Alexis Talneau aka ALEQS NOTAL
I cycle to meet my friend and former teammate, Alexis Talneau on the first day of the second French lockdown. Only essential travel is permitted, and paperwork must be filled out before venturing outside but I think we can all agree that an interview with a world-champion is most definitely essential.
ALEQS NOTAL (his DJ name) greets us with a beer and open arms and brings us inside from the Parisian drizzle, weather that very much reflects the mood of the French capital under these new draconian rules. He leads a fascinating life that has been moulded and guided by music, his passion that became his career and has taken him all around the world. In 2005, he won the French DJ Championships and 5 years later he won Red Bull 3Style, the World Championships of DJing. Since then, he has been on the panel of judges with legends like Jazzy Jeff (of Fresh Prince fame), Cut Killer and more. But how does a DJ ‘make it?’ Is it a lonely road to the top, or one filled with collaboration and teamwork?
In the beginning, there was the young Alexis, his cassette Walkman (!!!) and his school friends. “Back then, we would stay up late and record the OG’s playing on the radio late at night. I’d then listen to these tapes on the way to school or at break time and trade them with my friends. It allowed me to see that other people were into it too, it was a shared experience that enabled me to find other like-minded people.” This feeling of belonging, feeling “implicated” is important for young people according to NOTAL, especially those in the DJ community. “Some people get that feeling of community through sport; I got it through music via the bootlegged tapes. We would share the tapes, copy the tapes, and talk about what we loved.” Today, there is Rinse FM, the station founded by Manaré, a co-member of the now defunct Parisian music label Clek Clek Boom. “He has been able to recreate what we did with Clek Clek. He’s created a space for young musicians to feel like they belong, and to learn. In my day, we didn't have a community like that.”
Clek Clek Boom is remembered with great fondness, and NOTAL recognises the effect the collective melting pot of talent had on him. Beforehand, he had been touring with Saïan Supa Crew in front of 30,000+ people, but the Clek Clek crew helped him become the more complete DJ and producer that he is today. “CCB was a label, but it was a real crew, a real team. We would see one another outside of gigs and go to the studio so we had this really strong energy. We would listen to each other’s latest tracks, check out their latest vinyl-finds; it would always drive us forward and it lifted us up. We were constantly improving our skills and our knowledge just by being around one another. It pushed us to out-do ourselves.” This selection of DJs young and old, from all walks of life, with varying musical backgrounds and tastes, NOTAL refers to CCB as being like The Avengers! “We all had our own style, but when you added them all together we had a voice that was stronger, together. The differences in our ages, our backgrounds were actually kind of our strength and even though we were doing different things or had come from different places, we had a unified voice.”
That sound that they would create together would be referred to as Paris Club Music. After French Touch (think Daft Punk) and French Touch 2.0 (Justice), here was a sound that was heavily influenced by the UK, Detroit and Chicago – bassy and heavy. “The synergy of CCB pulled us and our personal projects up to new heights. It gave us confidence in ourselves and in the music we made.” Now, years later, NOTAL is still grateful for those days with his Parisian crew. “The community spirit is really important. We had this multi-aged crew, but a common thread. We felt like we were all in the same boat, hence the logo for our sound and the LP cover. This crew helped me find my calling in music, find my style. When CCB stopped, that helped me sign a deal with an independent label in Detroit.”
The links between nightlife and football are not the most evident. No sleep and questionable substances are hardly synonymous with sport at the highest level! However, in 2014, Clek Clek Boom had the opportunity to put together a team for Le Ballon Football League, an independent league for creatives in Paris that showcased a different side of football. “When they asked me to be involved, of course I said yes, because it was the same thing as when we set up our DJ ‘teams’ back in the day. I had barely played any football in my life, but it was cool to train and I’m pretty sure I got a lot better!” He is right; his improvement was plain to see, and the joy that his team, River Dubplate (a play on the famous Buenos Aires-based club and the dubplate, a rough vinyl-pressing of vocals used for DJing, often in reggae and dancehall) took was infectious. “Our team was really fun in that you could see people progress. We weren’t all strong players at the start but we were good mates. We learned together and we didn't come last! We showed that mentality was really important, arguably more than our physical characteristics. We owed a lot to our stronger players in the middle, but it reminded me of Clek Clek in the way the older guys elevated us to achieve more, together. At River, the good players lifted us up, and the rest of us really tried our hardest so as not to let the ‘leaders’ down. The dynamism and impulse of the more junior players helps the more seasoned players as well.”
It is clear to see that NOTAL’s brief foray into football made an impression on him. His face lights up as he recounts, “the only goal I’ve ever scored in my life,” as well as when someone screamed at him to press Champions League finalist, Edouard Cissé, while playing at Clairefontaine. The spirit and teamwork were things that he had clearly missed while focussing on his solo projects, which is why his latest endeavour, Industrial Light looks to expand on the collaborative nature of music production. Clek Clek Boom alumnus-turned-fine-artist Jean Nipon has designed the logo and the first release is a “Various LP by Laroye, Modern House Quintet, Kristian Amou, myself and DJ BowlCut from Seoul Community Radio. He’s a great guy and we mix together whenever I go out there. The last time he invited me to stay at his house, his mum was cooking for us. It’s a great community, we look out for one another for sure.” In the future, he hopes to realise a lifelong ambition – “I want to go to the USA in 2021 and put together an album with all of my sensei, the guys from Detroit etc. That’s my dream.”
After having talked passionately for 45 minutes about his life, his experiences in music (and football), he turns the questions on me and asks about FIFA 21. He loves the notion that Le Ballon FC and his River Dubplate shirt will be available in the game, and that he might have to dust of the controllers and give it another go. “Are you any good?” I ask him. “Mate, I’m a goat,” is the immediate response! Not to be confused with The GOAT; un chèvre means you are absolutely abysmal. Oh, and if you’re wondering, the best track on the FIFA soundtracks according to a World Champion DJ and music encyclopaedia? Fit But You Know It by The Streets from FIFA 2005. You heard it here first.