Today we’d like to introduce you to Alejandro Reyes–Knight of Winston House and Roxy Kills Robot
I am the result of unusual circumstances between my mum, a British free-spirited Embassy employee and former BBC secretary, and my Mexican father, who worked all his life in the travel and tourism industry, both nationally and internationally. Shortly after falling in love and marrying in Mexico, my amazing sister and I were born. At two years old, in 1978, my father sadly passed away. Before doing so, he asked my mother, who had no family connections of her own in Mexico, if she would raise us in Liverpool as he loved the city and The Beatles. This she did and I became a UK citizen. I believe I inherited from him my passion for travel, music, culture and meeting people from all walks of life.
When my mum remarried, we moved to Manchester and then on to Bristol. When my stepfather John first walked into our lives, I felt the goodness and strength of his character and for years, I have referred to him as a lighthouse of a man. I was lucky that each city we lived in had a rich musical heritage and double lucky that they all had a vibrant music scene. On my tenth birthday, my mum surprised me with tickets to see Michael Jackson live in Liverpool. Michael Jackson’s performance that night was out of this world. The giant stage, music, lights, the precise choreography and his dedication to showmanship made an impression on me and the other 125,000 other people there. I am grateful that my mum took me to shows and art galleries that has eternally allowed my imagination to do its thing!
As a teenager, my mates and I would queue for hours to get into shows at Manchester’s legendary music venues – the Boardwalk, Canal Bar, Home, and the infamous Hacienda run by New Order’s Peter Cook and Factory Records legend Tony Wilson ‘Mr Manchester’. He was always on the local news! Manchester’s gritty music scene in the 90’s was all about Indie and House music with a lot of hip hop / rap coming in from the US that I would listen to on the pirate radio stations.
I was the only person studying music at my school in Bristol, so they discontinued the course, forcing me to attend two schools at the same time. I had set up a small studio in my house with a basic vintage keyboard and some recording equipment. DJs, singers, bass players and mates would come over and record.
At seventeen I first met my mate Jason in a local pub in Bristol. After chatting about music he introduced me to a group of musicians. They asked if I wanted to check out their music studio. It wasn’t until I heard them play and spotted the discs on the wall, that I realized I was a guest in the Massive Attack recording studio. They were finishing the ‘Mezzanine’ album. It blew my mind. It was so precise and meaningful and added a whole new depth to my understanding of music and the process of creating. Proper recording studios are magical places. I was truly inspired, and this reinforced my intuition that I would work in a musical environment for the rest of my life.
In the last year of Sixth Form, an Incredible life event meant that I felt I had to change my path and music would have been too emotional of a place to exist in. I was conflicted so I couldn’t write about or express my experience. I could play for 8 hours straight but I also knew I wasn’t Stevie Wonder. I realized that I had to change my surroundings and have a framework, I knew I had to get to London. My drawing ability enabled me to study Architecture and I entered the London Metropolitan School of Architecture.
I slowly gravitated to the photography side of Architecture. My tutor, David Grandorge, hinted that my work was more ‘moving image’ and study of Light and Time, rather than a critique of how buildings physically and legally stand. I had always been passionate about buildings and spacial awareness but deep down, I knew I wasn’t going to be an Architect. However, I was learning and the discipline of the course helped give structure and patience to my creative process. I graduated with a B.A. Hons and Royal Institute of British Architects part 1.
I enjoyed assisting my tutor on a few architectural photography shoots all over London. I remember looking through a medium format camera for the first time, where the image is upside down, and I thought it was amazing. It was during this time that I became connected to photography and filming. I couldn’t afford my own camera, but I knew if I got a job with a production company, I might be able to borrow one.
With the advent of YouTube, this part of the story is a montage of me working at as many places as I could. Variety was the key for me – BBC, Harvey Nichols magazine, and numerous Ad + Video production agencies in the heart of a fast-paced London, where I met successful Artists/Producers/Directors. I got to see who was who, what they did and how they did it.
I touched my first video camera at around 25 years old and at the same time, bumped into one of my best mates from school when I lived in Manchester, the talented Charlie Lightening.
We were one of the first to set up a small boutique video production company of our own. Together and separately, I had some of the best experiences I could ever have dreamt of filming in music and in life. Charlie is a great photographer and director and I leant towards the creative producing and direction.
We started with a ton of ‘Behind The Scenes’ videos and documentaries for artists like Ronnie Wood, Kylie Minogue, Robbie Williams, P!NK and Jamiroquai, which meant we could learn the process of creating a music video and at the same time build trust and relationships with high-level artists and record labels. It led to filming everything from music videos, documentaries, films, fashion campaigns & live multi-cam streamed concerts at stadiums and festivals all over the world from the London 02 Arena, Brixton Academy, The Royal Albert Hall, New York Apollo, Cape Town, Japan, Madison Square Garden, Candlestick Park, the London Olympics and creating content for The Library of Congress.
We shot on film sometimes, but we mainly enjoyed battling with new digital camera technology, to make it look like film using heavy letus adapters and vintage lenses. Before you could buy filters we created our own and a niche that was sought after by high profile artists and labels. We worked hard, built great trust and regularly toured and worked with artists such as Sir Paul McCartney, Bjork, BRMC, Chilli-Peppers, Kylie, Jay-Z, Black Sabbath, Kasabian, Take That, Lionel Ritchie, Liam & Noel Gallagher (Oasis), Robbie Williams, Jamiroquai, P!NK, Will Young, Paul Weller, Westlife, Leona Lewis, Jake Bugg, Mark Ronson, Damien Hirst and more. While filming the 12-12-12 telethon film in New York I witnessed Eric Schmidt (Google) pull out a small phone, and in minutes he significantly increased the donating ability of people watching at home. The event would raise over $50m for the disaster that hit NY and that moment had a significant effect on me.
We learned to shoot and edit on the road whilst running a production company in the city and the goal wasn’t to scale it, but to live it. I lived adjacent to, or in the office for 8 out of 11 years with editors/directors/producers and rock stars popping in and out. I loved it, but there was a price to pay on my health as for 11 years, I often missed out on sleep for a day or two, once or twice a week, while delivering jobs to a high spec 24/7. . this part could be a book in itself, and if there’s another pandemic, I might just have to write it.
I had gotten to know London intensely and literally like the back of my hand. I could have done ‘The Knowledge’, the iconic test undertaken by London black cab drivers. I had pushed hard for such a long time and I really needed to challenge myself in a new way and start over.
We worked in big arenas and festivals, then back to the office, and I constantly thought about being involved with something in the middle and encapsulating all that magic. If I wasn’t at the office, or filming a gig, I was in Shoreditch House, which was around the corner. In the early days there, I could get a different perspective away from the conveyor belt of edits, delivering jobs, and equipment in the home adjacent office. This also enabled me to be well versed in the community aspect of socializing.
I never had a ‘mentor’ as such. Sam Walton, a gent and talented Art Director friend, whom I worked with at Harvey Nichols magazine, was probably the nearest while I worked for him and got a sense of craft and business balance. I increasingly read books and enjoyed podcasts from people like Tim Ferris, Immanuel Kant, Jung, Joseph Campbell, Tony Robbins, Russell Brand, Eckhart Tolle, Mark Twain, which was ground breaking for my friend group at the time. This got me outside the 24/7 workload and broadened my horizons. I had always preferred to stay in the background, less visible, so I could actually experience and do more.
This led to me changing my social circle, I successfully tried not drinking for a year, spent time with incredible people less fortunate than me and listened to their stories. I also started to write a daily gratitude list, game-changer. I sold a property I had in the UK at the time and, with the help of our two American interns, Maddie & Julia, I donated / gifted 90% of my possessions – art, records and clothes. It was liberating.
I had been to LA quite a few times on jobs but had never made it to the beach, so every time I took off from LAX, I would look down at Venice, smile and say, “Next time”.
I started a production company, Roxy Kill Robot, in the U.S., and solidified my plan to move. I envisioned that all of my life up to this point was like the tension in an archer’s arrow, creaking as it is being pulled back. It was now time to let go. Out of respect to Charlie and what we had achieved together over 11 incredible years, I did not reach out to any previous clients and I didn’t have a farewell party or let anyone know of my plans. I wanted to see how I would be accepted (or not) in LA on my own, a city full of film and music industry giants. I had faith that my aim was good and that I was on the right path and knew I was going to help build something. Also, I was 20-30 years too early to head to Italy or France to paint or play music, I was on a mission!
During this time, I had a mental image of a Noah’s Ark type structure, combining the worlds of music, art, technology, and people having a good time all coming together. I wrote what I wanted to achieve in five years and who I wanted to help and I set off to do that. A music composer friend, the legend that is Ant Genn, commented to me that I was “f*cking mental,” yet ballsy, and was absolutely doing the right thing even if I failed. This was good to know as I didn’t want to be under any illusions as I prepared for any pitfalls. I wasn’t being sponsored by anyone.
With so much to organize before departure, I hadn’t had time to look for a place to stay in LA. So a few days out from leaving, whilst sleeping, I FB messaged a friend, Wayne from NY. I asked if he knew of any places to rent or airBnB’s in Venice, LA. Being a music video producer, I was well used to emailing during my sleep.
By the time I woke up, he said he had contacted an acquaintance, a young guy called Corey McGuire who had a loft space in Venice on Electric Avenue. (The name of the first Eddie Grant 7inch record I ever bought. I love a bit of serendipity). He said I could stay there for a week or longer so I could scope Venice out; result! As soon as I walked in it was empty but I saw a flash of images in my mind and I could feel it was going to be a special place. Corey had taken the initiative of putting his name on the lease and had started letting rooms out to young creatives.
Corey was not long out of college and I admired his upbeat sense of purpose, intelligence, leaning toward community, taking action, artistic expression, humour and a love of music, the exact same reasons I’d moved here. In my second week in LA, he told me we were going on a road trip to San Diego, mainly, I think, so we could chat in the car, and get to know each other through music, and I thought that was real and cool. Friends brought other friends through the House and a regular Thursday night hang out developed with musicians playing on a little amp.
Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
In any walk of life, I don’t think anything is smooth at the time. The highlight reel makes it look that way, but there is a difference between having a good idea and committing to it day after day. It may always feel like there isn’t the correct budget needed to realize a project, but having to be creative in those moments is EXACTLY the challenge that you learn from. What comes easy won’t last, what lasts won’t come easy.
I’ve learned to be grateful if something doesn’t go my way, I let go, learn from it and come back stronger and smarter.
Please tell us about Roxy Kills Robot.
Today, my production studio Roxy Kill Robot is evolving from the music video / lifestyle / fashion and documentary content and is incorporating live streaming sessions, animation, AR, gamification, data, live chat all with Music in an artistic way. This is the vision that we have brought to Winston House, elevating it to the next level. We are working on some great projects.
A new Winston House will be opening in Venice Beach in Sept 2020 – Jan 2021, COVID dependent. This will be an important moment for Venice, and I will be looking to collaborate with talented artists, business’s, creators, supporting them at all stages of their careers.