Based in Brighton, Downey fell in love with techno from seeing the likes of Derrick May and Dave Clarke at the Zap Club in the early '90s, and his regular pilgrimages to London’s Lost parties were an inspiration, where Jeff Mills became a massive influence on his musical perspective.
Downey has been an ardent supporter of quality underground music and a prominent purveyor of all things electronic as a DJ, vinyl pusher, and radio presenter for well over two decades. He was a key figure behind the counter at Brighton's legendary Covert Records and has amassed an immense record collection spanning the house, techno and electro spectrum, while his sets behind the decks have earned him much respect and a great reputation amongst the global electronic community.
This particular set is taken from his 2017 performance at Freerotation Festival, where he's been a resident since its inception. In addition to this, he is currently a resident DJ at Brighton’s First Floor party, playing alongside the likes of Function and XDB. He’s DJed at such diverse events as Wiggle, Split, Fabric, Labyrinth Festival in Japan, The Big-Beat Boutique, and The Essential Festival. But just as important to his career arc are the hundreds of smaller parties and long-forgotten club nights that rocked hard and kept the lifeblood of the scene pumping. Alex's style behind the turntables defies categorization: for him, "techno isn't a dogma so much as a spirit of electronic freedom to adapt and embrace new styles," he says.
When and where was the mix recorded?
Freerotation 2017, at Baskerville Hall, Hay on Wye on the Welsh-English border.
It’s a live recording, it was the opening set of the festival on Friday, July 7, in the room that is now known as Matrix, through what is arguably the best sounding system at the event. I used only Vinyl records, three Technics 1210 MK5G turntables, and a Pioneer DJM900 NXS-2—a far superior mixer to the vinyl prejudiced NXS-1.
Could you tell us about the idea behind it?
It’s fair to say that I’m a versatile DJ. Steevio, who books all the acts at the festival, knows this and so often asks me to curate a set to suit a certain room, situation, or mood—but in this case, he asked me what I wanted to play and offered me a suitable slot accordingly.
I absolutely love straight forward 4/4 Techno, but these days I grow tired of hearing it after three-four hours hrs or all night long, so have been trying to incorporate a lot more music with broken rhythms and breakbeats into my sets, and it seems that I’ve also become known for playing electro as I’m getting many booking requests to do so.
The set reflects a lot of the musical flavors I’m currently feeling, and I felt that these styles perfectly compliment, and set the tone for the artists performing in that room over the weekend, which what I set out to do in part. I had an extended set and plenty of time to take it where I wanted, as Steevio had advised.
The intro features the voice of eloquent cosmic legend Carl Sagan; it just had to be played as his wise words are absolutely in keeping with the ethos and vibe of Freerotation. I wanted to create a warm, spaced out, atmospheric opening set, building the energy up slowly, starting with near silence into an ambiance, and bringing in the rhythms gradually.
The idea was to steadily increase the intensity and feature a variety of electronic beats, classics, interesting rhythms, dubbed out sounds, and lesser spotted gems, whilst fully intending to peak with a three-deck techno throwdown in conclusion. I really enjoy playing three decks, layering up interlocking frequencies and complimentary rhythms; electro doesn’t lean itself to that too easily though.
I ended with "Amay" taken from the second release on the Freerotation label and by the brilliant Monoak, the artist who followed me with his live set. It had to be done!
What made this set particularly special—why did you release it?
Freerotation is not like anything else, it really is special, and playing the opening set was truly an honour. Starting with an empty room and witnessing it transform into a proper party is a unique thrill—the crowd were so up for it and they went with me every step of the way.
I was buzzing on how well it went down at the time, and very pleased with how the recording came out sounding, considering a majority of it was spontaneous and improvised live. There were some spine-tingling magical moments—e.g. dropping Joy Orbison’s brand new break-beast on Hinge Finger into Earth Leakage Trip’s classic Moving Shadow release from 1991.
Many approached me during the weekend saying it was one of the highlights for them, and they thought it was the perfect way to kick off the festival, so it was a great feeling to have been so well received. You can hear that captured as the crowd / room ambience are in the recording. I was told it was good to see three-mixer faders up at once for much of the latter half of the set, so I was very glad I had the accuracy of the Technics MK5G’s for this, and they also allowed me to fit some of the slower tempo, more leftfield bits into the mix.
But ultimately it’s all about the special music: new shit from Reedale Rise, old classic’s from James Stinson, two tracks off Inigo Kennedy’s amazing new record, rolling electro from 214, a remix by Jeremiah, two excellent releases on Oxyd’s Intramuros imprint, killer beats from the Brokntoys camp, Jeroen Search’s stuning machine-funk, a plethora of cosmic cuts from Stefan Vincent, the recent Metroplex release by Arnold Steiner, something from Aleksi Perälä’s Colundi Sequence, and a couple of solid cuts from headliner Shlømo, who closed the festival in the same room.
What have you got planned for 2017?
I’ll be continuing with my full-time work selling records on Discogs and through my vinyl warehouse Temple Of Vinyl, my weekly Vivid radio shows on Trickstar Radio, and of course DJing at choice events within the UK and abroad.
Jane Fitz asked me to play in the Fieldmoves tent at Field Manouvers Festival in September, which I’m super happy about and really looking forward to.
The Pickle Factory in London have booked me for an Electro special in October alongside Intergalactic Gary, and Gerald Donald of Drexciya fame, performing as ‘Arpanet’, which is sure to be out of this world.
And on the previous night, the running order at Berghain’s new ‘Säule’ floor has been turned on its head: Ricardo Villalobos will be opening up for Thomas Brinkmann (Live), followed by Jackmaster and then myself closing out the proceedings, so I’m super excited about that one.
Recordings of my live sets get uploaded here.