Alex Dyson On Life After Triple J, His DJ Skills & Being “Open To” Reuniting With Matt Okine

Alex Dyson has been a little quieter since leaving youth broadcaster triple j for the second time. But the beloved “Ratdog” is repositioning himself as a mix of DJ and social media influencer. This weekend, he’ll play bangers as part of the multi-venue Sydney festival Go Here Go There, joining the likes of Bad//Dreems on the lineup.

Dyso — now based in Melbourne after some travelling — hails from regional Warrnambool on the Victorian coast. It was there he made an early foray into radio, hosting with mate Tom Ballard on a community station. Their break came when in 2007 when they were offered a slot on triple j, eventually hosting the Breakfast show. When Ballard left, Dyson was joined by Matt Okine. Dyson finished at the end of 2016, only to return as Lunch host in December for six months.

Dyson’s music sensibilities are varied. As a kid, he liked metal. And his predilection for rave is well known, with Darude’s ’90s trance anthem ‘Sandstorm’ his signature. His current band obsession? Gang Of Youths. Recently, he was a mentor for the talent search Project: Aloft Star Asia Pacific (apparently channelling Australian Idol‘s Mark Holden), backed by Universal Music.

Dyson travelled to Seoul with the Sunshine Coast band High Tropics. “We had a ball and, although they didn’t win the Universal contract that was on offer, we did win karaoke,” he says.

As an interviewee, Dyson is much like he is on radio — off the cuff and comic. Even when discussing serious matters, it’s hard to tell if he is being playful. Even at the end of this chat with Music Feeds, he half-jokingly suggests a career in politics may be on the horizon.

Music Feeds: You left triple j again in June. How was it leaving the second time? Was it harder?

Alex Dyson: ‘Hard’, nah, I don’t think it was harder. I think it was a bit easier… [From] what I hear about giving birth, it’s like you sort of get used to it. You’re right, you’ve been through it before, you know what to expect. It was definitely equally sad and bittersweet but, yeah, I knew it was only a temporary thing, so I think I was ready for it.

MF: You’ve been quiet on Twitter, so I’m curious as to what you’ve been up to since?

AD: I don’t use Twitter that much [laughs]. So yeah, since June, what have I done? Oh, I’m not sure what to go through with you. It’s sort of hard to keep track.

Yeah, the days just sort of go — you sleep in and then you get a coffee and then you cruise around for a bit and you end up sending emails and things pop up like they do for writing [for] The Creative Eye magazine. I’ve been interviewing a few people for that. I interviewed Vera Blue and Amy Shark and Ball Park Music most recently, which is okay.

I’ve been DJing around the place and doing a couple of trips to Perth and this one [Go Here Go There] coming up, which is pretty cool, and just working on a couple of little projects; doing my own bits of writing, [I’ve] been hanging out with Kyran Wheatley a bit from triple j. He’s in Melbourne now too, so I’ve been trying to do some stuff with him, trying to formulate a few things, and just hang out with a few friends that you don’t get to see too much when you’re working all the time.

I’ve remembered one of main things I’ve been doing since leaving triple j. I got an elbow reconstruction! So it took me out of the game for a long time. I had to go to surgery and have my elbow reconstructed because I dislocated it last year doing a cartwheel in Albania. So that’s why I couldn’t remember what was going on. It’s been better now. So that’s good. It’s out of my brace. But, yeah, I was on the couch a lot during that period.

MF: You sound like the typical freelancer, when you say the days blur.

AD: Yeah, that’s exactly what it is, literally. I had a few freelancing friends and I didn’t really know what they talked about or did, but I’m starting to understand now [laughs].

MF: Well, you are up at 10 o’clock — that’s always a good sign.

AD: I could give you an example of today. Well, talking to you for one. Then I’ve got a text this morning from my sister asking if I could pick her up from the airport — because I’m a freelancer, I’m ‘available’ to do that.

So that might become part of your day and so you’ve gotta block out a little bit of time collecting everything. Suddenly before you know it, you’re going to bed and, yeah, it’s a new day to begin.

MF: You mentioned you were writing for an outlet?

AD: It’s this magazine called The Creative Eye. I did a few interviews, [where] I did the sort of normal interview that I’m used to, but then to try and mould that into writing is a bit different for me. I did Creative Writing at uni, so I remember doing a subject called Creative Non-Fiction, which I guess fits in pretty well.

So that’s what I majored in at uni. It was interesting because, on radio, you’re doing interviews with someone, you just try to make it entertaining, you’re very spontaneous and it’s done in one go. But, with the print one, I’ve sort of gotta mould that into a bit of a narrative. It’s hard to know where to start or what to include and what slots into the whole thing. So it’s been a bit of a challenge, but I’ve enjoyed it.

MF: Talking of DJing, you are playing Go Here Go There and I guess I took this to have a slight ‘Keep Sydney Open’ subtext to it, this whole event. Everyone knows that Kings Cross has done it hard in recent times. What’s your involvement in this festival?

AD: Yeah, I don’t have too much deeper involvement other than just having a lot of friends and contacts and acquaintances who to them Kings Cross means a lot. I lived in Sydney for a long time as well. You could definitely get a sense that that was such a breeding ground for talent, particularly in the DJ world, the electronic music world.

There’s been campaigns to put up the plaques there of the acts who got their starts in clubs around the area, just looking at the clubs themselves that have come and gone over the years.

So, yeah, I just generally support my friends and the people I respect and admire in the industry who to them Kings Cross is a real lifeblood. It’s more than just, ‘Go out and have fun on a Saturday night.’ You can create things, you can connect with people, and I think this festival’s a really great idea to bring back that sort of culture that people can not only go out and have a good time themselves, but meet other people, check other venues out and see the area as a whole.

I think it’s a bit of an initiative they’re sort of coming up with to show there’s still so much to offer in the area. So I’ll be in the Kings Cross Hotel, which I’ve been to a few times before and quite liked, so that’s where I’ll be playing. Hopefully before and after I can sneak out and have a wander around.

I remember the first time I went to Kings Cross was, it would have been 2009, I think, and I was just blown away by the amount of people there and particularly the Dandelion Fountain — that was quite amazing, yeah. I was just like, ‘What is this place?’ It’s a real experience for me.

MF: What does a DJ mix from you sound like? You can’t really tell from what you’ve done on radio because, as you were saying with the interview process, it’s different.

AD: Well it’s very dependent on the crowd, the moods, what I’m feeling at the time… It can range anywhere from general triple j crossover hits, and that sort of thing, throw in in a few oldies too, to all-out 110 per cent rave [laughs] — just open the throttle and see what people can handle!

Sometimes that’s getting into what can you tolerate, rather than what can you enjoy. I get the BPM up nice and high and see what people can do. Sometimes for 10 minutes, sometimes for half-an-hour. But I do like throwing in a few remixes, which, if they get played in the morning, would be quite difficult to handle.

MF: I have to ask — do you play ‘Sandstorm’?

AD: Oh it’s amazing because, I remember the first DJ set I did, I’m thinking, ‘I can’t play this,’ because it became part of our radio show on and off throughout the years and it became quite known for enjoying it. These things usually have their time and place. It’s fun at the time and maybe you can move on and evolve, whatever the artist says… but I’ve gotta tell you, the amount of times that I’m there and people ask, ‘Oh what do you want me to play tonight?’ They go, ”Sandstorm.”

It gets to the point where it’s difficult to not play, just based on the whim of the crowd, which is fine. I don’t mind it! I’m not above playing ‘Sandstorm’ still.

MF: It’s like the rave version of Daryl Braithwaite’s ‘The Horses’?

AD: It totally is [laughs]. Actually, I played a DJ set last weekend in Warrnambool and this guy goes, ‘Play Daryl Braithwaite, play ‘Horses’.’ I’m like, ‘Yeah, all right,’ ’cause I think last time I was in Warrnambool I played it, I think at the races, where it was the biggest song on the night. So I was like, ‘All right…’

This guy, he’s like, ‘Can I do the mic?’ I’m like, ‘Yeah, righto.’ I got the guy on stage and gave him the mic as far as kept up the top end and he just did a full karaoke version of Daryl, and he nailed it. He had a great voice! The crowd sang along. So an Alex Dyson DJ set turned into an impromptu karaoke session! The guy sang the whole song into the mic. The whole room was loving it, gave him a standing ovation, and then we moved on with our lives. But, for a moment, there it was very special.

MF: What are your music sensibilities? I find most DJs or musicians go through a series of phases when they’re growing up… and I’m sure it’s the same for broadcasters. It’s pretty much the same for every music head. What were you into at 13?

AD: At 13 — I think the first actual album I bought was probably around then was [by] [German metal band] Rammstein. So I remember hearing it on the radio, and it would have had to have been triple j. I don’t recall the radio station — like when I was listening, I didn’t have the awareness that it was triple j, but I’m not sure who else would play Rammstein in Warrnambool, the way, “Oh, this song’s cool!” [laughs].

Then I got into them. I went through a Rammstein phase when I was younger, hit a real Coldplay phase coming into [the] Year 10 area, and, since then, being at triple j I guess my music taste is so eclectic now, because it plays a broad range of genres.

I like songs, good songs, in each genre, if that makes sense. Like there’s a lot of American hip-hop at the moment — which wouldn’t necessarily be my genre — but there’d be a few stand-outs that I’m like, ‘Oh, I can get into that.’ Like, when I first started listening to Aussie hip-hop, there would be a couple of songs, I’m like, ‘Yeah, that gives me an entry point into this world.’ It’d be the same with everything, I guess: punk, a bit more downtempo world music… I can appreciate a lot of different music nowadays. It’s good.

MF: What was the Rammstein album?

AD: I had two growing up. There was Live Aus Berlin, their live album, when they played in Berlin. But I also had the album Mutter, the German translation of which is ‘mother’, and it sort of had a baby face on the front and then inside it had all these pictures of all the band members. It had their heads in jars. It was pretty creepy. Although there was one, I think the keyboardist, was floating. They were all like science experiments. It was nice and creepy for a 13, 14-year-old to have. But I guess you’re into that sort of stuff when you’re little — you find it all really weird and eye-opening.

MF: Are you interested in making music yourself? Are you dabbling?

AD: I was sitting at my old piano in Warrnambool, ’cause I don’t have one at my actual house nowadays, but there’s one back at my Dad’s. So I was playing that a little bit. But I like making up songs. But it’s tough. It’s the most daunting thing, because I did [use music software] Ableton. When we were doing triple j stuff, we had to come up with a few remixes — like obviously the remix contests, we did a Hermitude remix competition on triple j through Unearthed, a Play School [theme] remix competition — and I actually really do quite like doing that sort of stuff and making a song or doing a remix and everything.

But having currently put eight hours of practice to get into the 10,000 hours you need to be really good at something, I’m not sure if I want it enough to put myself [through] the period of being terrible at it for a while to make it! The same with stand-up comedy. It’s the same as most things. It frustrates me not being good at something. So, if I’m doing Ableton and I’m like, ‘I wanna do this but I don’t know how to,’ that’s a bit a challenge for me. Maybe songwriting. Maybe I’ll go behind the scenes and just tell other people what to do. Maybe just the lyrics writing. I can do that. I do like writing parody songs, maybe [I’d do] a parody project.

MF: There was talk of you possibly returning to radio with Matt Okine. Are you keen to get back on the airwaves? Because you seem to have a lot else going on as well. What are your goals from here?

AD: I’d be open to radio stuff. I’m good friends with Matt and we keep in touch. So, yes, if something came up, that way — whether it was radio, whether it was podcasts… He’s very busy as well. So it’s almost difficult to make something work. But, yeah, it could potentially go down that road. That’s something I’ve done lots of hours on, so I feel comfortable doing it [laughs]. But we’ll have to wait and see what happens down that front. But I’m not sure in the end.

MF: Is there anything I haven’t asked you about and should have?

AD: Maybe I will add something which was, via the Kings Cross, Sydney thing, because the Keep Sydney Open’s quite a political movement.

I have thought about getting into politics at some point — whether it’s running in my hometown of Warrnambool or whatever. I have been keeping abreast of politics a lot recently and thinking, ‘Hmmm, maybe I should do a run under the campaign slogan, ‘Vote for me because I don’t actually wanna get in.”

Because all the politicians want to be a politician and so they’ll say anything to help you vote for them to be a politician. Whereas I’ve got a feeling that, if I say, ‘I don’t actually wanna go there [to Parliament], because it’s quite terrible and you can’t get anything done,’ then I just have good policies, then they’ll vote for that and then it’s almost like a prank that they make me go there and do them.

I’ve got a few good ideas to go that path as well. So maybe I can become a politician and then introduce a ‘Minister For Sandstorm’ and, yeah, suddenly Australian politics will be fixed.

MF: ‘Sandstorm’ could be the name of your environmental policy!

AD: Yeah, exactly, yep, yep, yep. That’s good with the big drought that’s happening — yeah, it’s happening too much. Mmm, I understand now. Mmm.

Alex Dyson will perform at Sydney’s Go Here Go There festival in Kings Cross on Saturday, 20th October. View the full lineup and all the ticketing details, right here.

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