Perhaps one of the most recognizable of all the names to come out of the 2nd wave of Electro and Techno, Alien FM; the product of a unique collaboration between legendary Aux 88 members Keith Tucker and Anthony "Blak Tony" Horton, went on to heavily influence a new generation of electronic music fans who found an aura of mystique, and pure musical innovation in the songs they produced in their early days.
Taking a very long hiatus between their last release on 430 West back in 1995, and their subsequent return with the "Large Mechanics" EP on K-1's iconic Puzzlebox imprint back in 2015, the duo continues on with their next release "Monochromatic Images" in 2020 as they prepare for much more to come out of their highly productive studio sessions as of late.
Here in this interview with Electric Kingdom, Anthony "Blak Tony" Horton talks about how the group formed back in the day, what their studio approaches are these days, and how things have changed since their beginnings, and where things are headed for them as they re-ignite the infamous duo for a secondary assault on a highly enthusiastic and musically thirsty generation of Electro and Techno lovers alike. Let's begin!
Electric Kingdom: Welcome! It is not just an honor to be able to do this interview, but it is also really great to see you are still making great electronic classics after all these years! You undoubtedly stand as one of the pillars of the 2nd wave of Electro and Techno music, and have influenced many who pursue this sound.
Let’s get on with it then. How did Alien FM come about in concept, and as a sound for you guys?
Blak Tony: First of all, thank you and the many ears interested in this outlet (Alien FM). It is indeed a labor of love!
The formation of this group began as myself and Keith Tucker had time in between "Aux88" recording sessions to do more explorational ideas and concepts. Having come from Techno roots, we included it within the main focus of what we were trying to compose with bass music. More of a Sci-Fi approach. We had the chance to experiment, and gathered our collective influences.
So who would you say are some of those key influences in the Alien FM sound then?
Of course "Aux 88" (as we both are members), Miami Bass music, Nu Wave, P-Funk, Sci-Fi movies, comics, escapism...Parliament, Talking Heads, the X-Men, Mother's Finest, pirate radio stations, Soul Sonic Force, Jean Luc Ponty, etc.
There was a long hiatus between your last release in 1995, and your return to the scene with "Large Mechanics" on Puzzlebox Records in 2015. What was the inspiration to revive this legendary project? Were any of the tracks on Large Mechanics perhaps old material from the 90's sessions?
The inspiration is that we truly love electronic music and ran into each other over the years, where we’d pursued other projects & groups. We’d proved that our ideas gelled in the studio, or when we’d work on concepts; though few and far between. We needed to revive the group! It became more of a cult thing as there was less material from it over time.
None of the tracks on "Large Mechanics" are old material, each project is fresh material. There are way more tools & idealisms we have at our disposal now than in the 90's, that's what makes the recording sessions so fun!
I think it must be asked, as I personally have always been fascinated with this angle of your group given the name, art, concept, etc: Are you guys believers in extraterrestrial life at all? Does that concept in any way play a role in what drives the artistic concept of the duo?
We do believe in other life throughout the cosmos, we can't be the only beings in existence in no way. The ideas go hand in hand: "Alien FM" is an underground pirate radio station traveling through space and time, it’s our theme. We program to the listening ears of “those who know”...and those who shall! Like an intergalactic broadcast.
You are back with a new vinyl output called "Monochromatic Images EP", also on Puzzlebox Records. What's the concept, or at least inspiration for this release? Is there a follow-up full length album coming as well?
The concept is negative and positive energy. Opposite contrast, as in black & white (a favorite color combo), and the opportunity to do something different than the last EP; like “Record Man”. We wanted to jam and explore on this EP a bit more, and are very excited about its outcome and how it will be received. We very well may do a full length LP. Right now we have a few projects to complete on the outside.
We manipulate the machine, not the other way around. Folks get too lazy expecting the machines to evoke the soul. Soul can't be replaced!
How do you feel about your studio sessions this day in age as compared to in the past? What has changed about your approach? Any new gear you guys are excited about? Also, do you feel as if music technology has come to a point where it truly empowers the artist in ways it couldn't before, or is it perhaps helping to replace human talent in some ways?
We both (myself and Keith), have separate studios in further edges of Detroit, meeting up at his "Optic Studios" to check the sound and playback. I do more of a raw sketch at my own "Blakfrankenstein Studios". A bit more comfortable than back in the day being in your own environment at home. Constantly staying in touch, so our approach is no different.
Keith is excited about the new synths coming from Sequential Circuits, myself the new 909 when released. The technology to us only enhances one’s abilities...it’s the imagination (many forget) that triggers concept, composition. We manipulate the machine, not the other way around. Folks get too lazy expecting the machines to evoke the soul. SOUL CAN’T BE REPLACED!
I purposely limit the gear I use in order to convey my sound from scratch, everytime! Sound I can easily bring to the stage for performances. It ain’t about having a million dollar studio to me and coming out with the excuse of having writer's block, it never happens.
We trade ideas & theories. That's what a group is supposed to do!
While on the topic of studio techniques, what would be your number one tip for aspiring producers out there?
I personally shut-out my environment, and wear a good pair of headphones. I focus.
Don’t bang your ears out to create a hot tune, you're not in Tresor club...yet! Keep things at a tolerable volume...a low volume while creating, will develop a great ear for a final mix!
What would be your biggest bit of advice as far as how to have the kind of longevity you guys have had in the scene? What's the key to your success?
We always believed there was an audience for it...You have the whole world to listen. We’re both stubborn as hell, and we're still on a mission even in our 50's. Electronic music has always been a challenge to us coming from mainstream backgrounds.
The key is having faith in the work, even when your surroundings, other people, and situation tell you not to. You have to be strong in your shit!
Absolutely! Especially for us Electro freaks, it can be lonely out there sometimes. Good advice.
So what's in store for the future? Any releases we can look forward to? Can we expect to see an Alien FM tour for Monochromatic Images perhaps?
We are in talks of a live performance one day soon, nice you asked! We’re both devoting attention now on our "Infinite 12's" production company with remixes, concepts, etc. We also want to get into movie scores and theme songs like I just did for T. Carlita’s “In My House Music Show”. Keith is in major learning mode in all aspects of sound & visual. Trying to preserve our legacies, so even after we are gone, our achievements will survive.
As far as releases, a new one under our "Infinite 12's" production with Ed Upton of DMX Crew, another with fellow Detroiter, "DJ Godfather", with the “Street Beats” project, and compiling music and EP's ahead of time, so when it's a go after this pandemic we’ll be ready. Making connections & developing strategies in the “New Normal”, man. The key to the future (at least one of them).
Huge thanks for your time Tony, best of luck to you and Keith!