Fitzpatrick's studio is dotted with references to the past. On his desk sit a model of the DeLorean DC-10 sporstcar from Back To The Future and a Rubik's cube, from which "Rubix" takes its name. He holds up a replica of a Stormtrooper and another of Darth Vader's helmet, joking that Vader would definitely have listened to techno. Early techno was born from such space-age visions of the future—a concept that has since turned into a kind of retro-futurism, something that's a consistent inspiration for Fitzpatrick. From his studio in London, he waxed nostalgic about techno's early days and explained how dreaming of the future shaped the music of the present.
2015 is shaping up to be the year of remixes for you. You've been working with Róisín Murphy, Argy and Dubspeeka, to name a few. What can you tell me about imagination and dance music?
I try to approach every remix with an open mind. Different stems, different sounds, different approaches allow me to open up when remixing it. I don't necessarily have to approach it thinking of the dance floor. When you're thinking like that, that's when you do get a bit stuck with your imagination in regards to what it's going to sound like.
Are the possibilities as endless as they seem?
Yeah, I think so. For example, that Róisín Murphy track that you mentioned... The original track is this weird, funky, groovy, almost jazzy nine-minute original with these crazy drums and synths. Her voice is very unique. And getting to remix that and getting to turn that into a more clubby track is going to be a lot of fun. I'm trying to remix artists who are in a completely different kind of genre. It's exciting to introduce yourself to music like that, and then be able to fuse it with the kinds of sounds you're interested in.
Do you feel this is a particularly exciting time to be working in dance music?
I think right now, I'm making some of the best music I've ever made. The new techniques, new software, new gear in the studio, the technology—it all has a part in allowing me to do that. At the same time, you're also influenced by the music that is available at the moment, what you're being sent and what you're playing.
What about your productions?
You know, I am actually looking into doing an Alan Fitzpatrick album at some point this year. And a live show. I've never done a live show ever, and I feel like now I've got the ammo. People are always asking me to do a sort of story-so-far, a greatest hits live set, you know? There's a lot of massive tracks that would really work. It's almost a nice way for me to cap off that period.
Looking back on "that period" of yours, there was a lot of talk about your being the "new kid on the block" in techno when you first came on the scene in the early '00s. Did it feel that way for you?
No, not really. Even now, I still feel that I'm battling. It always feels like that. Some artists have had quicker success by means of a track or something that's allowed them to jump into the spotlight. I've always grown more steadily. I just do what I do. There hasn't been that one huge track that throws you into the spotlight and then a year later, people are like, "Oh, do you remember that guy?" [Laughs] That happens a lot! For me, it's always about a long peel rather than a steep climb. Sometimes it feels like you have this kind of resurgence, you come back in—there's peaks. Around 2008, I had a good year with some big tracks. It was steady for a long time, and then last year was another huge year. The rise is steady but it's a rise. It's been a fun ride.
Einstein said that if he wasn't a physicist, he would be a musician—that he sees his life in music and daydreams in music. Is it like that for you?
From a very young age, music was the only thing that I really pictured myself doing. If I wasn't fortunate enough to do what I do now, what would I be doing? There isn't anything beyond that. I've pushed myself for so long that having an alternative... it's just not there. I'd feel quite lost. Music is all I've ever known. What you said about dreaming in music and seeing in music? Of course. Music is everything to me. There's just nothing else that gives me that high. I still get surprised and shocked and inspired by all forms of music. I don't know any other industry or profession or hobby that has that sort of impact on me.
You once talked about how we connect to techno because of its repetitive structure—this pulsating sound that reminds us of our heartbeat. Given the mathematics of a techno track's structure, how do you make sure that your music has soul?
The soul in music comes from the beats and the bassline working together, really. You can relate it back to caveman times! There was no entertainment then like there is today, obviously, so what did they do? They would bang things and jump around and dance to sound [laughs]. The only thing you've got is that kind of drum sound, that ritual throbbing. You're naturally programmed to nod your head to it, to dance to it, it's your heartbeat.
Is that your motivation for making music? To make people dance?
Sometimes. I can be inspired and motivated by anything. I'm not always writing music thinking, "Yeah, this is going to make people rave." Sometimes I am, sure, but you need to be in that mindset. I was on a flight coming back from Mexico and I was watching Men, Women & Children. There's a bit with this quote from Carl Sagan, the famous astronomer. The quote is called "Pale Blue Dot." It describes this view of the earth from billions and billions of miles away. That was particularly inspiring, and I wrote "Pale Blue Dot" after watching that. Tracks like that one weren't even written to be on the dance floor. You get inspired and motivated by lots of different things.
What's the biggest challenge in producing techno, for you personally?
There's so much music right now. There's so many people trying to become DJs or trying to do what you're doing. It's very hard sometimes with time constraints to stay that one step ahead with your sound. Everything seems to move so fast that it's hard to get a grasp on stuff... I try to just focus on my own stuff. I've always said that everything's about the groove, and the rest is just icing on the cake. I think that's something I learned from my dad. He was hugely into Motown and soul and all this sort of stuff—I grew up hearing this all the time.
How did you then make the transition from soul and funk into electronic music?
I grew up in the mixtape era. When I was a kid we'd be recording shows off the radio, trying to pause it before somebody spoke. That and listening to my parents' old CDs and vinyls got me into that mood of collecting music. I've always been a collector of music, whether that's dance music or anything else. When I got to school, it became all about the tape pack. You'd have packs from raves and stuff, DJ sets from the night, old radio recordings. I started collecting those, and slowly that developed into this stage of going out and going to clubs and listening to live bands. Finally, I got my own set of turntables and bought my own records. So it was kind of a natural development from collecting music.
You must have a decent-sized record collection at this stage.
Honestly, I wouldn't even know, numbers-wise. I couldn't even count. I did go through a stage maybe ten years ago where I sold some records on Discogs—you know, doubles and stuff like that. But it was all towards the cause! It was before I was really DJing, so I was selling records to try and make money so I could buy gear. In my collection, though, I've got loads of hand-me-downs. I've got a huge stack of old records from my uncle, loads of '80s stuff, disco, Stevie Wonder, loads of Motown 7-inches.
Speaking of Stevie Wonder, I read that you have a special connection to his "I Just Called To Say I Love You." Is there a dance track from those early days that speaks to you in the same way?
As a youngster, I used to listen to so much rave stuff. There's certain tracks that I used to hear that I can play now and still get goosebumps from. The one that still stops me in my tracks has to be The Age Of Love's "The Age Of Love." I dropped it at Berghain in November and had tears in my eyes from the reaction.
I think by nature, the '80s and '90s were a really interesting time for electronic music—you had the first space shuttle mission in 1981, the first IBM computer, all of these monumental revolutions in technology. Did that influence your outlook on electronic music?
Oh, definitely. The future was becoming the now. My uncles were massively into all that kind of new synth-generated music: Kraftwerk, Gary Newman, Human League, Depeche Mode, Bowie, all that stuff. Every time I would stay at my nan's house, my brothers who were living there, they looked like Nu Romantics [laughs]. They'd be into all the Adam Ant look, they'd have the hair like Flock Of Seagulls. Very typical '80s stuff. I heard a lot of that type of music from a very young age, so combined with the other dance music stuff that I was listening to, it definitely fueled where I am now. I still listen to all that stuff today. The chances of me putting on a new album when I'm relaxing at home are pretty slim.
A lot of your tracks are named for '80s tropes. "Skeksis," for example, is a classic and named for a fictional species from the film The Dark Crystal.
I'm still a huge '80s fan [laughs]. I love the films, the music, even the more pop-centric stuff. I actually bought an original pressing of Prince's Purple Rain single on eBay yesterday. It came with a centerfold poster of Prince and I wanted to put that up in my studio. He's an inspiration, so I thought it would look good on the wall. That's part of the reason that I'm always referencing the '80s in my music, which may not sound anything like that genre or that time. It's a tip of the hat to that decade, I guess.
What do you hope that people will say about you when they look back at this moment in techno?
[Laughs] You know, if I look back in ten years at these tracks, I hope I'm still proud of them, like I am of the tracks I put out ten years ago. That's the only real insight that I get into it, when people are still asking for these tracks. From my point of view, if I've got music now that people are calling classic, then I'm doing something right. I'm creating memories for people and creating that legacy for myself.
Are you nostalgic for a simpler time?
Definitely. Music takes you somewhere else. If I hear anything nostalgic like that on the radio, I have visions of when I was younger, making mixtapes on a TOMY cassette recorder when I was a kid. I had these old tape decks with drum & bass or house on them, and we'd all swap tapes and listen to music in class. Hearing those '80s tunes really takes me back and hopefully it always will. That's what keeps me young.
In that sense, do you think that music works on a spiritual level?
Yes. Hugely. I've literally had moments in clubs where I've experienced pure joy to the point that if my heart stopped beating and that was it, I'd be happy to go right there [laughs]. There's not much more spiritual than that. It gets to a point like that where you're not thinking of anything except the here and now. You're a slave to it. You're a slave to that moment. Nothing can take you out of it.
It seems like we're never very content to live in the now. We're very infatuated by what's to come.
You know, I think we're like that just due to the speed at which technology is developing all the time. It was only maybe 15 years ago that you had a mobile phone with a colour screen. Now you look on the news and they're doing test flights to take passengers to Mars [laughs]. Everyone's on this race to find the next thing because we're just bombarded with this stuff all the time. It feels quite sci-fi. We're racing through technology quicker than we need to, really. Nothing ever sits.
But at the same time, techno wouldn't exist if it wasn't for this obsession with futurism. How does the tension between past and future affect electronic music?
It's hard to be completely unique and completely futuristic. Everybody is influenced by something that's happened to them in the past. But in terms of making music, I think you're always writing stuff with a vision of it in the future because you want to set your legacy, your sound, what people are going to remember. You can always try new methods but without that element of history to it, people will find it hard to relate to. So, I don't know, I think they go hand-in-hand, I don't think you can have one without the other.
Alan Fitzpatrick is playing at Mysteryland USA, which takes place at Bethel Woods in New York between Friday, May 22nd and Monday, May 25th.