Saturday, March 12, 2005

For the past couple of months, New Yorkers have been treated to a weekly dose of streetwise beats from London, Jamaica, Rio, Atlanta, and around the world mashed up on the dancefloor of Rothko, where the new Bangers & Mash party has brought the grit back to New York nightlife. The hugely successful party, which has really been the first forum for grime in New York, is the brainchild of the crew known as Team Shadetek, who have been quietly synthesizing the sounds of the global urban underground for years. They released an album on Warp in 2004, but have since carried the torch for grime in the States, bringing UK heavyweights Jammer and D-Double on a three-city North American tour culminating in the most packed house yet at Bangers & Mash.

I connected with Matt from Shadetek to learn more about where the crew is coming from and where it's going as their party at Rothko continues to build momentum, and their upstart Shadetek record label is looking poised to drop bombs in '05...

DQ: Give me some background on the crew, where y'all are coming from, how you got into DJing and production, early influences... the usual.

Matt Shadetek: Early on it was beatmatching jungle with indie hiphop and then stuff like Autechre and techstep drum and bass with new dancehall and weird reggae stuff like slowed down Rhythm & Sound records. Trying to recreate the bashment tek feeling of early ragga jungle was a big part of the idea there, as well as bringing in new indescribable things. I ended up getting wrapped up in the computer side rather than the DJing side of things since that was easier for me than beatmatching, and so I put my energies into production. Then I met Zach and it turned out we were sort of on the same page and he had a studio with some gear we went from there.

DQ: How has New York in particular set the tone of your musical evolution? Going from rave to Warp style IDM to hip hop to ragga to grime is a fairly unconventional musical trajectory (at least in the states). How did you come to follow that path? Do you think the current state of the New York underground is receptive to the sound you guys are pushing?

Matt: Zach, Luca and I all grew up in Tribeca in Downtown Manhattan and all were down with the rave scene in NYC in the 90s, especially the Jungle thing. Before I got into rave shit I was a hiphop and hardcore punk fan, mostly because of the graffiti kids I hung around with. Then I heard some Jungle tapes, especially DJ Odi, who was doing a lot of mixing in hiphop accapellas, which made it accessible to me. Once I started going to the parties I just loved the vibes and the dancing and got really into it.

As far as the path we followed, Zach and I basically left the jungle scene when Mayor Giuliani started putting the big clubs out of business, which fucked up the best Jungle party in NYC: Konkrete Jungle. After we stopped going out raving as much, we started to get into some of the more listening oriented electronic stuff like Aphex Twin and Autechre. We went with that for a while until the music started to either become too cerebral or too derivative and started to really seriously break away from dancing and partying. We didn't want to go off 100% into nerd land, although we like that stuff too, so we sort of carved out our own little thing of bringing some of the urban influences more to the front like dancehall and hiphop. Then when we found the grime thing we just really embraced it because it already was doing a lot of the things we wanted to do, which was basically urban rave music with rapping (be it dancehall or hiphop style), and also bringing in a whole bunch of new ideas too.

DQ: Talk a little about how you got exposed to grime and underground UK beats and how/if you see it catching on in the states. Do you think it will have an audience here?

Matt: We got exposed to it on our trips to London to play parties, where we encountered the 'gangsta garage' thing that was going on at the time with groups like So Solid. That idea appealed to us, even though we hadn't heard much, so we went down to record shops and were bugging the clerks. Also our man Nick Kilroy from KIN Records (who just died way way too young, RIP) put us on to some stuff and steered us in the right direction He was the one who pointed Wiley's Eskimo 1 out to us when it first came out and when we heard that it just blew our minds.

As far as the music catching on in the states I think because of the urban vibes, with the dancehall and hiphop influence and the addition of rapping that it has a possibility to appeal to that audience over here. And if the urban crowd gets behind it over here then the rest of the people will follow.

DQ: At the moment in the US an interesting cross-pollination of different styles of beats seems to be taking place, inspired by things like mash-up, the emergence of crunk/Dirty South hip hop, grime taking over London, the popularity of dancehall. And they seem to be getting all thrown together with a bit of a punk/soundclash/dubwise approach by future-minded people. Shadetek has successfully tapped into this energy and is pushing it big in NYC through the Bangers & Mash parties. Tell me about what y'all are trying to do with B&M and where you'd like to see it go.

Matt: Basically Bangers is just us and Luca (Drop The Lime) trying to present the grime thing in a way that the NYC dancing crew will understand and realize it as a part of the whole multi-regional urban music movement that's happening around the world: JA, ATL, the DE etc. To me all these sounds are part of the same lineage, going back to Kool Herc coming from Jamaica and setting up his soundsystem in the Bronx and giving birth to hip hop. When people get over their regional musical prejudices they'll start to see that there's a world of great shit out there and a whole lot of innovation and excitement going on, not just in London but Bombay, Brazil, Puerto Rico, Detroit, South Africa, all over.

DQ: There has always been a dialogue going on between those who lean towards a more abstract/experimental approach to music (like the Warp/Aphex Twin/Broklyn Beats kind of approach - HEAD music) vs. a more unabashed dancefloor party vibe (crunk, dancehall, grime, etc. - BODY music). Shadetek seems to try and balance the two approaches. Can they coexist? Can experimental music rock a dancefloor? Can booty music hold the interest of music geeks?

Matt: Man, that is a tough one. I think my best response to this is that we are interested in music that lives in the tension space between ideas, which is being constantly pushed and pulled from all sides and forced to evolve. The best example I can give is going back to Kool Herc, he came to the Bronx and people weren't feeling his Jamaican soundman thing. That wasn't what was really moving the crowd then. People were more into funk and disco and soul. Instead of saying, "I'm gonna stick to my artistic thing and keep it real, even if people don't like it," he compromised and adapted to the situation by getting Bronx youths to chat over his sound by playing American riddims, which led to the birth of hip hop. Shadetek is just trying to react to all the different situations we move through, different cities, scenes etc. and just keep it moving and exciting and keep the crowd into it, and by doing so hopefully come up with some interesting shit in the process.

DQ: What's in the works for the Shadetek label? What new production work are you busy with?

Shadetek: Right now Zach and I are busy finishing our album for Sound Ink Records out of Brooklyn, which is a vocal hip hop and grime record with a lot of guest rappers. That'll probably drop fall '05. On the label we've got two new artists we're working with, a kid called Atki2 from England who's doing grimy breakcore-ish riddims with a girl rapping over them. And our boy ZestRock! from Middletown NY, now based in the Bronx, who's a rapper and producer making melodic dissonant hiphop with a lot of weird beats. Both of them have 12" EPs coming soon and Zesto is working on his album which will drop on Shadetek Records as well. We're also dropping the next EP in the series we started with The Girls EP which is another 4 track 12" with 4 different artists called The Dudes EP. That's got tracks from Xing N Fox feat. Tame One, Para One feat. TTC and Tes, as well as tracks from Atki2 and Zesto.
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