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TEAM SHADETEK

Team Shadetek are Manhattan-based Soze.sht and Zach Zizmore, aka M. Schell and Zack Tucker. Founding members of the multi-media collective Change Agent, the pair have released a handful of EPs on their own label before being spotted by Warp, who have just released, Burnerism, their first mini album. Yet, there is more to Team Shadetek than the digital processing and dirty beats heard on this record. Here, we talk to Soze.sht about growing up in Manhattan, how Change Agent came together, and the multiple personalities of Team Shadetek.

Can you tell us how you got together, and how Team Shadetek started?
Basically we grew up in the same neighborhood, a block away from each other in Tribeca, Downtown Manhattan. We had known each other a bit from Jungle raves and through some mutual friends, then we ran into each other on the block one day and it turned out we were both messing with producing 'weird music' and it just went from there.

On your old website, you mentioned that you both grew up listening to hip-hop, reggae and jungle. Your music is also very electronic. When did this aspect come into the scope?
We had both been really into Jungle for a couple of years, but at a certain point in New York, pretty shortly after Mayor Giuliani came into power he started to crack down on venues allowing underage ravers, which was a huge chunk of the scene. This really adversely affected the party scene and as a result a lot of people started to get into different sounds, this was about the time of Rawkus and the whole independent hip-hop boom, with a lot of records coming out that weren't so dancey and were more weird and cerebral. This also happened with the electronic music and we started to get more interested in stuff like Autechre and Aphex, although our first exposure to it was a little skewed because a lot of Autechre 12 inches we got we were listening to at 33, making it more like hip-hop tempo and mixing it with stuff like Company Flow and so on. When we first heard it on CD at the correct speed we were just like 'What?! This is way too fast!'

Who were your influences when you were growing up?
Pretty diverse for both of us. We both were exposed to reggae and dub pretty early on and that definitely had an effect, and hip-hop is just pretty unavoidable in New York, then Jungle and happy hardcore was kind of an introduction to dance music or whatever. But we always listened to all kinds of things, Zach used to play in punk bands, we were both into hardcore punk for a while, I used to love stuff like Talking Heads and Laurie Anderson because my parents had them around...

For your fourth 12 inch, you had Swoon doing a different cover for each of the 300 copies, which seems to be quite ambitious. Who’s idea was it and was it a way for you to get noticed?
We had originally planned for Swoon to do the cover for the record since one the tunes on there was basically written for her, Manana Negra, for a video collaboration she and I were doing. Originally we had intended to do a box thing with the video and a 7" or something, but then that proved too expensive, and at the same time she was developing her modular sticker approach to her street art. One morning, Zach and I were sitting on the block drinking our coffee and he brought up the idea of having her do her sticker thing for the cover and doing them all different by hand. Initially I was like 'No way, we can't ask her to do all that' but then later I mentioned it to her and being the psycho workaholic she is, she was into it, so we ended up doing it. It was a crazy process, a HUGE amount of work, but in the end I think it really conveyed well the amount of love and energy we had put into the whole project and people seemed to get that and appreciate it. We've got another edition coming out soon. The record is called the Girls EP and it's 300 covers split between 4 artists: Swoon, Mosco, Orien McNeill and Charlie Pratt. The work they did is really crazy, and I'm really happy with the tracks we got as well, one from us, one from another kid from our neighborhood, Drop The Lime, a track from our homies in Berlin, Modeselektor, and one from this girl, Tiombe Lockhart, who sings, which is produced by Belief from Living Legends. It's part of a series of 3 EPs which will then come out on CD, but probably not for a while.

You are part of the founding members of the Change Agent art collective, which also features Swoon, who is responsible for the artwork on all your releases, as well as other visual artists, DJs and clothes designers. Can you tell us more about how the collective started and what is its purpose?
Actually Swoon has only done two of our releases, the Swoon EP and Burnerism for Warp, which was a collaboration thing between her and Citizen, our graphic designer. The others have been done by Charlie Pratt, Mosco and Citizen. Change Agent basically jumped off as a Wu Tang type of idea, of launching a group with all your friends which would help each one get recognized as the others got famous and pull everyone up together. Basically everyone we work with in Change Agent is just our friends from New York and it all started pretty unofficially, us asking people for record covers and flyers and things, them asking us to play at their openings and parties and stuff. Then we launched the website and gave it a name and since then have been trying to think about it more as an entity and do more events and projects with all of us together. We just did a group show and party at this place, Space1026 in Philadelphia, which was real fun, and we've got a couple more things planned for the distant and not so distant future.

You are both from Manhattan, but now live in Berlin, where you have established SHTBox, your studio. Why did you move to Berlin?
The original SHTBox is in Tribeca, in the same building as Zach's mom's house. Nowadays it's become pretty portable with me in Berlin at the moment and him back in NYC. The move to Berlin started with me coming out to check it out, my friend Eric Laine had been telling me all kinds of crazy shit about it and introduced me to the Modeselektor guys, who's music we were already into. They helped me find a place to live and so I came out for a while, and then just basically really liked it, Zach came to visit and decided to stay for a while, now he's back in NYC and I'm gonna go back there in a month or so to make the next record.

Does the rest of Change Agent still live in New York? How does your move to Berlin affect the work of the collective?
Yeah everybody else is pretty much in NYC. The work goes on over the net and phones and stuff, which has definitely made things more difficult. We're both back in NYC a certain amount though and then we all meet up and let each other know what's going on and things. Basically everyone just keeps pushing their own projects forward and then when there's something that we can do together we link up and do it.

You released your first EPs on your own label. How did you manage to get noticed by Warp and get them to release Burnerism?
Exactly as you say, by releasing our own records ourselves. We get this question a lot, my response is always: do it yourself, don't wait and hope for someone else to come and validate you and tell you you’re good enough. This guy who works for them doing A+R called Stuart Souter heard our records in a shop one day and dug them and so he brought them to the attention of Steve who runs the label. They sent us a mail asking for a demo, we sent them some stuff and the rest is recent history.

Will you be releasing any more records with them?
We're not scheduled to do anything new with them at the moment since our next album is coming out on the Sound-Ink label from Brooklyn. Warp offered us this exclusive contract but it was for like four albums. In four albums we have no idea what we'll be doing and if it'll still be compatible with Warp, so that kinda scared us off, and as a result we chose not to go exclusive with them. For example the next record is a hip-hop record with MCs and that was something that Sound-Ink was better prepared to hook us up with than Warp was, and so we decided to do it with them. Also, around the time we were figuring it all out Alex from Sound-Ink saved my ass in a bar fight and got beat really badly in the process, which definitely made an impression in terms of who's really got your back when the chips are down.

There seem to be some connection between your music and that of Autechre in the way you use hip-hop as the basis for your music, yet use electronic music to destructure hip-hop conventional forms, and you have been associated with them by some people in the press. Do you consider this as a compliment, or do you see it as an easy comparison?
I'd say it's both. We definitely enjoy their music and would cite them as an influence although they are one out of many. For a lot of journalists coming from an electronica background, which because of the label we're on that's a lot of who's checking it, they don't really catch the other references and that's what they come up with. Also because it's on Warp, that's an easy and obvious comparison.

Burnerism is a very complex record, which appears to work on a whole range of levels. How do you work in the studio? Do you have specific ‘roles’ between you?
Definitely not, we both compose all parts of tracks, sometimes together, sometimes alone, sometimes a mixture of both. We really enjoy not having a fixed format and are trying all the time to break up our working process and find new ways of doing things. Basically trying to keep ourselves interested most of the time.

Burnerism feels a lot more electronic than your previous releases. Is it a deliberate evolution in your music?
I wouldn't call it a deliberate evolution. The tracks on Burnerism are basically just the ones we made in the past two years that we thought sat together pretty well. Also it's important to note that Warp had a hand in choosing the tunes, which was a new thing for us, so what you're hearing is basically the Warp idea of what we do, the stuff that we made that both us and Warp agreed worked together.

The press release for Burnerism mentions that you don’t allow ‘any track to escape [your] studio unless they’re tested and confirmed burning hot’. How do you test your tracks, and what confirms them burning hot?
Testing is done mostly through playing live, which we love doing. That's a big part of our live thing, testing out new tunes, testing mixes on big systems, seeing what works in the dance and what doesn't, what needs reworking and so on. More and more that's what our live things have turned towards, doing things in a sound system style, rinsing out our new tunes and dubbing or versioning the released ones, getting response from the crowd and trying to present our work in the context that we want it to be experienced. For example live we have the opportunity to use a lot of stuff that we wouldn't want to put on a record, like taking other people's vocal tracks to lace over our riddims and things like this. I'd say our live thing is probably your best chance to hear us as we want to be heard and in the setting we want it to be heard: over a loud and bassy system in the dark with sweaty dancing people. Also as far as testing we take stuff round to our friends and get feedback from them, mostly the other Change Agent kids.

You regularly play live, and have recently completed a two months tour. Was it the first time you played so many dates in one go, and how did the tour go?
The tour was sick. Really really fun. It was definitely the first time we had done so many dates back to back. It was pretty interesting because we were playing a lot of similar stuff, the shows were so close together we didn't really have time to write new things in between, so it was interesting seeing how people in one city or country would love one thing and not another, how something would go down huge the night before and not the next. It was really good with regard to tuning and tweaking our performance, I felt like playing so often and getting so much feedback in so short a time helped us get a lot of insight really quickly.

What can people expect to experience when seeing you live?
It differs. Lately we're doing more of an SHT Sound System kind of thing of rinsing out new exclusive tunes and dubbing and chopping on things you may have heard to keep them interesting. Sometimes we do loop based live composition and arranging and sometimes we do generative sequencing stuff where we're getting on stage with nothing pre-composed and generating all the patterns and material on the fly in a sequencer patch we developed in Max/MSP. Sometimes some combination of the above. It depends a lot on the event, what's the vibe, which other people are playing and so on. Sometimes we do things with vocalist friends of ours, we've done shows where we got people we met that night to come up and rap or sing, which is fun and chaotic, all kinds of shit really. We try to keep ourselves, and the crowd, entertained and we enjoy making people dance when it's possible.

Are you planning more dates in the near future?
We're always planning more dates. The next string of stuff is late September; Sept 25th we're doing a show in Paris with Kool Keith and DJ Premiere along with the Sound Ink crew, which should be crazy. We've both been big fans of Keith and Primo for years, so to play with them is definitely some kind of milestone. After that there's a couple more dates in England and then back to the States for a while to work on the next record, and we're always doing DJ things and stuff like that. I just played 2 nights ago in London for the 10-year anniversary of the French film La Haine and got to meet Kassovitz, the director who was really cool. I played all this aggro London Grime stuff for this bunch of film people which was pretty fun.

Burnerism is your first widely available release, and you went for a format which is somewhere between an EP and a full-length album. Why is that?
Originally it was planned as a five track EP, and we had it mastered and sent it to Warp and everything, and they sent us back a mail saying 'well, we like these so much, can you send more?' So we did, they picked three more and it ended up in this funny grey area of being a mini LP. I'm pretty happy with it though since there weren't too many more things we thought were appropriate and I hate filler on records, I would much prefer something that leaves people wanting a bit more.

What are your plans following the release of Burnerism? Can we expect an album soon? Can you tell us a little about it?
Yes, the next LP (or first LP officially, although we basically think of Burnerism as an album amongst ourselves, regardless of how it's categorised commercially) is untitled as yet and will come out on Sound Ink. In terms of distinguishing it from Burnerism, I'd say the hip-hop influence is more pronounced and is emphasised by the fact that we're working with rappers. We just did a track with Sir Menelik (best known for his work on the Dr. Octagon LP with Keith) which is fire, called I Guess It's… and we've also got tracks done with Baby Blak who's from Philly (that's gonna drop on single real soon), Rodan who's from MF Doom's crew Monster Island Czars and is on some crazy abstract shit, and this cat Rustee Juxx who's from Crown Heights and is coming with some serious street, gangsta shit. After that is our full length for Shockout, Kid606's Ragga Dancehall label. We've been kind of working on the two simultaneously since we're always producing stuff in diverse rhythm styles and that's our outlet for the dancehall stuff we've been doing. That one's got vocal guest spots from Wayne Lonesome who was on the Bug LP, Red Dragon, Johnny P and some others which we're still in the process of sorting out. A bunch of those will drop as singles before the LP release; the first one came out last year, Dem Nuh Know Mi, with Wayne over our Yoga riddim. There's another one due out real soon, in a month or two which is called Gal You Nah Beg and has Red Dragon over our Balkan Nights riddim alongside two versions of the same vocal by Drop The Lime on the flip, which are just disgusting, crazy cutty breakcore type shit.

Email interview August 2004
Thank you to Soze.sht and Lauren

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REVIEWS
09'04
Burnerism

THE SURFER'S GUIDE TO TEAM SHADETEK
Team Shadetek
We Are Change Agent
Warp Records

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