Best known for his work with Spank Rock (he produced the entire YoYoYoYoYo album) Alex Epton, a.k.a. XXXChange, has also done production work for Amanda Blank, Kid Sister, The Kills and most recently Kele Okereke, lead singer of Bloc Party. His high-energy remixes for everyone from Yeasayer to Rick Ross have become Hype Machine staples and secret weapons for DJs around the globe. He is currently working on an LP for Vice Records under the name Win Win, with Fully Fitted DJs Chris Devlin and Ghostdad.
Epton is also our first subject for our Replay feature, in which we convince an artist to let us mine his iTunes playlist with one question in mind: What gets the most play?
This one comes with a caveat. Given that Epton is a performing DJ, he goes through a new laptop about every nine months. On his computer, his highest per-song playcount was 13. To solve the problem, he volunteered his wife Courtney’s computer. It's probably a better peak inside the mind of Alex Epton, anyway. After all, which music is more telling than the music you listen to with your wife in your Brooklyn apartment?
1. The Cure: "Close to Me (Closet Remix)"
We both really like this song. We actually listen to the Plastic Little version of this song a lot, where they just rap over The Cure. It’s like “I went to the party and I took this bitch home!” [Laughs.]I’m not even sure what’s different about this version, but this is a good nostalgia track.
2. Animal Collective: "My Girls"
The Animal Collective album as a whole we listened to a lot, but that song was kind of the winner in terms of getting plays. This, “Brother Sport” and “Summertime Clothes” were probably the big three off that record for me.
And you did a Panda Bear remix right?
Yeah, we have the same management, which is nice for me because I’m a fan and I get all their stuff early. So Animal Collective are definitely bros.
3. Prince Buster: "Girl Why Don’t You Answer To Your Name (Chris Devlin Edit)"
I got this from Chris [Devlin]. We share a lot of stuff, and everything I get from him never has the real name on it. It’ll be the artist and then a paragraph of notes like, “OK, play this from 30 seconds but mix out by 2 minutes because it gets really crazy,” or something like that. So I don’t know if that’s the real name, but that’s definitely a jam. I even put it on a mixtape a few years ago. And this is definitely his edit, because you can hear the pops there at the beginning and the intro is extended.
4. The Beatles: "Don’t Pass Me By"
OK, this is one of Courtney’s ones. This isn’t my favorite Beatles. It’s got that Paul McCartney circus-music vibe going.
5. Lykke Li: "I’m Good, I’m Gone"
I remember being excited when I first heard her because nothing really sounded like that at the time. Everything was kind of heavy in the indie music that I was listening to, and this was just sort of upbeat and organic sounding, which was nice. I think this is probably her best song.
6. Aretha Franklin: "Jump to It (Prince Klassen Young Professional Re-Edit)"
Prince Klassen is a friend of ours. He’s in our DJ crew and writes on the blog and stuff and Courtney really likes this one. I do too. I don’t even know what the original sounds like, but it sounds like he’s moved some sections around. Just some mid-tempo disco heat!
7. Thom Yorke: "The Eraser (XXXChange Remix)"
This has to be one of my favorite remixes of all time. Did you just decide to do this on your own?
No, it was official. I think there was supposed be a whole remix album, but I’m not sure what happened. But they commissioned it and I got paid so I just sort of stopped paying attention after that. [Laughs.]
There were a batch of different remixes that were released, so I thought that one might have just been a white-label track. Did you ever get any feedback on it?
Yeah, like I said, I don’t really know what happened, but Naeem (Spank Rock) and Amanda (Blank) actually met him and he was like, “Tell Alex sorry about the remix!” So I guess he knew about it. [Laughs.]But no, he was super cool; he e-mailed me and everything, and that doesn’t usually happen. You don’t get too many e-mails from the actual artists, especially not somebody as big as him. But that was a rare one where he was like, “It started out as a Prince kind of thing and kind of went a different direction so see what you can do with it.” Sometimes you get instructions or people have heard something you’ve done and say, "I want something like this." But most of the time I just get the tracks.
And how much time do you put into something like that?
Generally on remixes no more than a week. I think I gave that one a solid week. The Bjork one ("Earth Intruders") I definitely gave a week. But some stuff I’ve finished in two days; some stuff takes a little longer.
What’s your process for a remix? Do you strip them all down to just the vocals?
It really depends. I did a couple remixes where I didn’t really change too much. One of the first ones I did was for CSS, and I think I left almost everything. I just took out a few sounds and added drums and that was it. But generally, yeah, I strip it down to the vocal unless there’s a part I really like.
8. Mama Cass Elliot: "Dream A Little Dream"
“Dream A Little Dream”? [Laughs.] Yeah, I’m just not sure about that one…
9. Santogold: "LES Artistes (Alex Remix)"
Santi was working on that record for a really long time, like a couple of years, with this label called Lizard King. Then Downtown ended up putting out her record, and she had to rework everything. So when we first met, she was starting to rework a lot of the songs for the album. And a lot of those songs had existed before in a more rock incarnation. So she had given me a bunch of a capellas, and honestly I just kind of forgot about them. And then I heard the one that Switch did ("Creator") and I was like, “Ooooh, I really want to get something on that record!” So I went through the a capellas again and did this one, which for awhile I think was a toss-up whether it was going to be the album version. They ended up reworking the earlier rock version, which is now the one they play on NPR and stuff. The other one’s a little more accessible, so I can see why it got licensed. But a lot of people think this was a Diplo remix, because he put it on the mixtape (Top Ranking) with his little, “Diplo, Diplo” drop on top of it. So a lot of people have that version, the version with Movado over it.
10. Animal Collective: "Brother Sport"
11. The Penguins: "Hey Senorita"
This is a great jam to listen to, but it’s also a really good song to play at the end of the night when you’re DJing because it says, “Hey, senorita let me take you home.” So hopefully you can help someone get lucky.
12. The Drifters: "I’ll Take You Home"
This is another one with “take you home” in the title. Really similar, actually. We listen to a lot of stuff like this around the house. There’s a playlist here that’s everything from before 1966, and that gets a lot of burn.
13. The Kills: "Black Balloon"
This is another one you produced, right?
Well, I did production work on that whole album, but I didn’t get a producer credit on all the tracks. They had another producer who did all the pre-production stuff, but when they actually went out to this studio to record, the guy had a personal crisis and just left, so they called me in a panic, like, “Hey can you come out and do some shit?” [Laughs.] So I went out and met them, then went back out and did sessions for a couple of weeks in this studio called The Key Club in Benton Harbor, Mich., which is seriously in the middle of nowhere. The closest city is Chicago, and that’s two hours away.
They already had a pretty good idea about how they wanted to proceed with the record, so I wasn’t as involved as I could have been. They didn’t do drum-machine stuff, so I gave them a bunch of drum sounds and worked on some programming with them and convinced them to do live drums on a couple of tracks, which was fun. They really like Sly Stone, and that studio actually has Sly Stone’s old mixing console. The engineer is a young guy, like our age -- this guy Bill Skibbe. I think he used to work with Steve Albini, then he built this great studio in Benton Harbor, I guess because it’s so cheap there. But he’s a great engineer and the studio is famous for having that mixing desk, and this is the only guy that can keep it running because it’s a really weird make.
14. MGMT: "Electric Feel"
MGMT. Wow, this is a pretty boring list. This is like Best of Pitchfork from two years ago.
Everybody likes this song.
Everybody likes this song…
What do you think of the new album?
I don’t know that I’ve heard the whole thing. I heard the first single and wasn’t that interested, but I definitely want to check it out. From all the press I’ve read, it seems like they’re into some of the same stuff as what I’ve been working on lately, which is like a big prog influence.
It seems like they’re having a tough time right now because people really want to hear the old stuff and they’ve kind of moved on.
Yeah, I had a similar conversation about them with my manager [Brian Deran] the other night, and he was saying they were in kind of the same situation as Spank Rock, where we finished the album in early 2004 and the label sat on it for a year. So I think they were actually sitting on those songs for a long time; they were some of the first songs they’d written, so they probably weren’t too excited to make more stuff that sounded like that four years had gone under the bridge. But that’s just how the music business works. But maybe not as much anymore. We’ll see.
15. Animal Collective: "No More Runnin’"
16. The Human League: "Seconds"
This is a good DJ record. Great snare drum. I play this pretty often. I’ve been doing mostly studio work for the better part of this year, but I’ve got a few things coming up now that should be good. I’m going to play Razzmatazz in Barcelona, which is like three Fabrics stuffed together into this super, super club. It’s a lot of fun.
17. Brian Eno & John Cale: "One Word"
Courtney got this record and we listened to it a lot, but none of the songs really stick out to me to where I can tell them apart. My experience with it is mostly listening to the whole album together.
18. Lily Allen: "Smile (XXXChange Remix)"
This was one of the first remixes I did. This is another one that was commissioned but never came out and I’m not sure exactly why. I think they were expecting a Baltimore house remix, and then we turned in a doo-wop version. This was basically a rework of “I’m Your Puppet” by The Box Tops. Right after I turned this in, Mark Ronson came out with a version that used “I’m Your Puppet” too, and I don’t know if he sampled it or replayed it with The Dap Kings but it had those guys Dujeous rapping on it. So there must have been some kind of conflict, but I don’t know exactly what happened there. But it seems like Ronson would have mentioned something to me…. [Laughs.]I mean, back when we were first starting Spank Rock he was around a lot, and I do speak to him from time to time.
19. Rodriguez: "Sugar Man"
Oh, “Sugar Man.” This whole album is awesome. I don’t know much about him. This is another Chris one -- eerie, psychedelic, kind of fucked up. We’ve been going through a weird incense and peppermint oil phase lately so.… [Laughs.]And there’s a totally crazy break near the end of this too that I love.
20. Brian Eno & John Cale: "Lay My Love"
21. Brian Eno & John Cale: "Empty Frame"
22. Grizzly Bear: "Shift (Alt. Version)"
This is a great one. I think I just found it on the Internet, but I’ve been steady listening to it for the last five years or something. And what’s weird is I don’t really listen to any of their other stuff. I like that they can really play, but I never felt the need to check out more stuff. I was happy enough with this one.
23. Andrew Bird: "Measuring Cups"
Yeah, I don’t know this. [Laughs.]
24. The Yardbirds: "Honey In Your Hips"
Now we’re really starting to get into the girly stuff, which is funny because my computer would be the complete opposite. It’s all electro house, and you can’t listen to it for more than 10 minutes at a time, because I get a ton of promos that I would never listen to or play but they’re all just in there. I’m too lazy to clean them out.
25. Gang Gang Dance: "House Jam (XXXChange Remix)"
We have the same management, and they’re friends. I’m actually helping them with their new record. I did this one as a trade. Brian Degraw still owes me a drawing! I’ve been working mostly with Lizzy on vocal production so far. I’m a big fan of her singing and her parts. Yeah, they’re great.