Photo By: Shane McCauley Words By: Sarah Polonsky
AT FIRST GLANCE, the Fool’s Gold store looks like a covert stash house. The DEA might bust in at any moment and start ripping up floor- boards in search of hidden narcotics and semiautomatic firearms. Yet instead of high-grade drugs, this Brooklyn boutique is laundering a treasure trove of delights for DJ kingpin and co-owner of Fool’s Gold Records label, A-Trak. Branded hats, shirts and Member’s Only jackets line the customized wallpaper with golden script and symbols emblazoned across—it’s all very Illuminati-esque. Classics, as well as newly pressed vinyl records, are stacked like decks of cards made easy to sift through; the works of various street artists hang in full view for potential gallery showings. What’s more, the Jewish Canadian store owner, born Alain Macklovitch, has never even tried hard drugs. The only thing he samples is music—in large doses.
“I’m trying to show the [EDM generation] what’s what,” says the label’s cofounder from beneath his signature brimmed hat festooned with a feather and a black leather vest riddled with buttons bearing his company’s name. The ensemble is topped off with a pair of stark white Air Jordans, his slightly faded jeans stuffed into them, thug-chic style. “I come from a certain part of hip-hop, from the past, Wild Style [era]. I wanna bring that energy everywhere I go, to find the perfect balance of new sounds.” The words roll over his perfectly symmetrical jaw and drop from his mouth succinctly, like a click track to his brain. A-Trak’s got that cool dude confidence that makes high school girls swoon, while all the boys want to be homies with him because the chicks go where he goes.
His friendliness is stupefied by businessman savvy. Known for scintillating turntable and scratching skills, as well as massive electro-house productions, he’s the laid-back leather-vest-clad CEO you’d never see coming, despite the bevy of Fool’s Gold buttons. A-Trak’s unassuming nature only helps give him the edge. The method is simple: Macklovitch likes some- thing he hears, scouts out whomever produced or rapped on it, then asks to listen some more and see if they should work together.
Alain’s been signing a myriad of acts and releasing eclectic tracks on Fool’s Gold Records (from rapper Danny Brown to EDM elite like Laidback Luke) since starting it up five years ago with fellow spin artist Nick Catchdubs. He’s toured the world spinning for Kanye West and, along with fellow hip-hop/electro jockey Armand Van Helden, the other half of production deuce Duck Sauce. A-Trak scored a Grammy nomination for the maniacally popular track “Barbra Streisand” (yes, the singer/actress namesake is a fan of the joint). But no matter how many awards or heaps of respect he receives from fans, he’s still striving. “I wanna play that perfect set for Tiësto,” the Montreal-bred, Brooklyn- buttered 30-year-old affirms. “I wanna make Jazzy Jeffff proud, because they come to my shows.”
Growing up in Montreal, A-Trak idolized Fresh Prince’s bespectacled partner, holing up in his par- ents’ basement relentlessly studying VHS tapes and practicing scratch techniques for two years. “It was like decoding something that wasn't written,” recalls A-Trak, who won the esteemed 1997 DMC World DJ Championship at age 15. “I was quickly becoming this Yoda figure of DJing—this wise record-scratching master getting the accolades and touring.” Shortly after his DMC win, he hit the road to perform every- where from the States to Korea to the Ukraine; because he was still a minor, his older brother, David Macklovitch (aka Dave One, one-half the duo Chromeo with P-Thugg), would play chaperone. “I had my first drunken experience as a DJ on the road, traveling every weekend at the age where people were starting to party in high school,” recalls the wunderkind, who was the first to win five major DJing world champion- ships. “I remember seeing dudes doing cocaine and stuffff, thinking, ‘That’s weird.’ I’ve always had it in my head that I don’t wanna be that dude.”
His clean-nosed journey led him to London for a life-altering May 2004 performance at a record store. Kanye West, accompanied by then-background singer/keyboard player John Legend, happened to be present as A-Trak worked a Jay-Z record on the turn- table; ’Ye geeked out over his scratch techniques. “He was already picturing me onstage with him,” recalls A-Trak, who went on to serve as Kanye’s jockey until 2007. Trak exposed Kanye to difffferent sounds—like Daft Punk, who West sampled for his electronica rap chart topper “Stronger”—while Yeezy taught him about marketing and branding. After five years, the DJ naturally evolved into his own entity. “I didn’t set out on being ‘A-Trak the DJ of Kanye West.’ And that’s not to knock Kanyé; he respected my hustle. I was pitch- ing to bring DJing to a general audience and Kanye gave me that pedestal. Throughout my career, even as I got to electronic music, [I brought] the DJing craft with me everywhere. I’m happy to be the only DJ at Ultra [Music Festival] scratching. That’s a big deal to me. I'll play Waka Flocka over an S&S soca record, and those sets won’t be bland.”
It was another alliance—with Van Helden—that’d help A-Trak find his own main stage as one-half of Duck Sauce. The two DJs met in New York 10 years ago, bonding over Steely Dan records and a shared love for hip-hop and house. “What’s funny about Duck Sauce is that people [think we’re] this big dance group,” A-Trak chuckles, “but we were just trying to be like the Beatnuts.”
In 2010, the duo dropped the disco-hop hit “Barbra Streisand” and it’s video-featuring every- one from Pharrell to Vampire Weekend—instantly became a viral craze. The follow-up smash “Big Bad Wolf ” debuted in October the following year, accompanied by a vid that shocked millions of viewers in that creepy-awesome-can’t-stop-watching kind of way, featuring a variety of quirky characters with human heads in place of their nether regions. “We were out- siders in the dance world,” A-Trak explains. “A lot of the other house electronic DJs stopped caring about their own videos, [ but] it’s important.”
BEHIND THE FOOL’S Gold store, two skinny and tanned young ladies pose against brick walls in cut-up T-shirts displaying the label’s logo as a lucky photographer tries to keep his demeanor cool and pants dry. “They’re the Fool’s Girls,” says A-Trak, identifying the toned hotties meandering in the parking lot behind the shop. How does he find these gals? “We know good people.” He ain’t lying— from finding camera-ready P.Y.T.’s to scouting sign- ees, Trak is a GPS for fresh talent. His track record includes diverse, off-kilter acts like Kid Cudi and pop-rock lady quartet the Suzan, both of which he helped introduce to the world nearly five years ago via the indie imprint.
As A-Trak tells it, his life is entrenched in music. Downtime is as rare as a sober rave, so there’s seldom time for collecting art. Following sports is impossible. He uses any free moments to catch up with his long- time Canadian homeboys. “There’s something about keeping the [oldest] friendships even though you may only see them every month,” the sentimental DJ explains. “Whether I’m with my brother, parents or with some friends, that time is something very dear to my heart—cool and close friends.”
Before setting out to create an eccentric roster on Fool’s Gold, A-Trak and his brother founded the now- defunct underground hip-hop label, Audio Research. The imprint released mainly hard-core rappity-rap tracks. However, as A-Trak’s musical palate expanded, so did his vision. “When I started experimenting with sounds outside hip-hop, and making more up-tempo club music, it felt like it was time to start a new brand,” says A-Trak of Fool’s Gold's creation. “I’m looking at the future and bringing this whole world together— that’s what I’m passionate about.”
In A-Trak’s latest musical amalgamation, he recruited hip-hop heavyweight producer Just Blaze, creator of thumping anthems like Hov’s “Public Ser- vice Announcement (Interlude),” and inked him to release his first foray into house music, a high-BPM EP due to drop on Blaze’s birthday, Jan. 8. “At this holi- day party I did a couple of years back,” Blaze remembers, “towards the end I played a [disco house] track randomly, and [A-Trak] came over like, ‘Yo, what is that, I love that’. I said, ‘This is actually one of my records.’ Next thing I knew, he was talking about put- ting it out on Fool’s Gold.”
As for his own music output, A-Trak is tight-lipped on upcoming Duck Sauce project that he plans on releasing early 2013, only revealing that it’s a comedy album. “There's a big sense of humor, but we’re beat boys, hip-hop kids,” says the music renaissance man. “[I’m] never fully satisfied, always pushing myself.”
The moon starts peaking out over Brooklyn. Like a spotlight on cue it shines down upon A-Trak. As he opens his mouth to speak, a pensive expression sits on his gleaming moonlit face. “I had to carry the torch for this style of DJing, so I try not to be backwards.” No matter how he tries to slice it, A-Trak uses the past to enhance and enrich the future of music while keeping it real by staying humble and earnest. “The other day Jazzy Jeff tweeted at me, ‘You’re an inspiration.’ I’m like, Are you serious?!