Whether you are deeply into electronic music or not, you’ve certainly come across James Shaw in some way. As half of Simian Mobile Disco or solo under his Jas Shaw moniker the British producer has been a constant contributor to the electronic music scene on so many musical levels for decades. His productions reach from experimental and eclectic musical pieces to mental mind-blowing takes not necessarily to be pinpointed to acertain electronic sub-genre – therefor James Shaw’s musical approach is too diverse, therefor James Shaw himself is too diverse. As the artist always looks for new challenges to master and come up with further ways to produce music, he had the idea to combine two previous musical drafts/ sketches/ ideas slumbering on his hard-disk and come up with one final track in the end. The results of Shaw’s newly found way of producing music have been released in his ‘Exquisite Cops’ series over the past weeks and will culminate in an album, which is due at the end of September. Shortly before his new track ‘After The Panic, Comes Euphoria’ will be out on Delicacies and only a few weeks after Shaw had collaborated with London-based artist Fort Romeau, Torture the Artist had the chance to chat with James about Stanley Kubrick, the aforementioned EP on Cin Cin and the upcoming album, artists he’d love to remix, his studio works and much more. Additionally you can listen to ‘After The Panic, Comes Euphoria‘.
Torture the Artist: Hello James, tell us something about your day.
Jas Shaw: Hi, I’m having a fairly quiet day as I had a gig at the weekend and not much sleep. I’m learning Lua so that I can start to program Norns when it arrives. Norns, for those who are not following synth stuff, is a new box from Monome, it’s really just a raspberry Pi in a nice enclosure but for me it’s a kick in the arse to learn a new way to make sound.
Torture the Artist: You are living in the London area. Name a track represents the city the best and for what reasons.
Jas Shaw: I used to live in Homerton but we moved out about 5 years ago after having lived in various bits of east London for 15 years so it’s still home, but also not really home. So, I’ll choose Ryan Elliot ‘The Introduction’ as a record for that. Mostly because I’m really enjoying the EP it’s off but, to engage with the question a bit, it’s got a dreamy, floaty thing going on and feels familiar but also the synth kind of flits about in an unpredictable way, so it’s not exactly what you expect. Like when you come back and the shop that used to sell discontinued old computer cables is now an espresso bar that sells expensive Swedish antiques, you feel a bit like you don’t quite fit and yet maybe you do and there’s no question that the coffee is really nice but actually it would be cool to get a spare scsi-cable, so you are conflicted.
Torture the Artist: One of the track’s you recently released is called ‘Kubrick’s Rube’. It’s referring to famous film producer, photographer and screenwriter Stanley Kubrik and it’s also a word play as the track title derives from ‘Rubik’s Cube’. What’s something in your life that you still have to encode in order to solve the riddle?
Jas Shaw: Mixing is almost always a riddle. I know that from the outside it seems like something that ought to be fairly straightforward or at worst kind of a craft type thing. However often it’s a maddening riddle like Tetris, or packing a van with lots of odd shaped flight cases. One piece placed wrong mucks up everything else and you need to take it all out and start again. When you get it all fitting together happily it feels a bit like you have solved a Rubik’s Cube.
Torture the Artist: Refering to the question before, Kubrick was known for striving for perfection and implementing a deeper symbolism in an intellectual manner into his work. What’s the deeper meaning behind your music and what does it reveal about the person James Shaw?
Jas Shaw: That’s daunting, and I think maybe a trap? At the risk of tricking myself into seeming to draw a comparison between me and one of greatest directors ever: I’ll say that I do spent a lot of time doing research. I already regret this comparison though because my research is mostly faffing about with synths until they do something unexpected, rather than documenting every day of Napoleon’s life and still not feeling like this was sufficient to make a movie.
Our methods of making music are almost polar opposites of each other.
Torture the Artist: Aside from releasing music on Delicacies, where you album ‘Exquisite Cops’ will drop in September, two tracks in collaboration with Fort Romeau just came out on Cin Cin. How did working with Fort Romeau come about and what made you release the two delicacies on his label?
Jas Shaw: Mike and I have been meeting up occasionally for ages to mess about with synths. It’s been a very interesting process because we get on really well and have compatible music taste but our methods of making music are almost polar opposites of each other.
Torture the Artist: Where those two tracks produced in one take or did you already align the production process, at least partly, to your ‘Exquisite Corps’-series?
Jas Shaw: No, the tracks were done over a fairly long period and had nothing to do with the ‘Exquisite Cops’ stuff. They were done at my house but you can hear that they are kind of their own thing. Hopefully we can do some more stuff because in the process of making these we worked out how to accommodate each other’s musical kinks.
Torture the Artist: The two tracks with Fort Romeau go by the names of ‘Saturn Ascends’ and ‘Voices [no III]’. What’s your relationship to astrophysics and spirituality or how did those two track titles come about?
Jas Shaw: Neither of us are into star signs. I like space as much as the next person but I don’t mind admitting that I find the Blade-Runnerisation of techno really tedious. We were not shooting for a Sci-Fi theme but I’m a Scorpio so I would say that right.
I have a finite amount of time in the studio so I don’t share it as much as I perhaps should.
Torture the Artist: Generally speaking, what’s an artist that you would like to work with in the studio, and why?
Jas Shaw: I know I have a finite amount of time in the studio so I don’t share it as much as I perhaps should. I’ve learned so much from having people into the studio, even people who are not super experienced. In fact perhaps especially from people who are not super experienced. There’s something very refreshing and also annoying about someone asking for something that’s just not possible, or clearly really impractical. The danger is that with experience you start to accept that certain things just can’t be done or are too much agro and stop considering them. However, if I can pick anyone then I’d probably go for Mark Fell. His work as a part of SND and as Sensate Focus sits right in the sweet spot for me of interesting just taken at face value and also if you dig into it a bit more.
There’s still something appealing about 40-60 minutes as a length of time where you can really engage with something without starting to think about sandwiches.
Torture the Artist: As mentioned before, your album ‘Exquisite Cops’ will be released in a few weeks, consisting out of eight tracks from the Exquisite Cops series. What made you decide to put only eight tracks on the final album and not all tracks from the series or maybe even some other ones that were not released before or was the idea to divide the amount of tracks by two since you basically put two ideas together in the first place to come up with one track?
Jas Shaw: I considered putting the whole lot on there but then I tried listening to it and it was not a very compelling prospect, too long, no shape to it, it was just a bit formless. While the physical requirement of vinyl is gone there’s still something appealing about 40-60 minutes as a length of time where you can really engage with something without starting to think about sandwiches.
The obvious solution was to do a mix, and I’ll probably do that anyway, but I wanted these tracks to go out and become a part of other people’s playlists and mixes, in the same way that other peoples tracks have for me. A mix is kind of an immutable lump, it’s great to listen to but I can’t take someone else’s mix and have it become a part of the playlist that I’d grab if I was at a certain point in a night and wanted to move the room in a certain direction; and that’s what I wanted these tracks join in with.
So, to go back to the vinyl thing, it would have been too much agro and expense to print up every release as a 12 but it’s nice to make a thing to represent this patch. You can’t get more than 2 track on a side so that’s 8 tracks, decision made.
Picking the tracks was difficult, I could have made lots of different 8 track selections that had a shape and thread running through them but in the end I found that certain tracks just suggested themselves, for example I closed a few sets with ‘A Bird With No Feet’ and so somehow that determined that.
Torture the Artist The tracks for the series basically consist of two different ideas, seperated in time, that you put together to create one track. Was this a way to overcome difficulties when you were stuck in studio/ producing routines?
Jas Shaw: Yeah, when I was making these my working day was short. It takes quite a while to get something going in my studio so if I shot for a whole track then I’d just run out of steam before I got tired. So I just moved the goalposts and aimed for some satisfying noise or a vibey drum track, doable in the amount of time I’d have. The nice thing about this was that I could really engross myself in the details of something quite simple and after a while I built up a pile of these these things.
Sometimes it’s just a convoluted, poorly thought out mess that need to be disassembled in order to make space for something that might work.
Torture the Artist: What except from the aforementioned usually does the trick when you are stuck with a track/ idea in the studio?
Jas Shaw: If I’m not getting anything then I usually either pull out all the cables and make a new system or just leave it and move to another setup, or make something new. The studio is littered with little patches that are interesting but have been abandoned and sometimes I come back to one and it just spits out tracks. Also, sometimes it’s just a convoluted, poorly thought out mess that need to be disassembled in order to make space for something that might work.
Torture the Artist: We exclusively get to premiere your track ‘After The Panic Comes Euphoria’, does the track title give a hint of what you’ve undergone the past months?
Jas Shaw: Interesting, I’d not thought about that. The parallel, if it exists, it’s certainly pretty tenuous as though we were not short of panic I don’t think that we have quite nailed the euphoria bit yet despite it being ‘after’, perhaps that’s on it’s way?
I was never going to get a guitar to sound like Aphex.
Torture the Artist: How much does the music you produce and what you are currently into differ from the music you enjoyed during your teenage days?
Jas Shaw: I wasn’t really into techno or stark very repetitive stuff when I was a kid but I think that there’s a similarity in intention to my 17 year old self. I remember getting a copy of elected ambient works 1 on cd as a gift and at the time I was a guitar player and spent long evenings trying to create chains of fx peddles that would make my guitar sound a bit like the noises on that album. Obviously I was never going to get a guitar to sound like Aphex but the process of treating a guitar with the same importance as a phaser pedal was a good lesson and something that I still believe in. In lots of ways what I do in the studio is trying to get synths or drum machines to make sounds they can’t make.
Torture the Artist: You’ve provided your audience with a lot of original material, but what’s a track you’d love to remix at the moment?
Jas Shaw: Anything off Si Bure, the new Mim Sureiman album, if I have to choose one then maybe Haki? Although it’s already kind exactly what I’d want it to be, so maybe that’s not a good choice?
I moved to the countryside thinking that I would go off club music.
Torture the Artist: What music or tracks do you listen to when trying to get away from electronic or club music in general?
Jas Shaw:I moved to the countryside thinking that I would go off club music and want to work on ‘proper’ music, with instruments and stuff like that. Oddly the opposite has happened, I crave club stuff and odd, unnatural electronic music and find acoustic stuff pretty gross.
Torture the Artist: Who’s an artist or person that is important for your musical career, and why?
Jas Shaw: Obviously James is someone who I’ve grown up with and really learned how to do music with, but perhaps that’s too obvious? A more oblique influence but one that I think about form time to time is a person in Manchester who I was chatting to about samplers. At this time there were two main options, Emu and Akai and I’d bought an emu but thought that maybe it was a mistake because most people seemed to be on Akai. He told me that he looked into it and found that there was actually 3 options, Kurzweil also made samplers but no one seemed to use them. So, he bought one of those. It’s a good lesson.
Torture the Artist: What type of track have you always wanted to produce, but does not fit your current releases?
Jas Shaw: There’s some really great wonky urban stuff that I’ve been enjoying but might feel a bit odd making. Somewhere in the back of my head I’d be thinking ’Stop this, you live in a cottage, you haven’t got a clue’. But in truth I think that people who haven’t got a clue having a bash at things are often a good influence so I’d probably just lean into it and take the abuse.
Interview by Holger Breuer