By Cassie Rossel
The ’80s throwback sound that local electronic act Let Em Riot produces is a concoction of pure accident. In a recent interview, Alan Oakes, the man behind the music, revealed how and why Let Em Riot, this month’s Detroit Bar resident artist, came to be.
It was several mishaps in the string of bands in which Oakes started his music career, including ska group Jeffries Fan Club, that led him to pursue his solo project, Let Em Riot.
“After my last band broke up in 2008, I wanted to keep on writing and keep the music going,” Oakes said, “I was having a hard time trying to find members to get this new band together, so I finally decided that I’m just going to record everything myself and put it out there.”
As the band quickly turned into a solo project, Oakes resorted to computer software to create the music of Let Em Riot.
“It wasn’t what I expected,” the artist explained. “I had the idea of using lab drums and guitars, but I didn’t have the resources. I thought, ‘Instead of that guitar part let me just use a keyboard, and instead of lab drums let me just program the drums,’ and so on.”
The unique 1980s vibe prominently heard in the music of Let Em Riot stems from a long-time love affair with the era’s pop music.
“I’ve always had a passion for that old ‘80s pop sound,” Oakes said. “A whole new world opened up to me when I started listening to it again, and it was kind of like this crazy palette of sounds and textures that I forgot even existed. It fascinated me, and that’s where my passion grew for electronic music.”
“Me being a product of the ‘80s, I naturally found myself gravitating towards those older sounds the more I got into electronic music,” Oakes said. “I became really fascinated with old drum machines, vintage synth samples and things like that. So, it just kind of went back into that ‘80s, vintage-retro sound without meaning to.”
Spending his entire music career surrounded by musicians in bands like Jeffrries Fan Club and the Appearance, Oakes agrees that the solo spotlight comes with as many ups as there are downs.
“There are pros and cons,” the artist insists. “I get to work on the music on my own time, I have full control and it feels great, but at the same time you don’t have that other person to bounce ideas off of, which helps create the magic of so many bands. It’s a double-edged sword.”
An unexpected opportunity to play as Detroit Bar’s April resident artist came only two weeks before the first show on April 2. Despite the short notice, Oakes pulled through and got all four shows’ opening acts booked. Each night will showcase music off the previous EP, “The App,” along with unreleased tracks that he has been working on for an upcoming album, due out sometime in late spring.
While booking each show, Oakes made sure to provide audiences with a diverse choice of music.
“I tried to at least put a little diversity in the other bands that are playing. Not every band is going to be electronic,” Oakes said. “There’s going to be everything from indie to rock, electronic pop, and ambient instrumental.”
Currently in the process of recording a full-length album, Oakes is enjoying the freedom of producing his own record, but is ultimately looking forward to playing more shows as soon as the album is finished.
“Once this record comes out I want to play as many shows as possible,” Oakes said. “All I’m going to want to do is concentrate on playing.”
Two and a half years later, Let Em Riot is still going strong and is in no hurry to chase down a record deal, like so many other acts tend to do. From his past experiences, Oakes believes that focusing wholeheartedly on pursuing a record deal will hurt the integrity of the music, and that is not something he is willing to chance.
“Everybody wants to take their music to the next level, but when you have that as a main goal you tend to neglect the music side and the creating side of things,” Oakes revealed.
“Honestly, I would much rather just keep doing what I’m doing, releasing music, releasing records, because no matter what happens I can at least say I kept writing music, and I kept putting records out. I think that would be much more rewarding than to just say, ‘You know I got signed at this label and…’. Then what?”
Catch Let Em Riot at Detroit Bar every Monday night in April.
Photo by Ted Taylor
More O.C. music:
- The Devious Means put out new EP
- Midnight Hour goes slow and steady
- The Blank Tapes’ Matt Adams comes home
- Young the Giant wins three at OC Music Awards
- Lee Rocker’s fast train to rock’s roots
- Bleeding Through stays the course
- Orange Pop: Suedehead prepares for Coachella
- Death by Stereo prepares ‘Black Sheep’