How many articles about Orlando music start with a reference to the city's fallen status as the epicenter of the pop universe? And why should this, an article about an "electro dancehall" production team on their international indie grind, be another one? Because when Alex G is involved, it's kind of necessary.
To the blog world, Alex G (last name Greggs) is known as one-half of South Rakkas Crew's founding body, alongside Dennis "Dow Jones" Shaw. South Rakkas' live shows explode with cross-pollinated genres, air-horn blasts and Caribbean-style toasting. Their keyboard-infused Jamaican riddims and remixes are released independently on their own small label or, sometimes, the slightly larger Mad Decent records. (It's not like Orlando native Diplo, the "celebrity" figurehead of the Philly-based Mad Decent, is exactly Jay-Z.)
And yet, once again, we hark back to the late '90s and early '00s, when boy bands and still-believably-virginal girls ruled the charts. Because when Alex G wasn't producing original tracks for Britney Spears, Michael Jackson, Fall Out Boy, et al. as part of another production team, Riprock 'n' Alex G, he was remixing them. From producing the title track (among others) on the multi-platinum 'N Sync album No Strings Attached to official remixes of "Oops! … I Did It Again" and "Genie in a Bottle," Riprock 'n' Alex G's sound became synonymous with radio hits and the housey remixes that spun late at night. Greggs continues to work with big-name pop acts as disparately credible as Tila Tequila and M.I.A., but despite these three paragraphs, this isn't about that.
"On a creative and musical level, it feels like we've moved forward because we're able to experiment more," says Alex G. "When you're dealing with pop, there's so many cooks in the kitchen and you can't be too edgy. You have to stay pretty safe, so the transition's been great. One thing we noticed, obviously, is that there's a budget for everything and the potential for income is a lot less. As opposed to selling 12, 13 million records with 'N Sync and 3, 4 million with other artists, it's a bit different at this level."
Growing up in Toronto, Alex G and Dow Jones were engulfed in the Caribbean influences that permeate the city's multicultural landscape, and the specific sounds of the city infuse South Rakkas' musings.
"We didn't coin it ourselves, but the press has started calling us `electro dancehall` because of the fusion of electronic music and reggae dancehall music," says Dow Jones, the quieter of the duo. "And that was off our first few records, but since then we've incorporated so many more sounds that it's really tough to describe."
Alex G and Dow Jones met in Canada around 1994, when the latter was brought on to yet another Alex G-helmed production company to "produce the producers, keep us in line." They hit it off and by 2002, at the apex of Riprock 'n' Alex G's bubble, Dow Jones suggested doing something a little more underground and adventurous. South Rakkas Crew's first single dropped in the spring of the next year, and in 2007 they released the well-received The Mix Up EP in conjunction with Mad Decent. Now they're DJ'ing around the world at some of dance music's premier venues, including Fabric in London and Studio B in Brooklyn. Just don't expect to see them in Orlando.
"We've never done an official `South Rakkas` show `in Orlando`, but we've DJ'd at some of the local clubs for fun and to get it out of our system. If we don't play, within a month we get a little stir-crazy. But because it's not promoted as such, we don't really get the South Rakkas fans. We get more of an electro crowd. And it's funny, people will come up to us and be like, ‘Man, you guys should play out,' and they don't realize that we're not just some local DJs," says Alex G with a hint of a smile and a spackling of that Canadian accent. "Then they want us to come back and play their club, but once they realize how expensive we are, that usually gets shut down real quick."
Some of those fun spots have included Club Firestone, Rhythm & Flow Ultralounge, Vixen and Bliss, but it was a three-week run at Dolce that best symbolizes South Rakkas Crew's inability to get hometown love. The live-to-air four-hour gig for XL 106.7 didn't go as planned when Alex G and Dow Jones just couldn't stick to the playlist. "`XL` flipped out because they didn't know what the hell we were playing, going from a Basement Jaxx song to `a` Top 10 hip-hop song to dancehall … but the crowd dug it," Alex G says. "It was a lot of fun, mostly to give the middle finger to radio stations."
South Rakkas Crew is about halfway through their follow-up record, which remains unnamed, but they see the expansion of their sound coinciding with pop music's new acceptance of weirder sounds. Alex G continues, "We've seen it a lot with the artists who used to ask us for remixes and are now asking us to write with them. We used to be too risky and too underground for the album, but because of our pop past, it's made it a lot easier. And as you said, the market is starting to cross. We're starting to get a lot of connections with doing pop records again but we're not changing our sound. It's more like the pop market is catching up with us, not to sound narcissistic or anything."firstname.lastname@example.org