Anthony 'Shake' Shakir interview: "Every record I owned was an instrument." Detroit techno legend opens up about his Da Sampla roots, musical evolution and recent collaboration with Kyle Hall.
Underground dance music don Anthony ‘Shake’ Shakir is one of the first wave of Detroit techno inventors alongside the infamous triumvirate of Juan Atkins, Derrick May, and Kevin Saunderson. His sound, unlike that of his often better known contemporaries, relies heavily on sampling and shares much with early hip hop because of that. Shakir remained on the fringe of the electronic music scene due to this slightly different sound and the extremely limited run of releases that he had on his own Frictional Recordings label. This all changed in 2010 when Rush Hour released ‘Frictionalism 1994-2009’, a compilation of most of his output on Frictional Recordings. With his music finally made widely available, Shakir’s career has had a massive revival and has seen the producer tour the world and release more solo material as well as remixing and collaborating with a lot of other artists since.
One such collaboration that I’ve been excited about is culminated in the ‘Westside Sessions’ release on fellow Detroit producer Kyle Hall’s Wild Oats label. The reigning king of the newest generation of producers out of the Motor City recently released some rare tracks – titled the ‘M3 Sessions – that Shakir made in 1997 under his Da Sampla alias. ‘Westside Sessions’ also features unreleased Shakir material from the same period and new collaborations between the two generation-spanning techno producers. Hall has been heavily influenced by Shakir’s sampler-led style of production from an early age so it’s no surprise that the result of them working together makes for an extremely fluid yet complex set of tracks. I rang up Shake at his Detroit home to have a quick chat with him about his new record and music in general.
Hello! How are you?
Anthony ‘Shake’ Shakir: Very well, thanks.
Can you tell us a bit about your latest release out on Wild Oats?
Anthony ‘Shake’ Shakir: Some of it has come out before – a few years ago on another label. Kyle found it and played it in a set and said he wanted to put it out. I said sure, so he put it back out. I think it’s a cool cornerstone of a lot of the music that I’ve been doing. Every single
track has been released before on the 12”, but the 7” has some new stuff that was done around the same time. Kyle wanted to put it out with a bit of his production; to do it the way he does it. I was just like “You’re the boss on this one so whatever you say boss! Let’s do it that way!”
How do the tracks on the ‘Westside Sessions’ 7” differ musically from the older tracks on the 12”?
Anthony ‘Shake’ Shakir: Well, one is a drum dub track, for lack of better terms. It’s like one of those drum tracks from the 80s or 90s that’s just drums and is used to bridge the records you mix. So that was one that I started and Kyle helped to finish it off with a few little things. The flip side is a little tune called GJ which is the sound of some girl saying “G” and “J”. So I just kept it – Kyle liked it. Originally I thought it was a bit silly but it actually works really well! It’s a little Latin-type of sample I found, and though it’s silly it works great because we’ve both played it out and people have liked it so that’s the sign that it works!
Were you and Kyle both in the studio together when you made these tracks?
Anthony ‘Shake’ Shakir: Nah, on the 7” I started them and he liked them and wanted to work on them. GJ is mostly me fooling around on the sampler, but the other side he played around with a bit more. Mainly he mastered them. He mastered them nice and loud!
How did you two start working together?
Anthony ‘Shake’ Shakir: I met him at a party and started talking with him. I thought he was older than everyone was saying he was. He told me he was actually that old [Laughs.] I guess we just hit it off! We grooved like that. He liked my records and I liked what he was putting out.
So you’re doing this under your Da Sampla alias? How did Da Sampla come about?
Anthony ‘Shake’ Shakir: It’s all about sampling. Back in the 80s Derrick May would always say, “The way we do music is just sampled stuff.” Other people like Todd Terry too. I liked what they were doing because that’s when I thought I could do everything and be a hip hop producer as well. It was all based with sampling with me, and the logic was that every record I owned was an instrument, one of my instruments. This was good for me because I had no equipment or instruments. All I really wanted to do was make a record! So once I figured out that I could do it this way, I just did it and started playing and making anything and everything. The Detroit guys at that time were proper musicians. They each had their unique sounds and styles. Me? I can’t really play still. I just know what’s in the right key and what’s out of key. I know how to mix something until it sounds right as well, but I will not sit down and try to play something or sing. I’m always humming to myself, but I don’t have the confidence to really sing. I hum ‘til the cows come home, but I ain’t singing [laughs]. Anyway, I had no equipment so I was just trying to find a way to make records. Fortunately at that time the samplers became a bit cheaper. Chuck D famously called hip hop a “sampling sport,” and I was just trying to apply that to techno. I was there at the beginning too and Derrick, Juan and Kevin all had their unique sound so I knew I had to find my own unique sound because I just had to be a part of it. And it’s still fun to me.
With changing technology over the years, how has your sampling style changed? Have you moved to computers?
Anthony ‘Shake’ Shakir: I want to get some more hardware! When I first got a computer and Logic I thought it would speed up my work process, but it shut me down for three years because I couldn’t figure out how to use it. At least I can still keep sampling on my hardware. Now there’s more new hardware and it seems like they’re always coming out with new drum machines and groove sequencers — I want to get into that. I have the Native Instruments Maschine but need to learn how to use it, and of course I’ve always wanted a Moog synthesizer. I have the Kurzweil K2000 and the filters on that I love! They sound real good. What you put in you get out and can really enhance a bit.
Where have you toured recently?
Anthony ‘Shake’ Shakir: I was just over in Sydney and Melbourne a few months ago. Last month I was in London, Hamburg, Glasgow and Bristol. Oh, in Bristol I had a terrible set! Everyone has a bad set from time to time and I’m happy to admit that and know why I messed up and always learn from it. They seemed to dance anyway though. The other three were really great though. I guess that’s also what happens sometimes when you have a real human up there playing all vinyl all night. Not to disrespect people who don’t do that; everyone should use whatever it takes to make it work.
So you’re not switching to CDs, computers, or Serrato anytime soon then?
Anthony ‘Shake’ Shakir: I might get Serrato this year just to be prepared for any situation, but I still buy records. I’m not joking: I like records more than I like people! They’ve gotten me here to where I am today so I’m not going to throw them out because they have new formats. I like records a whoooooooole lot [laughs]!
Where do you see your musical evolution leading your next?
Anthony ‘Shake’ Shakir: I want to do songs. Most of the club stuff out is tracks and you cover more bases with songs. Not many people go to the record and say “What’s that song that goes [vocalises some random weird percussive synthy noises]?” Some people do of course, and there will always be some people working in record stores who will know what you’re asking for. However if you go to the record store and ask for the song with “I love you, you’re so blue”. Then everyone will know it and where the record is. That’s partially why I want to do a song. Also because I’ve done some before and I really liked it. They were some of the favorite records I made so I’m going to try and track down the girls I was working with to do more. I’m also trying to work towards an album project because I’ve never made a full length album before of all new tracks of mine. I’ve been talking about doing it for fifteen years. It kept not happening and I got sidetracked, but I want to do it now and be much more broad than just track-based stuff. There will be tracks still definitely, but I want to incorporate a lot more types of music. I’ve got two or three remixes to finish and then I’m starting on this album! I’m also going to learn this Native Instruments Maschine and get a few more synths in because I want to try doing a live show. I didn’t even know you could do this until I started learning about all these new hardware instruments. I guess DJ-ing is sort of a live show, but I’ve done that already many times. I like coming to places to play records, but I need to add to what I’ve already been doing. It’ll look different and sound different. My thing is to just keep moving forward – I like doing this stuff. It’s taken me all around the world and has even just gotten Kyle and I to do some stuff!