Shok is an incredibly talented composer/producer/multi-instrumentalist based in Hollywood, California. Through his remix work (see the SoundCloud player at the bottom of the article), collaborations (including Daniel Ash and David J. (Bauhaus/Love And Rockets), Douglas McCarthy (Nitzer Ebb), Mark Caro (Technical Itch), Johnette Napolitano (Concrete Blonde), original compositions, and drumming for Mount Sims, Thrill Kill Kult and Zombie Girl), and seemingly never-ending side projects (Sisters of Mixing– take a listen to “New Cretia”!), Shok has displayed a versatility in his sound and approach with a dark-electro flair. Shok took time to answer some of my questions recently- check out the interview and exclusive track below!—-
AFIN: What’s your musical background?
Shok: Well… let’s see…I have always enjoyed a wide spectrum of music. I grew up with a father who was into jazz and a mother into Motown, disco and soul. My aunt was into psychedelic/ progressive rock in the 70s. I grew up at a time when music was very exciting as NightFlight and Friday Midnight Special hit so huge with their music video clips, that MTV was born and, at that time, MTV was ALL about music, and the more experimental the video, often, the better.
Every Saturday night on MTV was a concert from a different band. These weren’t necessarily current performances, but it was exposure to something new and exciting. One week it could be Thomas Dolby, the next week Genesis (when Peter Gabriel was the singer), the following week could be Prince or Rainbow or even Styx. 120 Minutes surely influenced many folks as well, which was their weekly underground/ alternative Sunday night show. I had already, at that time, mainly been on my own hunt for new sounds. I was often spending my time in cramped record stores, shuffling through the dusty record sleeves or at various record conventions… I initially got into bands such as Clan of Xymox based on their album cover. (At one time, you sometimes *could* judge a book by its cover…)AFIN: How did you get into producing and remixing?
Shok: I had a space for my drums and began recording friends, and then friends of friends wanted to pay me to make them sound good. I kept doing that and when I went to get some of my own music edited/ mastered, I befriended the head of one of the first places in USA to have Protools. I eventually was there so much that I learned how to use it myself and became a partner in the company after some time of working there as an engineer. We worked on everything from cheese dance to rock and even worked on the original music that Ahmir from The Roots was putting together. He would come in and bring his samples on cassette. At the studio, we also did edits on Dr. Dre’s first album.
As for remixes, it was word of mouth. Even though my style was more influenced by Wax Trax, 4AD and Mute Records, I was performing at festivals and raves since some of my music was on the original Techno compilations (This is Techno series). My first bigger remix was in ‘97, for Fun Lovin’ Criminals, who were on Capitol/EMI at the time. From there it kept progressing… through the years I have remixed the folk of Mirah to the industrial Haujobb. In the last few years it has been Juno Reactor, West Indian Girl, Traci Lords and even Isaac Hayes/Burt Bacharach. I am currently completing a Fischerspooner remix, a another one for Godhead, and after that is Lacuna Coil.
AFIN: What’s your process of making a remix?
Shok: Most often, I like to get a sense of the full song first. I like when a remix takes the song from one style and blends it into another. The best part of remixes is that a song can be transformed to hit different markets and open the ears of new listeners. There have been many examples of how powerful a remix can be… Sometimes, it is the remix that is remembered and not even the original song. For me, it is great when you can hear a remix and it sparks your interest and you find a new artist whose music you will follow. You may have never discovered them otherwise.
So I like to get a sense of the song, and then I choose the strongest hooks. These “hooks” are not limited to melodic lines, but may be drum fills, bizarre incidental noises… any sound that creates the signature of both the artist and the song. Being a producer and working to enhance artists puts me in that seat already, so my gears are already tuned in for this. I then decide a tempo. I use a variety of tools to change the chosen audio pieces to align in the new tempo from Melodyne to Reaper and dump everything into FL Studio or Ableton Live, where I can also change the tempo and or pitch as desired.
People ask me about the origin of many of the drum breaks and loops in my songs and remixes. Actually, these are most often me playing drums. Even though I have a wide variety of mics, pre amps and such in a great space, I tend to most often, record using odd mic choices and replacing some of the drums with items such as a futon frame, cardboard box, plastic paint tub lids…
In FL Studio, for example, I can choose a native vst instrument, called SLICEX, and can effect individual sections of a drum break, vocal section, piano or guitar riff. I take the pieces, get them aligned in time and build a basic structure for my version of the song. After that, I begin chopping snippets of sounds and vocals from the original. I tend to remove most of the sounds or parts provided in the session stems from the original song and often, create new bass lines with my bass guitar or detuned electric or even acoustic guitar. Sometimes the best bass is a detuned acoustic, with the nice warm jacket of fur aka filter and overdrive.
AFIN: What’s your recording/gear situation?
Shok: When I record people in my own studio or record my own vocals for Zeitmahl or Red Light District, I have a Neve/Focusrite Tone Factory, TL Audio and an Universal Audio 1176 (which is seldomly used). Once recorded, I use a chain of vsts including the URS Pro Channel Strip (Unique Recording Software) and the V-64 Vintage Channel by Kjaerhus Audio. I mainly just use my guitars, drums and FL studio with a slew of vsts. I have a proper studio space, however I tend to record from my home with hardwood floors and brick walls. These days, nearly all of my sounds are actually guitar, barely ever any synths, just filtered and effected guitar.
AFIN: That is really curious- I was having a heck of a time trying to tell what was synthetic and what was based off of instruments, when listening!
Shok: I love when the sound is a unique entity, when the listener is not always certain what it is that they are hearing; organic versus synthesized.
AFIN: How tricky is it to remix songs that haven’t been split into separate tracks?
Shok: I have only done this on the occasions when I was doing a bootleg remix, which there have only been a few, such as the Pink Floyd remix that has been floating around recently. For that, I rolled off some of the low end and added my own percussion and extra sounds. The new Melodyne, will supposedly be able to separate individual notes and sections of instruments… you should see the demo video online here. I saw this in person, this past year at NAMM, but something seemed a bit reminiscent of the bearded lady at the carnival.
AFIN: How did you end up working with Daniel Ash and David J.?
Shok: These are totally unrelated actually. In 2001, my friend who was handling some of my publishing, also handled Daniel Ash. He called me and asked me if I would like to write with Daniel. I had been a long time fan and had actually known his band mates, Kevin and David for many years, so he and I already knew of each other. Anyhow, after I agreed to work with Daniel, I hung up the phone and moments later, got a call from Daniel. We wound up working together for a few years. We created music for KEEN EDDIE (Fox/Paramount) as well as music for a certain Newgrounds.com music video series.
David and I met through his brother, Kevin, who was the drummer of both Bauhaus and Love And Rockets. I then ran into David a few more times and then we wound up DJing together on the east coast in 2000. I was remixing a song called “Time Has Changed” for Codec & Flexor on Emperor Norton Records (Ladytron, Mount Sims) in 2003, and David came over and lent his bassfingers. We only recently rendezvoused again when I had gone to lunch/ dinner with our mutual friend, Johnette Napolitano, and she wanted to bring me on board to a duet album they were planning. After David came out to a Jill Tracy show where, I performed with my cabaret band, Red Light District, he expressed interest for me to collaborate. We are presently working on material and I am excited to have this opportunity. It is a great feeling to be working with those who’s art influenced you to actually write music in the first place!
AFIN: What advice would you give to someone newly getting into remixing and DJ-ing?
Shok: If you want to be a DJ, listen to music and learn about the energy of a song and understand structure, even for each specific tune. Understand audiences, be a great listener. This will make you a better DJ. It is not all about the matching of the beats. You need to find the best sections in music to bring up the energy and drop em off (like a roller coaster), and that is not always at the same spot. It depends on the crowd, the venue, etc. It depends on what kind of a DJ you wish to become. This could be someone making a mix or download or for radio, versus a party in a club event or festival.
As for DJing equipment via software, Traktor is a great tool, as it is similar to mixing records or, better yet, CD mixers. It is very sturdy and I have never seen it crash in the years I have used it for radio gigs and a few one offs. Some folks prefer the vinyl approach with Scratch. In the 90s, your option was 12” vinyl or 7” vinyl or the more obscure 10” vinyl. CD mixers became prevalent toward the mid 90s. Today there many options. Ableton can do some neat tricks with manipulating songs on the fly, too. I prefer mixing with CDs.
For someone wanting to get involved with remixing, contact artists whose music you like, eventually, someone will ask you to do it. Perhaps you will get paid, perhaps not. But if you are doing it just for the business… well… that is another discussion. If you have something special with your sound, perhaps even a flawed style that catches on, you may find yourself with a career!
AFIN: How do you feel about the climate and direction of the music industry right now?
Shok: The decline of sales due to downloading has lit the fire for creativity for artists in regard to exciting the fans to want to buy the music and support it. Downloading has spoiled many people… instant gratification has never been greater. I could go into my routine about instant this and that… but we can save that for the coffee shops 😉
I had dinner the other night with a friend from the label, Century Media. They have a great roster of primarily metal bands. The label has over 30 employees and they are going solidly. They have a niche market. The fans of the genre support the music! Electronic music, electro in particular, is interesting because you can locate and download the songs FREE via blogs, file sharing and Twitter links. So what will entice a listener to financially support this? LIVE PERFORMANCES.
I downloaded Depeche Mode’s current album “Sounds Of The Universe” for free, a few months before its release, but I still bought it and it was the BOX set, which was not just one CD, but 3, plus a DVD, 2 books, and other items including badges, postcards and a poster. Even though I have been given passes to one of their upcoming summer shows, I am paying to additional perfomances of theirs to support them directly. Apparently, the new Placebo box set has a slew of items and several of these box sets ship with pairs of tickets to be flown to London to see the band perform! The death of the larger labels has helped fasten a new habbit in true fans to once again pay for music. However, now the payments go directly to the artist or band and perhaps not only for a sale but a donation tip via Paypal, etc.Catch Shok spin music this Friday at his monthly LA party First Fridays @ Medusa Lounge
and don’t forget to grab the exclusive track!
Zeitmahl (on Last.fm) – Shok’s baby, he plays all of the drums, bass, guitar, piano, trumpets and sings on this!
Red Light District – 1920s, 30s, Neo-Vaudeville, circus cabaret sent through a time machine to the future.
Emit Peels – Soundscape, Ambient music, influenced by Indian raggas and exploration of sound (two albums coming for sale in the next two weeks via FIXT Music)
TechItch & Shok – dark rock drum n bass hybrid, sung by various known individuals!
MyLiveTube – Shok’s blog with food, film and fun video