First Gigs: Shadow Child

Your first gig is something every single DJ remembers for the rest of their life, or rather, is something they wished they could forget. And while we may associate the DJ lifestyle with chartered jets to Ibiza, extravagance on tap and a healthy dose of fatigue, your favourite producer probably earned their stripes playing in altogether less luxurious surroundings. For many, pub basements were turned into makeshift dancefloors, your family members wedding being a chance to show what you can do on the ones and twos…

You might associate Shadow Child with his brand of euphoric, acid-tinged house music, or his long-standing radio show on the famous Rinse FM, but that’s not where it all began for the producer. Before he came to be known as Shadow Child, he was just another teenager growing up in Portsmouth. Now, Shadow Child is at the stage of his career where appearing alongside the likes of Gorgon City, Klose One, Max Chapman and many more on 10th November at Motion is just another weekend spent on the road, but the early years of his DJ career were an altogether more humbling experience. To learn the stories and the sounds behind Shadow Child’s early years we speak with the producer about his very first gig, and why it was fun to stay at the YMCA.

Where was the first place you ever DJed? And what encouraged you to get behind the decks?

When I left school at 16 in ‘93 the local youth center invested in some Technics. Nobody else was really into having a go on them apart from a couple of others, so I got a lot of practice in playing jungle while the others were spinning house. The area worker for the South of England stopped by one day and mentioned there was a rave happening in the Taunton YMCA center and we should go and play there. I grew up in Portsmouth, and Taunton was 3 hours away so we all bundled in a mates Xr2i and rocked up with our records. Everyone was playing house, so they put me on last and I spent the night fearing the worst as I was the only one with bag full of jungle tunes! My turn came and the room was full, but not quite jumping from the last guy. I remember a girl sat on some steps looking very uninterested but as soon as I put the first record on the roof almost came off! It was at a time when jungle was no longer anything to do with the cheesy hardcore and rave music that preceded it.

Did you always start out playing the music we associate with you now?

No not at all, I was obsessed with hardcore and later on jungle and DnB. The thing is, I loved the music and production, but there was no DJ I idolised or anything like that. Mixing those records is definitely an art, but it was all about chopping breakbeats up with the DJ mixer. It wasn’t until I heard Sasha’s 1995 Essential mix that I completely got house music. He was doing a much more creative thing, long blends and mixing in-key etc. Not many were doing what Sasha did in the 90’s, and it taught me a lot about taking people on a journey, having peaks and troughs too.

What encouraged you to try it that first time?

I was already making music at school, which at that time was rare. Schools now have rooms full of iMacs and software, but back then you were lucky to get anything more than a triangle and recorder. So having had that start (in 1989) I was very familiar about how records were put together, although I’d never played 2 together before. I hadn’t touched any decks until I was 16 at my best friends next-door-neighbor’s house. We used to listen to him through the wall every day when he got back from work. After plucking up the courage one day we knocked the door and asked to go in and listen, he let us have a go and I found beat matching so easy from the start. It was so natural, although there was so much else to learn.

Did that first show ever put you off DJing again (for a short while, obviously)?

Not at all, it was the best start I could have had.

What did you take away from that first live experience?

It taught me to be brave and just do my thing, and not worry about what other DJs are doing. I put my identity in that party without even realising it, and although the music was clearly different, everything fell into place so well.

What’s the most memorable story you took away from that first ever gig?

The only bad thing was staying at the organiser’s house, a typical student place where nobody had washed up for weeks. He made us some food, a pile of chips with a can of beans chucked over the top, and then went on to apologise because there wasn’t any clean cutlery to use. We also went on to another party in the woods in a disused scout hut and the organiser was pretty sure we could go and play, but it didn’t happen. I remember a hippy outside with a Klix tea machine serving up mushroom tea! Not for me thanks.

FIVE TRACKS I PLAYED THAT FIRST NIGHT

DJ Nut Nut – The Rumble (Boom Shaka mix)

I actually remember that I opened the set with this one, the intro is a piece of art in itself. When it dropped the roof came off! I only knew ‘Production House’ as a label in the Hardcore era, this was the first time I’d heard something on the label that was true Jungle.

Engineers Without Fears – Spiritual Aura

This tune speaks for itself.. both sides of this record are dope and that’s why they’re both here. This is way before it became the classic we all know now.

Q Project – Champion Sound (Alliance remix)

This is another classic, but not from the time. This track is actually a brand new rework, but as you can imagine had a huge impact like the original.

Engineers Without Fears – Rhythm

The flip side to Spiritual Aura, which is a hard tune to beat as we know it now – as a classic, but again these were a couple of weeks old at the time. Huge record.

M-Beat – Surrender

This one used to go off everywhere.. I remember it being so fast at the time in comparison to the other tunes I played. Huge memories!