UK’s Elite Force Returns to Saskatoon: Interview

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Elite Force plays March 15 at O’Brian’s Event Centre

You may not recognize the name Simon Shackleton, but you would be hard-pressed to find a North American millennial who hasn’t heard his music. He is formerly a member of the breakbeat duo Lunatic Calm, whose work was featured in many blockbuster movies including The Matrix and Charlie’s Angels. Indeed, there was a period in the mid-90’s where it seemed like you couldn’t see an action film trailer without hearing one of their tunes. Following that, Shackleton spent five years running his record label Fused and Bruised, which was championed by many A-List artists including Fatboy Slim.

He has since put that label on the back-burner to focus on his own productions under numerous names, the most notorious being his Elite Force moniker. Besides further adding to his film and video game credits, this name has become synonymous among DJs and party-goers alike with high quality dance music in a wide variety of genres. There are few producers who can effortlessly create house, breakbeat, drum and bass, dubstep and techno while retaining their identity and integrity to the degree of this man. After years of releasing music on other labels he decided to recreate his own under the banner of U&A Recordings.

In 2010 he started a successful series of releases known as RVMPD. What makes these different from previous works is that they are completely reconstructed and intertwined versions of classic songs by other artists. Ever wondered what it would sound like to hear Deadmau5, Primal Scream and Herve mixed together by a world class producer? Look to these compilations to find out. RVMPD2 is even available as a free download from his webstore.

As a performer he has toured globally and has been featured at many of the most notable festivals including Coachella, Burning Man, Kazantip, Glastonbury and Shambhala. And rightfully so, because his stage presence, technical ability and incredible track selection are a rarity in a world where everyone is a DJ and festival sets by many others are often little more than a big budget lighting performance.

We recently caught up for a quick interview with Simon and chatted about festivals, boat parties and Burning Man.

Ominocity: It’s great to have you back in Saskatoon; the Halloween show was really spectacular. Has the EDM explosion in North America in particular changed things for you here?

Simon Shackleton: I think it’s changed things for everyone in as much as it’s brought electronic music into the mainstream, but with that comes rampant commercialization, and I can’t say that that’s something that interests, or helps me in any way. I’ve always been a (relatively) underground music producer and DJ, and what’s been more of a game-changer for me over the past few years is that I see myself more as the antithesis to the EDM boom, and there are no shortage of people looking for an authentic, passionate and underground experience.

OM: Do you find that you need to tailor your sets to different countries or smaller markets or do the same kinds of sets work here as back home?

SS: It really does vary a lot from show-to-show. For example, I’ve been doing a lot of longer shows (all night sets of 6 hours plus) as part of my One Series shows I launched in 2012, and these are generally a lot deeper, more musical, and with more range than the peaktime headline guest sets. There are also a lot of differences from city to city, let alone across national borders … a little local knowledge is always a benefit.

OM: The Revamped tunes you have released have become quite a trademark for you. RVMPD2 has been out for some time now, how has the response been?

SS: The response was great, and I’m about to launch RVMPD3 in the next few weeks. I like to do things a little differently with these releases and this time round I am releasing a series of 3 12″ vinyl singles, limited to just 150 copies each and each one will be spray-paint stencilled, hand- numbered, signed and stamped, making each one a unique and collectable art piece. People still like ‘stuff’ and there’s something very rewarding about taking huge sacks of vinyl to our little village post office to send around the world.

OM: I’ve been looking forward to getting my hands on a few Revamps that I’ve heard in your sets (Massive Attack’s “Angel” stands out for certain!) How many unreleased RVMPD tracks are there?

SS: When I came to look at RVMPD3 I counted 67 unreleased Revamps, and narrowed the vinyl release down to just 9 … the ‘Angel’ Revamp is one of those.

OM: You have said that there had been some red tape to deal with surrounding the original Revamped album. Have there been any complications from the artists with this release being offered for free?

SS: I don’t think we had any issues with artists demanding tracks to be taken down or removed – the re-contextualization of classic tracks into new forms has been a mainstay for the music industry for years and years now, and it would be pretty hard-nosed for any artist to resent the tacit support (or ‘doffing the cap’ as I like to call it) from other producers re-working their tracks and offering them up for free download. To do everything through the official channels would rule a project like RVMPD2 out completely, and generally I think it’s better to get the music out there than not.

OM: With returns in the digital marketplace being low for small artists and labels, many, especially new producers, have taken to giving some (or even all) of their works away for free. ! Do you think that this is a viable strategy?

SS: Yes it is a viable strategy, and in many ways it’s become an essential strategy … but that doesn’t mean to say it’s the only strategy artists should use in my view. There are so many options out there for releasing music – look at Bandcamp for example – I released several Revamps via Bandcamp recently on the basis that people could download the tracks for free if they wanted, but I also encourage people to donate an amount of their choosing. Several people donated $30 for one track, and there were quite a few donations of $20 for the same track. When you do the accounting on that track, even accounting for all of the free downloads, the average spend on that track was *double* the return I would have seen for a like-for-like sale on Beatport.

OM: Is fan-building from sites like Soundcloud as valuable as what you can gain from being on a small label?

SS: Absolutely – it all helps. Soundcloud’s particularly useful as it’s an easy way of sharing across the social networks.

OM: Do you have any advice for young artists trying to get exposure?

SS: Be in it for the long haul – progress on all fronts within the industry is evolutionary rather than revolutionary. By that I mean, don’t expect that first track of yours to do anything more than be the very first stepping stone in a long line of stepping stones … and if you don’t enjoy the journey, don’t set out on the road.

OM: Fair enough! Festival season is coming up again and each year is getting busier than the last with festivals like Coachella and Sasquatch now doing multiple weekends, and Europe is even more saturated with festivals pretty much every weekend. How do you feel about the sustainability of the festival culture?

SS: There’s definitely an over-saturation going on, and it’s seen a number of festivals go under every year in the UK. I do like open air events … somehow music sounds better, more spiritual out in the open, but people only have a certain $$ to spend. There’s also an argument to say that a lot of the bigger ‘EDM’ festivals are way too large and mainstream now – the experience at these is all about spectacle, and DJ sets are truncated, soulless and more do do with appearances of big names, rather than the delivery of genuine, quality musical experiences.

OM: How does performing at large festivals compare to smaller, intimate events? Which festivals stand out for you?

SS: Burning Man, hands down is the most life-affirming, challenging and spiritual place to play at for me. This will be my sixth year there, and I feel that i experience every possible emotion there – from playing to huge nighttime crowds with fire raging all around, to tiny, intimate sunrise sets that roll deep into the middle of the day. Generally speaking though, festivals tend to attract an extremely broad range of people, and more often than not you find yourself not necessarily playing to the converted, so it’s a great feeling when you leave an arena knowing you’ve won people over. I think I probably get more satisfaction out of nights like The One Series though, where I host the entire night and control each aspect of the show, surrounded by what feels like friends and family. That’s pretty special.

OM: What have you got on the horizon?

SS: RVMPD3 coming up … then there’s some shows in mainland China at the end of this month, then another big North American trip in May with 2 One Series shows (San Francisco and Denver). Into the summer, it’s festival season and I have several Boat Parties (Hungary, London, DC), then Burning Man at the end of the summer followed by Forcefields, which is a little invite-only festival I do on my own farm in the UK.

You can see Elite Force March 15 at O’Brian’s Event Centre along with Bass Kleph and Mat the Alien. More info on the event HERE.