Ever since Friction championed his Shogun Audio label in 2004, his collective of artists and their releases have stood at the very forefront of technical yet beautiful drum & bass. A week on from the 4-track pants explosion that was Shogun Audio Presents Evolution EP Series 2 (which dominated our download chart with incredible tracks from Icicle’s Set It Off Remix, The Prototype’s Subterrestrial, Rockwell’s BTKRSH and S.P.Y.’s Pressure Drop) we caught up with Friction in a taxi on the way to the airport to discuss Shogun affairs.
Alright Friction! How has the Shogun Evolution EP Series 2 gone down?
The reaction to the EP is going really well. Our first Evolution EP set a pretty high standard as they were all such quality tunes, so the second one had to live up to that benchmark. We obviously had the Icicle remix of Set It Off pencilled in ready to roll so it was the perfect time to release that, then the Subterrestrial track pretty much popped up out of no where! Garvey and Nick had bits and bobs of the track together already, so we helped them develop that dark sound. It was a great opportunity to show people that they are capable of a lot more than some had assumed!
With Rockwell and BTKRSH, that was his track which was just basically him doing his own thing, we never know what’s he’s going to come out with. A lot of people thought that it was a track that came from me because of that dancefloor vibe, but he had just brought forward this mental track because that was what he wanted to make. Some of the hardcore Rockwell fans have been whinging because it’s a new take on his sound, but it’s still a track a lot of people like.
What was your intention behind the track selection of the Shogun Evo EP 2?
Well it’s a reflection of the plan that we have had in place for the label for a while now, we just want the artists to be able to express themselves and make what they want. We want Icicle to be able to make an abstract album at 140 and 170 with dubstep and electronica vibes like Under the Ice if he wants to, because we want our artists to enjoy themselves! Being able to sign The Prototypes was great timing because it goes together nicely with where I’m at with my own production.
The plan is to take the label 360 degrees in terms of the things we release, and just have a great, electronic dance music label. We’ve got Spectrasoul in the early stages of an album and the plan is to not be totally straight-up drum & bass. And we want Rockwell to be able to make whatever he wants; Shogun should be a broad label. My new single might have an upfront, liquid kind of feel to it, but the Evolution series represents the fact that it will always be the dirty rollers that we all love. Moving onto an Evo 3 EP, it will be clear that we will always be a futuristic, tech-y kind of label when it comes down to it.
What compelled you to start Shogun Audio in the first place? What was your original vision for the label?
I started Shogun as soon as my DJ career began to blow up. I ran it myself for a little while with Dave Spectrasoul helping me with the day-to-day. When Spectrasoul blew up, K-Tee bought into the label and that’s when we made it into a business.
How did you realise that K-Tee should be your business partner?
There is quite a difference between us, I’m all over the place whereas he is very organised and loves spreadsheets. I go and sign music and makes sure everything’s in order, he takes care of business. Simple as.
It’s widely agreed that your superior A&R skills have given your label this refined and forward-thinking sound, what does it take to scope out the best talent?
You’ve got to really analyse what you hear and get that vibe. You get a feeling from people’s music, like on Shogun everyone’s got their own style. When you hear an Icicle track you can hear that it is his sound, and the same goes for Spectrasoul, you have to listen out for those unique touches that might not be that apparent when they’re just starting out and bring it out in an artist. We get thousands of demos so, it really is a finding the needle in a haystack kind of job. There is a lot to sift through that just doesn’t sound original, but saying that I heard a couple of things the other day that excited my attention.
A duo I really admire at the moment are Komatic and Technicolour, we’ve just released their debut 12” ‘Those Feelings / Changeling’ on SGN LTD this Monday! I got in touch with those guys after knowing Pete Technicolour as a Mixmag reviewer for their drum & bass section. He sent me some tunes that I just had to go with.
I’ve been listening to dnb and jungle for 15 years so I know what I like. If you do find a talented artist and their sound is like someone else’s, its not the end of the world. You can always encourage them to do their own thing and add those original touches. If it does sound like something then that’s good because at least its there, its just a matter of finding out what that certain artist has got going on, whether it’s something special about their production, their arrangement, whatever.
What specifically motivated signing The Prototypes?
I’ve been mates with Garvey for about 5 years, he was always a good studio engineer but hadn’t found quite the right vibe. When he started producing with Nick it just worked, and it was exactly the sort of sound that I’d been looking for. I’d been talking to the other artists about the importance of fully expressing themselves and doing exactly what they wanted to do. At the same time we wanted an artist who could make those massive, club and festival smashers and help the label with this 360 idea, while still doing exactly what they wanted to do.
I’m so happy with the sound of the label at the moment, can’t wait for The Prototypes to start writing their album. Shogun’s not really a label where I source artists specifically for a certain agenda, but it is nice when it all comes together.
What are the main things you do with a newly signed artist to develop their style?
Just listen to the things they produce and assist in the fine-tuning process. It’s all about a bit of positive reinforcement, you need to find the good side of things and focus on bringing those elements of the track out a bit more. At the same time you show them the negative elements, but always with your eye on the good parts. You’ve got to appreciate that sometimes they’ve spent two days in the studio making something so tearing it to pieces in front of them isn’t really on!
So you’re on your way to the Shogun Audio Australia tour as we speak, why take the Shogun crew to Oz in particular?
Me and SP:MC have been touring Australia together and it’s been wicked! It got to the stage where we had to take a label tour out there, so Spectrasoul and The Prototypes are coming along. What’s great about the tour is that people will go to the night and they will be treated to all the sounds big in drum & bass right now, it will give everyone in Australia who comes the opportunity to fall in line with the view and the vibe of the label.
Have you discovered any Japanese fans with extra love for the label because of the whole the Shogun concept?
We have got loads of Japanese fans, although we did have a really bad incident when one of our designers used a Chinese bird illustration in one of the Shogun designs, we had some really angry emails about that! But at the same time that’s when you realise that people are just passionate which is a good thing. We get positive feedback from over there all the time, a fan once got her dad to draw me something in professional Japanese typography as a gift, that was lovely. Japan and Australia are my favourite places to go, especially the Womb club in Tokyo it’s unbelievable!
At the moment the label is going exactly where I want it to go in terms of the sound and where we stand within drum & bass. When I started Shogun it was just about putting out tunes that I liked myself, now it’s turned into something broader. The music is going exactly where I want it. My DJ sets tend to be representative of the label these days whereas they used to be a cross-section of the scene as a whole really.
One thing I know is that we will always keep the Cable shows the way they are! We’re doing all these other tour nights that are more of a cross-section dnb, but the Cable night will always be a jumpy, heads thing cos that’s how we like it!
Shogun Audio’s next release – Icicle’s massive Redemption EP – is available for pre-order on our DownloadStore now!