Interview with producer John Shima
John Shima has been around on the electronic music scene for quite a while producing finely tuned techno for various imprints. A lot of that time has been spent building an array of analogue and modular synths that help create a rich sound that captures the authenticity of Detroit and London and pays homage to the producers born from those scenes.
How long have you been recording music for?
I started dabbling around 1993. A friend of mine (Chris Smith of CPU Records) got a copy of Future Music magazine and we hired out a small recording studio in the centre of Sheffield to make tracks, the results were a bit poor but we were both hooked from then on. I remember we were using a Mini Moog, Prophet 5, Juno 106 and never really appreciated them, the Akai S1000 was the don for us back then. I managed to scrape some money together and buy some bits to start my home studio.
You're someone who started out by getting signed to labels that released in digital formats only, was your plan always to try and release physical artifacts?
It was never a plan, I think at that time I was buying more digital music so I knew more digital labels to send demo's to. Some of my best music came out digital only and I'm still proud of those releases. I’m a big vinyl lover and have been since the 80's so getting my first vinyl release on Diametric was a huge buzz. There’s nothing more gratifying than receiving your music in the post on vinyl.
What advice would you give to any aspiring electronic music producers when trying to get signed to a label?
Be polite and do your homework. Don't just send an email with a soundcloud link and nothing else or an essay on why you're giving the label the opportunity to sign you as these usually get ignored. Introduce yourself politely and make sure you know what they release before you send anything, there’s nothing more frustrating than receiving demos from people who clearly don't know the style you release. I used to go through my record collection to find labels I thought would like my demos. And don't take rejection to heart.
You're obviously influenced by a wealth of artists from B12 to Derrick May, who else inspires you from the past and present?
Yeah B12 and Derrick are obviously up there, I would also say the earlier Warp stuff of Forgemasters, Nightmares On Wax, LFO, etc had a massive influence on my sound. These were my introduction to House/Techno around 89/90 and I was instantly blown away, I later discovered Detroit Techno and loved it. Hearing Dextrous and LFO in a dark, dirty, sweaty warehouse never leaves you. It's not just techno that inspires me, I love old 60's / 70's sci-fi movies and the soundtracks for their vision of the future are great. For many years I thought techno had turned a bit stale but a friend introduced me to the music of Arne Weinberg and again I was blown away to hear someone writing the music I love. I then discovered people like Mick Welch, Erell Ranson and it was like a whole scene still doing it. These guys inspired me to get my act together and start finished tracks again and sending demos out.
You also make music under the name of Isomorphic, do you think it's important that artists have side-projects to explore new sounds?
I guess it really depends on the artist, I started doing Isomorphic as a break from techno and enable me to experiment more. A lot of the Isomorphic music is done live, mostly modular and allows me to use sounds and tempo's I couldn't use in my techno stuff. The lack of beats and dark soundscapes refresh my ears and by the time I've finished a few Isomorphic tracks I'm itching to get back writing techno stuff again, so for me it is important. I also release music under the name Fatal Tangent alongside Arne Weinberg.
From what I can see, all of your music is made analogously, how important is it for you to maintain that process?
For me I find it the most natural way of working and helps create ideas. I play as many parts live as I can and record them in. I'm not the best keyboard player so it takes a while but I like doing it that way.
When creating tracks, do you ever get an idea in your head of a sound you want to use and how easy can it be to replicate it?
Tracks always start off differently and are always the result of just jamming around live with no set ideas. So sometimes it can start with chords, the beat or bassline so there's never a set way for me to actually start a track. I can't visualise a track in my head and write it but yeah once I get a track rolling I can start to hear sounds it needs and sounds that would fit in. Sometimes I succeed in doing it but mostly that idea leads to a different sound being used as I'm playing on a synth. I do use certain synths for certain sounds though, so if I think I need a specific type of sound I know what synth to go to straight away.
Are you ever tempted to turn off the machines and just use a laptop?
No, never. I have nothing against laptop producers at all but I love dusty machines and flashing LED's. Just wished they weren't so temperamental.
Where do you see electronic music going in the future, especially electronica and techno?
Hard to say to be honest. Technology is advancing as such a pace and allowing everyone, no matter their budget or knowledge to make music, and this can only be a good thing. If you remember back in the 80s digital synths made analogue gear worthless, and more recently software/vst's made hardware less attractive but now there's a real buzz about hardware again and everyone seems to be liking synths again, so maybe the next step is another software revival but on a much bigger scale. There’s the 3D hologram stuff microsoft are working on where you can project interactive tools on your walls or create 3D sculptures on a table. Almost like the holo-deck from Star-Trek. Walk into an empty room and suddenly the walls are full of virtual synths and drum machines. That'd make a pretty cool concert, don't you think?Listen to John Shima on Soundcloud Check out the John Shima Discography
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