Wednesday, January 10, 2007


“Baltimore club was just a sound on the radio when I was growing up,” mumbles XXXChange (born Alex Upton), the production side of Baltimore's latest underground-gone-global sensation, Spank Rock. “I was more into a lot of hip-hop and anything out of the ordinary I could get my hands on.”

Originally a drummer who ended up in the New England Conservatory to study, XXXChange dropped out to make his way to New York City, where a chance run-in landed him a gig interning at the recording studio of DFA Records, home to such dance-centric indie acts as LCD Soundsystem and the Juan McClean.

“I didn't know that much about production at the time,” XXXChange continues sheepishly. “My experience with making music had only been on the computer, so when they asked me to clear the board my first day there, I didn't know what they were talking about. I did know how to play, so I was able to hang out and learn. It helped me get out of that strictly digital mindset and learn how to set up a microphone. A lot of people in my generation don't know how to do that. They can work Acid or Fruity Loops but are clueless when it comes to real engineering.”

When his internship at DFA didn't result in a full-time gig, he drifted through various odd jobs and toward making his own music with an older version of Pro Tools preloaded on a computer purchased from a former bandmate. It's the same $500 setup that he used to record Spank Rock's debut album, YoYoYoYoYo (Big Dada). Combining License to Ill-era Beastie Boys braggadocio with insistent, 130-plus bpm beats, the Spank Rock sound comes from a panoramic whirlwind of influences.

“Our stuff has a couple elements of club music, mixed with the weirder parts of post-punk rock and bits of people like Dizzee Rascal and that whole UK-garage scene,” XXXChange explains. “It's just us trying to fit all of our favorite music into something that's our own.”

When quizzed about his favorite gear, he's quick to hype Arturia software. “They make a clone of the old ARP 2600 that's great. It sounds really good, has a flexible sequencer, three oscillators and this whole weird matrix section. It's fun to use. It's on pretty much every track of the album.”

Already a few songs into the follow-up, XXXChange says to expect the same dirty Spank Rock energy with an added caveat. “The idea being the first album was to make rap music you can dance to. Now we want to do that with really tight song structures,” he muses. “We want to have bridges, choruses, that whole package. The next record will be a lot more structured in that way.”

(Originally published in Remix, 1/07)