BackdropLive 009 comes from John Shima, a producer of deep and cosmic techno of the highest calibre. I have been obsessed with his records for sometime, losing myself to his techno tales on the headphones and playing them out in the club. His music tells a story and ignores functionality, as he says himself below, and the effect that has on the minds & bodies of the dancers/home listeners can be quite profound. As Matthew Southwell (MyVinylRecordBox) put it so perfectly…”John Shima makes timeless records, music built to endure the test of time. “2” saw the light of day back in January 2015, released on an intriguing transparent 10″ inch. The music embedded into the clear grooves sounds like an audio greeting card intended for distant travelers, lost in the abyss, searching for refuge and sanctuary on an hospitable planet. John Shima makes the kind of music which exists outside the confines of time and space, music which will continue to go on, deep into the unexplored depths of the cosmos.”
When, where and on what was the mix recorded?
It was done a few days ago for you guys, nothing too fancy just 2 turntables a pile of records and a mixer. It’s been a while since I got the time to sit and record a mix so I really enjoyed it.
For those that know nothing about you, where are you from and where do you live now?
When did you start exploring music properly?
I started DJing in the late 80’s buying hip hop, soul & electro but soon got hooked into Warp Records’ stuff like Forgemasters, LFO, Nightmares on Wax and then discovering artists such as Derrick May, Carl Craig, etc. Producing wise I started buying equipment around 1993-94. An Atari ST, Korg Poly 800, Roland MC202, Tr606, etc.
Would you like to include a tracklist for this mix? if not then any particular choice cuts you want to mention?
There’s no secret tracklist here but to be honest I never plan a mix and just pick them out at as I go along so I don’t have a tracklist but if anyone wants to know an ID I’m more than happy to try and dig it out. It’s a mixed bag of old and new stuff. There’s tracks by myself, Arne Weinberg, Mark Archer, Sean Dixon, amongst others.
We Pride ourselves on bringing extended sets to Backdrop, and have brought inspired selectors who dig very deep. Are you still buying as much new music as you always have?
Yes I still buy as much as possible, there’s so much good stuff these days it’s hard to keep up. There’s also so much old stuff I still keep discovering, it’s never ending. I’m also a big old skool soul music fan too so it’s not always electronic music I’m buying.
What is your main source for finding new tracks? Any labels or artists you trust fully and tend to buy upon release?
I love digging and finding new artists and labels, I love surprises when you play something you’ve never heard of and it’s amazing. But at the moment I’d say Stephen Lopkin, Derek Carr, Perseus Traxx and labels like Firescope, Central Processing Unit are all killing it.
I asked Santiago Salazar this question, another techno wizard like yourself…Jeff Mills said when they were pioneering techno it was music for the future, and dancing was another great use for it. But today producers have only the dance floor in mind and it is making some music very one dimensional or predictable. I have played out “Confide” just this last weekend while opening for Ethyl & Flori, it was beautiful at shifting people’s feet while getting in their heads. It also works supremely well for listening at home. This must be a very difficult balance how do you achieve that? Remaining innovative, yet establishing a recognizable sound, that is also effective for the body’s (and minds) on the floor.
To be honest I never think of the dancefloor, ever, or the DJ. Quite a few of my tracks probably aren’t very DJ friendly but I always focus on what sounds right for the track. I mainly listen to music track by track from start to finish, whether it’s through speakers while sat on the sofa or headphones out and about, or in the car. So I like music to build, change. evolve and have lots of details. A beginning, a middle and an end. I’ve never heard my music out in a club but I get many people tell me they played it and the crowd went crazy, hard to imagine but nice to hear. Soundwise, I just love atmosphere and futuristic sounds. People often say I have a ‘John Shima Sound’ and I’ve never really heard what they mean but there seems to be something as many people say it. I try not to think about it too much incase I realise what it is and stop doing it!
In an era where a lot of young people want to be DJs, and seemingly most need to have productions to their name in order to do so, it can encourage either substandard club tracks being released or great producers getting booked for main DJ slots and under-performing. What advice would you give to people dedicating their time to their musical craft, but perhaps not gaining the success they hoped for?
It does seem that everyone is a DJ/Producer rather than one or the other, I can mix records but I wouldn’t call myself a DJ. I spend all my time writing music and only DJ on rare occasions. I had to sell my turntables and mixer to buy my first synths so I went many years without spinning records.
Personally I’ve never looked for success in a financial or popularity point, as I said earlier I started in the 90’s but didn’t even send demos out until the last 10 years. I just cocooned myself in the studio to make my own music and push myself soundwise. It does get a little insular so you get more focused and selfish, if thats the right word, on what you want from your music. Always write what you like to listen to and what makes you smile, not what you think others will like or get caught up in what’s happening outside of your studio. My music is always about me inside my 4 walls, the fact others like it is amazing but not the reason I do it.
When producing a new track, do you have a set plan of how you want it to flow, what mood you want to create, or how it will pan out? Or is it more free than that? Our previous podcast contributor, Qnete, said he had many which were more like jams on the hardware.
I never have a plan, and never actually sit to start writing a track. All my stuff are results of jamming around with the gear. I switch the synths on and jam around for a few hours, if something interesting happens that I feel I can build on then I’ll record or save and go back to another day. But a lot of the time I can simply turn it all off and record nothing, I never sit and try to force a track out.
I also play as much as possible in live so I spend a lot of the time stood up behind a synth figuring out the notes and sounds, I only try and use the computer to arrange the track and mixdowns. The melodies, basslines, pads, drum parts etc I play live. I’m not the best player so it takes time but I enjoy working this way and I come up with things I wouldn’t get otherwise.
Which three pieces of production equipment do you cherish most?
My eurorack modular, Yamaha CS15, and Korg MS10.
I’m generally a positive person and understand if you prefer to avoid the negatives, but what do you find some of the more frustrating aspects of being an electronic music producer today?
To be honest I don’t think there’s anything, I just love it. I’m happy writing the music I write and the fact that people like what I do is amazing. I know how the game works regarding big names get the gigs, ghost writers write the hits and certain styles/artists perhaps don’t get the recognition they deserve but I’m not one to chase dreams of DJing or playing at some big name festival so I don’t worry about all that side of it. As I said earlier, I write music for myself and always will. If I release it or not is another part of it. Some of my best music has never been released actually, I don’t really send demos out these days so alot of it stays just with me.
You are clearly a big believer and fan of hardware. For many this can be prohibitively expensive or intimidating, what is that you enjoy so much compared to software?
Yes I love hardware and was lucky enough to buy when they were cheap but I’m no hater of software at all. If someone can make the music they love on software and get the enjoyment from using it then great, and I have heard amazing software only tracks. It’s all about the music at the end of the day. But I just love the feel and look of hardware, people argue about the sound difference but for me hardware inspires me to make music. The knobs, sliders, flashing LED’s, buttons, even the designs and fonts makes me want to stand there and play on them and tweak away and discover what they can do. The look, feel, design of synths makes you want to get stuck in. As I say, nothing against software but I struggle to get what I like from computers, but thats just me and not a complaint of software.
What can we expect from you in the near future musically?
There’s a new 4 track ep just come out on Contrast Wax called ‘Rotation EP’, then in a few weeks time a double 12″ pack called ‘XXX’ on Boe Recordings. Later this year I’ll be on another v/a 12″ alongside Keith Worthy, Tommy Vicari Jnr and I think that’s it for 2016, I think.
2017 is shaping up to be another busy year with a few releases pencilled in plus a hugely proud moment to release on B12’s label that will have some amazing hand painted artwork. Also, myself and Arne Weinberg are talking about writing another album together so looking forward to that. There’s also a few live PA’s planned so hopefully I’ll be out on the road with the synths more next year.