Interview : Anthony 'Shake' Shakir
Speaking from the shadows.
Detroit producer Anthony ‘Shake’ Shakir has been there or thereabouts since the city’s year zero. A key figure behind the scenes in labels like Metroplex and Transmat, his distinctive productions are some of the city’s more elusive offerings - both in terms of availability and accessibility: his approach to music is both unpredictable and uncompromising. On a hiatus-of-sorts since 2004, new material is finally about to see the light of day.
First off, how is your health these days? I believe you were diagnosed with MS in first part of this decade.
I can be funny about it, but I will be serious. I was diagnosed with MS fully in 2000. I was told I may have had it longer than that, but it is here. So oh well. If I have it bad, somebody has it worse. I am alive to write this.
I assume – correct me if I’m wrong – that this has had an impact on your music career. Has this been frustrating for you?
I am not so sure about this. I have a career that I chose to take on.
The last release I am aware of by you is in 2004. Did you purposely take five years off?
No. I got caught up on overanalysing things. I was so into the records by Jan Jenelik under his Farben moniker. I thought his tracks were done in (such) a different way that I might try to do an idea with some idea of what I was thinking I was hearing. I totally misread things. I now know that he was doing some things I had already been doing myself with my tracks. I did not pay attention to the time. I did not know I had been out so long.
And I also thought I needed to upgrade my studio to keep up and sound current. I did need to learn how to use the tools I had recently acquired at that time. I was told that would take a minute. I thought it would be easy. I took longer than I thought.
So you were still working on beats and music…
I had some things I had already done that I did not think would work on Frictional. They are coming out now. I am always listening and reading about music. I had gotten an MPC2000 and I wanted it to work like the (Emu) SP12 worked for me. It did not, but I like the sequencer in it. Then I went into paralysis by analysis. It was not intentional or intended.
What inspired you to release music again?
I wanted to keep putting records out. And I do like this music so I want to keep doing it as long as I can.
I may have looked at things the wrong way. Now I think I can fully operate in the 21st century.
How did the tie-in with Italian label Morphine come about?
I was going through tracks I had done but I hadn’t put out at the time I was doing things. The guys at Morphine happened to call on a day I was listening over these tracks. They asked what was up with these tunes. I said, ‘Nothing at that moment’. And now they are released. And since I have to play in Italy, I looked it as way to form some ties with some people I could possibly play for.
And what made you decide to reactivate your own label, Frictional?
I had not intended to stop working. I know this is what I want to do so I will continue doing it.
I read somewhere that you “keep all your best material” for your own label?!
I never thought I made anything I did not want to release. I thought I could tailor things to other situations. I don’t have the patience to really do that anymore. I look at a lot of the music I do as a failed experiment - sometimes that works for me.
You once called yourself ‘the invisible man of techno’ – do you have any regrets about your career?
Yes. One is that I did not start earlier. I do not say that anymore. If I was invisible, it was my own fault.
You seemed to prefer a behind-the-scenes role when Detroit techno was breaking out…
I did then because I had no confidence in myself. And i did not have any equipment. I just had a desire to figure out how to make a record. I was already a DJ of sorts. I always had records.
You are being name-checked in certain quarters more and more frequently recently. Why do you think this is?
I guess because I put some decent tracks out, and people that notice my approach to what I do.
I have a theory - has the lack of exposure in the past few years helped created an aura of mystery about you? Many other artists have become over-exposed, thanks to an abundance of media channels etc. Has the fact that both you, and your back catalogue (which has not been repressed and, bar the odd release, is not readily available digitally) remains so inaccessible added to your appeal?
Those who know me don’t see any mystery. So I think that is more where this style of music is more prominent. Those who are overexposed in this may have a better understanding (of) what to do, when do it, and how to do it. When I started doing this, I had no idea we could even do albums. And when Kenny Larkin’s first album came out on R&S (‘Metaphor’ was released on R&S in 1995, though ‘Azimuth’ came out on Warp in 1994), I still had no idea I could even do an album. When (German distributor/label) EFA was running, I wanted to do an album for them of all new music. But I did not have much music at the time. Now i feel I have enough things to present as some sort of package. I may have looked at things the wrong way. Now I think I can fully operate in the 21st century.
What inspires you?
A good song. Quality tracks. And good friends.
It’s interesting, researching this piece, the many different words that are used to describe what you do. In a way, the tracks have always been about one thing: rhythm… ‘One beat just won’t do’, right?!
Well, I cannot dance, but I enjoy watching people who can. It has to be funky.
What comes first for you in the studio: tempo, a sample, or an idea?
Depends. Sometimes it is a sound. That was what it was with the ‘Space Probes’ track (on ‘Levitate Venice’). Tempo for me determines who track is going to appeal to. House and techno are the same thing to me - but tempo determines how I make the track. As I continue forward, I will see where things go.
What is your favourite production?
I have two in particular. ‘Is This Real’ by Vision featuring Diane Lynn (on Flying), and ‘Tracks For My Father’ on 7th City.
Two new EPs are ready - will you keep on making music?
I had not planned on stopping when I had stopped. I like to say that I am in this until God calls me home.
And if the interest is there, will you re-press some of you back catalogue?
I do plan to re-press some of my back catalogue.
What’s Detroit like these days? Do you spend much time with any of the artists you worked with 20 years ago?
Detroit is the same as it always is. A Motown kind of town. I do not get out much. I need a few things to see some of the folks who are still here in Detroit. Everybody is still cool.
You describe Juan Atkins as “making it all possible” for you. How do you describe your relationship with Juan Atkins 20 years ago, and today?
When I heard ‘Alleys Of Your Mind’ and ‘Cosmic Raindance’ on the radio, I had no idea they were made in Detroit. But i was transfixed by them. I did not know I would be involved in any way at the time. Juan is cool – (he’s) like the local rock star that I worked with once. I would say our relationship was cordial then as it is now.
I saw Model 500 play live last year. it was inspiring, compressing two decades of music into 90 minutes... he remains 'the Originator'. Have you heard his new material?
I heard one song that I liked. I have to get it so I can play it in my sets. I do not think it is out yet.
You also mentioned Eddie 'Flashin'' Fowles to me. He is another Detroit producer who perhaps did/does not get the props he deserves. Are there any others who you rate, but perhaps did not get their moment in the sun?
I look at it like people like the ones they like for whatever reasons. i really can't say because I never thought about it and really don't know. Maybe A Number Of Names. ‘Sharivari’ and ‘Skitso’ are some of my perennial favourites. They were first actually.
Can we play a word game? What is the first thing that comes into your mind when I say…
Intense and humorous to me.
Detroit’s best salesman. A cool guy to me.
Slow groove man.
Fearless leader who keeps moving.
Is this the second coming of Shake? And if so, what else is planned?
More records, less talking.
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