’t treat you well, etc. There was a lot of times when I got frustrated, and I would just keep telling myself to stick with it. Eventually, I knew I would get to where I wanted to go. Right now, there is still a lot more that I want to accomplish, and I just have to stick with it.
How has your sound evolved over the years, and where do you see yourself taking it?
It has definitely evolved. Early on I got into the really hard techno stuff, but now I play a little bit of everything. I’ll drop a few deep house tracks in my sets, as well as Techno and Tech House. It all feels right. I used to just play one genre, one way, but now I learned how to open up and play a lot of different sounds and songs that back then I wouldn’t think would go well. Now I see them all going well together. As far as production, I feel like I am really starting to understand and get a good feel on it. I am on the right track with it. Things may evolve, but I still like to play what I have always played. Every year music changes, and I think you have to move with it.
Sounds like you have expanded and evolved! Outside of DJing and Producing, what do you enjoy doing?
I enjoy spending time with my wife, my recently born son, and watching sports. I am a big sports junky, and I would probably be something in the sports world if I wasn’t working in music. I would definitely be a sports broadcaster or something, because that is what I do every day. My wife asks me if sports stop at any point of the year. I told her “Nope! It’s year round!” I always find something to watch. I am actually watching summer league basketball right now. My wife asks: “Are you really watching summer basketball?” I say: “Yep!” haha.
That is funny! Is there any advice you can give to emerging artists with regards to DJing or Production?
Stick to it and work hard. Do not get discouraged, as there are going to be a lot of things that discourage you early on. If you really want something, go for it, and don’t half ass it or find an easy way to get there. There is no easy way to get anywhere. Keep working hard. You are going to have bad gigs and discouraging moments. Use that as a learning experience and motivation. If someone wants to put you down, use that as motivation. I had a lot of people looking at me and being like “Really? This guy?” I would just say all right, and use that as fuel. Don’t let anyone bring you down.
You’re right, we have to transform that hate into fuel! What is your plan for the remainder of the year, and what should we be looking forward to?
The remainder of the year will have an EP coming out on Transmit, and a couple of more EPs I am working on for some big labels that I cannot mention as of yet. As far as DJing, I am playing in Ibiza in August at Oscar L’s new party. I am going to be playing in Aruba in September, which is one of my favourites. I also have a booking in New York. One thing that is definitely going to be happening more often is me travelling around the world. And finally, lots of Space Miami!
Is there anything else that you would like to share with your fans, and our readership, that we may have missed?
Just make sure to keep a look out for Descend, which should be launching in the next two months once everything is in order. Look out for the party as it’s definitely going to expand and get bigger and better. Look out for my productions as well, as I am really getting going with that!
Decoded Magazine North America would like to thank Alex for taking the time out of his busy schedule, waking up much earlier than he usually does the day after an event, and speaking to us about his upcoming plans. We hope you got your rest afterwards! Finally, we would like to thank Carlene from LCPR for setting up the interview.