For 5 Magazine’s monthly feature on musical machines and the men & women who love them, we talk with Detroit electronic music pioneer and Frictional Recordings owner Anthony “Shake” Shakir. Mr. Shakir’s work as “Da Sampla” was recently highlighted by West Side Sessions on Kyle Hall’s Wild Oats label and, under his own name, a four volume Frictional retrospective on Rush Hour.
I read in an interview Thomas Cox did with you a few years ago that you played drums as a kid, but due to an incomplete kit (no hi-hat), you didn’t learn how to play correctly. This changed with electronic music. What was the first piece of gear that you felt like you really got to know – something that you felt like, “Hey, I’ve got this”?
I did not learn how to play correctly because I did not practice. I blame myself for that. Electronic music and MIDI instrumentation allowed for easier access to music and music-making in general.
The first piece gear I got to know was the EMU SP12. I bought the manual for it before I even had access to one. Kevin Saunderson had one he was not using and let me borrow it to make beats for his sister. I am still trying to learn more things and ways to improve what I do.
I’m curious if you believe there’s such a thing as a “sampling style”. If there is, I think you have it. I’m generally awful at figuring out where samples come from anyway, but with yours I’m a complete idiot – I’ve never identified a single note of anything in any track you’ve made.
Thanks for the compliment. I think you recognize the samples when it is something you are already familiar with.
When I was sampling, I was trying to appeal to rappers, thinking that they would want unique-sounding samples or loops. And I wanted to get to the market before somebody else got the sample out there. Most of them in Detroit just wanted “Flash Light” or “More Bounce to the Ounce”.
When it comes to sampling, what equipment do you use? Do you still use hardware or have you shifted over to digital production?
I used the EMU SP12, Casio CZ 5000, AKAI S900 and KURZWEIL K2000. Now I am trying to use Logic. And I want to use the MPC 2000, MASCHINE, and the triumph machine. I want to stay current with my sounds and tools.
I never like to focus on just one record, but Tracks for My Father is a 12″ that I’ve spent so much time listening to that I know it better than I know some of my friends. I thought it was the best thing I’d ever heard when it came out, and it puzzled me that more people hadn’t copied it – until maybe a decade later when I heard Four Tet. Is there anything you can tell me about that record or any of the tracks?
Thanks for the compliment. With that project, I was trying to apply all of my influences to a tune I was working on but not be obvious about it. I think Four Tet mainly uses his voice for what he is doing. I think Herbert was also doing some things with his voice with the tracks he was putting together. One thing I was trying to figure out or copy so I could try to do for my tunes was SoundHack. I did not know he was sampling stuff. Now I want to try to be as consistent as Senor Coconut.
The title Tracks For My Father was a play on the famous jazz song by Horace Silver, “Song For My Father”, one of my favorite jazz records ever made.
How much of your own material – speaking of now as well as then – do you master? Have you ever felt uncomfortable about it?
I have not learned how to master yet. I know you can buy mastering programs now. I was always told early on that my record sounded “too dirty”. That was because all I had was the SP12 and I did everything on it at the time. I did not feel uncomfortable about it because it was all I had and I just wanted to get a record out.
We’re doing this interview without being in the same city, much less the same room. It’s struck me that a great deal of musical collaborations are done this way too. For records like the Urban Tribe release, how much of it was done in the same studio?
I remember reading about this kind of recording process in the early eighties, when videos were becoming prominent. The Urban Tribe project was started at home on our machines then moved into the studio to compile the separate parts. It was put together at Planet E and mastered in London, I think.
When I interviewed James Curd for this feature, he mentioned that a lot of his songs are conceived almost by accident – from getting a new keyboard and figuring out how to use it. I actually noticed this on some ’90s House Music records – even the filtered disco, you got the sense that guys were messing around with a drum machine, made mistakes, liked it and kept it anyway. Has this ever been the case for you?
I was always trying cover the mistakes because I can’t play. And the mistakes I kept were because could not edit them out because of the equipment I owned – or lack of it. Sometimes a mistake can become a hook and become the song itself. My one “accidental” track that I have done was “…Like A Dream”. I built it around the drum track and chords, and then the bass line just fell into place.
I’ve always gotten the impression – could be totally wrong – that you’re something of a perfectionist. As someone that’s released a huge amount of your material on own labels, how do you know when these creations of yours are “ready”?
I think when it is done, it is done. I was never a perfectionist about my music. I always considered myself a novice. My main hold up was a lack of confidence, or funding.
What current stuff are you working on? After the West Side Sessions record on Wild Oats… I have no idea what to expect next.
I am working on a couple of remixes and an album. The Wild Oats record was originally on Record Time’s M3 label. It was ten years old and Kyle Hall heard it and wanted to put it back out. It seemed to work out.
I am just trying to keep moving forward. I will figure it out eventually.