Superstar DJ and producer Alok made his debut performance at Webster Hall's Gotham event in New York City, dropping some of his hottest tracks and bringing along a guest performer to help perform one of his most popular songs, Me and You. Despite his meteoric rise on the DJ Mag Top 100, which saw him debut in 2015 at number 44 and rise to number 25 in 2016, I wasn't entirely familiar with Alok's music or sets prior to my preparation for this interview. In fact, as someone who is consistently skeptical of the credibility a DJ Mag ranking might bring, Alok blew me away with his set, playing remixes of some of my favorite tracks growing up, such as his amazing remix of System of a Down's BYOB,a mashup of Linkin Park's Numb and his track with Sevenn, I Need the Bass (you'll need to check out his Ultra Brazil 2016 set to hear the mashup; it's not released officially yet).
We were lucky enough to get a couple of minutes to talk with Alok right before his show and hear about some of his upcoming projects, his work with New York singer-songwriter Iro, and what his experience with dance music around the world has been. Joining Alok for the interview was the aforementioned Iro, the volcalist on one of Alok's most popular tracks, Me and You, which has millions of plays on YouTube and has even been featured in the Netflix film XOXO. Check out Alok and Iro's debut Behind the Beat interview with Only the Beat below!
Only the Beat: We're lucky to be here with you before your debut show at Webster Hall tonight. And you've brought Iro, a frequent collaborator with you as well, who'll be making a guest appearance. What do we have to look forward to in the set?
Alok: I’m really pleased to have Iro with me tonight. Last year, I was here in New York, just walking in the street and I met this amazing musician playing in the subway. I hadn't seen such talent. We went to the studio, made a track together, filmed everything, and then I brought him to Brazil, and he played for 50,000 people and got a lot of attention.
OTB: Wow! So you’re telling me that you went from the subway performer, all OA style (minus the whole kidnapping thing), to Brazil playing for a crowd of 50,000?
Iro: From Bedford Ave. subway stop to Brazil.
OTB: What was it about his performance that really drew you to his talent?
Alok: His voice is unique. It’s like...when he’s playing in the subway, he stopped the whole subway. It’s really something else. We had amazing synergy. We did an amazing track together and it’s doing really well.
OTB: For you, Iro, what has it been like to work with Alok?
Iro: I honestly felt like it was some sort of thing like you’d see in Harry Potter. It’s like you've walked into a bus station and you’re magically transported to somewhere else. It’s surreal. It’s like I’m just told I get to come to Brazil, play in front of this many people, and it’s like I just couldn’t even understand until it was all happening. Especially this last time since the song has been out for a while, it was like a sugar man type feel. You get on stage and people know the words I wrote.
Alok: When I bring Iro to the stage, people love it. People even ask me to bring Iro to the performance. It’s crazy.
OTB: And Iro, before you met, were you into house music or electronic music generally?
Iro:I was slowly getting into it, but this is the first time that I really started to understand whats behind it. I’ve gone to all his shows. I’ve seen how people are just glued onto whatever he does.
OTB: So the track is called Me and You. How did the track come about and what's the history?
Alok: The track already existed since it was his track, but I brought the electronic feel. I changed it a little bit, put an electronic vibe on it. It's featured in a movie, on Netflix, has 10 million plays on YouTube. It’s going really well.
OTB: Alok, this is your first performance at Webster Hall, so how does it feel?
Alok:Amazing, amazing (laughs). It’s my first time playing here in New York generally, but to be honest with you, I wasn’t expecting it to be so packed and so full. It’s really amazing. As we’re speaking, the DJ [Philly's Dischetto, for the record] is playing a lot of tracks of friends of mine from Brazil, which makes me feel more comfortable, you know? Like Brazilian fans are here (laughs).
OTB: But they’re not overlapping any of your tracks right?
Alok: (laughs) Oh no no, it’s just the sounds of Brazil. I can hear it here.
OTB: What have you seen playing a show vs playing a show in North America generally?
Alok: In Brazil I feel much more comfortable (laughs).
Iro: In Brazil they are just crazy (laughs). Take whatever you see here and multiply it by craziness and love and it’s like, it just grabs you in the fucking balls.
Alok: Yeah, Brazil it’s insane. I think that’s the best way to describe it.
OTB: Do you feel that energy coming here?
Alok:(looks out the window) Yes. (laughs)
OTB: Do you have any preset ritual that you like to do before your set?
Alok:I’m really just do my sets with the feeling on the dance floor. To be honest with you, I don’t know what I’m going to play tonight. Just that I’ll play the track 'Me & You.' I obviously have that one planned. So if nothing is working, I’ll call Iro to save me. I’ll just leave the stage and let him come on.
Iro: He would do that (laughs) I’m there and ready to go. I do have to say one thing though - what’s been so crazy for me is that song was such a personal song. I was used to singing it with a guitar with one person in front of you and to see that be on a stage where it’s heard by hundreds of thousands of people.
OTB: This alone [Webster Hall] is obviously way different than Bedford Avenue Subway stop!
Iro: (laughs) Yeah exactly, and to do it tastefully attached to the acoustic guitar and the simplicity of it, it didn’t take anything away from it. I've kept it. The song is there. It’s an emotional song and it makes people want to dance. The emotion is there and it’s just translated to this world. It’s crazy to see it go out to a mass of people. It’s mind blowing.
Alok:To me, I’m really really excited about our next release, this is a really strong one. I think it’ll be in March or February.
Iro:This is how I know things by the way. He just says "Oh yeah we’re releasing it then." But I love it, because he’s like "let's play it today."
OTB: Is this the first time you’re building a song from scratch together?
Iro:We've done tracks together before, but I think this one is definitely a track where it happened when we were in Brazil, in the sense that on previous tracks I had it all figured out in my own way and then he came in and added his touches to it. This time it was more like you’re saying built together.
OTB:What’s the most rewarding aspect of working with someone else on a track?
Alok:I think everyone in the world has something to share with you. Something they know that you don’t know. I think to become big in life, you have to put yourself small even though you may be big. People who are small that think they are big never grow up. So I think to make music with someone else, if you’re open minded to that, it can bring so many benefits.
Iro: It’s less ego and more making something great together. And as far as I know, from his history of playing music, he’s been doing it from the age of like twelve. That’s what's awesome for me is that level of hard work where it doesn’t matter if you’re playing in front of a hundred people or a thousand people, its great to see that.
Alok: And what surprised me, the first time Iro played for 50,00 people, it was the same vibe as playing for 20. Because it just felt comfortable. It was something for real, so it didn’t matter if you had 5, or 50, or 5,000.
Big shout out to Alok and Iro's management and PR for making this happen, and thanks to Iro for dropping in on the interview with us! Be sure to check out Alok at his upcoming tour dates and get to know this rising superstar before he's number one on the DJ Mag Top 100!