Originally published on metropolis.co.jp on March 2010
Sam Shackleton makes some of the bleakest, freakiest music ever to fill a dancefloor. The Lancashire-born producer first came to prominence in the early days of dubstep, when he was touted as one of the music’s more experimental proponents. Yet his stark productions were an awkward fit, even for the outer reaches of the genre—sharing an affection for dub atmospherics and shuddering basslines, but little else.
“I know a lot of the guys who were making this music back before there was even the word dubstep,” he writes by email from Berlin, where he currently lives. “Me and my friends used to say, ‘that stuff Youngsta plays.’”
Though he was there at the beginning, Shackleton never considered himself part of the scene. “The only time that I’ve used dubstep in connection with my own production is when one of the flyers for a Skull Disco party included the word,” he says. “I didn’t design the flyer and it was printed against my better judgment and my wishes. I regret this now.”
Skull Disco was the label that Shackleton ran with DJ and producer Laurie “Appleblim” Osbourne, using it as a vehicle for their own work, plus the odd collaboration or remix. On tracks like “Hamas Rule” and “Hypno Angel,” he sketched out an eerie sound world of Arabic percussion, disembodied vocals and sinuous basslines that didn’t so much drop as ooze out of the speakers. Minimal techno doyen Ricardo Villalobos was a big fan, delivering an 18-minute remix of Shackleton’s “Blood on My Hands” that proved the label’s biggest hit.
Having called time on Skull Disco in 2008, Shackleton has released his most recent work via Perlon, an imprint more commonly associated with minimal techno. He describes the music collected on the Three EPs as marking a “transitional stage,” and while it’s as austere as anything he’s done to date, it’s also underpinned by a stronger sense of momentum that constantly hints at techno without ever quite delivering.
“It still works on the dancefloor with a techno crowd, as they can get off on the percussion,” he says. “Even if it doesn’t have a straight kick drum all the time, people won’t find the groove too difficult as the feeling of it is still in fours.”
While it’s tempting to imagine that moving to Berlin has rubbed off on his music, Shackleton insists that this isn’t the case. “I suspect that I would make something similar wherever I lived,” he says. “Probably the biggest influence on me in terms of environment was growing up in a terribly bleak mill town surrounded by wonderfully bleak countryside.”
That said, he isn’t trying to make anybody miserable. One of the highlights of the Three EPs is “Asha in the Tabernacle,” which incorporates a sample of the hoary old Christian spiritual “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands.” “On the one hand it sounds a bit silly and almost ridiculous,” he says. “On the other hand, I hope that it’s a comforting message… I want people to understand the underlying positivity of the music, even if it can sound a bit somber sometimes.”
Almadella. Techno, dubstep: DJs Tanaka, Keihin, etc. Live: Shackleton. From 10pm, ¥3,000 w/1d. Shibuya. Tel: 03-3464-8432. www.module-tokyo.com
Three EPs is out now on Perlon/Octave-Lab.