On Wednesday April 15, Shapeshifter played at The Garrison to a nearly packed crowd ready to dance their faces off. You don’t know about Shapeshifter? Neither did I. Hailing from Auckland, New Zealand, the band has existed since 1999 playing live drum and bass. They describe part of their sound as heavy soul, and with intermittent saxophone solos in between adrenaline rushing synths, pounding drums, and the smooth vocals of P Diggsss, it makes sense that those two words are put together. I was able to sit down with Shapeshifter the night before their show and talk to them about their unique sound, their latest album Delta, and what the future holds for them.
What makes Shapeshifter unique is their live recreation of drum and bass music with instruments, as opposed to a DJ recreating music on a computer. I found this a refreshing way to experience electronic music, instead of seeing someone on their computer doing who knows what, you see the band working to create the dance music. To Shapeshifter, there is a difference between playing music from a computer and actually creating the sound with instruments. “[Following a computer] strips away the soul of the music,” says guitarist and keyboardist Sam Trevethick. He emphasized that you want to create music in the moment, to have a tempo set by a human, something that will fluctuate, and create synergy when playing as a group. When hearing them live and a saxophone solo is rocked after some intense synths and drumming, like in the track “Monarch,” the advantage of playing with instruments becomes clear.
That being said, with their latest album Delta, Shapeshifter wanted to create more of a listening experience than a DJ album, and not be so bound with thinking whether they could play the album live or not. The band wanted to make the album “powerful, make you feel something, not something you just throw away.” To Trevethick, the album makes him “want to go to space and cry… and laugh.” More emotion than a typical dance record it seems.
Their unique mixture of soul mixed with heavier electronic elements is a sign of the times for the electronic dance music genre. The band went into how electronic music has changed from when they started in 1999. “If you were a DJ or a producer, you did one thing, [one type of music],” said Trevethick. “[Now,] since three or four years ago … anything goes. [It] has to do with the internet, information culture, and [having] instant access to things people create.” Genres are now bleeding together, and for Shapeshifter this isn’t a bad thing. They plan for the future to take their core sound, such as P. Diggsss’ vocals, synths, and rhythm, and expand that into new territory. They prefer the term exploring instead of experimenting, but they aren’t setting any rules for themselves. As P. Diggsss says, “You can’t pigeonhole us. You know what they say about pigeon holes? They’re full of shit.” Shapeshifter will try to avoid that shit as much as possible, right now by working on a collaborative EP with The Upbeats, a very experimental dancefloor driven electronic music group, where Shapeshifter’s sound will continue to change shape.