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East of Eden

Shades of Rhythm

Article from The Mix, December 1994

At home with the dance act

Ever since 'Sounds Of Eden', Shades of Rhythm have been a dance act to pull the crowds. And their success is all the more remarkable for a provincial operation. Rob Green finds there's more to Peterborough than just shopping malls...

Like they say in desolate, windswept landscapes, "something wicked this way comes". And they don't come much wickeder than Fen boys Shades Of Rhythm. In fact I'd heard such fearsome tales of troubled times in 1993 that I hardly dared ask about them about the bizarre tales of religious sects, addiction, and alien kidnappings. Add to this their shabby treatment by ZTT Records, and this cannot have been a pleasant year for the 'Shady Boyz'.

Basically, there's three of them - Nick, Lanx and Rayan. They've been close friends since the beginning, so working together in the studio comes naturally.

"We'll just jam away until somebody comes up with something that makes all our ears prick up, and we'll start working on that", says Nick. "Then Rayan goes away and writes the lyrics".

The Shades have two tiers of working. They're constantly changing the tracks that they lay down on DAT, and keeping the previous version. If there's something really happening amongst the different versions, they'll all get together, throw in their own ideas and re-produce it. Any other tracks that are already on DAT, they'll release on white label and experiment in that way. "We get a reaction back from the white labels, and we know what sort of direction we're going in" says Lanx.

Nick and Lanx do most of the programming work in the studio at Nick's Mum's house. But Rayan and Lanx also have basic setups at home for cultivating ideas. Nick adds - "When we're going on live PAs, we'll listen to our stuff, and if one track stands out, we'll go back and work on that."

Nick & Lanx take such pains with their music that they don't see the point in additional remixing:

"I think it's a big farce really, for people who can't do it themselves. However, having said that, we got Jeremy Healy to remix our record this time!" laughs Nick. For him, remixes are more of a record company marketing tool than anything else.

"I think remixes are good for people who can't do it themselves. But really, it's more about getting a name to a record than giving it any different musical style, which I think is a bit sad really."

The great thing about DJ Jeremy Healy's remix of their last tune was that he loved their track anyway. It wasn't just a case of the Shades' record company approaching him.

"Healy was playing that record before we decided to remix it, so it was one of his favourite tracks anyway." says Lanx. "That's why it worked, because we were getting feedback that he was playing it."

Nick disagrees with tracks that have reams of remix credits. One of the problems is that if the record charts, and creates vast royalties, the remixer still only receives a fixed fee of three to five grand, and often, most of the work is his.

"There should be a new system really, because to me, a lot of remixers aren't really getting the royalties they deserve. In general, they're behind the track. That's part of the reason why I'm against the idea of DJs remixing, because it's doing ourselves down, in a way."

Shades of Rhythm were on Warner's ZTT label for about three years from 1991. Feeling messed around, they recently left the label and signed a new deal with a label called Public Demand, an offshoot of Labello Blanco. Nick explains:

"It's a really small label, but their heart's in it. To me that makes a difference. It doesn't matter how much money you're waving around or anything. If their heart's not in the music, it's just not worth it."

That was precisely the problem with ZTT. They had had previous success with 808 State, and were looking for an act to follow on from them. "They're not even into dance music", says Nick, "they're just into marketing whatever is trendy at the time. The rave scene was just starting, so they signed us for so many options. Really, after the first two we were just waiting to get off it. They're owned by Warner, so it's like being signed to a major. It's just pure money - it's a nightmare."

The boys would present ideas to them, only to have A&R people try to manipulate them and turn them into whatever was marketable at the time. Naturally, they became tired and disillusioned by the whole shebang, and resumed working on what they know best, which at the end of the day, is just good dance music.

Shades Of Rhythm have previously been labelled as a rave band. But what many people have failed to recognise is that the music they make, and always have been making, is basically house. "We're doing clubs now, and it's all the same music as when the rave scene started. It was all happy, uplifting pianos, and the tempo was much the same as it is today," says Nick, "but it's got a different name now. They killed off the rave scene and invented this new name, and it's the same music really."

About a year ago, Shades Of Rhythm were releasing somewhat below-par material, a phase Nick attributes to their disputes with ZTT:

"Because the scene was changing, we were playing about three times every weekend, all year round, to 500 to 3000 people, and you could see exactly what was happening on the dancefloor. Everybody was looking for a new way to go at the end of the rave era. We could see this, and we were experimenting with a few different tracks. We delivered a track called 'Fear Of The Future' to them, which was Euro style, like Jam and Spoon only more dancey. It had Rayan singing on the first part of the song, which made it pretty commercially viable anyway. ZTT listened to it and said 'Ooh, that's nice', but they wanted it tightened up a bit, with more lyrics, and we said no.

In the end they turned the track down. Then we had a follow up called 'Happy Feelings', and basically there were a few samples on there that they couldn't get clearance for. Right at the last minute, after they'd pressed 20,000 copies, they had to burn them all", explains Nick. "So by now, a year had gone by and we hadn't had a tune out. Our name sort of dwindled."

Sounds by Roland S220, D110 and Yamaha TX81Z - power by Alesis.

Indeed, 12 months is a long time in the fast moving world of the dance music scene. Part of their recovery process was the two independent singles they then released. "We were trying to find ourselves again, really, because we'd become so disillusioned with the record company and lost confidence in ourselves."

Now, however, they're back on the road after the success of their 'Wandering Dragon' EP. Distributing 500 of their own white labels worked the same magic as their Frequency LP five years ago.

"I really rate the Roland samplers, because you've got on-screen editing"

"I didn't think we'd re-create the same buzz, but for personal satisfaction, it's much better than three years with Warner Brothers", says Nick.

As flavour of the month on the rave scene, the period with ZTT started well. Later, the label wanted them to do radio mixes and as far as the Shades are concerned, it just didn't work.

"Dance music doesn't come across on the radio. It's like watching Top of the Pops with a dance band on. There's about three people who have ever pulled it off and the rest look absolutely crap."

In the age of CD-ROM, virtual reality and advanced laser shows, more and more dance and ambient acts, and even pop and rock acts are getting into visuals for their live shows. Orbital stunned the crowd at Glastonbury this year with their amazing effects, and in this way, technology seems to be redefining the meaning of live performance. Do Shades of Rhythm see themselves following this path?

"I really like the Future Sound of London, for example", says Nick, "but I don't think we could take visuals as far as they do. It fits in with their type of music. Really, our music wouldn't integrate with it."

For the time being, the guys are concentrating on the promotional tour for the 'My Love' single. When you're in and out of a club within an hour and a half, there isn't much time for setting up and soundchecks.

"We do a soundcheck at about 6 or 7 o'clock, make sure that's working OK, do three tracks and then we're out of there."

Since the authorities have killed off raves, the whole dance scene has been moving into the clubs. Due to expenses and overheads, the promoters don't have that much money left to pay out, and club owners don't put a premium on live PAs.

A mix of analogue and digital synths reside in this particular studio.

"The PAs are really limited in what they can do, because the promoters aren't paying the money. Only people like The Prodigy have the funds for these big visual link-ups. Really, you need a big, big fan base before you can start moving on to stuff like that."

It's been a long hard slog for Shades Of Rhythm to get this far. But buying single bits of gear, one by one, has meant they've got to know them inside-out. Nick and Lanx reminisce about the first keyboard they used, which was owned by their school:

"It had cardboard templates that you put over the knobs and set each one to a particular setting. Then you'd press one of the keys and hear a bird tweeting or something!"

Nick played drums at that time, and they played at school concerts, later moving on to DJing at youth clubs and the like. They soon started getting more interested in dance and rap culture.

"The first real bit of equipment was the Technics 1200s, really when I was 18 - over 10 years ago now. From there on, we got into the mixing side of things."

Their first proper machine was a Roland TR909, closely followed by a Juno 2 - their first MIDI keyboard. That was their first ever experience of MIDI. One day they plugged the 909 into the Juno 2 and used the 909 to trigger the notes on the Juno.

"It was such an atmosphere in this room at the time. It was playing the bass note and we were just freaking out over it. From then on, it was house. It's been a slow process over 10 years. We've never bought a vast amount all at once."

A later investment was a Roland JD800, which took them months to fathom. They were dumbstruck with its complexity, until 14 months later it gave up its secrets. "Suddenly we realised what a powerful machine it was, and how underrated too. The JD will become a classic synth, like the Jupiter 8".

Still working in Nick's mum's house, the three have found the need to expand their work space, obtain more outboard gear, and be less reliant on commercial studios. Desperate to get away from PWL studios, they've bought an ex-monastery for conversion into their own facility.

"To be honest, I'm not happy with their studio at all. It's very in-house and it can't cater for equipment going in."

Tascam M500 desk, with NS10s atop, is centrepiece of the Shades studio.

Amazingly enough, some of the mastering for 'Wandering Dragon' was done in the little studio at Nick's house. Another wonderful example of home recording was the first single they had out on ZTT, entitled 'The Exorcist'.

"We actually mastered it on a tape recorder. It was the only copy we had, and we couldn't re-create that sound again, because the power went off and we lost the sounds and the feeling of it." In the end they recorded the tape onto DAT, sent it off to the record company and no one said a word about it. It went on the CD and the album and it was all off a BASF tape!" (laughter).

"The JD will be like the Jupiter 8. A classic synth."

The boys would rather familiarise themselves with new gear in their own time at home, than walk into a fully-equipped studio and try to be creative. They've never been ones to go down the road of taking out a 15 grand loan for a load of equipment and thinking "I'll have a go at this".

The Shades have arranged their small studio with a digital synth corner and an analogue synth corner. Living in the analogue corner are the SH101, TB303 and TR909. You might expect that the 101 and 303 would be connected to a MIDI to CV converter, but this is not the case.

In the rack underneath is a modified rackmount 303 by Groove Electronics called the M303. It's a custom-made original and something of a rarity. It has MIDI in, CV gate out, so they can use it on the 101, but most importantly, it has Sync 24 output. For those not familiar with Sync 24, this was the old system used by Roland for sequencing. It enables you to send a clock from Cubase, and the M303 will send out old-style sync 24 to the TB303 to keep it in time with the sequencer. With this method, you can use the 303's internal sequencer, which is their favourite ingredient for slides and accents.

"Once you get used to programming the 303's sequencer, it's really good. Also, while it's in sync, if you send out a CV gate to the 101 inputs, you can control the sounds in the 101 from the sequencer, allowing the same slides and accents on the 101.

When they bought their Roland S330 sampler they decided to sample all the sounds from the 909, sell it and buy a TX81Z. Listening to the samples afterwards, they realised their mistake.

"Once you sample the sounds, it's not the same as the real thing. The 909's got such warmth when you're playing the sounds. One of my friends, Mark has a 909 with a blown resistor, and all the hi-hats and snares have a new sound to them. It sounds quite good, there's some totally original sounds there. I talked him out of fixing it."

Of course, the 303 was designed for the guitar enthusiast who wants a little bass to his tune. Shades of Rhythm bought theirs from a guitar shop for £30 several years ago. Again, they made the mistake of selling it, but fortuitously bought another one just before the prices went up. Nick won't be making the same mistake again.

They really rate the Juno 2. It was their first synth. and to this day is one of their favourites. One of the first analogue MIDI synths ever made, it has a beautiful, warm analogue sound, and the strings are excellent. One of the sounds on the Juno 2 was that synth sound in the infamous 'Charly" by the Prodigy.

The latest digital effects share rack space with an old AKG BX5

"It's a preset as well!" said Nick. "Joey Beltram used it first, and Liam obviously heard it and liked it."

In analogue corner, below the analogue units are the Roland samplers in the rack.

"The only reason we use the S220 now is that we've got an old sample library. They're quickdisk, and we've got an S10 as well, so any samples we can load up pretty quickly."

The S330 was the next step from these two, and then the S750. The Shades have always stuck to Roland samplers.

"I really rate the Roland, because you've got on-screen editing. You can operate everything with the mouse on the screen. I control the S750 and 330 from these two screens, which is great because you literally don't have to touch the sampler."

I asked Lanx about his tips for bass sounds, but instead he gives us a little insight into his philosophy on timbre.

"There's a lot of hype that goes round about pieces of equipment and people get blinkered. They think 'If I want to do basslines or a piece of acid, I need a 303.' That's just not true, because you can create a bassline on practically anything. We use sub-bass on the DX27 which is exactly the same as the TX81Z. For instance, the sound that we used on 'Exorcist', a real grinding acid sound, came from the TX81Z."

Wise words from the 'Shady Boyz'. What with all the trouble they experienced in 1993, it's hard to believe they've managed to keep their heads above water. But they've done more than that. By self production and their own brand of promotion, they're causing a stir on the scene all over again. Now at number two in the dance charts, who knows what will happen.

Of course time has passed, and they're more clued up with the business. They've learned from their mistakes and will no longer tolerate having their style tampered with for dodgy radio mixes and Top of the Pops. In my view, real success and satisfaction will come to those who aren't only out to make a million, and concentrate on their own discerning style. Artists with that kind of self-discipline always outlive the pop tarts.


A return to form for S.O.R., 'Pure Energy' is also a return to their roots tor the trio, with a more solid, techno feel. Listen to this exclusive remix for The Mix on track 5

- Shades of Rhythm: Pure Energy

Shady Grooves

1985 'The Drums Are Done' (White) 12"
1987 'Just Feel It' (Beatbox) 10"
1989 'Frequency' S/O/R LP
1990 'Fenland Bass' S/O/R EP
1991 'Exorcist' (Warner) 12"
1991 'Homicide' (Warner) 12"
1991 'Sweet Sensation' (Warner) 12"
1991 'Sound Of Eden' (Warner) 12"
1991 'Extacy' (Warner) 12"
1991 'Shades' (Warner) LP
1991 'Armageddon' (Warner) 12"
1991 'Everybody' (Warner) 12"
1992 'Fear Of The Future' Unreleased 12"
1992 'Happy Feelings' Unreleased EP
1992 'Getting Away' (Warner) 12"
1994 'Bloodshot' S/O/R (White) EP
1994 'Hush Hush' S/O/R (White) EP
1994 'Wandering Dragon' S/O/R - PWL EP
1994 'Peace Sign' (Labello Blanco) 12"
1994 'My Love' (Public Demand)
Coming Soon

Laboratoire Shady

Tascam M3500 Mixer
Yamaha NS10s
Alesis 2630 Compressors x2
Alesis Quadraverb
Alesis Midiverb x2
Alesis Microverb
Aphex Aural Exciter
JBL TLX12 Speakers
JBL Control 1 SB-1 (Sub Bass Unit)
Fostex R8 Multitrack
Alesis RA100 amp
Yamaha DTR DATs x2
Casio DA-R100 DAT
SCMS Stripper Unit (Thatched Cottage)
Roland S750
Roland S330 sampler
Roland S220 sampler
Roland S10 sampler
Philips RGB Monitors x2
Atari 1040 STE 3 Meg + Monitor
Cubase V.3.0
M 303 + Rackmount (Groove Electronics)
Roland TB303
Roland SH101
Roland TR 909
Roland Juno 2
Roland JD800
Korg 01/W
Yamaha DX27
Yamaha TX81Z
Roland D110
DAC R4000 Hard Drive

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Publisher: The Mix - Music Maker Publications (UK), Future Publishing.

The current copyright owner/s of this content may differ from the originally published copyright notice.
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The Mix - Dec 1994

Donated by: Colin Potter

Coverdisc: Mike Gorman

In Session

Re:Mix #6 Tracklisting:

05 Shades of Rhythm: Pure Energy

This disk has been archived in full and disk images and further downloads are available at - Re:Mix #6.

Interview by Rob Green

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> Kracked Plastik

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