INTERVIEW: The Shapeshifters (2008)
The Shapeshifters, or Shape:UK as they are known in the US, broke out onto international scene with “Lola’s Theme,” one of those rare club records that enter the mainstream consciousness yet stays true to the club roots. A string of commercial hits followed – Back to Basics, Incredible, and Sensitivity for major label EMI. The duo, Max Reich and Simon Marlin, have gone back to their underground and noctural roots and signed to house heavyweight Defected Records for their future releases. Watch out for their Treadstone EP and a mixed compilation in the near future.
DJ Ron Slomowicz: Max and Simon, of the Shapeshifters, how did the two of you meet?
Max Reich: We met up in Sweden about twelve years ago, in Gothenburg, my home town, and there, through a mutual friend, we were introduced. Simon was working at an independent label looking for new artists, and I gave him a cassette with hot stuff, so there you go.
Simon Marlin: Yes, as Max said, I was signing stuff and he gave me a cassette. That shows how long ago that was. And two weeks later, I signed him to the label. I was working, at the time, for Down Boy, and then we went on to work together at Sony. We signed the Aquafused project that was part of Sony, and then we basically have been working together ever since. I worked at Peppermint Jam for a while, and then we decided to do it ourselves. We set up Noctunal Groove with my wife Lola, and the first record we released was “Lola’s Theme.”
RS: Where did the inspiration to use that sample come from?
Max Reich: Well, it’s Johnnie Taylor’s What About My Love, an old record that Lola had in her record collection, an 80s record.
Simon Marlin: We were basically listening to old records one night and it was one of those things, the timing just worked out. I heard the first eight bars of What About My Love, and I put it on plus six and thought, ‘oh this might work.’ I said to Max the next day, ‘let’s do this,’ and three days later we pretty much had the record finished.
RS: Did you guys have any idea the record would become as big as it did?
Max Reich: Yes, we did actually. We knew it was going to be number one and knew it was going to sell half a million records, that’s it.
Simon Marlin: You know, we knew it was going to be the most bootlegged record in years and be on five hundred compilations. No, we had no idea, that’s the honest answer.
RS: How do you follow up a single like that?
Simon Marlin: Just be true to yourself. You just do what you do. That’s such a big thing – you just have to keep carrying on making records. The thing for us now is that we just want to keep making records for the dance floor, and if they become bigger records, then so be it.
RS: A lot of club music is now based on samples or dub tracks, but your music tends to be vocal-based. Do you have a problem translating vocals to the club?
Simon Marlin: Sometimes we end up playing our nocturnal mixes, which are the more dubbier ones. It’s a tough thing. To be fair, right now in 2008 we’re actually using less vocals, and doing more dubby stuff anyway. At the time, that’s what was right for us. To be fair with EMI, they always wanted us to make vocal-led records because it’s better for radio. But a year ago we decided, we don’t make records for the radio, we just do what we do, and if people like it, they like it. You can’t make records for record companies, you have to make them for yourself.
RS: Is New Day a sign of the way you’re going with your new album?
Simon Marlin: Yes, but we’ve done a whole album. We’re not going to put it out because we’ve just left EMI.
Simon Marlin: And we’ve just signed with Defected.
RS: Wow. So this second album is never going to come out?
Simon Marlin: No, it will come out, not right now, though. Right now me and Max feel like we just want to go back to our roots, in the clubs and do the things that we feel like doing when we’re DJing.
RS: How did you all hook up with Defected?
Max Reich: Just knocked on the door. I think the rumor spread quite quickly when we left EMI. Many labels did approach us, and Defected was one of them. We handed them another couple of tracks, off the album we’d done, and they immediately wanted to release them on Defected.
Simon Marlin: Simon Dunmore, he knows his stuff and we were very flattered. He picked up the phone and said, ‘Let’s talk,’ and we liked what he was saying. He obviously liked what we were saying. He’s giving us the freedom to express ourselves again, in a bit more of an independent way. And it’s just a good vibe, it feels right, it feels like a good home for us. If there is something we do that does have the potential to be a big record again, he’s more than capable of putting it away.
RS: So the next thing coming from you all is going to be a full artist album on Defected?
Max Reich: No. We have two singles, one called Treadstone and one called, well it’s actually a remake of The Shine, you know, the old record? Those are the two first releases and then, we’ll see how it goes. We’ve got Treadstone from the album. Basically it’s an EP, the Treadstone EP.
Simon Marlin: We’ve done an album deal with Defected, but they’re not pushing us to release an album straightaway. What the plan is, is to release Treadstone through here, and obviously into Ibiza, and then to do an in-house compilation, which will be out around October, I think it is.
Max Reich: September / October.
RS: When you guys DJ out, are you two both on the decks together? How do you all DJ together?
Max Reich: We’re more back to back, really. Two or three records each, and then go and have a few drinks. Simon goes out to have a cigarette.
Simon Marlin: Yes, that’s the handy part of being a duo – if I want to go and have a cigarette, then I can go and have a cigarette. We’ve always done it that way, and we just kind of vibe off each other, we’ll throw things in the mix.
RS: There’s a big movement of the Swedish house DJs, the whole Swedish House Mafia – are you part of that?
Max Reich: Yes, actually I am. No, I’m sorry – I’ve been in London. I lived in London for ten years now and, you know, this house mafia thing is one of the new generation of the kids. There’s Axwell and Steve Angello and Ingrosso.…
Simon Marlin: And Max was releasing records on Bush Records way before these boys even knew how to use them.
RS: OK. I’ve got to ask you – you don’t do a lot of remixes for other artists, but one you did was Christine Aguilera’s “Hurt.” How did the project come about, and what was it like working on that record?
Simon Marlin: Hosh Gurelli from Sony/BMG approached us because he likes what we do. We were obviously over the moon. He played us the record over the phone and I said ‘yes, I think we could do something with that.’ He sent us the parts, and to be honest, it was a joy to do, to work with a vocalist like that. The only one we haven’t done, what we really want to do, is Mary J.
Max Reich: We’ve done the Leona Lewis single as well – “Bleeding Love” – which is a massive hit.
RS: Very cool. What would you like to say to all your fans out there?
Simon Marlin: Well to be honest with you, we should have come here a few years ago. All I can say is, we’ve had great response on MySpace and stuff from people here, and there seems to be a real love for what we do. So all I can say is ‘thank you and keep the love coming.’ I think what’s nice about the U.S. is that they do appreciate a good vocal.
Interview conducted March 2008.