Wrensilva Presents: The Records That Made Me With A-Trak

A Trak

In 1997, 15-year old Alain Macklovitch from Montreal became the youngest winner of the DMC World DJ Championship. Devoted to a love for hip-hop, A-Trak found himself scratching hip-hop in the turntablist rooms at electronic raves. Among the crowd of ravers chewing on pacifiers were a then-obscure house music duo named Daft Punk, whose recent release, ‘Homework,’ was inspired to emulate the west coast G-Funk Era layering a Roland TB-303 bassline synthesizer under a woozy, distorted synth riff. Unbeknownst to him at the time, A-Trak was playing shows with the same people who would later become his idols.

A-Trak finally met his house music heroes, Daft Punk, during their iconic Alive 2007 tour run. Starstruck, he was shocked when the robots told him they remembered seeing him spin at a rave almost a decade prior, when he was still just a scratch DJ wunderkind fiercely fixated on hip-hop.

“Fifteen-year-old me was just like, ‘Who’s on this flier? I don’t know. Where’s my room? Over there? You want me to scratch here? What time? Now? Okay!’ Scratch,” he recalls of his naivete in those early days playing at raves.

Eventually, his ears subconsciously tuned into the familiar elements of electronic music–the same samples and drum machines that colored the hip-hop music he loved and that Daft Punk pioneered. “There’s something about Daft Punk that, even though I only cared about hip-hop [back then] . . . because it was literally with the same grain as a Pete Rock beat, it was in a language I understood.”

A-Trak nods to Daft Punk's 'Homework' as a timeless choice for Heavy Rotation.
A-Trak nods to Daft Punk's 'Homework' as a timeless choice for Heavy Rotation.

As the featured guest for Wrensilva’s The Records That Made Me listening event, his influences displayed on the studio shelves include hip-hop legends A Tribe Called Quest, De La Soul, The Pharcyde, Madlib, Pete Rock, and The Diplomats. A-Trak is a DJ who does his own homework, and rigorously trained his dexterity to catch particular sounds and samples from the songs he scratches. While spinning “Distortion To Static” by The Roots on the M1 record console, he geeks out about its crisp drum track. “That tracking snare is like KAH!” he says, excitedly gesticulating the whack of a drum. “That’s what a snare should sound like . . . It’s not just that I like the beats and the attitude, it’s all the way to how every drum sound sounds.”

Jason Bentley and A Trak
Jason Bentley and A-Trak gearing up for an unforgettable conversation at the Wrensilva Listening Studio.

A-Trak’s encyclopedic memory for sounds ignites under the tactile experience of crate-digging. He opines the process of adapting from analog to digital as a DJ, “The toughest part . . . was to figure out how to still have that quick mental recognition that’s comparable to going through a crate.” When rifling through a vinyl collection, whether at the record shop, the club, or within the Wrensilva’s walnut cabinets, each record becomes a precious artifact stored with details beyond just the songs etched into its grooves. “You can recognize a record before having to read the name that’s on it. You can just be like, ‘Oh yeah, it’s that worn out sleeve with the purple sticker,’ and you’d know what it is . . . it opens all these memories right away.”

Wrensilva presents the records that made me with A-Trak

A-Trak stands amidst his carefully curated record collection—a testament to the diverse sounds that shaped him into the accomplished DJ, record producer, and executive he is today.

That keen attention to detail allows A-Trak to create a collage of samples when he’s behind the deck. While on the road and teaching himself how to produce, he was attached to his record collection for its treasure trove of samples. “I was getting frustrated with the fact that I felt that I needed to be with my records because I might want to go and sample the tambourine that’s on that record in the other room,” he recalls of a long period of traveling away from his library. He absorbed a sensibility for sampling early on as a massive fan of Beastie Boys. Laying down a copy of Paul’s Boutique on the acrylic turntable platter, A-Trak meticulously maneuvers the M1’s aluminum tonearm to play the bombastic, plunderphonic track “Shake Your Rump.” The entirety of Paul’s Boutique is thought to contain as many as 300 total samples, and is today regarded as a seminal landmark of the golden age of hip hop.

A-Trak finds excavating the samples of his record collection a way to honor the traditions of his vocation and the rich history of hip hop production. “I think we’re living in an age . . . where there’s information every hour of every day, but not enough people saying, ‘This thing that you just saw is from here, and it influenced that thing’ . . . you know, the context of it.” Pulling out J Dilla’s Ruff Draft EP from 2003, he lionizes the Detroit heavyweight’s pioneering beats, noting the eccentric range in Dilla’s production, from Stereolab deep cuts to futuristic Moog sound effects. Dropping the needle on the track “Nothing Like This,” the heavy kick of the drum pulses aggressively through the showroom. A-Trak studiously points out more ingredients in the song—the sample playing backwards, the leftover click of a metronome. The track straddles the old school and the avant-garde, an obvious classic. “When you decide to become a DJ, there’s homework you have to take on,” A-Track asserts. “Like a duty [to learn] where some of these records are from.”