We had the pleasure of interviewing Alfa State, a rising star in the Canadian electronic music scene who is also making a name for himself among the industry’s pioneers.
He has been recognized by Hernan Cattaneo as a “top production talent to look out for” and was invited by the legendary Robert Miles to play at his OpenLab residency in Ibiza. With releases on Sudbeat, Tale and Tone, Seven Villas Music, and Dawn Till Dusk, Alfa State has carved out a niche for his unique style of productions.
EG caught up with Alfa State to learn more about his origins, his sounds, his views on social media, future endeavors, and more.
EG: Hi Mazi, welcome to EG. Thank you for being here! Where are you right now?
Alfa State: Hey EG, first off, thanks a lot for having me! I recently moved from my home town Toronto to Austin, Texas. Both cities have similar vibes, but very different climates. I’m enjoying the warmer winters here in Austin, but I also miss my friends and the scene in Canada.
EG: How did you first discover your passion for producing and DJing, and what inspired you to pursue a career in music?
Alfa State: A good buddy of mine, whose uncle was half of Deep Dish, got me into house music and DJing. It was 2001 when we started clubbing. I used to listen to German Trance at the time and had just moved to Toronto, Canada from Dubai. The friend I mentioned exposed me to compilations like Global Underground, and Deep Dish’s earlier CDs like ‘Penetrate Deeper’ and ‘Junk Science’. From there I started to explore Hernan’s Perfecto and Renaissance CDs, Behrouz & MV’s ‘In House We Trust’, James Holden’s Balance Music compilation, Nick Warren’s GU, etc. By 2003, I was hooked on the underground dance music culture, got some DJ gear, and decided to give it a try, mostly for personal enjoyment. Fast forward to 2007, I had DJ’d for 4 years and decided to try producing. My first EP was released on Nima Gorji’s Welt Recordings (shout out to Nima for giving me a break!) under my first alias, Maziar, and shortly after I took a trip to Spain and played for Nima’s label showcase at Guarana/Ibiza, and his weekly radio show on Ibiza Sonica. For a 24-year-old me, that trip was eye-opening, it solidified my relationship with music and the underground dance music culture. Since then music has been a constant in my life.
EG: Your music has been praised for its unique blend of progressive, hypnotic, deep, and techno. Can you walk us through how you developed this style and some of the key musical influences that inspired it?
Alfa State: The answer is twofold. My sound is shaped by attempting to emulate my best personal musical experiences by listening to artists whose music has given me goosebumps or a feeling of euphoria. When I look for the common threads in all of those experiences; depth, drive, character, musicality, and subtlety stand out. My style is influenced by these elements. I also draw inspiration from nature and our environment. Growing up, I spent the majority of my time living in fast-paced metropolitans and I think that’s where I got the ‘drive’ element from. On the polar opposite of that, I love spending time in nature and just listening to the sounds around me, the direction they come from, their loudness, texture, and how they mix with the other sounds. It’s fascinating! That’s where I get the subtlety, hypnotism, and depth from. In electronic music, I draw influence from Hernan Cattaneo, Dubfire, Behrouz, Josh Wink, Rodriguez Jr., Tigerskin, Pablo Bolivar, Yapacc, Chymera, Aril Brikha, Kollektiv Turmstrasse, and Stimming to name a few. Some of the labels that have shaped my sound over the years are Balance, Cocoon, Do Not Sit On The Furniture, Global Underground, Kompakt, Ovum, Mobilee, Soma, Sudbeat, Seven Villas, and Tale & Tone.
EG: You’ve been part of the Canadian electronic music scene for several years now. In your opinion, how has the industry evolved during this time?
Alfa State: I personally think the Canadian electronic music scene has grown by leaps and bounds in the last 20 years. Clubs like Stereo Montreal, CODA, Gorgo-Mish, City At Night, and Mercury Lounge have done a lot for the scene. We also have amazing festivals like Electric Island, Piknic Electronik, Igloo Festival, Shambala, Eclipse Festival, Memetic, and more. As for some of the artists that have made a mark for themselves in recent years; Simply City, Kora, Ciel, Gab Rhome, and Hauy stand out. Canada is great at breeding amazing artists but sadly most of them end up leaving Canada when they get established as artists. I think that’s due to the size of the scene, the physical location of Canada not being ideal for touring, and the lack of influential booking/PR agencies. The one group that I think is doing a great job on the artist management and PR side of things is the WhenWeDip crew. They also run a great label called XYZ.
“When I look for the common threads in all of those experiences; depth, drive, character, musicality, and subtlety stand out. My style is influenced by these elements”
EG: With releases on some of the most prestigious labels in the industry, such as Sudbeat and Tale & Tone, can you share with us your experience working with these labels and how they’ve helped shape your career?
Alfa State: Both Sudbeat and Tale & Tone have played significant roles in putting me on the map as an artist. Hernan and his Sudbeat family were the first supporters of my solo alias, Alfa State, given I had made two releases on Sudbeat under my Nature of Music alias with my good friend Kian, there was a relationship with the label, so, when I started my solo project, I reached out and they were welcoming. As for Tale & Tone, I developed an organic friendship with Hoj over the years when he came to Canada to play shows. We kept in touch and when he started the label I sent him some music, he liked one of the songs and ended up releasing it. Sudbeat and Tale & Tone both have a strong following so releasing with them definitely helped my career.
EG: Your recent move from Toronto to Austin has been a significant change in your life. Can you tell us about the inspiration behind this move and how it’s affected your creative process?
Alfa State: My personality is the type that likes to move around a lot, I get bored easily. By 2022, I had lived in Toronto for 22 years, I absolutely loved it there and I was very comfortable, but it was time to move. I wanted a change, a new challenge and Austin had been on my mind (but I didn’t actively pursue moving there), some life events happened that made it possible to move there and I went with the flow. So far, I’m really liking it here, the change of environment has been good for creativity and I’m excited to explore it more.
EG: Having your music played by industry legends such as Hernan Cattaneo must be an incredible feeling. How does it feel to have your music recognized by such well-respected DJs, and what impact has it had on your career?
Alfa State: Honestly, that’s still surreal to me, knowing that one of the greats of this scene supports my work! I saw Hernan for the first time in 2004 at the ‘Government’ in Toronto. He was focused, charismatic, and really into his craft, he took us on a beautiful 3-hour journey. I never saw him after that… Fast forward to 2013 our friends White Label Promo ended up booking him in Toronto and asked me and my partner Kian (Nature of Music) to open for him. I remember spending the week before listening to Hernan’s sets getting familiar with his sound at the time and reading about his career. We knew that the opening act was very important to him and we wanted to make sure we do our very best playing a set that fits well with his sound. The night rolled and we played for 1.5 hours, we didn’t know he had shown up at the club an hour before his set and was backstage hearing most of our set (most big names don’t show up that early). When we finished, he shared very positive feedback and asked us if we made music. He then shared his email address with us and told us to send him some music. That was the beginning of my relationship with Hernan and his label, Sudbeat. Having his support has been instrumental in helping my career as a Dj/Producer.
EG: Social media has become an essential tool for artists to connect with their fans and promote their music. What’s your opinion on the role of social media in the music industry, and how do you navigate its potential pitfalls?
Alfa State: I don’t love it, but it’s important if you want to make a career in music. Social media changed the way PR works. Before the era of social media, you had to rely on PR agencies to build a brand and momentum for your artist profile, but nowadays you can do it yourself. So in a way, it gives some more control to the artist, enabling them to build a following and engage with them. I see it as an evolution of marketing and PR, but the excessive focus on social media can be counter-productive. It’s unfortunate when you see an artist’s social media has more content about their clothes, food, and flash, rather than the actual music. In ways, the music itself has become less important, and the “package” as a whole and how it’s presented to the market has become more important. With social media, having some form of a marketing strategy is important if you want to generate demand and grow your fan base, just don’t overdo it, and be thoughtful about what you post.
EG: As a top production talent, can you share with us your approach to the creative process when working on new music?
Alfa State: My first rule is, don’t go to the studio if you’re not feeling it. Creativity can’t be forced, it works best when it flows effortlessly. That said, some level of discipline and work ethic is necessary if you want to see consistent results.
I usually start with a feeling. Then I translate that feeling to a simple chord progression or a melody hook. From there, I add the drums, the bassline, and SFX, and I slowly arrange the song as I add more layers. By the time most of the layers are in, the song is 80% arranged. If the song has vocals, this is the time that I add them. It’s a different approach from how most producers produce, but it works well for me. I started producing with Reason 3, but it was not very robust for live arrangement, so I had to work with mouse and keyboard arranging as I’m producing. So it’s become part of my workflow, even though I use Abelton now.
As for gears and tools, I personally believe less is more. Have a few gears that you know in and out rather than a studio full of gear that you don’t use. Limitation challenges creativity and it can lead you to some really cool results!
Lately, I’m starting most of my songs with the bassline then I add everything else. I’m targeting more dance floor focussed music these days and I find that when I start with the baseline, the overall groove feels much tighter.
EG: Can you give us a sneak peek into any upcoming projects or releases you have in the works? What can fans expect from your future music?
Alfa State: I have a release coming out soon on the NYC-based Dance Artifakts, it’s a single called ‘Cause n’ Effect’ that will be released along with a few remixes. The song has a lo-fi deep house vibe to it, it’s quite different from what I’ve made in the past. I also have a remix coming out in the summer that I’m really excited about. The song is called ‘The Silence of The Lamps’ by Tigerskin. He’s one of my favorite producers. I’ve been making a lot of music during the pandemic and though I have some labels in mind for them, I want to finish a few more before approaching them. I went through a bit of transformation sound-wise, and I’m excited to present my new sound in my future releases.
“I see it as an evolution of marketing and PR, but the excessive focus on social media can be counter-productive. It’s unfortunate when you see an artist’s social media has more content about their clothes, food, and flash, rather than the actual music”
EG: Finally, what advice would you give to aspiring producers and DJs who are trying to break into the industry? What are some of the lessons you’ve learned throughout your career that have helped you succeed?
Alfa State: Consistency is extremely important, this is not a sprint it’s a marathon, so approach it that way and you’ll see results! Be patient, genuinely support others, and play a role in your community however small or large, your time will come. Be critical of your work, find a mentor, ask for their feedback, be open to constructive feedback, and utilize it to get better at your craft, don’t get defensive!
Understand that there’s music, and then there’s business. If you want to make it a career you’ll need both. Know that being great in one, will not make you successful in the other. If you’re not good in business, partner with a team who knows how to do it, but first you’ll need to have something to offer artistically.
EG: Thanks for the time and we wish you the best!
Alfa State: Thanks a lot for having me and for the thoughtful questions. Cheers!