The Detroit artist shares his journey toward living his dreams and a high-quality, passion-filled life.
Alan Oldham has been living his passions for a long time. It started in 1987 when as a young artist and cartoonist, he produced and distributed his first comic book, “Johnny Gambit,” to rave reviews. His newfound fame led to creating cover art for renown techno DJ and artist, Derrick May, as well as, hosting Detroit’s first-ever all-electronic radio program, “Fast Forward,” introducing artists like Underground Resistance (UR), Richie Hawtin and Carl Craig.
While he has created an illustrious career as a DJ and record producer, Alan is still known as the “go-to guy” for providing artwork to the music industry. For more than 20 years now, his drawings and large-scale paintings have been on display in art galleries in Chicago, Berlin, Paris, Los Angeles, and, Amsterdam.
BWJ: You are a techno DJ, producer, label owner, graphic artist, and painter. Some may call you a modern “Renaissance man.” How did this journey begin for you?
AO: I have been drawing since I was a kid. Not too long ago, I came across some drawings I did when I was 3-4 years old. I used to draw things on the TV. In high school and early college, I had ambitions to draw for Marvel or DC. The indie comic craze of the ’80s came along; and, I was able to publish my own comic. If you did a comic and got paid for it, you were considered a pro, so no need to go out for the “Big Two” anymore; although, in hindsight, I wish I had. It was about that time that I watched Derrick May get famous. Just a guy I knew from my old neighborhood. I was in my grandmother’s basement drawing while he was in England hanging out with New Order. Something was wrong with that picture.
BWJ: Do you believe your life experiences in Detroit supported you living your dreams?
AO: In terms of Detroit giving you survival skills and thick skin, and experience in dealing with not-so-friendly people, definitely; as an artist, not so much. I moved to Berlin full-time for a reason. But, Detroit is a boot camp that serves you well in the real world.
BWJ: Personally, I don’t believe in “overnight success.” I think it takes hard work, determination, and pure grit. But even so, what was your first “real” big break doing what you love to do?
AO: When Jeff Mills quit Underground Resistance suddenly in 1992, Mike Banks put me on as tour DJ. Mills left so abruptly that the tickets to Australia were all in his name. So I traveled under Jeff’s name. Just think, I was able to make it all the way to Australia and back under somebody else’s name. The tour ended up going well, and DJ T-1000 was born. When Banks later started Submerge Distribution, he asked me to create a label that he would press and distribute, and that turned out to be my first label, Generator. So it was both Mike Banks and Jeff Mills who gave me my big break.
BWJ: I know that you travel quite a bit. What are some of your favorite places?
AO: Berlin, of course. I’ve been coming here for 20 years, and there are still nooks and crannies I haven’t discovered. I live a block away from where the Berlin Wall once stood. 50 years ago, my flat would have been on the wrong side! I don’t get to spend as much time in Barcelona as I’d like to; but, I’ve loved every visit, and have good friends who live there. Great food, super-colorful, and exciting. Although, it’s weak for gig bookings! Milan is incredible. High fashion, beautiful girls (who dress well), great food! Shanghai was the furthest away I’ve ever been. I was only there for four days but would love to go back at some point. Futuristic-looking city.
BWJ: Where is a place you haven’t been that you would like to visit?
AO: I’m obsessed with visiting Cannes, France during the Film Festival. It sneaks up on me every year; I’m no good at planning. Dubai is also on my bucket list; although, it may be cheaper to go to Qatar right now. Hong Kong, definitely. I’d love to visit places without having to gig -just leave my vinyl or Traktor or USB sticks at home, and be a tourist. Dress all corny in the Docker shorts, safari hat, and sandals with socks on, and a big camera.
BWJ: What is your latest project?
AO: Working on a new EP at the moment. Trying just to breathe and let the music come to me. If I rush it, it’ll sound like crap. I just did a remix for a Berlin artist called Lindwood, and another remix I did for Andreas Florin, and Plural just came out on vinyl. Also, been trying to get into the studio with my friend Anton Newcombe of Brian Jonestown Massacre to see what comes out. And right now, I’m planning my next solo art happening in Berlin in late July, tentatively. We just did a joint art show and art booth in Detroit during Movement Festival with Abdul Haqq (my fellow Detroit Techno artist) that went well. You can check out my works at www.alanoldham.com.
BWJ: What are you working on now for the future?
AO: I’d absolutely love to open a dedicated gallery/atelier, but gentrification is pushing Berlin rents way up. And, people are in my ear now to invest in Detroit, but I’m not going to pretend I’m a business genius or investor. I’d rather just open my bank app and stare at a healthy balance.
BWJ: We always ask our guests two specific questions about living their dreams. The first one is, “what does the word ‘passion’ mean to you?”
AO: Passion is something you’d do even if you weren’t getting paid for it.
BWJ: The second one is “what does the word ‘purpose’ mean to you?”
AO: Finding your niche no matter what it is, finding your motivation, and being a net positive in society, as opposed to a negative.
BWJ: If you had some advice to give someone about doing what they love to do, what would that be?
AO: Ignore and move past those who would rain on your parade. There were plenty where I’m from.
Be sure to keep in touch with Alan Oldham and his current works at his website, www.alanoldham.com.
Photos Courtesy of Alan Oldham. Photography by Marie Staggat.
Brian Westley Johnson is the managing editor-in-chief of Soulivity Magazine, an online magazine-journal which reaches over 150K people monthly across the globe. For over 25 years, Brian has spent his life traveling the world as a business development professional using his skills and demonstrable expertise in sales and marketing strategy and execution to assist enterprising medium and large organizations in achieving growth targets. Now, he has dedicated his life to a new mission – to support everyone in living their highest quality life with passion, purpose, and joy.
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