Podcast / 14 January 2021

VOLTAGE Podcast 01 - Shifted

We could not possibly start things off better than by introducing our first artist, Shifted. It goes without saying that UK native Guy Brewer has been a trailblazer in the scene. Those who know him are familiar with his distinct aesthetic that prioritizes immersive textures driven by 4/4 rhythms.

Interview

Give us a little background on your musical taste and influences. What were you listening to as a kid/young adult and what do you listen to now - both in techno and other genres?

Drum and bass got me into dance music, I got into that when I was 15. I bought Goldie’s first album and was completely entranced by it, actually. I just became obsessed with this Metalheadz logo that I’d see in record shops. Soon after that, I used to go to record shops with friends and get the early Headz releases, early Photek releases, Wax Doctor, stuff on Moving Shadow... That completely opened up this world to me.

When I discovered drum and bass it wasn’t just that I had discovered drum and bass, it was that I discovered all this music that existed beyond the realms of popular culture. It was made in bedrooms by people that looked a bit like me and that were probably similar to me. That was a big kick for me because before that it was always... like you had to be a musician, you had to be trained, you had to be good looking, you had to be marketed. And now you just needed a few tools and you could be off with your imagination, and that was super inspiring to me. [...] I guess when I started falling out of love with what was happening in dnb, which would definitely be around the end of the noughties - 2008/2009, I was getting sick of it.

Around the same time there started to be incredible, forward-thinking techno records. You had all this stuff that was coming out of Manchester: Modern Love Records, the early Andy Stott stuff, Pendle Coven. What was coming out of Berlin at that time: T++, Dettmann, Norman Nodge... Sandwell District is a really obvious one and one that I should not forget to mention because there’s no way I would have done what I do now, same with AVIAN, without Sandwell. Just the way they married these aesthetics together with this sound that was very much nodding towards what was happening in techno during the 90’s and the beginning of the 2000s, but also was rooted in the minimal stuff that had come after that. It had as many nods to Mika Vainio as it did to early Surgeon records. It really blew me away.

During the pandemic, I’ve found it rather hard to connect with techno music at all. I miss the physicality of it, I guess, and it tends to make me miss DJing and going out too much. Both in the studio and as a listener, I’ve been leaning towards more experimental sounds this year.

You’ve described your style, at least for your work as Shifted, as focusing on textures as opposed to rhythm. What does your workflow look like when you make a track? Is there any gear or any techniques you resort to on a regular basis? What is your setup composed of?

When I started making techno, I was not a good synth programmer. I was pretty shit at programming synths, to be honest. I’d borrow a synth off a mate and record tones out of it, chords or whatever, little sounds, and then I’d use those for months and months. Bending them around using the Simpler or Sampler in Ableton, looping things, pitching things up and down. Just processing stuff and seeing what I could get out of it. I guess this changed slowly over the last decade, I just started buying bits and pieces.

To start off with I bought a drum machine and sampler, because sampling was very much my thing. I bought an Octatrack so the stuff I did on Hospital Productions was pretty much all Octatrack recorded directly in ableton and processed much in the same way I was doing before. A lot of computer processing with a few small bits of hardware. And then I started delving into the modular thing and that’s completely taken over. There’s something about the workflow that connects with me. Making connections yourself, starting off with a completely blank canvas.

Full tracklist handwritten by Shifted.

Maybe not an easy question to answer, but your music definitely has its own universe and is coherent through your releases this past decade. What do you try to make people feel with your work as Shifted? What is the reaction you try to provoke in your listeners when they listen to your music and how does this vary between your different aliases?

When I come in the studio, I never really know what I’m writing for. I just write stuff, stick it in a folder, and come back to it later when I’m trying to put a release together. I think you need a little distance from things before you can imagine it in the context of a 12” or LP, and to get a sense of how something might slot in, and where.

What do I want to make people feel? It really varies track to track, of course. Even with stuff that’s very much for the dancefloor, I really like those tracks when you’re in your little bubble and you’re on whatever you’re on, and you kind of lost all your mates. You’re on a dancefloor and you just get sucked into something. It’s always the B-sides. It’s never the tracks that make the club erupt. It’s the little ones that make you put your head down, stare at your feet and let yourself get sucked into something - that’s what’s interesting to me. It’s what’s interesting about electronic music to me.

It’s always the B-sides. It’s never the tracks that make the club erupt. It’s the little ones that make you put your head down, stare at your feet and just suck yourself into something - that’s what’s interesting to me.

It’s what’s interesting about dance music to me. These kinetic, hypnotic little loops.

We can see the first AVIAN release in 2011, shortly after you moved to Berlin from London. Switching musical styles, names, cities, and building up what seems like a whole new life and artistic identity for yourself - walk us through the conception of your imprint. What was the intention of AVIAN when it began and how has it changed in its almost 10 years of existence?

I started AVIAN in the UK shortly before I left for Berlin. When I started it back in 2011, having your own little hand-stamped record label seemed almost like a rite of passage. For me, AVIAN started as a way to put records out fast. I never had any intention of putting out anyone else’s music. I should mention that I started it with a friend in the UK who is no longer involved, for years now, since I left the UK. We started it because he was making tracks, I was making tracks, and I was like, well, let’s just start a little imprint. We’ll do three hundred copies of each one, it’ll be an occasional project for when I have something I want to put out fast.

And then, of course, when I moved to Berlin, I was just in much closer contact with everyone. I started to meet people when I was traveling. I was living with James Sigha. [...] He started becoming involved with the label and I started having contact with other people.

The musical aesthetic that AVIAN proposes is very consistent. How do you decide an artist fits your label? What is your criteria when looking for something fresh to put out?

It’s a bit of a mix. Some things just end up landing in my lap through chance and situation, which is the most natural way of things happening, I suppose. The [Alessandro] Cortini record - Skarn record - weird that I ended up putting that out, but I was going out to Los Angeles a lot at the time and we had a bunch of mutual friends and they knew he was writing a certain type of music. They were like ‘you should listen to his techno records’, and I didn’t even know who he was before they told me. I mean, I obviously knew about Nine Inch Nails, but I didn’t know who Alessandro Cortini was. I heard that record and I almost tripped over myself - I fucking needed that record. It’s the same thing with the Swedes [SHXCXCHCXSH], I just heard that and was like, I have to have them on the label.

Then with other things, it’s from friendships. Like with Sigha, all the records he’s done was just done through him being always around me all the time and me being like ‘fuck me, that’s sick’ because we’ve always played each other’s tracks straight away. He’ll send me something like, ‘Done this, I think it’s a bit shit, can you have a listen?’ and I’ll be like ‘Fuck! No, this is killer - this is mine!’.

Signing stuff via demos doesn’t really happen. I think the only one was the Verge record, for some reason something about the way he wrote to me, I was like ‘I should listen to this’, so I did and I immediately got back to him. I think I took six of the ten tracks he sent. That’s unusual, but I usually know straight away like ‘Boom, that’s an AVIAN record’. If I have to persuade myself, then they’re usually the records that I look back and say maybe that wasn’t the smartest decision.

If I have to persuade myself, then they’re usually the records that I look back and say maybe that wasn’t the smartest decision.

There are a couple of those and they tend to be the records that were the biggest pain in the ass. The ones that took the longest to come to fruition. It’s the same as when you’re in the studio, you know when you just sit down and three hours later you’ve got working parts of a track sitting there and it doesn’t need very much more. Those are always the best tracks, because you didn’t have to break anything to make it work; it’s the same with releases.

Shifted's setup for the VOLTAGE Podcast mix.

After 8 years of living in Berlin, you currently reside in Antwerp. How did that decision come about and how do you like living in Belgium?

I guess like most big decisions in most people’s lives it comes from a relationship. I met my girlfriend in Berlin and she’s Belgian. We bought an old house that we’re doing up over time. And, of course, that comes with a load of its own challenges, but what it meant for me is that I was able to build my studio from scratch. I sound proofed it - everything, basically just made it as I wanted to, which was a great opportunity for me. I’ve never had a purpose-built studio, it’s always just been a corner in an apartment.

But how am I finding it? It’s difficult to say right now.

When I first moved before COVID here, I was enjoying it. It was nice to be somewhere new, different routine, I was traveling out of Brussels airport most weekends and coming back. My lifestyle remained the same, really. I was working on music during the week and then traveling on the weekends. Since everything changed, I’ve definitely found it harder to deal with, just because I’ve been away from all of my friends and the regular shit that I do. But I think whenever you make these big changes, it leads to other things. It leads to new creative opportunities, new people that you meet, new doors that open, and some doors close as well. I’m enjoying it, I guess.

I sometimes feel imprisoned here, but I guess everyone feels like that at the moment. I’m looking forward to being more active within the scene, for sure. I’m looking forward to being able to go to local parties, meeting local promoters, and other techno DJs that are in the same world as me. Because that’s something I haven’t really had the opportunity to do yet here. Yeah, I’m just desperate for normality to return in some way, shape, or form so I can get on with things.

With a lot of your work done in Berlin and London especially with AVIAN in the german capital, should we expect you to involve yourself in the local scene in Antwerp or Brussels, or will you rather be operating the same projects in your new location?

I played C12 a couple of times. Great theme, great club, I really hope they still exist at the end of this. Same with Ampere, I played Kompass Klub a few years back. [...] It’s great that for such a small country there seems to be a healthy amount going on. Obviously there’s some Belgian labels I have a lot of time for. A really obvious one is Token. I’ve known Kr!z for a long time. Great guy, the same age as me, came up in a similar way to me, into a lot of the same stuff as me. His history is quite similar, so he’s someone I’ve got a lot of time for and the label too.

Belgium also has quite an interesting experimental scene with artists like Yves De Mey and labels like Entr’acte. dBridge is also now living in Antwerp, and Kevin Martin has just set up in Brussels, so there seems to be quite a lot happening.

With 2 EP’s and an album out, last year was big for you production-wise. What can we expect from you in the future? Any special projects, labels, or collaborations coming?

Tons of stuff coming on AVIAN this year. I always say this, and it never works out as planned, but I’m trying to up the tempo with releases for 2021. I think at this stage we’ve got the next 6 or 7 records planned, which is pretty rare for us.. As for my own music, I’ve got a project I worked on during the pandemic that I’ll be announcing shortly. Stay tuned…

Next up: Boris (Ostgut Ton)


Interview conducted and written by Noah Hocker