Self-professed electronic music chancers Mark and Johnny, aka Shift Work, are making big soundwaves on the scene. Somewhere among their ‘Scaled to Fit’ EP release through Optimo Music, their live performances at some of the UK’s favourite dance venues, continuing to impress their growing brigade of followers and creating a new EP – they found the time to talk to us about creativity in London, cheese analogies and HG Wells.
Their interview technique balancing ironic distance and frankness is almost as captivating as their remixes, and we really like their stuff.
Crank this up a few decibels, read, and enjoy:
What is Shift Work, how did it come about and what are you about?
M: Johnny, quite literally said: “sounds great, let’s do lunch” and the rest is history.
J: Mutual love of DFA.
Your music sounds playful and experimental. Can you describe why you make music the way you do? What inspires you most?
M: We make our music the way that we do because we don’t really know what we are doing…it’s the Joe Meek school of production: “if it sounds right, it is right”. So we just enjoy making brutal but elegant sequences, contrasting soundscapes and interesting samples and try and produce it all as best we can…and we if we aren’t happy, rip it up and start again.
J: Think if you can get off on your own music it’s a good start. It’s like looking at yourself in the mirror and you think…..”Hey I look pretty alright today”.
Some of your music seems to draw influences from science fiction. Does film or writing have any influence on your production? How about other forms of art that inform your sound?
M: I have a love hate thing with science fiction, most of it is total shit but a small fraction of it is amazing. Probably a bit like leather jackets and soufles. I do have a soft spot for captain picard and his hammily acted crew though.
J: Partial to a bit of Ray Bradbury but have not put much consideration into whether he influences me in that way.
What sort of impact do you think London has had on your creativity?
M: I think creatively it’s been quite negative recently! For ourselves we have slowly been pushed further out of the city, from Dalston to seven sisters to a shed next to a stables in Mill Hill. Can anyone actually afford to stay in London? South London is becoming very interesting at the moment but I think in general London has been a victim of its own success and all that will be left very soon will be the very wealthy end of society. Fair play to them but it won’t make for a very exciting, creative or affordable place to live. Whoever heard of a decent band coming from Geneva? This is London’s future.
J: Besides from what Mark says about it affecting our location in the city…..very little. What being in any city [similar to London] does I guess, is it makes you a bit more thick skinned which helps your creativity in a way.
Your music has a hint of 90’s sound, which seems to be a prominent theme in dance music at the moment. What do you think draws you to this sound?
M: Which 90’s? We think HG Wells would have been a big fan.
J: A good bass line. But if I hear one more 808 clap! Bet someone will hear an 808 clap in one of our songs one day now.
How do you feel about genre these days? Like many artists, has your sound fallen victim to typecasting or pigeonholing by the industry or critics? Here’s your chance to clear things up! Are there any stereotypes you’d like to dispel?
M: Guess we’ll be in whatever genre people make up and want to stick us in. I’m not bothered, if people are putting you in a bracket at least it means they are interested. Currently we are billed as techno but really we just think of ourselves as a band who try and make loud and interesting sounds.
J: Maybe it’s a reassurance protocol.
“You like Cheese?”
“Well you won’t like this then, it’s Cheese”
I mean, there is a lot of cheese in the world, don’t do the disservice to yourself to not explore the many facets of cheese. Music is the same. Make your own call by having a little taste of everything.
M: I do tend to only eat cathedral city myself though.
What’s your studio set-up like? Any favourite pieces?
M: It’s cold but we have all the essentials (except running water) like computer, mixing desk, bit of outboard gear etc. I think my favourite bit of gear is my pulse 2, it sounds immense.
J: Cold, tidy, unripe pea green. Our bass amp is old and raggedy but sounds great with anything through it.
Where do you see yourselves in the next five years or so?
M: I think we’d both like to be in the USA. And writing our fourth album
J: On a different coast of course from each other. Still writing music and hopefully given up the day job. Either that or following my other dream of becoming a mountain man and that’s not me being flippant.
How was the response to your last EP ‘Scaled to Fit’? How did you become associated with Optimo Music?
M: It was really quite good, people really seemed to like it and we’re both pleased it got nice reviews. For the Optimo association we basically wrote to Keith (at Optimo) and said ‘we love your label, here are our tracks’. He replied and said he liked it but would like to hear more, but after we said we didn’t have any more he came back after an hour and said ‘I think we could do an EP’.
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How has your music evolved since?
M: More taught, more to the point. We love layering but our new stuff is a lot more parsimonious and minimal whilst trying to keep that live feel. We’ve really tried to keep it simple this time.
J: Definitely more minimal, more raw, more live. We are forever finding more productive ways of working. Less is more!
Seeing as you guys are a duo, are there certain aspects of producing that you delegate between the two of you? What kind of responsibilities you share when producing?
M: Johnny tends to do much of the percussion, it’s something I want to do more of. I will often do much of the sampling but Johnny is getting more into that. We both arrange and mix, sometimes together but often one of us will arrange and pass over for mixing to the other, swapping tracks around.
Summer is coming and that means festivals! Are you playing any festivals this year?
M: Possibly some smaller ones towards the end of the year but these things are booked up quite far in advance so we’re hoping to push that for next year. Watch this space!
J: Open to offers.
You have played in a few places now. What has been the most memorable gig in your careers?
M: Optimo night at sub club Glasgow was amazing, the venue was packed and everyone seemed really receptive. There is a video of the performance and a guy is dancing at the front…I never knew human limbs could move in such directions. You should all go to Glasgow. Now.
J: Definitely Sub Club. Glaswegians know how to have a good time.
What was your first gig like? How does it compare to your current performances?
M: We basically took the whole studio down, wires everywhere and nothing worked. Johnny was having a panic attack and I was just pissing him off more by just swigging on a beer saying “it will be fine” when clearly it wasn’t.
J: Wanted to walk away from the equipment never to return.
What are you obsessed with at the moment in the world of music?
M: Taylor Swift.
J: Arthur Russell – World of Echo
What are some of your favourite tracks you’ve created?
M: Really pleased with ‘Patience’ and that liquid bassline Johnny wrote, sounds amazing, and of course scaled to fit is a relentless monster but our new tracks are where it’s at now…really excited about them, no point looking back.
Do you have any music recommendations for our readers?
M: Solens Arc by Kangdang Ray.
J: Screamers – 122 Hours of Fear.
What do you do with your time outside of music? Does anything else light a fire under your arse?
M: I spend as much time in New York as I can.
J: Love to cook. It’s very meditative.
Can you let us in on some news?
M: We are hard at work on a new EP…getting finally closer actually finishing our new material! We have also just done remixes for Robi Headman and Brassica…more on the way (and we are taking offers…)
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Be a diviner for a second. Where do see your productions heading in the future?
M: On the itunes front page next to U2
J: More minimal, more brutal. Eventually it will just be white noise with a kick drum. But then again I might get into pads. Mark loves a pad.
We can’t wait for a remix of ‘Beautiful Day’ complete with the 808 clap it has always needed.
Keep your ears peeled for Shift Work’s new EP and pending remixes here.
Trailer TV (deptford) 26th March
Chew Disco (liverpool) 28th March
Screensaver Live w/ Zombie Zombie (Peckham) 11th April