Shadow Dancer interview (part two)

So last night either my blog or WordPress itself crashed, and I was unable to post the second half of this interview. I’m guessing it was the blog – the first part resulted in an unprecedented wave of interest here, which shows just how much interest there is in the Farriers. I’m hoping that all you Dubs out there reading these pieces will show up at Transmission next week! Anyway, read on.

You’ve been making music on and off for the last X number of years. What has it taken to finally arrive at the sound you’re making now?

Paul: A combination of boredom with the direction of lot of dance music was going in and whatever technology we use. The one factor that has remained the same over the years is that we create music that we’d like to hear but never do… if that makes sense. Back in the 90s, we wrote a lot simply because we couldn’t afford to buy records and we wanted something to listen to. Come 2003, we stopped producing as music had become much more accessible and life in general got in the way. Plus, we were using a studio set-up that consisted of ancient, unstable hardware (Amiga A500, Akai S900, knackered old FX unit, mixing desk with faulty connections, etc) so producing had become virtually impossible. It was quite a miserable time, looking back, as I still had a compulsion to write but just couldn’t.

Three years later, out of boredom, I tried a demo of FL Studio and discovered that not only could I write using only a computer, but that I still loved doing it. Of course, having avoided clubs for a few years, the early Shadow Dancer material (and a lot of Golden Traxe) doesn’t follow some of the conventions of dance music like 16-bar run-ins and outs, for which we’ve had plenty of criticism. The more recent stuff is more club-friendly as a result of the last three years of gigging and absorbing what we’ve seen and heard.

Al: I think in the early days we would try our hand at everything – there is hardly a genre we haven’t had a go at, including ambient, drum’n’bass and pop. I think what happens over the years is that you realise what is really part of your idiom and what is contrived. I don’t think that the Shadow Dancer sound is contrived.

Do you think there’s an element of luck for any act to break out in the digital age? Obviously success isn’t always a barometer of quality (ahem Will.I.Am) but there’s always the hope that good, talented people will do well – apart from buckets of talent, what does someone need to “make it”?

Al: Yes, I do think there’s some luck required, but it seems evident to me that it’s easier to get heard today than it was when we were starting off, pre-internet, sending demo cassette tapes to labels without any idea whether they went straight into the bin or not. But then you also have to make yourself heard against everyone else who also has this new medium to shout from, so with the sheer volume of stuff it’s harder for the good parts to be heard. So maybe that’s bollocks.

Paul: Well, we certainly had a lot of luck. Alex picked up on us only around 3 or 4 months after we’d started producing again… he heard Poke on our MySpace player and asked for a copy. Oddly, at the same time, we suddenly had interest from other “big” name labels and producers, but we always knew we’d go with Boysnoize as, despite being fairly new, the label obviously had huge potential and Alex came across as passionate and enthusiastic about what he’s doing. In retrospect, it was a fairly surreal experience because we’d put some tracks on MySpace purely for the fun of it, not even entertaining the possibility of actually having a record released. In the (as it was then) 20 years of making music, we’d sent maybe 2 or 3 demos out, and were generally awful at bigging ourselves up, but it didn’t really matter as it was more a hobby than career aspiration.

I’m pretty sure talent-scouting has become next to impossible now; anyone with a computer and inexpensive (or cracked) software can be a producer, and MySpace and blogs have become saturated with awful, spam-happy, wannabe Justices/Daft Punks/Bloody Beetroots… why would anyone have the time or inclination to sift through that in order to find the gems?

What’s Mr Ridha like as a boss?

Al: I know you wouldn’t really expect me to say anything else, but I think he’s great – very affable and charming. Paul knows him better than I do, though, maybe he’s got some juice.

Paul: Sadly not… but – as a boss – he’s ideal, because he allows us to do whatever we want to, creatively. There’s no template laid out for us to adhere to and his feedback is always helpful and positive. Even if there’s something he’s not 100% sure about he’ll take a risk with it, which is exactly what we need. I’ve also never met anyone so dedicated or hard-working anywhere else in the music industry… he has almost super-human levels of energy that can only make an old man like me envious. Or on the verge of intimidated.

Does he ever play favourites with acts on the label?

Paul: Not in my experience. The amount of work he put into getting Golden Traxe released and promoted is probably no different to that which he invests in Strip Steve, D.I.M., Djedjotronic, Les Petits Pilous, etc. After all, he wants the same thing for all of us and for BNR. Favouritism would not, I think, help to maintain a successful, consistent label.

Is there ever any pressure to conform to the label’s “sound”?

Paul: None at all. In fact, anything that sounds typically “Boysnoize Records” is more likely to go unreleased. Some would argue that this would go against the idea of label consistency but, in my opinion, it’s possible to maintain an identity while still progressing your sound. The problem with many techno, house and electro “stables” is that they tend to get stuck in a rut by limiting their creative freedom… some haven’t strayed from blueprints set in the ’90s, so only the die-hard purists stick with them while they alienate everyone else. What’s the point in that? Who does it serve apart from artists with out-dated, pig-headed delusions of being “underground”? Music is a form of expression… as long as you do what is natural, people will understand and will go along with it. If it’s a generic, formulaic retread of “successful” ideas, it will become apparent soon enough and leave your audience cold.

Was the track The Bad Thing inspired by Peep Show?

Al: Yes.

Paul: I’ve no idea why we chose it for that track. Probably because I just couldn’t think of anything and had Peep Show on in the background. There’s no hidden meaning linked to what the “bad thing” is in that particular episode. No gossip, like.

Any plans to record a track about milkshakes?

Paul: I would love to sample a bit of Daniel Day-Lewis, but not something as obvious as that….

Al: Kelis beat us to it.

How much of a pain in the rear is it thinking of titles for instrumental tracks?

Paul: Very, very, very hard. I have a notebook with loads of names I came up with in it, just in case. However, I can never find it when I actually need it. Maybe I should use our method from 10 years ago: find shop or street names with more than one word, take perhaps the last three letters from the first word and the first three from the second word, put them together and… bang!… instant nonsense-track title. I’m pretty certain this is how Autechre have done it for a long while.

Al: I really like that all the titles have a little story attached to them, even if I can’t always remember what they are, or start to embellish them. Soap for example, was written for our debut live gig at Sankeys, but I think we didn’t realise it was no longer called Sankeys Soap until we got there. Although I might have embellished that part.

Could you ever do the unthinkable and work with a vocalist, or, even worse, sing yourself?

Al: We tried this – some of these songs may even get released. Without FX though, I sound like Ian Brown with a cold – not easy on the ears!

Paul: We have old tracks from a decade ago that both Al and I have done vocal work on. Mostly repeated refrains as opposed to full songs as I don’t think we’re all that good at writing lyrics. Sometimes we even used a vocoder to cover up our weak voices, sometimes we drowned them in reverb or delays… anything that would hide our inadequacies, basically. I even remember trying to do something remarkably similar to Claude VonStroke‘s Vocal Chords in 2000, only to be hampered (and eventually scuppered) by the Akai’s 1Mb sample memory.

There’s a chance some of these tracks might see the light of day in the future so you have been warned. As for doing any new stuff with vocalists… I doubt it. The lyrics would have to be exceptionally well-written and, in any case, I’m not keen on the ridiculous amount of EQing you sometimes have to do to get the human voice sounding any good.

It’s a year now since the album came out. Where’s the new one? Forums are looking for something new to talk about…

Paul: We have something planned for this year… not necessarily what people will be expecting but (if it happens) it would be quite interesting to see how it turns out. I can’t really say anything more at the moment, so I’m going to have to remain frustratingly elusive on this one. But I will mention that anyone expecting Golden Traxe II is likely to be pretty disappointed. Hopefully in a good way.

More immediately, there are remixes of Fischerspooner‘s We Are Electric and Zak Frost & Lazersonic‘s ‘Levels’, which seem to be taking an eternity to get released. And there’s a remix of Boys Noize’s Nott coming later in the year. Until then, forums will have to keep talking about why I wear a lot of similar looking shirts at gigs, I guess……

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