Exclusive Interview with UK based DJ / Producer – Aiken
Hailing from Worcestershire in the middle of the UK, Aiken got bored with the sleepy town and went north to Newcastle. Newcastle, a bright, bold, vibrant and one of the party cities of the UK. From his new base, Aiken started crafting his production skills and musical tastes while DJing at many of the cities nightclubs. Having been on the stage for over 10yrs opening for the likes of Sigma, Sigala, Matrix & Futurebound, and more recently Rudimental and Bastille.
After many years behind the decks Aiken began releasing bootlegs and original productions. To date he has amassed over 1 million combined streams on Spotify and Apple Music alone. Now Aiken has evolved once more bringing in his long time friend and accomplished guitarist Dagan.
Aiken X Dagan is a brand new concept, and a truly unique show combining the high energy dance, house and progressive music with a rock guitar element.
1) How did you first get into DJing and producing electronic dance music?
So it all started when i bought this really old production software. It was as basic as you could get. I think it cost like £10 from a shop in the village. It was called Dance Ejay and it was terrible, but at the time 12yr old me thought it was amazing. From there my parents bought me a disco setup and i started doing parties and weddings. I don’t really know what the hell i was doing in the early years. My step dad would drive me to these events we had been hired for and i would just play party music. I was a bug that bit me hard, i just got this almighty sense of wellbeing when the end of the night would come and everyone was just happy, singing and feeling good.
2) Who are some of your biggest influences in the industry?
I am a massive Swedish House Mafia fan. They really got me back into it. I took a few years out around early/mid 2000s, then i heard their music and it just reignited something, so i threw myself back into it again. Avira, Vintage Culture, CID, Fred Again, SG Lewis, Disclosure, KSHMR, All these guys are giving me life right now, they make such epic records, and good quality records as well. They make stuff you can put on repeat and never get bored. Not so well known artists like my friend Ardin, he is magical, Phat Suppli is a proper workhorse, she never stops slogging away. I listen to so much music from all genres, i think you have to absorb ideas and other area otherwise everything would sound the same.
3) Can you walk us through your process for creating a new track?
Im quite unconventional when it comes production, ideas come from a multitude of places, harmonies in a song im listening to, or i’ll hear a phrase from people chatting in the street that would make a good track title. Sometimes the way people speak gives me an idea. Everyone talks in different ways and they have rhythms, keys, melodies in what and how they say stuff, that often sparks something. I got a snare roll idea from a leaking drainpipe that was dripping on my car. The whitenoise i use is actually a waterfall. From there i will take that idea, sing it into my phone, add that to ableton. Chords will then get added, usually from a piano or a nice sweeping type sound. Then i will have a rough idea of where i’m going. So at that point i will research what songs i like and pick a few out based on certain criteria. So one will be used for its arrangement, another for melody sound, another for its overall EQ. I’m not ashamed to say that i have copied loads of sounds, and arrangements from other artists. These bigger players know what they are doing, so if they have an amazing arrangement, use it, and twist it to fit your idea.
4) How do you prepare for a gig? Do you have any pre-performance rituals or routines?
HAHA ABSOLUT!!! and lots of it hahaha.. Every gig is different, i pre-plan usually 3 sets, so i have a section of tracks that i think will work, then i have another 2 sets that i can take tracks from should i get on stage and think certain tracks wont work. I think this comes from my Disco DJ days, i would always have more than one song at the ready should i make a crappy choice. End of this year i will be touring with my very good friend Dagan.
I had this idea a few years back to add a live instrument to my shows. You see it all the time with a Sax player or bongos, but nobody had a guitarist
SO Dagan who ive known for years now joins me on stage. So i will be mixing and doing what i do, Whiles Dagan will then be live on stage with his guitar rocking out alongside. Its honestly the best thing ever. Nobody is doing so we thought we would. And let’s be honest here, there’s only so many times a DJ can ask you to jump and clap before it gets boring.
5) What has been your favorite gig or event to play at so far in your career?
I’ve had the huge pleasure to be the opening act for many household names here in the UK. But the best so far was when me and Dagan opened up for Bastille. The Bastille guys are just wonderful people anyway, the crowd was gagging for it. Every track got a great response, it was one of them nights where everything just clicked. Close 2nd place was opening up for Rudimental, this was a big outdoor stage, 5000 people and it was raining, like properly raining. Im talking the type of rain that was so hard even if you were covered the spray still got you wet. The crowd was huge and had this lingering cloud of steam over them.. it was mental.
6) What do you enjoy most about performing as a DJ?
I dont think many DJs talk about this bit, for me its the run up to that moment before you press play. The taxi ride with your team and friends, the nerve settling drink in the dressing room, meeting the other people who are on before and after. It goes without saying that the actual show is high energy and outstanding. But the before and after is the vibe for me. I can tell what is really awkward, greeting the next guy on the stage after you with a hug, and you’re a sweaty mess. There’s this distinct slapping sound when people pat you on you wet back haha.
7) Can you share any memorable experiences or anecdotes from your time as a DJ and producer?
I was backstage at a festival in 2011 and we tried to start a rumour that the headline act was many things. Im not going to say who it was, but we would walk past the journalists and say rather loudly that “headliner, had stole someone’s bag” or that she has a girlfriend, or had a blazing row with her lover in her trailer. Then about 15 mins later a few tweets started to appear saying what we had said. It was all harmless lies and thankfully it didn’t turn into a media frenzy.
8) How do you stay current and find new music to play at your gigs?
Short answer, 1001tracklists. Theres so much music coming out its very hard to have a handle of it all. So while Beatport and Spotify playlists do provide a great service, my go to place is 1001tracklists. The people who put that together are real heroes. They are so up to date is ridiculous, even bootlegs and one off IDs, they have links to everything.
9) What’s next for you in terms of new projects or goals?
So this year will bring some new original music and some random remixes. A tour for the back end of the year is in the works, with Dagan which is going to be exciting. To finally hit the road with this idea that we have planned and trialed is going to be epic. He is amazing to work with and he just gets it. 2024 will hopefully see us taking our show to the festival stage.
10) In your free time, what do you like to do outside of music? Do you have any hobbies or passions outside of the industry?
No, music is really my only thing. Like everyone else, it started off as a hobby and then sort of just turned into what it is now. I do like hiking, im fortunate enough to live in the countryside so travelling up some remote hill isn’t too hard. Its nice to get outside and decompress. I was taking flying lessons before the pandemic, that was fun.
11) How do you adapt your sets to fit the energy and vibe of the crowd at each gig?
By having 57 memory sticks packed full of music haha. I find this really easy, Its all about saving all your sets from past gigs. That way you can swap and change songs at will. Most DJs these days dont think about this. Ive seen so many big names bang out the same set 2,3,4times in a row. I cannot do that, so i change it all the time. I know what songs mix well together, and i know from past gigs what works where. There have been loads of times i have had to alter a set on the fly, its not an exact science but its all part of the fun, its our job.
12) What are some challenges you’ve faced as a DJ and how have you overcome them?
I was doing a student event and the whole crowd was multinational. There was people from all over the place in that crowd, India, China, Europe! And i was playing UK/US commercial house, and they just weren’t getting it. It was very stale…. So mid set im signalling to my team to bring my laptop, i start scanning Spotify top 100 tracks by country. Downloading and mixing them. That was the most stressfull 90 mins of my life. I certainly learned a lot. The crowd helped, Sometimes they hold up phones with scrolling text on requesting songs or asking for shoutouts, so i was definitely taking not of those messages on that night.
13) How do you think the electronic dance music industry has changed since you first started out?
Songs are so short these days, back when i was spinning vinyl the music was 6-7mins long, these days the extended versions are like 3mins. In fact my new single “Feels” is only 1:47. So because the songs are so short, you have to be on your toes with the mixing. Back in the day there was time for knocking back your beer, having a little chat with whoever is in the booth with you. Nowadays its more fast-paced. The volume of music thats coming out is astonishing, i like to take my time producing music, i think about every element. But that has its downsides, i can take a month on a single track, while some are dropping new music weekly. So there’s a lot more music to digest and it can be a huge task finding those golden tracks.
14) What do you hope to achieve with your music in the long-term?
I want to listen to my music in 10yrs time still be proud of it. I listen to Porter Robinson’s Language now and it’s still a big song and sounds amazing. I want that. Im very fortunate to already have a catalogue, whether i like the songs or not is irrelevant, i can show people that it is possible to think of an idea, create it and put it out into the world. Its not lost on me that what i currently have is what some people are chasing. I just want to creste music that people can enjoy, make memories to, jump to, cry to, or turn off haha.
15) Can you share any tips or advice for aspiring DJs and producers who are just starting out in the industry?
If you want it you have be prepared to work for it. Finish those tracks that are garbage, eventually you’ll get one good one. Spend 1 day a week watching youtube tutorials, learn photoshop, learn how to make videos, understand and evolve with social media. Sometimes taking your head out of Ableton or Logic can help you refresh your ears. These days you have to be everything. Labels are not interested in “ideas”, you need to show them you’re marketable, you’re releasing great music, and you have a following. Failing that, go viral, that guarantees you a deal haha.
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Aiken – Feels is out now!
Listen on Spotify