It’s a cold, wet Wednesday night in London but pumping across airwaves at 108.6FM are the ripping basslines, house beats, jazzy keys and liquid vocals of Rain City Riot’s ‘Dim’; bubbling out, just as the clock reads 9.15pm. The station is Rinse FM. The DJ is Shadow Child. ‘Dim’ finishes and, after a bit of chat, Shadow slices in the crisp-n-classic hi-hats of Sei A’s hypnotic groover ‘Wants’. Next up is Dutch wonderkid, Frits Wentink’s ‘Mouse’. A few more garage-meets-house tunes in and it’s time for the money shot: he lets loose with his own Shadow Child/T Williams re-vibe of Dave Spoon’s 2006-released electro/tech/house killer ‘At Night’.
As he warms up yet another chilly Wednesday night it’s hard to believe that it’s just under two years since Brit house producer Shadow Child romped into view with the bass-led grooves of ‘String Thing’, the lead track on the EP of the same name that came out in early 2012 on Claude VonStroke’s Dirtybird label. Now, as well as raising the roof on a mid-week basis with his Rinse show, Shadow Child’s also got an album coming out, ‘Collected’ available now through NewState Music. All of that before we even mention that he’s started a new record label, called Food.
“The album is more a story-so-far kind of thing than an artist album,” says the 36-year-old DJ producer, also known as Simon Neale. “It’s got original tunes that I’ve made and some remixes too.” Included on the album are his deep, beat-shaking remix of London Grammar’s ‘Strong’ (first released for free on Annie Mac’s Soundcloud channel) and his sultry, hypnotic version of Hardrive’s ‘Deep Inside’.
“That’s the kind of thing I play in the last half hour of my Rinse show,” he says.
“I dedicate that bit of the show to the music that’s inspired me to do what I do, from the early days through to now.”
Like Dave Spoon’s 2006-released ‘At Night’? “Well, that’s a bit different isn’t it?” he grins.The reason that’s “a bit different”, as some of you might already know, is that Shadow Child is actually Dave Spoon. Or was, at least.
“It’s only now, after leaving my whole Dave Spoon persona behind that I can do remixes of those old tunes I made back then,” Simon admits. “The thing is that now, with Shadow Child, I’m really inspired again. It’s the way I felt when I first started out making music. And how I felt when I first started releasing music as Dave Spoon. I think with music, like most creative things, you have to keep moving forwards, making sure what you’re doing feels fresh, and that you’re excited about it. And that’s how I feel now: excited.”
You can hear that excitement popping and fizzing into the night via the tunes he plays on his Rinse FM show. It’s the same when you witness a Shadow Child set, where he can move from soulful house to deep, funky garage and back through to more electronic house grooves. And it’s that same potent buzz you can hear when you listen to one of his Shadow Child productions or remixes. Everyone from Richie Hawtin to Jamie Jones, Annie Mac, Rob da Bank and Eats Everything are Shadow Child fans. Flying Lotus liked his tune ’23 (feat Tymer)’ so much, he picked it as one of the 14 tunes for his radio station in the new Grand Theft Auto computer game GTA V.
“That did feel a bit special, when that happened,” says Shadow Child. “There’s been a few good high points so far, with music, but that’s definitely one of the best.”
Before he was Shadow Child, and before he was Dave Spoon, the British producer who’s currently straddling the UK house and garage scenes — and firing out tune after remix after tune — was working at his local college in Southsea, teaching music production. He still lives in Southsea, the town outside Portsmouth where he grew up and, as a teenager, bought hardcore, d&b and house tapes from local clothes shops and record stores thinking to himself “I’m going to make music like this”.
There is, he says, no real music scene in Portsmouth – “there never has been”— but, instead, “a strong base of friends and family” that have supported him through the “high points” (like his Dave Spoon ‘At Night’ tune getting re-released as ‘Bad Girl (At Night)’ with Lisa Maffia on vocals and busting into the UK’s Top 40) and lower points, like the time he lost his mojo as Dave Spoon.
“The last time I DJed as Dave Spoon was in 2010, at Creamfields,” he remembers.
“I’d had success as Dave Spoon, at the time when the whole electro thing kicked off in the mid-1990s, but after a few years the gloss seemed to wear off the scene. I was making music, but I felt like it was starting to sound over-produced, too slick. And, when I was DJing, I wanted to play the stuff I really liked — tunes like Sidney Samson’s ‘Riverside’ and some of the more fidgety house stuff — but the more people got to know me, and the bigger gigs I got, the more the crowds wanted to hear more commercial music.”
The thing was, he says, that he just didn’t want to play that kind of stuff.
“So I was at this Creamfields gig and I remember feeling like I was being really selfish while I was playing,” he says. “It was really weird feeling, struggling between the urge to play the tunes I wanted to play and to give the crowd what I thought they wanted to hear. I remember thinking to myself, while I was playing, ‘this is ridiculous’ because I was on a really great line-up, at one of the best festivals in the UK, playing to a huge crowd and I felt like I didn’t want to be there.”
Ironically, the reviews of that Creamfield gig were glowing and, with “EDM” exploding in the US, the Dave Spoon gig offers were coming in thick and fast.
“If I was an out-and-out ‘grab the money’ kind of DJ I would have just gone with it, but I couldn’t,” he says. “I had this realization that I was in the wrong place and, despite lots of advice to the contrary from my management who kept saying ‘you’ve got a brand, you’ve got a sound’, I just had to stop.”
At that same time, he remembers, he’d made a back-to-basics, two-step-influenced, bass-heavy house tune that he felt he could never have put out under the name ‘Dave Spoon’. “I sat on it for a while,” he says. “It was a difficult time, making music that I knew I couldn’t release as Dave Spoon. Then, one day, I was listening to the radio and heard a track by Eats Everything called ‘Entrance Song’. Halfway through the track I thought, ‘If he’s making this, he might like this tune I’ve made’.”
It was, he says, “pure luck that dictated what happened next”.
“Dan [Eats Everything] got hold of the tune while he was DJing with Claude VonStroke,” says Shadow Child. “He played it, Claude [Barclay Crenshaw] heard it and said, ‘I want that tune for my label’.”
The tune ended up coming out as ‘String Thing’. And, when it came to choosing a name to release it under, Shadow Child felt like an apt moniker. “It was me coming out of the shadows of Dave Spoon, I suppose,” he says. “When people finally realized that Shadow Child was actually Dave Spoon it was a bit weird at first. But really it’s been a simple transition. And, since then, the whole house-music-goes-pop thing has happened, with Disclosure and Ben Pearce in the charts. It’s exciting times.”
It’s a shiver-thrill of old school vibes and fresh production that he’s distilled into a new as-yet-unnamed house tune he made recently – laden with piano stabs and hi-hats. He made it at home in his studio in Portsmouth, an Aladdin’s cave of equipment that includes an 808, a 303 and 909 and other bits of retro kit such as the Juno-60
“I love the simplicity of that tune,” he says. “There was a real simplicity that came from early house music and that’s what’s inspiring me at the moment. The tunes, back then, weren’t very musical. They were raw. The producers were just playing with boxes and basic keyboards when they made them. It was simple stuff. And I think it’s a different vibe you get from tunes made like that, where you don’t sit there for hours and hours, fiddling.”
It’s that simple, then. It’s bass-heavy house music, shot from the hip and heading straight for you. And it’s music that will warm up the wettest, coldest Wednesday night this winter.