Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Artist Interview: Mike Shannon

Mike Shannon
grew up in Kitchener in Ontario, Canada, perfectly situated between Toronto and Detroit. From this vantage point, he was able to dive first hand into the burgeoning house and techno scenes of those two cities during the 90's. One can feel Mike's influences from this era in his production which always has an underlying funk beneath the electronic and digital sounds. Always on the move, Shannon also lived briefly in Chile, Spain and currently resides in Berlin, thus soaking global influences. Having earned his dues through these years DJing, producing and running his Cynosure label (since 1999) and later on teaming up with Jeff Milligan on the Revolver imprint (2001), last year saw Mike's full length Memory Tree (his 3rd) released on Richie Hawtin's coveted Plus 8 records. Deep Transmissions caught up with Mike via email to find out a bit more about his history, living and DJing in Berlin and what the future holds...

How did you first get interested in electronic dance music and what were some of your earliest influences club and musically speaking?

There was always a variety of music in my house when i grew up. So I had influences from Blues, Jazz and Soul from my parents and my brother was the source for the psychedelic Rock. There was always the odd Electronic record my mom would pick up. Thomas Dolby and Soft Cell were always my favorite things to put on when I was really young... I got into House music when I went to my first all ages club in Kitchener, ON and heard my best friends brother djing. He introduced me to hip house (Rob base & Dj EZ Roc - Fast Eddie) and from there I was searching out more records like this. Eventually discovering Techno.

I can feel a sense of soul and funk in your work that was probably influenced by your experiences in the Toronto and Detroit House and Techno scenes back in the day. Is that correct and is it something that consciously influences you to this day?
Absolutely, those influences scared me for life. I think it was a good combination of what I grew up listening to and being a part of those of both of those scenes. I think when I stop feeling those influences I'll stop making tracks.

How did Cynosure get started and what is its ethos?
Cynosure recordings was founded back in 1999. J.Hunsberger and I were members of a KW (Kitchener - Waterloo) based arts collective that had an mandate to promote the arts coming out of the area. So we came up with the idea of a record label that would encompass a majority of the artists involved in the project. We thought the project was an ideal one to promote the artists involved but the director of the federally funded collective didn't really like the music. So when it came time to pay for our first release our funding was rejected. Claiming that the idea would only benefit myself and didn't seem worthy of the investment. This was a big controversy at the time considering a number of people had worked on the project already. So we couldn't let the idea die there... we had to scrape together what we could and fund the label. And we've been rolling slowly but surely ever since.

What is the theme or concept behind your latest LP "Memory Tree"?
A Memory Tree is just other words that express the concept of an album. A collection of creative works that can identify or recall specific memories. I wanted to release a collection of tracks that all had a timeless quality to them. My goal was to write some tracks that wouldn't be forgotten after one play. A record that you could play on the dance floor years from now and still get the same feeling.

What was the working process like? eg. Did you already have a strong idea of the overall concept from the start and built songs from it?
To be honest I didn't have a grand vision that shaped everything. Things started to take form as the process was happening. Tracks were slowly changing and morphing with each other depending on the order of things. I really wanted to keep the album interesting enough but still having a strong sense of continuity and synergy... so there is a good variety of sound on the album but a distinct sound signature holds it all together.

Has being in Europe changed your approach to dance music both in terms of DJing and producing?
I think it's changed my approach to djing a little. I think I take things a little easier these days. I tend to let the records do the work a little more than I used to. Growing up as a dj in North America you really had to have some skills to set you apart from the others. When I first started djing everyone had access to basically the same records and the amount of music released was dramatically less than what exists today. So you really had to do something special with those mixes to make your mark. But over here it's really all about a consistency of good tracks. Building momentum with the selections. That's what's influenced my style a little these days. For Production I haven't noticed any change in approach due to being in Europe. I'm still doing more or less what I was doing before.

Both Spain and Germany have been hotbeds of dance music activity for the last while (eg. Sonar, Popkomm, Berghain, etc). Are there other gigs or countries you have been pleasantly surprised with that has been under the radar and are upcoming?
The City fox club called Alte Borse in Zurich is the best club in Europe at the moment. Nothing comes close to the sound of this club and the feeling of this club. Built in the old Stock market of Zurich the acoustic treatment of the room is intense. If every club in the world took this approach to acoustics we would all be ten times happier to go out to club and our ears would be so much better off. Zurich has the best all around quality of parties that I've experienced in Europe. Nothing really under the radar about Zurich for me but for some that haven't heard about the scene there it's time to see what I'm talking about.

What is your opinion of the current scene in Toronto and North America in general?
I just came back from a few dates in Canada and the US and I have to say not that much has changed in a few years. It's seems that the frequency of minimal house/techno club nights has grown in the States a little... from I can see mainly on the West coast... LA, San Fran. Toronto's Techno scene still seems like it's fledgeling along but I think the underground after hours scene is starting to rise up again. I checked out a couple of cool parties when I was back and played a good one too... so who knows?

Is it possible to stay in North America and be a successful DJ or producer?
Yes. But you have to have enough demand world wide to be able to jump over the pond from time to time. I think surviving on the North American Circuit alone is tuff for most. I think if I was to move back to Canada I would have a hard time keeping things on the same level as I have them now. There's just not enough worthwhile venues to go around and travel costs in North America aren't getting any cheaper.

Will vinyl always be a vital part of the release plan for Cynosure? How has the digital market changed the game?
Vinyl is an integrated part of the process. What I've noticed is when a label goes a 100% digital only it looses a sincere amount of momentum. It's as if the shelf presence of physical product that fuels digital sales somehow. So we'll keep Vinyl in the loop as long as this still applies.

What are things to watch out for in the near future from yourself and from Cynosure?
I'm starting to work on a new project with my studio partner Deadbeat and I've got a new release of my own coming out Wagon Repair and Circus Company for 2009. As for Cynosure, it's our ten year anniversary this year so the plan is deliver heat one after the other. We've got a new Adam Marshall EP coming out 2009 as well as new EP from Brett Johnson featuring a Chic Miniature remix, a new EP from one of the original Cyn producers Matt Thibideau and an EP from one of the original Montrealers Horror inc. aka Akufen. The tracks are all hot and most definitely an exciting line up of releases to start off the year.

Memory Tree is available here
Cynosure Recordings on Myspace