Beyond the Booth 023: Alan Fitzpatrick and the wild world of VW van renovation – Dancing Astronaut
Beyond the Booth is a feature dedicated to the hidden side of artists that exists outside electronic music— a side rarely discussed with those outside their immediate circle. We venture “beyond the booth,” so to speak, and dive into their deepest passions that tie into their unique personalities. After some self-introspection, each participant then returns to the booth, providing an exclusive mix for the Dancing Astronaut audience.
Most know Alan Fitzpatrick by his plaudits within the dance community. After bludgeoning his way into the international spotlight with his 2009 Radio 1 Essential Tune, “Reflections,” the UK talent has since made a name for himself pioneering and popularizing the big room techno sound that dominates today. He spent years as a power player on Drumcode and other labels like Toolroom and Hotflush, supplementing his series of consistent anthems with strong billings ranging from Tomorrowland, to legendary clubs like fabric. Now, he’s his own boss, having launched his wildly successful We Are The Brave imprint and adjoining showcase in 2016. Fitzpatrick in fact just released a brand new EP on said label dubbed I Still Remember—a stomper of a package with three originals and remixes from Brennen Grey, Mark Broom, and SAMA.
But Alan’s been building a different legacy for himself through the years in the auto world. With a love for being out in the wilderness in his free time, and a consistently busy tour schedule in his home country, the artist one day felt inspired to retrofit his grew VW transporter into a mobile sanctuary fit for his traveling endeavors. That fateful decision kicked off a brand new obsession for Fitzpatrick: making over vintage VW vans. He’s renovated several, pouring extra funds from his music career into his blossoming passion and crafting each with utmost care and uniqueness.
It’s not often one hears of a such a side passion from a musician, and we decided to explore this side of Fitzpatrick more in our latest edition of Beyond The Booth. The We Are The Brave boss also provided a thumping mix to supplement our lengthy discussion on all things #vanlife.
Let’s start with the basics – tell us the full story of the first VW van you ever renovated, and what led you to do so.
I’ve always had a soft spot for VW vans, thought they looked cool and loved how much scope you have with customisation. Most of my hobbies are focused around the outdoors and my love for fishing, mountain biking and camping inspired me to get my own VW project. My first renovation was a good few years ago now, I had an off-road grey VW Transporter and decided it needed a makeover, so I sprayed it Viper Green. You definitely couldn’t miss me driving down the road. My touring schedule can sometimes get a bit hectic so it as such a treat to get some freedom and downtown on the road. I’d pack up the van with my wife and kids and set off for the weekend. We really enjoy it, especially the kids. It was a welcome change from thumping music and sweaty nightclubs.
How do you source your vans to renovate? Do you also revamp the engines?
Sourcing is fun for me, but it can get quite tedious. I spend a lot of time in online auctions and owner forums waiting for the right van to come up. There’s always a lot of choice but it takes a trained eye to find the decent vans worth buying. I’ve come across a few projects at great prices but soon discover the whole shell of the van is completely rusted, definitely not a good investment. On occasions I’ve done the engines myself, probably more of a revamp and dealing with the maintenance as opposed to adding intercoolers and turbos etc, there are some bits I leave to the professionals.
And where do you source your renovation materials? Any markets/spots in particular you find yourself hitting up each time?
I source most of the materials online actually. I know of some vehicle markets in the UK, but none are particularly close to my house. I once drove a 5 hour round journey to find a certain part and came away empty handed, which was very frustrating. It’s much easier to find everything I need online. I’m part of the ‘T5’ owner forum on Facebook and always have alerts set up on eBay. If I’m struggling to find a part I need I’ll post in one of the forums and another member will point me in the right direction or share useful links and advice. It’s a nice little community online, always helping each other out.
On that note, do you ever flip any of them, or would you see yourself making this a business? Or are you simply using them as tour vans at the moment?
If I had a lot more time on my hands and a less demanding work schedule, I’d definitely consider doing the renovations as a side business. I do find the renovating process very therapeutic and rewarding but that’s probably because it’s only a hobby. If it was a serious job I think the fun would go quite quickly, it can get pretty stressful adhering to deadlines and trying to get a part fitted so I can move on to the next phase. For now, I enjoy the touring aspect of it. I’ve got my eyes on another projector the near future, I’ve always wanted to take my family around Europe for a summer, but we would need a bigger van. Conveniently I’ve got a lot of spare time now, so this could be my next investment.
With that said, it feels like this could get a bit pricey. How do you sustain this hobby? Tour income, fundraising, etc? Tell us some creative ways you’ve found to cut costs on projects
Most of the vans and materials have been funded by my music career. Obviously, it isn’t the cheapest hobby to have and it can get a bit pricey, but I always try and keep my business hat on when it comes to the renovations. I’ll never leave myself out of pocket or speck it up so much that I lose money when I eventually sell. Of course, the value will depreciate a little if I’m doing heavy mileage but in general I try to make a bit off profit off each project – that’s half the buzz for me. Knowing I’ve built a van to enjoy with the family but also knowing I’m making a little extra to put towards the next renovation. Getting amongst other owners and being active in the forums is the best way to cut costs. Sometimes I find other VW owners who are happy to swap parts with me or give me a great discount because I can collect from their property rather than dealing with postage. People are seriously kind and generous once you’ve built a good rapport with them.
One thing I’d love to do in the future is start a part time rental business for my vans. I know of others who have made a really good income during the summer months just by renting their vans for festivals, weddings, catering and camping weekends. This is definitely something I want to do, I’ve just never got around to it.
What’s the oldest model of van you’ve redone, and how did you get your hands on it?
My oldest model was 2006 I think, so not massively old. I found it on eBay and drove about four hours to collect it. I still remember the previous owner actually, he was a professional hovercraft racer who had outgrown the VW and wanted to upgrade to a full motorhome, he was such a character.
I would love to have one of the classic VW campers, but it takes a whole other set of skills to complete a classic renovation to a high standard, and a lot more time too. Genuine and original parts are rare and difficult to come across. For now, I’ll stick with the newer models but maybe someday I’ll have a classic.
What’s your methodology for adding your own fit to each van? Do you have a starting place? “Must-have” materials that you use in each?
I always start with the interior. I use the vans for camping weekends, so it’s got to feel comfortable and cozy inside, or I’d get complaints from my wife and kids. I start with the insulation inside the van and then add the ply board and vel trim it. Then its onto furniture, fixtures and fittings. That’s my favourite part of the renovation, designing the layout and coming up with innovative storage solutions and ways to maximise the space inside. Each project I’ve completed is so different and I always end up fitting new features or adding more space, it all depends what I want to use the van for. Focusing on the interior is much more important than the exterior.
If there’s one thing you’d want someone to know who’s interested in this hobby, what would it be?
Just that I am the best in the VW renovation game! [laughs] Just kidding. I would want to warn others that even the simplest of renovations will throw so many unexpected obstacles at you so be prepared to part with a lot more time and money than you anticipated. And make sure you invest in a decent van to begin with, if it’s cheap and seems too good to be true, it usually is. Cutting corners and trying to save money in the beginning of a project can often leave you hemorrhaging money by the end of the project, make sure you do your homework and make a wise purchase.
Okay, now let’s cap off with a couple career questions! First off, you have an upcoming EP at the end of April, I Still Remember. What does this EP represent for you and your music at the moment?
It’s a milestone for me and the We Are The Brave team. It does feel like a weird time to release to be fair but nothing we can do about that. I’m feeling extremely proud to be smashing it with my label, we’re still fairly young so to hit the 50th release last week and be selling out branded events across the world is pretty surreal. I’m really into the remixes on this latest release, a pleasure to have Mark Broom join us on WATB and great to push newcomers Brennen Grey and SAMA. They’re both killing it at the moment.
It feels like you’ve really diversified your sound over the years; can you dive into the path and inspirations that led you where you are today sonically?
I don’t think this is a new thing, I’ve always tried to be diverse with my sound. I think maybe people didn’t always pay attention to my discography as a whole and only focused on certain productions. I love music, all genres, all forms and styles, I think this comes across in my productions. I’ll never restrict myself to certain genres just because my fans or peers expect me to. To do this would be to the detriment of my creativeness and overall productivity. I rarely listen to dance music unless I’m working or preparing for work, most of my inspiration comes from different genres. I think my love for 80’s sounds and modern indie rock has really shaped my productions. I’ve released on my Apex Faction label alongside the likes of Model Man, Theo Kottis and Scuba. I love exploring that side of my productions, they’re always much more melodic and emotive. It’s great to have that balance between these sounds and the big room techno I’m known for.
Where do you hope to take We Are The Brave in the coming months? Years?
It’s difficult to say in this climate, but I’m sure we will push forward as we always do. I’m very happy with the record label and want to focus on growing our events and acquiring new fans in different territories. I hope to have some We Are The Brave festival stages popping up in the near future, that’s a goal we’ve had to put on hold this year. I’ve also got a lot of new music coming this year and next, including my first album in a decade. Lots of exciting stuff to come.
Any final words for our readers?
Stay safe and wash your hands. If you’re struggling at the moment remember that this won’t last forever and reach out to your friends and family for help. I hope everyone can find the motivation to stay strong and keep smiling. And also, enjoy my mix!
All Images: Dan Reid