Shiftee Interview + EKG Riddim Preview
Growing up with the mentality that real DJs are scratch DJs, Shiftee went on to a successful career as a competitive turntablist. Amongst other victories, in 2009 he earned the title of DMC World Champion. With multiple projects on the go, including his band project for Native Instruments titled Mostly Robot, Shiftee’s focus currently lies with his own production as well as furthering his label Hot Mom USA. Listen in as we get to know some Hot Mom tunes and take a peek at two forthcoming songs from Shiftee and Badman Shark. We’ll also chat about the distinctions between genres like grime, trap, and juke. So get to it, and stick around for a juke influenced mix from your host Synba.
SHIFTEE INTERVIEW WITH CONTROL FREQ RADIO
[CFR] Do you have a favourite TV show?
[Shiftee] My favourite TV show is… lets go with The Larry Sanders Show to keep it a little more obscure. Comedy lets say The Larry Sanders show. Half way between comedy and drama I’ll go with Slings and Arrows, and then drama I’ll go The Wire. But ya know. Gotta go a little obscure. One of those shows is Canadian though. Actually Slings and Arrows is a Canadian show. It’s good.
[CFR] Do you listen to radio?
[SHIFTEE] I don’t really listen to radio. I live in New York City, so I never drive. That means I never play CDs, and I never listen to the radio really. Just in my blackberry pretty much.
[CFR] Can you tell us about your hometown? Did you grow up in NYC?
[SHIFTEE] Yeah. I grew up in New York City, and then Westchester, New York in a town called Scarsdale about 40 minutes North. So New York mostly yeah.
[CFR] What was the scene that you were coming up in? Who were you looking up to at the time?
[SHIFTEE] When I first started DJing all I cared about was battling and turntablism. I even thought like, if you were a party DJ you weren’t a DJ, at one point. Like scratching is the only real DJing. That was really my main focus for a long time, and I looked up to guys like Craze, A-Trak, Qbert, Klever, The X-men, ISP (Invisibl Skratch Piklz), my own crew now but at the time sort of a mentor group were the Lo-Lives crew, Precision, Boogie Blind, Cut-fusius, but really just like turntablism. I was all about turntablism.
[CFR] You obviously went on to get some awards for that.
[SHIFTEE] I won the 2007 DMC World Supremacy Championship and the 2009 DMC World Championship.
[CFR] I remember reading that you’ve been the only American DJ to win that.
[SHIFTEE] There are two categories, and one of the categories I’m the only American to have won it. The other one, other Americans have won it before. Like Craze has won it before. Qbert.
[CFR] You were also really young at the time. You were like 17?
[SHIFTEE] Well my first DMC New York Championship in 2003, I was 17 for that. When I won my first World Championship I was 21.
[CFR] Do you have any advice for kids coming up?
[SHIFTEE] I think how good you are is directly proportional to how much you work. How hard you work. I mean obviously there is something to be said for connections and networking, but at the end of the day the person who’s the best is the person who’s going to work the hardest. If you want to be the best and to be successful, you gotta not only work hard, but I think work harder than everybody else. So its cliche, but I think it’s true. Whatever it is. Whether your going to be a dubstep producer or a house mixologist, the time you put in thats going to be the most valuable thing for you.
[CFR] You’re talking about putting in hours. What was the ramp up for the really successful years you’ve had.
[SHIFTEE] When I was in heavy battling like in training like really competing. It’d be 3 to 5 hours a day of practice.
[CFR] Do you spend that going over routines?
[SHIFTEE] Well the way I practice when I’m training is actually I train in 15 minute intervals with a stop watch, and if I have 3 hours that I want to practice, I’ll plan all 3 hours by 15 minutes. It depends on what stage in the routine making process I am. I would spend time drilling routines. I would spend time drilling specific parts of routines. I’d spend time drilling particular techniques. Just drilling and drilling and drilling in a variety of ways, and also scheduling time to freestyle and get funky.
[CFR] Just recently on the show we were talking with Dieselboy about the distinction between DJ and producer. Now you’re obviously doing both. Do you think there is an importance in having the distinction? What’s your take?
[SHIFTEE] Obviously I come from a background where skills are really important. I don’t hate on the button pushers. I mean they’re doing a lot of work behind the scenes that I wouldn’t necessarily have to do if I was just doing a DJ set. I mean at the same time, there is something to be said for just showing that you care about the performance. So I mean, someone like a Skrillex. You can obviously tell he’s really passionate and involved in his performance. The only people who sort of bother me are the ones who maybe they just push a button or it syncs and then they’re not really invested in the performance. Where it’s like more of a chore or they’re not really into it. Especially if you’re performing and the reason your performing is not your performance ability, I think you gotta put in the extra effort. I mean a button pusher can make a great set. A totally skilled DJ can make a great set. Me personally I enjoy seeing a very skilled DJ. That’s what excites me, but there are fans out there who like the light show, hearing the songs they like or things like that. Or just putting together a nice mix. Maybe you didn’t manually beat match it, but there can still be a nice mix. So that was rambling, but yeah. If you do good things, if you try it’s good.
[CFR] Let’s talk about the styles you’re playing right now.
[SHIFTEE] I’m always playing a lot of dubstep and bass music. I’m always trying to incorporate grime music whenever I play. Also a lot of hip hop. More recently I’m trying to get a lot of footwork and juke into my sets. Ya know trap quote unquote i mean that’s always been a part of my sets. You know like dirty south beats. Just sort of like a nice eclectic mix of bass music all sort of put together with tricks and turntablism and that kind of stuff.
[CFR] Another idea that we talked about recently on the show was that it’s not enough to be a performer anymore; these days you have to also run a label, and run all your social media among other things. It’s a lot to do as an artist, just to stay a float and stay in the game.
[SHIFTEE] You’d certainly have to do more if your not established, or I guess really if you are established you certainly have to be doing social media. I mean you have to be where people are, and people are on the internet, so I guess it’s all degrees and it depends how quickly you want results. Because I think you could be a performer and still achieve a level of success purely as a performer, but it just takes longer I think. Like it might take you 20 years to reach the same sort of level as like someone who had a hit record. That would take them like a month or something. You know like you have one big record and you’re big. You’re big in a month. It’s possible. I think it just takes longer, and if you want to speed with which you achieve your success to be fast, I mean especially if perfuming is your main thing, you have to sort of share that with as many people, and get people to know you, as much as possible. The thing that spreads the fastest is a song probably. For me like I’ve had some big YouTube videos which have been helpful for me, but still the biggest thing is a song I think.
[CFR] Is there a song in particular that is the biggest in your career.
[SHIFTEE] Oh no when I say YouTubes i mean performance videos. I’m in a bunch of videos for Native Instruments so I have a couple million views for them, like in their ad campaign. A lot of people know me from performance YouTube videos I think. I mean way way more so than any of my music. I mean that’s more of a recent thing actually. But i think it’s still… Like those YouTube videos, to be into them, they take a certain amount of interest and knowledge of like a skill set. Where with a song, it’s just a song is so powerful, you just listen to it and it affects you right away. You don’t need some back ground. You don’t need to pay attention. It’s just you hear it and “oh I like that!” A song travels the fastest, but I mean I do all that stuff and I have a label and do social media. Yeah. I don’t know. It feels like i have to do it, but who knows.
[CFR] In terms of the teaching or instruction work that you do, who are you working with? You’ve mentioned DubSpot and Native Instruments. Can you tell us more about that?
[SHIFTEE] With DubSpot I teach there and I do a lot of curriculum design. I’m teaching a bunch of classes. I also co-created their online Traktor course. The Traktor course I do with a guy named DJ Endo. A lot of the curriculum stuff is working with the other teachers in the school. And then the stuff with Native (Instruments) I’m doing some ad campaigns for them, and I’m in a band project for them called mostly robot. For a time, and even still now, I’m doing kind of like project specials work. I’ll go and do a workshop in a city, or if some artist is switching to Traktor sometimes I’ll be the one to show them how to use it. Teaching and education, that’s been a big part of what I’ve been doing for a long time.
[CFR] What are you running? Like your setup today, was that your typical setup?
[SHIFTEE] Yeah. That’s my typical setup. Today I was running Traktor with turntables and Maschine as a midi controller. That’s my standard setup.
[CFR] Could you tell me your thoughts on the festival? (Victoria Electronic Music Festival)
[SHIFTEE] That was a really fun festival. It’s cool to have it all ages, and I mean the weather was amazing. Just everyone there seamed so happy and like there wasn’t any like overly bro behaviour not to say there is anything wrong with that, or like moshing or anger like “aww the drop!” It seamed like people were there just to be happy and have fun. It was cool how really like from artist to artist the styles really changed dramatically. The people I saw, everyone was still on board, went from Charles Feelgood to Flinch to Smalltown DJs to me. Like from DJ to DJ that’s sort of a big change in style, and the whole time the crowd was into it. It wasn’t sort of like “aww where’s the dubstep?” or “aww where’s the house music?” People were just sort of on board. For me that’s a really for kinda party to play. I felt the love while I was playing my set. I mean that was really fun. That was one of my favourite sets to play in a little bit.
[CFR] What’s coming up next? Can we talk about your new projects?
[SHIFTEE] Yeah, so solo-wise I’m working on a lot of production. Working on beats. I have a couple collaborations coming out. The next record I have coming out is a collaboration with Badman Shark which is called EKG Riddim which is really like evil weirdo grime. That’s coming out on Slit Jockey. Remixes from Spooky, Mr.Mitch, and Jakes. Then I have my own label with my friend RX called Hot Mom USA. It’s basically pregnant women with guns and bass. Our next release is Sept.3rd on Labour Day. We only release on American holidays, and that’s a track from Spooky called Code 9 with remixes from Wheez-ie, Star Eyes and Moony. Then I have this band project I’m doing call Mostly Robot. We are doing some shows in September. We’re playing Berlin Festival and Budapest Electronic Beats Festival. That’s kind of like this Native Instruments nerdy boy band project with Jamie Lidell, Mr.Jimmy, Tim Exile, and Jeremy Ellis. And Pfadfinderei the visual team. So yeah very busy. Doing tons of shows still. I guess the main theme going is my own productions and then getting Hot Mom USA going.
[CFR] Are you doing much turntablism?
[SHIFTEE] No. I mean in my sets I’m doing a lot of turntablism always, but I mean these days I rarely if ever practice. I mean which is sort of sad to think about I suppose, but you know tim is limited and for me the next bug challenge is on the production side of things. I barely practice turntablism. I mean especially compared to what it was in the DMC days. The most practice I do is during my gig while I’m scratching. That’s as much as it happens.
[CFR] We talked a couple times about Grime and I hear a lot of talk about Juke, Trap, Grime. Could you give us a bit of a low down?
[SHIFTEE] Sure. I mean I’m not a genre expert, but grime is from the UK and a lot of it originates with the MCs. It’s basically like UK electronic hip hop beats and a lot of it i guess in its origins was associated with the rappers. I mean like Dizzy Rascal or Wiley are famous grime MCs. Now there’s kind of like this bubbling movement of just straight up instrumental, straight of producers. Labels like Butterz and Hard Drive. I mean the style of it I guess it’s more related to 2 step and more related to garage and there are some dubstep elements in there, but it’s really more like UK kinda thing with some hip hop coming in. I mean with Juke that’s like 160 BPM like almost sometimes like booty kinda music. It’s really fast. Like if you see the people who dance to it there’s lots of crazy dancing to it. I mean some of it will be half time with some swing, but it’s pretty much like really fast dance music. I guess the similarity to trap is some of the high hat programming can sometimes be similar. Then trap, I mean trap is basically, i mean i dunno it’s just dirty south rap beats. It’s the same thing. It’s just like electronic producers making dirty south rap beats. It’s just like crunk beats. I mean they are all related, and I guess people are taking influences from everywhere, but the one that is the most distinct is juke because of the speed.
[CFR] We were also talking about footwork.
[SHIFTEE] I mean footwork and juke are related. Actually there is a difference which I should know off the top of my head, but I don’t know. There is some difference. I guess maybe juke is the one where it’s really that straight 160 feel, and footwork has more of that swing to it. I don’t know. I could be wrong. I don’t want to offend anybody.
[CFR] You graduated from Harvard, and both your parents are Harvard grads as well. They supported the whole DJ thing?
[SHIFTEE] Yeah absolutely. I’d have to travel for battles and they would come with me and you know they would take me to like a car show in Queens to be in my first DJ battle. They tolerated me spending my bar mitzvah money on turntables, and you know practicing all hours of the day. Then coming out of college just saying I wanna do this full time they were also supportive. Yeah they’ve been very supportive the whole time.
[CFR] Shout outs?
[SHIFTEE] Shout outs to DubSpot. Shout outs to the Mostly Robot fam. Shout out to Hot Mom USA, RX, and everybody in the whole world, except the bad people. No shout out for you.
Follow Shiftee on:
Visit Shiftee on the web at:
Check out Hot Mom USA on:
1.Shiftee & RX – Act Out! – Act Out! EP (Hot Mom USA)
2.Boligee – L. Ominosus – Sun Safety EP (Hot Mom USA)
3.Spooky – Code 9 (Moony Remix) – Code 9 EP (Hot Mom USA)
4.XCUSE – All Right (Shiftee Remix) – (Deepsession Records)
5.Shiftee & Badman Shark – Thulsa Doom – (Free Download)
6.Shiftee & Badman Shark – EKG Riddim – Thulsa Doom EP (Slit Jockey)
Synba’s JUKESK Mix
1.Para One – Empire
2.Billy Joel – Big Shot (Balloon Fight Mental Juke and Ham Remix)
3.Subreachers – City Drive (Distal Remix)
4.Noah D – City Skies
5.DFRNT – Slumber (ASC Remix)
6.XLII – Thro-Yo!
7.Chrissy Murderbot – Friendship
8.Wheez-ie – 281-713-832
9.Flosstradamus – Underground Anthem
10.Apashe & Snails – Bubble Gun
11.Stagga – Genik Riddim Feat. Skamma & Joe Blow
12.Halp – Tic Tac Toe (Krampfhaft Remix)
13.Deejay Earl – Lollipop
14.DJ Earl – Dey Don’t Know Bout Da Bottom
15.Juke Ellington – Love Da Smooth Bass
16.Slick Shoota – Rasta
17.Flosstradamus feat. Kid Sister – Luuk Out Gurl (Sich Mang Remix)
18.RP Boo – Eraser
Photo Credit to Foxx Foto for images 2, 3, 5, and 6