Interview: Shifted on his new album and the influence of Source Direct

Shifted burst onto the techno scene in 2011 with a raft of releases. Formerly producing electronic music in another genre, he regards the transformation as if “someone had shaken up this bottle for a few years and then the lid came off.” Luke Slater and Mote-Evolver offered their stamp of approval with a full-length last year called Crossed Paths. A smooth and polished techno album, ever since it’s become clear that Shifted has even grittier – and noisier – things in mind. He’s explored these ideas through his many aliases and imprints, but with his new album appearing on Dominick Fernow’s Bed Of Nails imprint this week, the aesthetic has crystallized into a unique voice. It no longer feels like Shifted is trying to make techno – he’s cultivating his own sound within the genre.

In broad strokes, what makes this album different from the first one under the Shifted name?

The first one worked out quite well in the end, but it was certainly premature for me to do. I’d only started the project about, maybe six or nine months before I got asked to do it. I’d done a couple of 12-inches for Mote-Evolver and he just threw the idea at me. I was, like, “Fuck it, why not?” This new one took no time at all. I completed it within about a month to six weeks, something like that. A lot of it was done in headphones because I was in between places, and I didn’t have my studio over from the UK yet. The majority of it was done in a very lo-fi, unprofessional manner.

I do think this one has a much rawer quality.

Yeah. I’ve never been someone that’s been able to spend ages over tracks, mainly because I get so bored and I end up ruining things very quickly. Usually, I’ll go back to version one when I’m on version 20, and version one is far, far better. This was done predominantly using software. I was doing things to make it sound like it wasn’t though. I’d run the entire mix through a guitar amp simulator, and stuff like that, to give it this warm fucked-up sound. Take a lot of the top-end sheen off things, which the first album, certainly, had this quite hi-fi sound to it. This is completely the other route.

If you want to say that there’s this joining, right now, of techno and noise, the first album, to me, was a techno album, and this one’s noisier.

I’ve been involved with scenes before when it’s all gone hard, and that’s been the death of it.

Yeah. I still think it’s very much a techno album. It’s definitely got an element of that to it, but I wouldn’t say I set out to make a “noise techno” record. There’s way too much of that at the moment. As well as this hard techno thing which, somehow, I’ve been banded in with, although I’ve never seen myself like that at all. It’s not really something that I find interesting at all. In fact, I think it got stale almost immediately.

It seemed obvious from the get-go: Where is this all heading?

Yeah. I’ve been involved with scenes before when it’s all gone hard, and that’s been the death of it.

Now that you’ve had an experience of writing this music, what are the things that you feel took time to learn?

I think, certainly when I started out, it was all about this kind of template. 16 bars, then this happens. 16 bars, then this happens. When people are coming from that approach to writing music, it’s difficult to let go and accept the fact that, sometimes, the best thing to do with a loop is do nothing at all. I’m very much into this stripped back approach to things. I try to find ways to make it sound like there’s more going on than there actually is. I like the idea that these loops perpetually repeat and suck you in more and more, and you pick up on more of these little nuances the more you listen to something. For a lot of my friends, they listen to that and they can’t get their heads around it. They’re just, like, “OK, so when’s it going to do something?” And I say, “Well, it’s not.” And that’s the point. It’s about having the balls to let go, and let it do its fucking thing.

Do you sit around and let that loop play for a long time?

Yeah. If you look at my arrangements when they’re stretched, tracked out in Ableton or whatever, then sometimes it’s just a long block with nothing really happening at all. I like that. I get my satisfaction from the little things that I place in around it and the processing of the stuff to make it more than the sum of its parts.

How did the album end up on [Dominick Fernow’s] Bed Of Nails?

I caught up with him when he was in Berlin, and I played the album to him. He immediately said, “Why don’t we do it on Bed of Nails?” I really liked the label. I liked the fact that it isn’t just a techno label. It’s got an edge to it. It’s not the same bunch of artists that are in the same kind of pool as me. It’s nice to be a little bit out there, but still be able to do what you do and have it, maybe, appreciated by a slightly different audience and presented in a slightly different way.

Bed of Nails has got this very techno edge to it. But if you listen to another record on there like the one Alberich did as Bronze Age, it’s this fantastic techno record written by someone who has no grounding in techno at all which is what makes it exciting to me. Coming from a similar background, being a bit of a… You know, I wasn’t listening to this stuff in the ’90s. Which I think and hope is maybe the reason why this whole Shifted project has done better than it probably should have done – because it’s written by someone that is slightly out of it.

So if you pinpoint influences for this project, in the past you’ve mentioned Chain Reaction, the Birmingham techno sound (Surgeon, Regis, etc.) and Mika Vainio – especially his Philus project. Are there any other names worth mentioning?

Definitely the first electronic records that caught my attention were drum & bass records. I can’t deny that at all. For me, when I was 15 years old, Source Direct, Photek, Hidden Agenda were the shit as far as I was concerned. I hope that I try and inject some of that into what I do now. I like the texture of those records. They’re stripped back, they’re grainy, and they have this focus to them. I don’t know why it is that I gravitated to that so much, but that was how I fell in love with electronic music really. I followed that path for a long time until I was 29 years old. That’s when I actually started sitting down and writing techno.

It’s definitely a little bit of an older age to sit down and start writing techno.

Yeah. I’ve always been into stuff [around techno]. Like Drexciya. I got really into Drexciya at one point, and still am now. I think I’ve collected everything that they’ve done apart from the hideously expensive stuff. I was listening to that stuff at the same time that I was still writing drum & bass. I remember hearing [Mathew Jonson’s] “Marionette” for the first time and just losing my shit. At around that point I was starting to become very disillusioned with where drum & bass was going. I didn’t feel any affinity with the dubstep stuff that I’d been hearing either. I didn’t get it. Now I can listen to some of it. I appreciate it, but it was never something that I would want to make myself. I’d listened to Chain Reaction records, Maurizio, Basic Channel, stuff like that. The first things that you come across when you start getting into techno, maybe some old Downwards.

Mathew Jonson is an interesting one, because he’s obviously quite a producer. He doesn’t seem to fit into that lineage you’re talking about.

Every record I do, I expect it to be the one where I get found out it’s just a fraud, and no one’s ever going to buy anything again.

No, he doesn’t at all. When I heard his stuff, it sounded like nothing else on the planet to me. These epic, very trance-y things, but still nothing remotely cheesy about it. It clicked with me. Around the same time my studio partner that I was writing drum & bass with moved to London, and I had more time to myself to develop what I wanted to do. He was always more of a hands-on guy. He was really musical, and I always felt a little bit stupid. There are ways to say it. Like, incapable. He had his head around chord structure and stuff that I didn’t have the first clue about because I’d never been musically trained.

When I had more time to sit in the studio on my own and discover my own identity as a producer, I started making these terrible techno records. For a long time. Making all the mistakes by creating things in these set structures that I thought had to exist. At that time, I’d never heard of Mika Vainio or whatever. I didn’t realize that music could be just a wall of feedback on a record. I found it difficult to experiment in that way. But when I started sitting on my own and making music, it was like someone had shaken up this bottle for a few years and then the lid came off. I wrote so much stuff so quickly.

Around this time you met Heidi at Mote-Evolver.

Yeah. I bumped into her somewhere in London and learned that she was working at Mote-Evolver. I’d been listening to the label already and said, “Well, I’ve got about 50 techno tunes sitting there that I haven’t played to anyone at all. Would you mind if I sent you some stuff?” I gave them all these tracks and Luke [Slater] got in contact the next week about doing the first EP. After that, it was bam, bam, bam, bam, bam. It worked nicely.

Before long, I was able to say goodbye to my previous existence, which had been… it’d been depressing me for a long time to be honest. The state of the drum & bass scene had got to a point where I was turning up and playing records that I didn’t like. I started to feel very segregated from everything. So, yeah, it was a natural turning point for me. Around the same time, everything in my personal life changed as well. I split up with a long-term girlfriend, all of my friends were moving away or they were having children and getting married...

Techno became your baby, your marriage. Where to next?

When I first listened to a British Murder Boys record, it wasn’t just a hard banging record. It was a fucking statement.

From a technical point of view, I want to ditch the computer within a few months. I’ve got my eye on a lot more equipment at the moment and I’m about to pull the trigger on it. I’m hoping that that will lead onto some interesting things without me really having to think about it. It’s difficult to say where next, though, because you don’t really know until it happens. I tend to work a lot for a few months and then I’ll spend the next three months doing absolutely nothing at all, sitting around thinking about things and wondering if I’ve made some horrible choices. Every record I do, I expect it to be the one where I get found out it’s just a fraud, and no one’s ever going to buy anything again.

You seem to have found a kindred spirit with Sigha. You’re doing a new project with him called A Model Authority, right?

Yeah, the new project, having said that I’m not into hard techno, is a very brutal hard techno record. The difference I guess is that I like to have something clandestine underneath that you won’t pick up on at first, but it has some finesse. It isn’t just hammering it out. Which is what I find very boring about a lot of the hard techno records that are around at the moment. In the opposite way, when I first listened to a British Murder Boys record, it wasn’t just a hard banging record. It was a fucking statement. I wouldn’t even really know what the statement was, but it was a statement. That’s the difference.

Photos: Ndilyo Nimindé

By Todd L. Burns on November 20, 2013