John Digweed’s Bedrock kick-starts what will no doubt be another exceptional year for electronic music, with a label debut from Canada’s Shelley Johannson. Undoubtedly, Shelley is an upcoming future star of the ever inventive and evolving global Techno scene, having previously impressed with releases on Sian’s Octopus Recordings. She is cut from the cloth of the new generation of global techno artists who channel the spirit of classic and timeless music, update it and create new boundless possibilities for the future. Her inimitable dancefloor-driven attitude is lighting the way to a very bright and highly creative musical future, so we thought that it was high time that we caught up with exciting new DJ/Producer.
Shelley, a big welcome to DMCWORLD and congratulations on the release of your debut Bedrock release – the excellent ‘Tribaltone EP’. The first thing we’ve got to ask is how did this project come together?
My fortuitous encounter with John took place at a show in Toronto. I had actually thanked him for playing my track ‘Deleted Dreams’ on his Transitions radio show. The EP is a mix of sounds – from the stripped back feel of ‘Broken City’, to a full on drum workout of ‘Tribaltone’ and the more melodic palette of ‘Nocturnal Bright’ – so this release shows different musical sides of me.
What do you think makes Bedrock so special?
Bedrock is genuine, real and has always stayed true to what dance music is about… Passion.
Talk us through the four EP tracks? How does the creative process work when you’re in the studio?
My studio is my home. That way music is intertwined with my day-to-day activities. For the creative process though, I give myself assignments. For example, when I start a new track I give myself a week to finish and mix it. Every day I allocate an amount of time to create elements in a track – like three hours to design a bassline patch, create a pattern, enhance the sound and finally mix it in relation to the drums. Two reasons why I work this way – number one, I’m good with deadlines, setting a limit and pushing myself against that limit; number two, creativity cultivates more creativity. Even when I’m stuck, I don’t stop. I might take a break from that project but only to continue another.
Can you put your finger on the elements of your music that make it so distinctive and engaging?
Distinctive?… Engaging?! Oh, why thank you! Hmm… no I can’t put my finger on it. Maybe because most of the sounds I use are customized? Even when using sample loops, I’ll recreate the loop using one shots and a chain of FXs, or use a synth to redo the sound then automate parameters in the plug-in for more control.
You’ve also released projects on Sian’s excellent Octopus Black Label – how did this relationship develop?
I met Sian while he was playing a set in Toronto. I’d followed Octopus Recordings for some time and I felt like my sound would fit the label, so I passed on my music to him. I’m very thankful to the Octopus crew for the support and accepting me as one of their own.
Techno is often described as being “timeless” – is this a concept that you can relate to?
I say this to people when trying to explain the genre. Techno is timeless because it’s a staple in dance music in which other genres pull sounds from. You can listen to an older techno song that was produced well and not know what decade it was from. That’s timeless. I’ve actually noticed a lot of DJs today closing their sets with early trance and techno classics. I love this!
Do you find defining music by genres useful or limiting?
Useful. Especially when you’ve collected thousands upon thousands of songs.
Which of your tracks do you consider to be your most accomplished creation to date? Why?
Probably the ones that have been heard outside of my own studio – I think of my productions as a musical timeline or a journal of my life, so my most “accomplished” tracks are the most personal.
What piece of studio equipment could you not live without?
My laptop. It’s the heart of everything I do. I travel often, so to make music on the go I need it with me in case an idea sparks.
Tell us something about the psychological effects of music that totally blows your mind?
How much time do you have? Haha, I’m only kidding… This is a topic I am very passionate about. If I had to sum it up though, I would say vibrations, sounds – have incredible physical power and are a gift that allows us to be connected to something within yourself as well as outside yourself.
Have you considered collaborating with other artists in the studio? Are you intrigued to explore the different type of creative magic involved?
Yes, for sure! It’s so easy now to collaborate with artists online. Every producer has a different process and I think that’s so cool.
If you could work with any artist (ever), who would be at the top of your wish list?
Let’s rewind for a moment, what are your earliest musical memories?
My older brother teaching me how to install a sub and amp in a car…then testing the sound out while listening to The Chemical Brothers.
At what point did you get into producing and DJing? In what ways do you think your particular journey has influenced the electronic music you make now?
16. I bought my first car and installed an exceptional sound system in it. Friends would sit in my car, they’d ask me for the music I played because they loved and never heard anything like it. So I started making mixes for them. I guess that is when the thought crept in my head and simmered for 2 years. During that time I made friends that had turntables, got my hands on some vinyl, took any opportunity to watch and listen…then I turned 18, sold my car (even though I loved that car!) and bought my first set of CDJs. From very early on I knew I what I wanted and I’m excited for the journey ahead.
Having witnessed the evolution of the underground scene in your home country of Canada, how do you view where things are at now? Is the scene healthy? What could improve things? And in your hometown of Toronto, what’s going there right now? What places would you recommend that a visiting electronic music fan check out?
The dance music scene is doing well. If you’re ever in the Toronto area during the summer, I’d recommend going to Electric Island. It’s a pretty big outdoor event dedicated to booking techno artists to be heard on a large scale. The production is on point and everybody has a great time. Our warmer seasons are short here so we go pretty hard in the summer.
You have your own monthly ‘One-Eighty’ podcast series – tell us about that? Are these mixes snapshots of what people can expect to hear from you in a club situation?
The idea behind One-Eighty is like turning 180 degrees forward or back, a half circle. I love the nostalgic feeling classic dance music gives and I’m inspired by the innovative sound of today’s music. This is reflected in the music I choose for the show. I post a one-hour mix (live recordings from a club or studio) the first Tuesday of every month, featuring music I really want to share.
Where have been some of your favourite places you’ve played recently? What new places are you looking forward to experiencing in 2018?
Hard to pick! Every city, venue and crowd has its own unique quality. But, if I had to pick… Detroit, during Movement. In 2018 I want to explore more of Europe… ADE comes to mind.
Since we’re starting what will hopefully be yet another great year for electronic music, what new projects should we should watch out for from you in 2018?
I always have music projects going on, so right now, I’m focusing on more releases, expanding the radio show and of course, playing more shows.
And finally, what’s the best piece of advice you have ever been given?
Ok, funny story, where I learned how much of an impact good DJs can have through music…It was my first time at an afterhours…I was in such awe, I couldn’t believe such a place existed and I was finally home. I went up to the DJ and yelled at him “CAN YOU PLAY ‘RAINDROPS’ BY SASH!”, he yelled back “YEAH, ONLY IF YOU STAY UNTIL I PLAY IT.” I responded with a smile. Now…I never break a promise, so I stayed until he played the track…It was the last song he played and I was the last one person left in the club!
Shelley Johannson – Tribaltone EP (Bedrock) is out now