Where Style Meets Substance: A Conversation and Sale with the Macklovitch Brothers, A-Trak and Dave 1
Where Style Meets Substance: A Conversation and Sale with the Macklovitch Brothers, A-Trak and Dave 1
- Words Asaf Rotman & Lawrence Schlossman
- Date December 19, 2018
In today’s music landscape, an increasing amount of musicians display an abundance of style, yet a lack of substance. Rather than hone their respective crafts, artists rely on social media, outlandish outfits and bombastic personas as opposed to quality content. Brothers A-Trak and Dave 1, however, are not two of those artists. Since the late ‘90s, the siblings combination of hip-hop, funk and EDM have helped them fundamentally impact not only the record industry at large, but how generations of musicians style and market themselves.
Born Alain and Dave Macklovitch, the Montreal, Canada natives grew up removed from any sort of music or cultural hub. Older brother Dave began his music journey early, when he joined the band of fellow high school classmate Patrick Gemayel (aka P-Thugg) when the two were just 15. Initially interested in hip-hop, the duo was a strong influence on a young Alain. Four years Dave’s junior, Alain quickly became obsessed with rap and DJ culture, and began DJing while still a teenager. At 15, Alain became the youngest ever DJ world champion, which led to a career touring the world and working with everyone from Lupe Fiasco to Kanye West. While his younger brother became a worldwide superstar, Dave and Gemayel drifted from hip-hop to funk, eventually donning the moniker Chromeo, one of the most lauded electro-funk groups in the world. Between the two siblings came numerous projects, hits and even their own label.
Today, between their work managing, producing, promoting concerts and releasing merch—Alain Macklovitch is founder and CEO of record label Fool’s Gold—the two spend what little free time they have together relaxing, shopping and curating because, for the brothers, image is everything. We sat down with the two at A-Trak's Los Angeles home to discuss their style journey, embracing ‘90s streetwear and why, when it comes to your look, authenticity is everything.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
All photography courtesy of Christopher Fenimore.
While not polar opposites, there is definitely a dichotomy between your individual style. Is that something you have acknowledged to one another?
Alain Macklovitch: I feel that we acknowledged the periods when we dressed more similarly.
When you were both wearing leather jackets right?
AM: When I was wearing leather jackets all the time for many, many years.
Dave Macklovitch: Then we were very similar.
AM: There was a point where like footwear was the one distinction.
DM: Because I don't wear sneakers.
Did you guys ever trade clothes?
AM: We could.
DM: We used to wear the same styles—maybe like a leather jacket, a plaid shirt, a pair of jeans or whatever. The only difference is I don't wear sneakers and I always wear boots. But now, my brother dresses more like I used to dress when I was 17-18 which is like a ‘90s kind of vibe
Is that how you would describe Alain’s style? As ‘90s-influenced?
DM: Yeah. I mean I style him. I feed him. It's not just styling. We have a symbiotic-creative relationship to the point where Alain brings a lot of stuff to my work creatively. Nobody knows this but he's so involved with Chromeo—really involved with us behind the scenes.
We even worked on Fool's Gold together. But, with a lot of what I do, I use his wisdom to guide me, even on a business level. No one knows that because I was always the older brother. But Alain, he holds me down like that. Conversely, a lot of the creative direction of what he does is on me.
So it’s more than clothes, even the house itself.
DM: Yes. Whether it's the house or his visuals when he is DJing or even his wardrobe, I'll take care of that because he is too busy running other things.
AM: I definitely think that we each have or strengths and our expertise. As Dave said, we have our hands in each other's projects across the board. We have a pretty clear sense for more or less every category on who can take the lead. Dave's always been just even more interested in style, fashion, architecture—all things aesthetic.
In retrospect did that dynamic rub off on you or is it a typical younger brother/older brother relationship? Was Dave always the guy that you looked up to and who informed your taste?
AM: When we were younger, I got so much information just from hanging with Dave and his friends naturally. Even when we were kids, looking at that Beastie Boys book. The music that we were listening to growing up, a lot of what I heard ended up being filtered through him and what his friends were listening to.
DM: But now I get it from him.
AM: Yeah, that dynamic changed. It was in the mix. I'm always out there being mix-ey.
DM: Alain feeds me intel, like with guys who are a bit more on the side.
AM: My DJ career took off when I was a teenager, and very quickly I went from being a sort of passionate teenage scratch junkie in my parent's basement to touring internationally and having to figure out the business side of things. There are a lot of DIY responsibilities that I had to learn very quickly.
DM: My brother became an adult before I did.
AM: It's funny, because I will go shopping with Dave and I will just say,
Alright, Dave what do you think? What's the vision? But as Dave said, there are certain marketing or strategic things that I get very involved in.
DM: We put a Chromeo album out last June, for instance, the first album in four years. Obviously, there was a massive paradigm shift with streaming, playlists, all of that. A-Trak walked me through.
He helped you navigate those waters.
DM: Absolutely. I couldn't do it without him. That said, I get to pick the lamps, and the chairs.
AM: We each have our own knowledge base.
DM: When it comes to creative decisions, we work together on tracks. Obviously, sometimes I steer him. I have an outside perspective given that he's so in the trenches. Sometimes he has to be. I remember once Alain said,
Oh, I have got X amount of rappers that I'm looking at signing. There's this one guy, his name is Danny Brown. I responded: “The guy's name is Danny Brown?” Alain was like “yeah, he's from Detroit.”
Then I was like, “Danny Brown? His name is Danny Brown? Sign him. He is Danny Brown!” Then I heard the song and I was right.
AM: That's hilarious.
DM: Back to his style though. I felt like what Alain is wearing is exactly what I was wearing back in the day. I grew up wearing Stüssy, Freshjive, FUCT. Freshjive was the shit.
I channel a lot of that into what my brother wears now. There was a moment where my brother was wearing only leather jackets and metal t-shirts—that was the A-Trak look for a while. Then he started looking like a promoter. So, I was like, you gotta switch to those.
How important is image to you guys?
AM: Very important.
DM: The most important, but not for narcissistic reasons.
AM: For holistic reasons. Everything has to fit into an ideal package.
DM: When we came up, the greatest living artist was Ghostface. But without the Wallabees and the eagle, we lost Ghostface. I don't care how great he raps, you need the eagle. When he lost that eagle, part of my heart died.
Whether it's Ghostface, MF Doom, KISS or the Beastie Boys image is everything. All the way to ASAP, even Three 6 Mafia. Take Funkadelic—what would George Clinton be without the image?
Do you think that in this day and age people are putting the cart before the horse and the image comes first to the detriment of the art?
AM: There's a little bit of that I think. What's funny is sometimes you get the impression that certain artists are popping and it feels like their image is more of a priority than the music. But I also think that we're getting exposed to new artists so quickly that, the stage where they are currently at, that’s already on our Instagram feeds, that used to be artist development that wasn't even witnessed.
You give some of those kids a couple months and they're making great records. It's just that the visuals there are a little frizzy.
DM: You're saying that the music and the art in this day and age has to catch up because the image is already down there because they've grown up with tumblr.
I'll name a name and for the record I've never heard his music yet. Let's say you see a guy on your explore page. Icy Narco. You might be like, he's already got the colored dreads, got the face tats. The whole look is dialed in. Doesn't have the song yet. But then in six months, he might have the next Gucci Gang and be that dude.
AM: In a lot of cases the song comes after the fact.
DM: Earlier I pointed out a lot of rappers whose images were crazy.
AM: Chances are if someone has enough of a bombastic personality that you can notice it in their style, there's a sense of individuality that may come across in the music.
DM: One of the greatest tragedies in music culture is that we never will live to see an ODB Instagram. That is sad. But anyways, I think what you said Alain is the optimistic response. I will also say that you have a lot influencer kids and resellers out there who are basically rock stars without the rock.
But at the same time, it's like more power to them. There's so much music out there. If there's good music, you'll find it. If you're just on the style thing, that's cool too.
My brother and I are at a point creatively, where we wanna focus on community. A lot of the work we do together at Fool's Gold is turning the record label more into community organization where we have the events, the battles but we also have workshops at the store. We also have DJ lessons, art shows and stuff. We've always been big proponents of substance—you have to have style and substance, the two of them together. I'm not gonna knock someone if they have one and not the other.
For me, an artist like Bjork has style and substance. She’s a legend. Here's another legend: Radiohead. Radiohead has substance but no style. At least I don't get their style.
That’s interesting you say that because Thom Yorke is a huge Rick Owens and Undercover fan.
DM: But that's also weird! I don’t co-sign that. For me personally, I always surprise people because I tell them that I'm not a big Radiohead fan. It's just because I think you need both style and substance. The two of them have to develop simultaneously for us to gravitate towards an artist. That's only because those are the artists that we grew up idolizing.
AM: I am a Radiohead fan. We don't have exactly the same taste, to be clear. But I do agree that it’s more exciting to be a fan of artists that have that full package.
Who are some examples then, of artists that have style and substance?
AM: I sign people I'm a fan of. World's Fair, for instance. It is a New York based rap group. Groups are super rare. Migos and Brockhampton are practically the only groups in hip-hop. With the social media generation, people are used to hearing a single voice. It became tougher to find a group. I love World's Fair's energy because they remind me of that sort of Onyx era of New York. You know who's really something else? Michael Christmas is awesome.
DM: Michael Christmas looks amazing and sounds amazing.
AM: He is awesome because he's himself. We're always attracted—especially on the Fool's Gold A&R side—to artists that have unique personalities, that are kind of weirdos, in a good sense. That just do their own thing. As far as who's popular and has cool stuff..that new LA guy, Blueface!
DM: Oh yeah. Blueface!
AM: His jeans are definitely below his butt.
DM: But he is dope. I can assure you that. I like Ian Isaiah.
AM: Yeah...and he has style as much as performance.
DM: He's just coming out with music now and actually with Chromeo we're gonna work with him. Both stylistically and talent-wise and message-wise, it's all on 10. I'm actually currently working with a group from New York called Onyx Collective. So as Chromeo we're producing a project for them.
We're doing like a funk jazz project for them. So I think it's there. I think that at the end of the day what we really gravitate towards is authenticity. Even the way we dress is not really in relation to hype so much as it is with authenticity.
You clearly have a uniform. That’s by design?
DM: Yes. It's also by practicality. Yeah, a complete uniform.
AM: By the way, it goes all the way down to travel. We have long conversations about suitcase practicality. There's an art to it. We tour so much, and a carry-on is such a life changer. Figuring out that magic formula, how many pairs of jeans do you really need. Either of us can run for more than two weeks off a carry-on. Once you've figured out the code of how much to pack, what jeans can be re-used into how many outfits where no one will notice it's the same jeans...
Can you share the codes?
DM: That's the special grail! We’re going to need to do a part two. The “Macklo Guide to Packing.” Straight up, unless you're going to fashion week or whatever and need trunks, if you're traveling for work and you're checking your bag, you’re an herb. There’s a way to do it without.
AM: And it's not about some new suitcase that has a built-in battery or a suction air. It's about knowing how many pairs of jeans, how many sneakers can you re-use in different outfits.
Can you tell us how you each developed your look?
DM: I'll be honest. I was a dorky ass, lanky Jewish kid in Canada. No-sex having, the whole thing. Then, I just found a uniform—aka know your limitation. Find the one thing that works on you and then roll with it.
At the end of the day, I don't think this is about brand names or hype. It's about finding what works for you and, not to sound corny, but it's almost about knowing yourself. For my brother, it's like, yeah I got him in like fat pants but I'm forty. We grew up wearing this shit. I have pictures of my brother and I in '97 wearing basically the same thing.
AM: By the way, the reason why Dave is a better stylist for me than anyone that I would hire is that he knows me. Talk about knowing limitations...
DM: I seen this dude naked! I know what fits.
AM: I think figuring out your style is also kind of understanding what works with your body frame. I have the chest of an 11-year-old. How do you work with that?
DM: I want people to read this and realize It's about knowing what you can pull off.
AM: It's not about chasing brands. It's about individuality. When Dave named Ian Isiah, I was about to say Thundercat too. Just in terms of here's someone who's an artist and who has a recognizable look. Where you feel like the full idea is accomplished.
DM: Kamasi Washington?
AM: Yeah! All those dudes. What I was getting at with Thundercat is that even the bass is recognizable.
DM: Yep, everything has to be recognizable.
AM: Exactly. You know the Paul McCartney bass.
DM: You know the Chromeo guitars.
AM: Exactly. If it's chromed out...
DM: Growing up, we always said if you want to be an artist, people need to be able to dress like you on Halloween.
That’s interesting—and lot of the the most iconic figures certainly fit the bill. Prince, Bowie....
DM: Fucking John Lennon with the glasses? Think about it. It doesn't have to do with brands. It's just those little details. Even like all the way to The Strokes. Gather five dudes. I could dress them up as the Strokes and it would be the best Halloween quintet ever. White stripes? You name it.
There’s also an element where you just have fun with it. I don't follow the hype world very closely but I'm aware of it. One of my favorite moments was when Ian Connor came out with the Skechers. I thought, that's cool because he's having fun with it and he is showing people it doesn't matter what you are wearing, you can still pull it off. Same with Post Malone with the Crocs.
AM: Yeah, but now it's become easy with the ugly sneaker thing—now it’s easy to be like “oh hey watch me!”
There’s a certain novelty to it now.
DM: But my band mate was the first one, I'm sorry, I'm gonna put this out there. I want people to know. P-Thugg was trying to bring back DC shoes four years ago. This dude went to a mall in Edmonton, Canada, where they were selling DC shoes like it was still a thing. He bought every pair of DC shoes. He was trying to bring them back.
AM: European Puma's also.
DM: Yeah the suspect European Puma's with velcro. This dude was trying to bring back the MMA brand Tapout! But as I said, you have to have fun with it.
AM: I would say beyond being a smart ass with what you rock, it’s about this idea that you can express yourself with what you wear. For either of us, there's no single item of clothing that's essential. There's nothing I would be scared to lose. I think the way you dress just reflects your personality and what works for you. It's more about like silhouettes and figuring out what works than individual items.
DM: Yeah, but think of the kid out there who worked all summer to get that one piece. Like, I don’t want him to lose it.
AM: Yeah, but even if he was to lose it he probably learned something from buying it. What is it about that piece, about its shape that makes it work. He might be able to figure out that there's a way to replicate that. He may be able to go to Marshall's and find the same shape that will work.
DM: Totally. I think people should have fun with it and mix it up. Whether it's vintage or like whacky brands. You can have a kid who's matching a pair of Palace pants with a fucking Tommy Bahama shirt and I respect the fuck out of that. You don't have to be Gucci head to toe.
AM: It's not about being attached to one piece or something that's worth however much money. It's more about your ideas and your combinations. Working out what fits right on you.
DM: Most of us are mere mortals. We can't all be Jared Leto and A$AP Rocky. They're on another planet.
AM: There's plenty of things that aren’t going to work.
DM: You gotta know what's going to work and what's not going to work.
How do you guys shop?
AM: Our two schedules are pretty crazy. We'll be on tour, recording etc. and it will get to the change of seasons and there will be whole days dedicated to shopping.
Is that quality time that you guys spend together?
DM: But this year, I sent him a little moodboard almost. I said, "Dude, let's connect the way we dress to the late ‘90s. Let's get you some looks like where you channel this older British drum and bass DJ. Let's put you in some maharishi camo and baggy selvedge denim.” Everything but the Clarks because I just know that he’s got huge feet. That shit is authentic because it's a real DJ reference.
AM: I dressed like that in '99 already.
DM: That UK Garage feel, straight up.
That’s interesting, because that whole style is coming back too. Was that choice independent, or was it informed by the trend itself?
DM: Well, yes, but only if you could pull it off. Like for me, I straight up lift all my shit from French Rockers from the ‘80s. I was in Paris two weekends ago and it was a stroll down memory lane of these French rockers from the ‘80s that I used to not even listen to, but just see on TV. As kids, we grew up in the French speaking part of Canada so these French people from France were on TV and I thought they were so fly. I uploaded a bunch of pictures of them to Instagram and people hit me up like “yo, this is where you get it from?”
Speaking of Instagram, you both mention social media a lot. What is each of your approach to social media? Is there a strategy you employ or is it more natural?
DM: That app that restricts phone access, Screen Time. That's my approach to social media right now. Limiting it. It’s too much anxiety, too many triggers.
AM: As a DJ, I can't not post photos of my shows and what not. But it’s never like outfit photos. Its photos of my shows, photos that show what we’re doing with Fool's Golds, records that we're putting out, artists that I want to introduce to the world, playlists. But, I think the one thing that works for both the Chromeo world and A-Trak world is the idea of sharing knowledge.
We grew up really being students of the music game and of the culture that goes with it. Being up in Montreal, a few steps from any of the main hubs, we were isolated. Whether it was studying album liner notes and memorizing the mix engineers from all our favorite albums...
DM: Or buying every single issue of Source, Vibe, Rap Pages, Blaze, XXL and 4080 magazine every month…
AM: Just ingesting that information. You do that for long enough and it gives you a perspective and helps you understand what comes from where. I think the post-Tumblr, Instagram generation has a keen aesthetic sense. A lot of people have the sense of what looks good and what does not. I think what's missing is context and the treat of discovering something.
DM: But we're not shitting on it. All we're saying is our role as sort of the middle generation is spreading knowledge.
Do you see yourselves as gatekeepers in some regards?
AM: We’re not gatekeepers, but big bros to a certain extent.
DM: We’re not old heads, but we're definitely older brother types. A$AP Nast calls Alain big bro.
AM: He's been calling me big bro for eight years.
DM: I'm thinking, you're calling A-Trak Big Bro, what does that make me, grandpa? In that capacity, I think our role is helping to provide context or at least sharing knowledge.
AM: So, if anything, that's something that might go on to the social media channels, and I think with positive intention.
DM: The way Questlove did it for us.
AM: Anything that we can do to share information. Whether it be lesser known artists that we grew up on and see a relationship in their music with what's going on now, or new artists that we can sort of help get through the door. Or even if I'm playing a DJ set that goes all over the board in terms of genre and era. I post a lot of track lists and people in my comments are always like,
Yo, I wish more DJs would do this. Most DJs hide what they play. What's the point of that? All the information is out there. If I can help bring it to people who are into what I'm into...
So you want to be a vessel through which you can share your interests? Is that the mission at the end of the day?
AM: One hundred percent.
DM: That's what Kanye was to us, that's what the Beastie Boys was to us, and that's what A Tribe Called Quest was to us. There's a continuation there and you’re talking about artists who educated three generations. We're so thankful to them and our role is to keep that going. To be a vessel between the stuff that we ingest and all the new stuff that we listen to. We can provide context and connect some dots. Better get it from humans than from an algorithm.
At Grailed, we place immense value on context. When Rocky raps about Raf Simons, then kids head to Grailed and see an archive Raf Simons sweater for $3500, we feel it’s our role to educate and explain why. Do you have that same sort of mentality when it comes to music?
AM: To make a parallel, we grew up as record diggers. We would find certain samples that we thought sounded dope. Then you realize, those two records that are from different artists, they're both on, let's say, CTI records, and were both were made around '72-'73, I like the sound of that. There must be some sort of reason. What city is this from? What should I know about that city.
So, let’s say with Raf, what should I know about Belgium?
DM: What should you know about the Antwerp Six? Who's the Antwerp Six? Who else is from there? What is Antwerp? Where is Antwerp? What's that school? What do they teach there? What is Raf himself referencing? Who were his influences? Who came before him? What paradigm did he shift? Who was doing the same thing at the same time as him and trying to connect with youth culture like he did?
That I think not only heightens your appreciation for Raf, let’s say, but also allows you to have a broader understanding of who else will do this that’s maybe a little less obvious or under the radar, maybe less on the nose.
Through education, you can show the next generation context, as well as provide them with (sometimes more affordable) alternatives.
DM: Exactly. A lot of the times when you see these designers, some of them don't wear their own clothes. They wear the vintage reference instead.
For instance, Ricardo Tisci only wearing Nike Air Force 1s. That experience informed not only his Nike collaboration, but the shoes he made at Givenchy.
DM: Beyond that, why is the Air Force 1 so great?
AM: What is it about that shoe that no matter how many new shoes release, no matter what collab is dropping, they are still so great?
DM: It’s authenticity.
AM: Nothing is going to replace the Uptowns.
DM: That's the most authentic thing on earth.
AM: Going back to dressing like we were in the ‘90s, specifically wearing Gazelles, how many pairs did we have when we were teenagers?
DM: Come on, bro. I will never forget like the first Jamiroqui video I saw, he was wearing Gazelles, or “So What Cha Want” by the Beastie Boys. I remember thinking, “I gotta dress like that.” Those moments mark you.
AM: And it's so dope that Gazelles are a $60 shoe. It’s not a $600 shoe.
DM: Same as Wallabees. When Wu-Tang Clan came out with Wallabees, all my friends got em. Surely, there are moments like that today as well for the next generation, but even for us. Kanye in the Celine blouse, that was a moment. I think what was so cool about that was that it wasn't so on the nose. It's a woman's blouse, no one really knew about Celine the same way as they do now. It’s less obvious than someone who goes head to toe Gucci. That to me is noveau riche.
Are you fans of the archive trend that is happening in fashion? This idea of digging through the crates as opposed to buying something new at retail.
DM: A 100 percent. I just love it when anything comes with context. Whatever you're into, your appreciation of it becomes heightened when you have the story behind it as well as the context that comes with it. That's really my view. That can apply to fashion, music, architecture and so forth. Modernism is cool. But what was the idea behind modernism? What is it a response to?
AM: What was the intention also. What did they want to change?
DM: Who were the modernists trying to diss? Because they were trying to diss somebody. Same goes with fashion. Who and what is that statement a response to? Who are the other people in that same sentence? I really feel like that heightens your pleasure when you can really situate the things that you like.
Who are some designers that are working today whose work you really appreciate or gravitate towards?
DM: All the London kids. Craig Green. Martine Rose. That generation. They really blow me away. Honestly, since its me everyone will assume I will say Hedi Slimane, because that’s who I am and of course to me he's like the G.O.A.T. But like London is really something right now.
What do you think of the new Celine?
DM: I love it.
Even if it is exactly what you'd expect it to be?
DM: That's what I love. With Hedi, I think it’s much more than consistency. I think consistency is not a strong enough word. It's obsession. There are artists out there who have one idea and they're obsessed with it, literally. That's their whole career—the obsession with just one idea. There’s many in music, in art and in fashion. For some reason, some people don't get how that's a concept.
Look at the career of DJ Premier. Name a Premier beat from Gang Starr and then fast-forward ten years, the same DNA, the same feel is there. He's got an obsession. He's got a signature. His output is an expression of that obsession inside him. I think that's fucking beautiful. So to knock this dude from making the same thing for 10 years...
I'm not saying I don't like versatile artists but I think we also need to respect artists who have such an obsessive sense, a vision that really inhabits them and guides their output. That's just fire.
Outside Hedi Slimane and talent in Britain, is there anyone else?
Glenn Martens from Y-Project in Paris. Beast and young! All the bigger names have copied him. Pyer Moss in New York.
AM: The thing I like with Pyer Moss is that its tied into a community of artists too. There's like certain musicians that you know are going to be at the show.
DM: We live in New York. I have to give a big up to Telfar and Luar, Raul Lopez’s brand. And obviously anything Shane Oliver from Hood by Air touches. I always say this in any fashion interview. These are the people who if I had it my way, their faces would be plastered all over Times Square. That's the visionaries. The icons. Down to streetwear with what Angelo Baque is doing. Message driven shit. That's the stuff I love.
I think there's a lot of inspiring people—even if I don’t necessarily wear what they make. I would love to be head to toe in Telfar Global, but you know how stupid I would look? I'm not gonna pull it off. I know what I cannot do. I'm a bowling alley, I stay in my lane. But that doesn't mean I can’t show love.