On "Don't Rush," from Shy FX and T Power's new album, Diary of a Digital Soundboy, R&B vocalist Di reprises the smooth sound that made the production duo's ubiquitous "Shake Ur Body" a smash three years ago, this time singing an ode to taking it slow ("We don't need to rush/Love will wait for us"). Delayed gratification can be romantic, but drum & bass fans waiting for an uplifting jolt of jump-up, dub, and blues flavors won't need to wait longer–or look further–than Diary, released last September on Shy's new label, Digital Soundboy.
Barring Roni Size/Reprazent's Mercury Prize-snatching New Forms in 1997, Shy FX and T Power have arguably had the most commercial success among their peers; their new productions are poised to follow suit, whether they (and jungle elitists) like it or not. After a limited, solo Stateside tour last fall, Shy–Andre Williams to his mum and friends–spoke to XLR8R from London about Diary, the evolution of the scene, and how to deal with those silly haters.
XLR8R: From your initial Diary tour, what do you see happening for drum & bass in the US?
Andre Williams: I like Drive-By in NYC, but the parties I've enjoyed the most recently have definitely been in LA, especially Respect. The vibe there seems to be really on point. I think people knuckled down and focused on building a scene, but the main problem [elsewhere] is people relying on international DJs and not supporting their local ones. Over here we have the whole rave culture that the States really doesn't have, and it's easier to build. But I think with the internet, people are now up-to-date and clued in to what's going on.
And what's taking place in the UK?
At the moment, it's a transitional period. A lot of the older cats that had been in their comfort zone too long–who had been trying to maintain a lifestyle and be lazy–I think they're getting a wake-up call. I don't blame them for getting caught up, they're only human, but it's been too long that they've been knocking out tunes to make a quick pound. Now it's back to the music, I feel.
Diary is your second vocal drum & bass album. Regarding Set It Off, a BBC forum user complained "Keep d&b for the darkside." What do you make of the divided attitudes on funkier styles?
It's silly! When I first got involved in the scene, we'd have events where everything was represented and played. That's the point of this music; it's a melting pot of different styles. Those that prefer the dark side of things and the soulful side are clashing, but it's changing–this time around it's been accepted more or less from all corners of the scene.
The success of "Shake Ur Body" was pinpointed as the moment drum & bass crossed into the mainstream. How did things change for you and T Power (Marc Royal) when your singles charted?
They didn't really. You get profiled for a minute; you get 101 remix requests, but at the end of the day it only really changes if I go out of my way to recreate those tunes all the time. Mostly it enabled us to take a year out to put time into an album.
On Diary, you each made two songs and collaborated on six. Your love of soul is particularly obvious on "Sheets," with Noel McCoy singing the Isley Brothers' song. Who would you like to work with next?
At the minute, I'm putting down music and thinking about what kind of voice I want on what track. I'm listening to everything, not just R&B. From bloody punk to...the other day Marc brought in some orchestral music. I'd love to work with certain R&B vocalists but I don't think many would get the beats we're doing. At first with Di, we had to make the track sound like R&B for her to understand it. Unless you've been to a rave and get the whole vibe, it's difficult–singers think it's too fast. So we half-timed the beats, she sang, and we programmed around it. Afterward, she was coming out to the raves. She was converted!
In 2002, you said UK hip-hop's production was lacking, but "now that MCs are showing their own identity, it can work." How do you feel about grime's rise since? Do grime and drum & bass influence each other?
Talk to any of the kids on road and everyone wants to be a grime MC. It's unregulated on the business side, but the talent and the music is on fire. Early jungle definitely influenced grime, [especially] a lot of the old, distorted bass sounds they use in their productions, but I wouldn't say they're influencing each other at the moment. Although, we've just done a track with Dizzee Rascal and we're looking to work more with some of the grime artists, so we'll see what happens.
The dub sounds championed by your former label, Ebony, are being done exceptionally by artists like Breakage, who's on your new Digital Soundboy imprint.
I think people have started doing it better, taking it more seriously, and not just putting unnecessary edits all over the place. At the same time, DSB isn't just about that side of things, which is why we released "Feelings" [the first single].
Aside from stylistic departures, what's the biggest change you've seen in your 11 years on the scene?
The download culture of the internet–the theft of music is alarming. You spend years trying to learn your craft and, as Marc said to me the other day, it makes it worthless when people download your stuff for free. It's disappointing, but at the same time, if it wasn't for the net, half the people I've met up with recently–half the guys on my label–I wouldn't have heard of. I wouldn't have easy access to their beats if we couldn't be sending tunes back and forth via AIM.
How do you spend your spare time?
What's that? This is my spare time right now, and afterward I'll be running back to the studio, so at the moment there's no such thing.
Shy FX's essential contributions to the drum & bass hall of fame.
Shy FX and UK Apachi
Williams' third single for S.O.U.R. (Sound of the Underground Records), where he met and began collaborating with Royal at just 17, showcases Williams' soundsystem roots: "Nuttah"'s rolling bass and rough-and-tumble snares, along with UK Apachi's twisting ragga vocals, punctured the national chart with primal efficiency.
A sample of Eric B. and Rakim's "I Know You Got Soul" ("This is how it should be done/This style is identical to none") was co-opted the following year by A-Sides' "Punks," giving props to hip-hop while carrying the 1987 classic toward the new millennium.
Re-released as the B-side to "Feelings," Williams' first single for Digital Soundboy took the term "jungle" literally, folding the hum of crickets, the shriek of an elephant, and a lion's roar into its bongo-natty frenzy. Remixed a year later by Dillinja and Roni Size as "Bambaata 2012," this anthem is considered by many to be one of the top 10 drum & bass tunes of all time.
Shy FX & T Power feat. Di
"Shake Ur Body"
R&B vocalist Di was recording in the same studio as Shy and T, and was lured away to contribute her pipes to their biggest hit to date, which rose to #7 on the charts. "Shake Ur Body" brought Latin rhythms–and fun–back to the genre.
Shy FX & T Power
The second single from Set It Off featured Kele Le Roc (best known for her sexy turn on Basement Jaxx's "Romeo") and another impossibly infectious Latin melody. If you can't dance to this, you don't have a pulse.