The Shapeshifters need little introduction after the last 18 months which has seen them explode onto the scene with the catchy and infectious Lola’s Theme.
Consisting of West London Simon Marlin and Max Reich, the duo had both been doing what they love for a number of years but really hit the big time when they launched their ‘Nocturnal Groove’ label with a certain Theme as the first single.
Slicing their way through dance and commercial charts around the world like a hot vinyl through butter the guys have recently released the much antipcated follow up; ‘Back To Basics’. As they reveal in this in-depth interview the pressure was certainly on after the success of their debut track.
Prior to an upcoming gig at Ibiza’s Pacha - home of all things house, sexiness and souful vibes - RA spoke to both of the guys to discuss the past, the present and a very exciting future.
It seems the sands in Ibiza will certainly be shifting this summer.
Who or what are the Shapeshifters? Musically, do you tend to think of yourselves as DJs, as a band-like unit or as producers?
SM: Essentially we see ourselves as Producers who love to spin. Shapeshifters has developed into a unit that feels band-like especially since we have started to delve into the live arena with a core of other musicians we regularly work with, and it’s always fun on the road so I guess all of the above really.
The word ‘shapeshifters’ conjures up images of the supernatural, episodes of X-Files, ghost-like ethereal changing forms without boundaries. In that respect the name resonates quite strongly with the idea of house music, which is also a continually-evolving shapeless dynamic form, when done well. How do you think your artist name Shapeshifters relates to you both, from a musical or otherwise perspective?
MR: We wanted a name that expressed movement and change something that was spiritual in nature and Shapeshifters seemed to fit both musically and as people nicely. (Simon loves a bit of Sci Fi action also!)
Initially you released your breakthrough track “Lola’s Theme” without the vocals before later adding some. You also used vocals on your latest track "Back To Basics". This weekend you’re playing at the Def Mix party in Ibiza. The Def Mix production team excelled in their use of vocals on many of their remixes. How important do you think it is to have vocals on a track? What's the difference between a good vocal and a crap one?
SM: Wow Big Question! It’s not essential in dance music to have vocals and there have been some fantastic instrumental records, which we would also play, but songs and melody in house music is something we believe in and enjoy producing and playing. We always try to keep our music true to ourselves and not try to “over educate” people which is a problem in dance music, as snobbery is rife, but history shows the most successful house music as a scene has been when you combine the energy of the dance floor with lyrics and melody, as you guy’s know all to well.
As for what makes a vocal good or bad there are too many variables in that, but what we do know is that you can feel when a record is made from the heart and that transcends to the dance floor especially with house music. It’s a cliche I know but house really is a feeling more than any other genre I think. (Having someone who can actually sings helps also!)
Who writes the lyrics to your tracks? And where would we be most likely to find them scrawled ? On a napkin/serviette, loo paper roll, back of a cigarette packet?
5)MR: We have co-written our last 2 singles with Karen Poole (Lola) and Jenna Gibbons (B2B), we all chip in with every aspect of the song writing process. Simon and myself will start musically and get a vibe going and then we finish the song together.
Lyrics can find themselves on scraps of paper, backs of utility bills, but finally on to the computer. We tend not to write with too many different people as we want to keep a thread to what myself and Simon do so we have continued with the same co-writers for the album alongside our own songs and a couple of collaborations with people we respect.
How difficult was it making "Back To Basics" given the enormous success of your debut single "Lola's Theme"? Did you take a 'back to basics' approach in the studio?
SM: We’d be lying if we didn’t say there was a pressure especially as ‘Lola’s Theme’ was so big and everyone likes to remind you how hard it is to follow-up such a hit but we just said to each other as long as we our happy ourselves with our work, then we can do no more.
With Back to Basics we wanted to make a record that pushed us further as producers by working with string and bass sections and other musicians from the start of the record alongside our techier side to achieve the best sound possible.
We are really proud with the results, it’s a great sounding song. Back to Basics is a musical reference to the scene.
You’ve mentioned before that Def Mix members David Morales and Frankie Knuckles, who you are playing with this weekend, were inspirations for you in the past. In what way did they inspire you? Which artists or producers do you get your inspiration from these days?
SM: That’s right we have said it before and we will say it again! Both David and Frankie have been responsible for inspiring us and others over the years whether it be hearing David play Space Terrace many moons ago (When the decks were still behind the bar!) or hearing Dream Lover for the first time, catching the Whistlesong at 6am or “Where Love Lives” totally sent me skyward on first listen.
You can’t take for granted the amount of great work and contribution these guys have given house music and without them it would not be the same. They have defiantly influenced our love of house over the years and am very humbled to have the chance to play with Frankie on the 23rd at Pacha and even more humbled that they like what we do.
Other people who we are inspired by would have to be the likes of Pete Heller and the whole JBO sound, Xpress 2, Fire Island, Black Science Orchestra and earlier acts like Chic, Stevie Wonder, Al Green, MFSB, Brothers Johnson, Chaka Chan and of course the man Quincy Jones. These day’s it’s a little harder to say who is directly inspiring us, I think we are just doing our own thing now.
Will you be performing either of your two original tracks or remixes live with a vocalist, DJing separately, DJing back-to-back or a combination of all three at your gig at Pacha?
MR: We will DJ as we always do Back to Back with some special edits and mixes we made for the night.
Aside from your gig at Def Mix/Saw Recordings party in Ibiza, how do you plan to spend your time on the island?
MR: We will be staying for a few days at the lovely Pacha Hotel. It will be great to take some timeout from the studio and London tempo and have some time with our friends that will be joining us at Pacha… definitely going to let our hair down for this party. Bring it on!!
Many celebrities and rockstars have been known to grace Pacha's exclusive "no photography allowed" VIP area. What do you think VIP really stands for? Who would you most like to run into in the VIP area on the night of your gig?
SM: VIP areas tend to be different all over the world. Sometimes they are full of the richest people, sometimes just full of the coolest and occasionally a bit of both. It means you get to sit down, if that’s what u like!
As long as people are ok and get down with the rest of us then it doesn’t really matter…. Everybody is important, aren’t they? VIP areas that don’t cut people off from the dance floor are better than separate rooms. I’d like to bump in to Thierry Henry (French footballer, plays for my team, Arsenal) but I don’t think he’s into house!
The Pacha crowds are known for being some of the sexiest clubbers in the world. Do you have any plans to help extend that reputation to the DJs/artists at Pacha too? What kind of eye-catching kit can we expect to see The Shapeshifters in?
MR: I’m not sure you should rely on us to fly that banner! Best left to the beautiful people of Ibiza we think. We’ll keep the music sexy that’s all the sexing up we will be able to supply.
Simon, tell us about your label Nocturnal Groove and the related club night at The End. How does that fit in or contrast with the overall Shapeshifters sound and your own sound as an individual DJ?
SM: Nocturnal Groove was set up by myself, Lola and Max in Nov 2003 and Lola’s Theme was the debut release. Since then we have released tracks from Martijn Ten Velden, Poker Pets and We Deliver. All have done very well for us and we have enjoyed great support from everyone out there in clubland. The label and the club night work hand in hand with Shapeshifters. Every Shapeshifters release comes through the label first and we are also residents at the club. Having the residency full time allows me to play a little deeper sometimes which I really enjoy.
The Club night is called Nocturnal and takes place at AKA, which is part of The End in London and has been running for 4 years now and seems to continue to go from strength to strength. The atmosphere is always up there and we have had some great guests over the years. It’s pretty unique in London now and we hope it continues.
Finally, what are your remaining tour/production plans for the rest of the summer after your Ibiza gig?
MR: We will continue to DJ all over the world but next weekend we will be at Global Gathering on The Radio 1 stage (hoping for clear skies!) When were not out gallivanting around we will continue to work on the album which is due for release at the beginning of 2006 with the 3rd single. Good news is in between then we will be releasing House Grooves Volume 2 our compilation series we started last year, due for release before Christmas.
A Big thanks to the Def Mix Crew and Pacha for putting on this special night and to the man himself Frankie Knuckles for all the love and support.