A Closer Look: Mister Shifter

I have been getting a great response from a lot of people around the scene from my posts concerning what’s going on in the scene today. All I can say is thanks. Thanks for doing what you do, so we can all have a community and I can help tell stories. This project does not exist without the energy expended by all of you in our community.

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Today, I am continuing these contemporary community-centered posts by shedding some light on the past and present of Mister Shifter. Mister Shifter is an artist that cut his teeth in our scene in the 1990s when the underground and club scene was thriving. He is an accomplished DJ and producer whom made up half of the critically acclaimed Drum and Bass duo Random Movement. Listening to the Random Movement back catalogue, one is catapulted back to the late 90s and early 2000s when the D & B sound was at the cutting edge of dance music and Mister Shifter himself was a key contributor (alongside Mike Richards) to pushing these new bass sounds in our city and abroad. Not only does his story help detail some of the back history of bass music in our city, but also provides a lesson on how an artist changes over time. Over the last few years, Mister Shifter has adopted an open format approach to sound, which has enabled him to continually change up and incorporate new styles and sounds into his sets. This has proved incredibly useful for him, as he has been able to reinvigorate his love of DJ’ing even as he grew bored of past sounds he immersed himself in so heavily. For me, it also makes for better art, as Mister Shifter is able to draw on diverse musical influences to craft soundscapes for dance floors that aren’t pigeonholed to any one tempo or mood.

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Mister Shifter will be playing a free show this Friday, February 22nd at Victory’s Live hosted by Squared headman Scott Litch (Event Details Here). Squared has been one of the gold standards of Columbus dance music for over ten years, as Litch has continually tried to innovate conceptually and graphically to push Columbus dance music to the next level. Within the last year, he has brought in new resident DJs to his Future Fridays event like Lower Frequency, Kevin Parrish, Tony Fairchild, and others and collaborated extensively with Quality, Run614, and Push Productions. Together these actions have increased the cohesiveness of our scene and provided artists in our scene a platform to play sounds not often heard. The show this friday is no different. Scott has carefully curated a stellar line up of artists like Mowgli, Mister Shifter, Ill Atmospherics, Lights Out!, and Doctah X that have expertise across the spectrum of bass sounds from Drum & Bass to Dub. In order to get you ready for that show, I provide for you a broad ranging interview with Mister Shifter that delves into his love of music, his time with Random Movement, and what he is up to now.

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Local Autonomy: What does music and sound more broadly mean to the way you live and experience life?

Mister Shifer: It may sound cliché, but I’ve been a music junkie since I was a young child. Ever since I can remember I’ve been obsessed with music. I feel honored to have grown up in momentous times like the golden era of hip-hop, and the grunge movement of rock, even the 80’s (for better or worse). Being engaged and in love with music during those times of my youth really helped shape my life, and how much I appreciate music.

I’ve always enjoyed sharing music that I love with friends, from making mixtapes before there were CD’s or MP3’s, to modern day methods . Eventually becoming a DJ was a very logical progression, and that desire to share music with others has always been the driving force. DJ’ing, for me, was never about ego or because it was a cool thing to do, it was always about sharing what I loved. There’s almost no better feeling than playing the music that I’m passionate about, for tens, hundreds or thousands of people at at time, and watching them experience the same joy that it brought me. It’s a really amazing feeling that makes me never want to stop doing it.

LA: How did you get into dance music? Was Drum & Bass your first love, or did you get into later?

MS: In the early nineties I really started to gravitate towards the hardcore-breakbeat stuff that was emerging out of the UK. Artists like 2 Bad Mice, Underworld, Omni Trio, and Hyper On Experience loosened the grip that hip-hop, industrial, and some other genres had on me at the time.

Soon after, I was full-on obsessed and going to clubs and raves every single weekend, experiencing the full gamut of electronic music at the time. I think most importantly I have the ele_mental guys to thank for exposing me to such quality music, from their core artists, to the amazing local and international artists that they were bringing into Columbus on a regular basis. I’m eternally grateful for people like Ed Luna & Titonton.

Oddly enough, I didn’t gravitate towards drum & bass right off the bat, and primarily favored techno & house music for quite some time. That all changed, and I’ll never forget when drum & bass just “clicked” for me. I was at a rave at the Valley Dale Ballroom in 1997, and Titonton was playing a drum & bass set in the main area. Grooverider’s remix of ‘Share The Fall’ came on and it honestly turned my entire world upside down.

1997 was a pivotal year for drum & bass, so in my mind it’s easy to see how I got taken so hard by it. Artists such as Ed Rush & Optical, Dillinja, Photek and Adam F were putting out some of the best music the genre has seen to this day. Drum & Bass was taking the electronic music scene by storm, and I surely got pulled into the frenzy.

In a way I guess I could consider drum & bass my “first love” as I’d never been full-on consumed by any single type of music like that before. I soon bought my first set of turntables and a mixer, and started buying vinyl in massive amounts. I basically did nothing but practice DJ’ing in my spare time for the next few years.

LA: What were your experiences like in the late 1990s and early 2000s when you were DJing huge dance music events and pushing the Drum & Bass sound?

MS: I was a great experience to be a part of drum & bass in what I consider it’s golden age, the late 1990’s. Playing raves in warehouses before those type of events dried up is something that I’m so thankful to have been a part of.

Once everything started to move into the clubs in the early 2000’s I had made a bigger name for myself by getting into production. Getting signed to an iconic drum & bass label like Breakbeat Science was huge. That really opened doors for me, and allowed me to play some of the biggest drum & bass shows that would come through Columbus. It was a treat to play alongside some of my idols such as LTJ Bukem and Bad Company during those times.

LA: What prompted Mike Richards & yourself to start the Drum and Bass duo Random Movement?

MS: I managed the DJ department at Sam Ash Music Store a long time ago. One of my co-workers who I went to high school with used to have a friend that would visit often and blow my mind while toying around on the synths in the keyboard department. His name was Mike Richards, a classically-trained musician with a background in Jazz. He was somewhat unfamiliar with drum & bass and DJ culture at the time, but was very interested in knowing more. I basically fed him all of my favorite drum & bass tracks to get him initiated with certain artists and labels, and got him instantly hooked.

It didn’t take long before we started making tracks together and within about a year we had an offer from DJ Dara to release a 12″ on Breakbeat Science’s sister label Orgone Recordings. That single, “What a Woman” sold all of it’s pressings and got us out there in the international spotlight.

The success of that release gained us enough exposure to secure a release on Ireland’s Bassbin Recordings. That release contained our biggest hit to this day, “Stars in the Dark.”

Drum & Bass icon DJ Marky fell in love with “Stars in the Dark”, as he famously played the track three times in one set at The End nightclub in London. He later said he was extremely upset for not being able to sign the track to his own label, Innerground, but we worked out a deal and our next release came out on his label.

At the time, Bassbin and Innerground were two of the most popular drum & bass imprints in the world, and we were the first American artists to be signed to each of them. It was a huge accomplishment, and I’m still shocked and humbled by it.

LA: Its crazy to think that you were still releasing vinyl records with Random Movement in the mid 2000s when vinyl was arguably at its lowest popularity. Though vinyl releases have always been a benchmark for success for producers, What are your thoughts on the resurgence of vinyl within the last 5 years?

MS: Yeah, at that time the vinyl market was declining pretty heavily with the emergence of CD decks and hardware like Final Scratch and Serato. Releasing tracks on respected labels were enormous accomplishments for us. At that time, releasing a 12″ was basically what you needed to do to earn the respect of your peers in the DJ community.

I’m not surprised that vinyl is still popular today, albeit more so amongst purists. There is nothing that compares to the warm sound and tactile feedback it provides. I prefer DJ’ing on vinyl wholeheartedly, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t love taking advantage of some of the innovations that later came along, like Serato and Ableton Live.

I used to pull my back out lugging over a hundred records to each gig for years, and then all of a sudden I could show up to a venue with thousands of tracks to choose from, and instantly sort by artist or label. It made playing shows a lot of fun, especially since I never had set lists in mind, and would always read the crowd to figure out what songs to play next. Being able to pull out a classic from ’95 because it just felt right at the moment was really gratifying. It’s not surprising to me that the vinyl market took such a hit when these technologies became ubiquitous in the DJ community. That said, I’ll always treasure vinyl, as I loved the many years I played on it exclusively.

LA: Within the past few years you have transitioned into a more multi-genre DJ’ing approach. What led to that shift?

MS: I had always appreciated all styles of music. I would have loved to DJ other genres over the years, but during a large portion of my career DJ’s strictly used vinyl, and it would’ve cost me a fortune to buy enough wax to support that type of endeavor. I reached a point where I had honestly grown a bit tired of drum & bass. That scene was starting to crumble due to a lack of innovation, and tracks were becoming quite samey and cookie-cutter.

Around 2007 the dance rock scene was really starting to blow up. Labels like Ed Banger, and artists such as MSTRKRFT, Diplo, and Hot Chip were surging in popularity. I made a DJ mix called “Selections for Love Making” around that time which ended up getting a lot of buzz, and surprised a lot of my friends who knew me only as a drum & bass DJ. I started playing shows and had a blast enjoying the freedom of not being pigeonholed into one style of music. I loved dipping into techno, french house, 80’s… you name it. It was fun being able to pull from different genres, yet striving to keep a cohesive vibe during the course of the night.

Around that time, Squared and I started a dance rock night called “The Fix”, and soon after I became a resident DJ at places like Bristol Bar and Spice Bar. Things took off pretty fast, and before I knew it I was playing sold-out shows alongside heavyweights like MSTRKRFT, Benny Benassi, and Steve Aoki.

LA: What is next on tap for you musically?

MS: There’s nothing I love more than DJ’ing. I’ll continue to play shows as long as there are people on dance floors.

I just always try to keep an open mind musically, as my tastes tend to change over time. I’ve never tried to jump on any bandwagons, even though my identity as a DJ has altered over years. I like to keep up with what’s new and emerging, but still incorporate it with the sounds of the past. DJ sets only consisting of the top tracks of the moment tend to bore me, so I’m always looking to diversify.

If I like a new song that I hear, there’s a good chance I’ll try to somehow work it into a set. I’m currently enjoying a lot of the future garage/post-dubstep stuff that’s coming out of the UK at the moment, and I’m really starting to come back to drum & bass. I’m glad to see a lot of artists over the last few years break out of molds and experiment with different sounds and tempos. That’s surely what I’ll continue to do myself. You’ll rarely hear me play the same type of set twice, and I find that to be very exciting and rewarding.

See you on the dance floor.

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