Meet Alluxe, the "Controllerist" of the Yeezus Tour and, Soon, Your Mind
She's one of the most influential producers working right now—and you can stream her new track, "Get Up."
There’s a certain level of fame you can attain just from working in the presence of one of music’s best artists. You’ll see any member even affiliated with the crew, talking about their affiliation with the crew. But it’s always the quiet ones—those who never speak on behalf of who they’re working for, but instead pursue their own dreams while working on someone else’s—that have the best stories.
That’s Alluxe. Born Laura Escude and raised between Guam and Florida, Alluxe has gone from a college student on a violin performance scholarship at Florida State University to one of the most important music programmers in the industry—recently finishing a stint working as Kanye West's Yeezus tour programmer. The title itself—and why Alluxe prefers the term “controllerist” over “programmer”—conveys an image of someone sitting behind a computer all night pressing buttons. But Alluxe, and her technical mastery, will gladly show you it’s not. She started in college, working with various music producers and got involved with raves around campus. This inspired her eventualy move from Florida to Los Angeles, where she eventually found herself working at Ableton, a software and hardware company for writing, recording, and performing music.
Working at Ableton led to Alluxe becoming the first certified trainer in the music-production computer program and helping create—and foster—Albeton’s certification program. Then she went to Vegas to perform in Cirque du Soleil, which was the first step into a career that has now included working with everyone from Kanye West, Jay-Z, Herbie Hancock, Drake, Childish Gambino, and more. Plus, she’s finally in charge of her very own music technology company, Electronic Creatives.
Beyond working on Jay Z and Kanye’s Watch The Throne tour or playing the strings on the Frank Ocean–featured track "Made in America,” or touring again with Kanye on the Yeezus show, Alluxe is more concerned with her solo work than telling you crazy backstage stories about the G.O.O.D. Music crew.
In order to really understand the complexities and genuine music crafting that Alluxe is doing, you’ll have to immerse yourself into her work—there’s the video for “Rytmus,” or plenty of original remixes on her SoundCloud, including one for M83’s “Steve McQueen” and a huge remix of Beyonce’s “Drunk In Love” featuring M.W.A., Kanye West, Jay Z, The Weeknd, and Diplo. Today, we’re excited to premiere her remix of New Beat Fund’s “Get Up” for Red Bull Records. We also spoke to the controllerist about her past in programming, what touring has taught her, and, yeah, what the hell “controllerism” really is.
Let’s talk a little bit about how you got your start in music.
I started with the violin when I was 5 years old after I saw another girl playing and immediately decided I wanted to do it too. I started taking private lessons and played in orchestras my whole childhood. I was concertmaster of the Rhode Island Youth Philharmonic and won a scholarship to Interlochen Music & Arts Camp when I was 16. This was life changing because I was in an immersive musical environment for a full summer and I was exposed to playing music other than classical.
I know you graduated from FSU, which seems to be where a lot of your music opportunities kicked off. How did you really get into that scene while you were down in Florida?
I originally went to Vanderbilt in Nashville, but the summer after my freshman year I transferred to the violin performance program at FSU because there was more going on there. Going from living in a small town in Rhode Island to one of the biggest schools in the country really broadened my horizons musically. I started going to raves and fell in love with electronic music. I ended up getting really involved in the scene by playing violin live and in the studio with local Drum & Bass DJ's and producers and I started getting gigs at the Winter Music Conference and all around Florida. Soon after I started producing my own music with Acid Pro and found a groove. I guess I never really looked back from there, I was completely hooked.
And you recorded in George Clinton’s studio?
Yeah, the last few years in college I was booking shows at this amazing place called Om Cafe which was the spot in town that brought the best underground talent. It really shaped the music that I was exposed to and still listen to to this day. I remember hearing Squarepusher "Do You Know Squarepusher" on a tape that a DJ brought to his show and it blew my mind because I had never heard anything so different before. One night we booked this band Smoke who were some of George Clinton's protégés. George is from Tallahassee and had a studio in town so I ended up playing and producing music over there. I learned a lot about production, just looking over people's shoulders and asking annoying questions. I even ended up playing violin with George on some stuff but I have no idea what happened to those tracks!
What happens next to make you move to Los Angeles and start at Ableton?
When I got to LA I took a job at M-Audio which eventually led to me working at Ableton a few years later. I was the first West Coast Product Specialist for the company so I ended up traveling all over doing demonstrations and workshops. I met a lot of great people and artists doing that. I've always been really technically inclined and ended up being part of the team that developed the Ableton certification program. I was also in the first group of people that were Ableton Certified which was a huge honor and opened up a lot of doors for me.
When did the programming for live shows begin then?
Cirque du Soleil called me out of the blue and asked me if I wanted to come out to Vegas and help program this show called "Viva Elvis" for a few months. At the time shows were switching over to the Ableton Live platform so I got a crash course in programming music for live shows. It was quite an educational experience and living on the Vegas strip for a few months was a bit nuts. These kinds of shows are so complex, it really prepared me for working more in the commercial music world.
Which led to Watch the Throne tour and then Kanye’s most recent Yeezus tour as well. Can you explain what your role is on the tour?
My role is pretty central to the show on the tour. I'm in charge of all of the music programming—editing all of the music that is played—as well as doing vocal effects live in real time. I also played violin on "Made in America" from Watch The Throne and wrote and played the H.A.M. intro for the "Dark Fantasy "Tour
You separate yourself a lot from Kanye and the artists you work with, which is respectable because most people would use that as a jump off.
Working with Kanye & Jay Z and other artists like The Weeknd and Bon Iver is really inspiring but I want people to support my music because they genuinely like it, not because of who I work with or the friends that I have. I don't like wondering why someone is talking to me or is interested in my music. I'm just working, constantly on my grind and I'm creating my life and music for myself and not anyone else.
Let’s talk about "controllerism" and how you define yourself by that term.
Controllerism really just refers to how I perform live, it's basically the process of using hardware controllers to control software. There are some really interesting and exciting artists like Henry Strange and Moldover who are really pushing the boundaries of what this stuff can do. I use a custom Livid Instruments OHM RGB controller with LEDs around the outside to trigger songs, clips of audio, manipulate effects, loop my violin, vocals, sound effects, trigger video clips—pretty much everything! Controllerism is all about getting away from the laptop and performing with the controllers as instruments. There's a lot of room to really create something new and fresh in this space.
I’ve watched some videos of you using a Wii controller to do live effects at shows.
Ha. Yeah the WII controller is just another instrument to control different kinds of crazy effects during my live show. I also use it for controlling vocal effects, It's great fun and gives me the ability to be really improvisational—sort of like a video game but you're controlling real life. I also love passing it through the crowd to get the audience involved more directly in the music and I've been known to break it out during my Auto Tune karaoke sessions at parties.
One of the first real visual introductions to your music was with the “Rytmus” video. What was the creative process behind it? It’s pretty wild.
I knew from the beginning that I wanted to do a music video for one of the songs on my Nomad EP. Nika Offenbac, the director and I had been discussing working on a project for a long time. The song and the video were created in tandem, so it was really a true collaboration between visuals and music. We set out to tell an archetypal creation myth about the battle between light and dark but we wanted it to be really futuristic and raw like the music. At the same time I was producing some tracks for Yemi A.D. who is the Yeezus director and choreographer. I knew that putting the two of them together could result in an interesting experiment so a month later we flew to Prague to shoot with the parkour troupe In Motion and Yemi's dance team JAD. Nika and her director of photography Olivia Kuan spent 3 days breaking into abandoned buildings with In Motion looking for locations. We ended up shooting at this amazing abandoned factory that looked like some sort of apocalyptic eden. Production was 2 freezing days and then Nika took the film back to New York for editing and visual effects work. We were lucky to work with some really amazing people, I think it turned out great.
Now you have your own company, Electronic Creatives. Who is on your team there and what kind of projects are you working on?
Electronic Creatives is the way that I help support and get eyeballs on the careers of some amazing artists that I collaborate and work with. We do a lot of music programming for other artists at the moment but the project is expanding more into developing the artist's own careers and bringing both their musical and technical strengths to the table. In the last year we have been touring with The Weeknd, Drake, Sleigh Bells, Yeah Yeah Yeahs and more.
What do you have planned for the next few months?
Right now the focus is really on Alluxe and I'm really excited about the sounds that are coming out. Also, Nika and I are working on a documentary about electronic music in cities around the globe. I'm getting to meet a lot of interesting musicians and really dive into their processes and sound which is great. The dopest part though is I'm curating all of the music in the film and also doing a lot of original composition. I'm also really focused on developing my live show and will be spending part of the summer in Europe touring with Kanye and doing Alluxe shows. I've started on my 2nd album which I hope to have out by the end of the year and I'm also doing a number of remixes. I'm really excited about the future, there's a lot to look forward to.
Lauren Nostro controls pizza. She’s on Twitter — @LAURENcynthia