Shadow Dancer interview (part one)

Well this is something special. Normally when you do an email interview, the questions are adequate enough. Sometimes they take things up the wrong way and you’ve no way of qualifying your question. Sometimes they just respond with the bare minimum. In this case, I’ve got so much material that I’m actually going to split it in two rather than cut anything.

So, here you go. Two brothers, Paul and Al Farrier, better known to the world as Shadow Dancer, the formidable duo on Boysnoize Records. They’re not touring right now, but they’re making a special appearance at Transmission next week, and in advance of that gig, they were kind of to answer a series of ridiculous questions from yours truly. Enjoy.

You were born in Liverpool. You’re now based in Manchester. Fill in the gaps?

Paul: We went from Liverpool to Saudi Arabia to Liverpool to North Wales to Manchester (and then I ended back up in Wales, where I currently live, although a move back to Manchester is on the cards as there’s not much in the way of a music scene around here… the K-Klass days are over).

Al: We grew up in Wales, but I was really attracted to Manchester because I was obsessed with Manchester music – New Order. I always wanted to live in a big city, but London didn’t really occur to me. I wasn’t even particularly aware of London, but went to the Haçienda when I was 17 and I was hooked.

Is the sibling dynamic a hindrance or a help? Apart from touring/performing, how much time does the project mean you need to spend together?

Paul: It’s a definite help when touring and performing as Al provides extra hands and options for the live set, and he’s more outgoing than me… I can come across as the “moody DJ” sometimes, but it’s really down to my being shy and occasionally uncomfortable around large groups of people having far too much fun. We haven’t produced together for a long time now, so I don’t know how that would work now. There’d probably still be a lot of arguing.

Al: It’s never been much of an issue really, because we’ve also been best friends since we were kids and we grew up discovering and learning about making music. We spend a bit of time together when we’re not performing. I take a back seat these days in terms of writing and production. Paul’s always buying new bits of kit, and he generally shows me the ropes.

Al, if I’m not mistaken you have what might loosely be termed a ‘real’ job – how much has Shadow Dancer affected that? Or is it a question of the ‘real’ job getting in the way of Shadow Dancer?

Al: That’s an awkward question for me to answer, really. There was definitely a period when we first started getting gigs when I was trying to do too much. I was getting ill regularly and when I passed out in Euston station after playing at Fabric I decided to cut back a bit. The ‘real’ job does get in the way when it comes to things like the US tour, which I was gutted that I couldn’t go on as I couldn’t get the time off.

Paul – do you find that Shadow Dancer gets in the way of your film-watching?

Paul: Odd you should say that: when we started doing the Shadow Dancer stuff in 2006, it was partly down to my mind being all over the place (hence the “all-over-the-place” sound, I suppose)… I’d developed a severe lack of concentration that meant I couldn’t watch films or read books anymore, but found I could spend ages cutting up audio on a computer.

I did want to be a film-maker when I left school but realised that it’s too collaborative, too many people could influence the outcome, whereas music can be done in solitude. Plus, I didn’t get accepted by any Universities.

The fact I was ill over Christmas, coupled with the invention of BluRay, means my interest in cinema has been re-ignited of late… watching There Will Be Blood, The Assassination Of Jesse James… or No Country For Old Men has made me remember why I originally wanted to go down that route. But I’ll stick with music.

Moving on to practical issues, what is the genesis of a Shadow Dancer track?

Paul: I’m not sure there is one that’s set in stone. Golden Traxe and the BNR EPs were all done entirely in FL Studio XXL on an old PC laptop and the workflow back then was entirely different from what it is now. The Fruity Slicer (now called Slicex) plug-in is probably the most inspirational writing tool I’ve used. I’d drop a sample in it, cut it up and generate random patterns until there was something usable, then start constructing the track from there. You could do all kinds of things with samples that just isn’t possible in the software we currently use, so the methods have changed accordingly.

At the moment, having become fed up with merely interfacing with a computer screen, I’ve started introducing the old hardware, hands-on approach again. One of our biggest influences has always been the early Carl Craig releases (under the BFC, 69 and Psyche pseudonyms) – I love the loose, shuffling beats and samples that he got from programming on an Akai MPC – so I recently began using the Native Instruments Maschine, creating drum patterns and loops on the fly and recording them live into Ableton, where they can be edited and structured into a track. It’s just more fun that way as staring at a monitor with a mouse in your hand tends to dull the spirit a little: all those incredible Detroit techno and Chicago house records from the past were done by people messing around with electronic boxes, not knowing what was going to happen. You can really hear that, and it means those tracks are still exciting today.

You’ve done a lot of remixing of late, but your remixes often have a completely different sound. Do you find a different voice trying to break out when you’re making a remix?

Paul: I think that comes from not wanting to repeat ourselves. And – yeah – the remixes tend to go in whatever direction the original track tells us is right (or, sometimes, wrong). We’ve possibly done the wrong thing by not following the example set by many other producers who tend to have a tried and tested formula for remixes, as that seems to be the way to really get your name known. But – for me – that’s just a boring and cynical way to treat music. Unless you have your own fresh and inventive sound (like, for example, Switch or Basement Jaxx), you’re surely only throwing together another generic dubstep or electro banger to ensure club play… you’re a calculated marketing tool, and that track will be worthless in a few months’ time.

We listen to many different types, and would hate to be pinned down to one specific genre (the current “electro” tag is a particular frustration, especially if you’re aware of the past 30 years of electronic music), so we like to employ elements from techno, house, disco, acid, garage, 80s pop… even dub.

We’re probably going to take a break from remixes at the moment anyway, as the occasional request like “could you make it sound like (INSERT SHADOW DANCER TRACK HERE)?” is actually deflating and – in our case – very much missing the point. There have been times when, as I’m working on a remix that has somehow ended up sounding a bit like late 90s MJ Cole, I’ve panicked about how the label or artist will receive it. That kind of worry is a real creativity killer that I could do without.

Al: The main difference with remixes is when there is a full vocal. Our live set currently has 4 instrumental remixes in it though, so I think there often is a consistency in sound.

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