Interview with Alex Figueira

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Here’s our conversation with Alex Figueira from Amsterdam, man behind unique record shop Vintage Voudou and many more…

So who are you, Alex?

I’m music junkie Alex Figueira. I try to keep myself busy being a musician, producer, DJ, record dealer, bike mechanic and few other things

Are you from Amsterdam?

I’ve been living here for 7 and half years. But I’m born in Venezuela. My family is from Portugal. I guess that makes me what they call a “Portuzuelan”)

What a mix of countries! How it is for you in Holland? Why did you change your location?

Holland has been very good to me. Besides the shit weather I can’t really complain). I came here because I felt I wouldn’t be able to follow my musical vocation in any of my two countries of origin. Holland seemed like a place where I could pursue what I felt I was really born for, and I wasn’t wrong.
I’ve managed to achieve things here in 7 years that I’m pretty sure I would have never manage to achieve in a lifetime in either Venezuela or Portugal. I also had a Dutch girlfriend back at the time and my best friend back then was also living here so that all together made me chose for Amsterdam.

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What is the story with music?

I started as a musician. I started playing the drums when I was around 15. It was all about Ska and Reggae back then, my first musical passion, which I still love deeply nowadays. Then I got into Punk and Hardcore, played in a few bands. I guess started Djing somewhere around 2002… I would steal food from the supermarket so I could use the little money I had to buy records. Crazy days…

So all it took place in Venezuela before moving?

Some of it. I lived in Venezuela till 1999, when I moved to Portugal. I was already addicted to music since eleven. I started buying vinyl at that time because it was ridiculously cheap and CDs were very expensive: with the same you would buy a new CD you could buy probably 11 or 12 LP’s)

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So that’s how I started. Not because it was cool or the sound was better. At that age I only wished I could afford CDs and my friends would take the piss off me when they saw me on the street carrying records. It was considered not cool at all back in the day! All those friends are now using iPods though and I’m still buying vinyl. Time always puts everything in the right place. When I moved to Portugal my addiction only got worse. I was in the university and started hanging out with some other music junkies. I would go to the flea market in Lisbon every other Saturday, sometimes straight after a whole night out on Friday. I just couldn’t miss it!

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Was it a natural change of your taste to something more exotic?

It was all gradual. I see it as a journey that takes you to many different places. Any place you have been you learn something and you step into a new place, you become a musically richer person. I’ve always been very curious. I find myself liking stuff that I would have never guessed 5 years ago I would actually like at any point. There is just too much amazing music out there to be stuck in any particular style. I got friends who still only listen to that certain style they love and that’s it. I respect it, but I certainly know I would never be able to do such a thing.

How idea about the shop came to you?

Every record junkie in this universe has always dreamed of having his/her own record shop, I’m pretty sure of that. When the opportunity came up I wasn’t really prepared for it but I knew I couldn’t miss it. My friend Edo Bouman (from the label Bombay Connection) and I had been doing some traveling to fulfill our vinyl addiction and get fresh vinyl for the Vintage Voudou party. So we would sell the remains on the internet or trade with friends. Then our friend Taco (Red Light Records) offered us the space next to his shop because he thought it was a good idea to have another record shop next to his one. And that’s how we went official and opened the shop.

How long it is going?

It’s now exactly one year.

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Congrats! Was it hard to do a record digging in not so easy way — in original country? How it was first time?

In my own country (Venezuela) is easy because I know the places and I know which parts of the city I am not supposed to go around plus all the other codes that you need to know when you’re on a rough place, but in other places it was hard, yes. In Europe you go to a record shop when you want to buy a certain record. But in the Caribbean you need to walk around with a record under your arm and ask around until you eventually find somebody with records. You might get lucky right away or you might need to do this for days in a row until you find something.

Where you were in your vinyl trips? What country is your favorite?

Besides my two countries we’ve been in Surinam, Guyana and Trinidad. Surinam was great: beautiful people, great music, great food…

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Are you looking for something certain, or maybe you always find unknown exciting names?

What really moves us to go to these places is to find records that we don’t know, records that would surprise us. I don’t think there’s anything better, when it comes to music, than finding something that challenges you, that shakes your ground. Well, music in the Caribbean today is not exactly appealing IMHO. There are loads of computerized stuff which I’m not particularly crazy about. I saw some incredible bands in Surinam though.

Were you at local parties? If you were — do you want to copy some vibe, feeling, emotions from it to your own party? Are you doing parties in Amsterdam?

Yeah, of course. I try to learn as much as possible. That’s why I travel, at least. One has to be very aware of the many cultural and sociological differences, but music is universal. So yes, I try to incorporate the good things I see in these other environments into what I do back at home on the VINTAGE VOUDOU party. We are heading for our 3rd anniversary in a couple of months!

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Are you playing straight rare stuff on your parties? How people react to it? Have you interests in any modern music?

I play stuff that enhances the philosophy I try to embrace with this party, which is basically Heavy and Raw dance music from “unusual” places, music that is great for dancing but that hasn’t had the worldwide degree of acceptance other music styles have had. Many times it’s rare stuff, but it can also be stuff that I used to hear on the radio in Venezuela when I was a kid. As long as it’s got that certain sound, I’ll play it. Of course the focus is on music we don’t know. We want to reveal music that hasn’t had the recognition it deserved. I don’t see the point on playing the same records that people have been playing for 40 years now over and over. I’m not particularly interested in modern music except for a few bands that I think are doing an amazing job. I am extremely demanding when it comes to music and I have a very hard time tolerating mediocrity.

And what is this “golden” time period your records are from?

It depends of course on the country of origin and style. For example, the best Surinam stuff IMHO is from the early 80’s. But in general I think the best sounding records are all made between the late 50’s and the early 80’s.

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Can you name some of the records that make people go nuts on the dancefloor?

It’s some of late 70’s Afro Colombian stuff like AFROSOUND or SON PALENQUE. Some frenetic Angolan Semba’s 45’s from ÁGUIAS REAIS, AFRICA RITMOS, DAVID ZÉ, OS KIEZOS, The Merengues from TATICO HENRIQUEZ and EL CIEGUITO DE NAGUA. French Caribbean Kompàs makes people go wild too: LES GYPSIES, LES VICKINGS, LES DIFFICILES…

We saw a photo of Vintage Voodoo “test pressing”. And after some “googling” we found that it will be out on MUSIC WITH SOUL. Is it also your label? There’re so many things you’re running)

Yes, that test pressing is from a recording I made in my own studio (the Barracão). It’s coming out on Music With Soul in a couple of weeks. The label is mine, indeed. I also do the artwork, I’m not really good with drawing but I had to start doing it ‘cause I couldn’t find anyone who could do it as raw and nasty as I needed it to be.

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It’s re-edits, right?

No it’s actually stuff I record there in the studio, original music. Sometimes it’s covers from old tunes.

It comes from your band & drums background).

Yeah! And I’m still busy with bands, thank God! I like to think I’m first a musician, then anything else).

Great music, man, style, these crazy synthesizer sounds, artwork. All is very solid.

Thanks a lot.

I had no idea that it’s a new stuff. Fantastic! I should buy something there).

I try to make my records sound like the records I love!! Still learning and trying to get better with every record I put out.

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And what’s next?

Just keep going. I wish the day had 40 hours so I could find more music, record more music and play more music, until then I try to make and share as much music as possible). The FUMAÇA PRETA LP is almost ready (finishing mixing at the moment), then we’re going to make another LP with a forgotten Boogie legend from the late 70’s. And after that I’m going to try to finish the CONJUNTO PAPA UPA LP.

It’s unique to produce new music with this sound while there’re many labels doing re-issues. Man, it’s great! But you have an amazing access to such rarities that you can start making re-issues one day. Another one thing to do)

Hahahaha. if I had those 40 hour long days i would, sure!!

Thank you very much, Alex!

Thanks for having me guys!

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Words by Artem Super Ikra & Sasha Tessio
Cover photo from http://www.flickr.com/photos/reginius