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March 29, 2004 | by  | in Features |
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Shapshifter: Drum ‘n’ Basserific

Shapeshifter play the goddamn fine music they do, because they wanted to “Fuck off the tutors” at the Jazz School in Christchurch where the initial four of them were studying. If only hitting on a good thing, such as Shapeshifter, was as easy as that in tutorials here.

Shapeshifter is Devin Abrams (keyboards, saxophone), Redford Grennell (drums), Nick Robinson (bass, keyboards), Sam Trevethick (keyboards, guitar, percussion) and new recruit Paora Apera (vocalist, AKA P Digiss). They came together to play a totally electronic music, but with organic instruments, so think live band, but Drum ‘n’ Bass sound. They are Bnet darlings, and I was lucky enough to have a Shapeshifter Saturday on the 20th, when they played Welly as part of their national tour, promoting their wicked new album, Riddum Wise LP. Currently living in Melbourne, but ex-Christchurch darlings, I caught up with Trevethick to learn a bit more about what could arguably be New Zealand’s best Drum and Bass group.

Christchurch is known in some circles as a bit of a New Zealand Drum and Bass mecca, particularly when Shapeshifter were still there. Trevethick’s theory? ”It’s a dark cold boring city in the winter, so there ain’t much to do except get funky on the floor”. Okay, so it wasn’t that cold in Sub Nine when they played here last, but there was definitely a whole heap of dancing going on. Their latest album, and in turn their live set seems a whole lot groovier than the 2002 release Realtime. Although this wasn’t a specific thing, it is, says Trevethick, a move to the next step, which has included the addition of vocalist P Digiss to the full time band roster. Trevethick goes further: “Paora has taken our live show to the next level. When we started jammin’ with him again on the Salmonella tour in Oz last year, we all knew we would evolve immensely as a group. Lyrical communication with the audience was something we hadn’t really explored much. P’s message is the bomb!” Dubious as I was about this addition, I have to say I was made to eat my words after seeing P Digiss in action; he rocks. It will be interesting to see what direction the band takes with him when it comes to recording the next album – will he be on every track? “Maybe. We are still changing, but there are some tracks that P knows to sit out on. Every element must be used in moderation”.

When they recorded this last album, P Digiss was only brought in to record that last track, so you can hear New Zealand’s vocalists of the moment, Ladi6 and Dallas (yep, the Fat Freddy’s one) on tracks ‘When I Return’ and ‘Long White Cloud’ respectively. It sounds as though working with Dallas was a bit of a treat for the band, as Welly’s very own Fat Freddy’s drop are an inspiration to them. In fact, Welly as a whole gets a big nod. Trevethick says “Honestly, Welly is my fave city in NZ. It is a really vibrant and interesting city with no ‘wank’ factor. The arts seem to be supported and encouraged well, and there are some great people doin’ great things. Don’t get me started on the music scene here! I wish i could see Fat Freddy’s as much as you guys!”. And I didn’t even have to prod him to say that… aw shucks. We don’t know how lucky we are, by the sounds of it.

The latest album, Riddum Wise, was recorded at the band’s Melbourne home studio, where they have been based for the past two years, on a “pretty basic” set up: a decent computer, good monitor and a good mic. Not only was the album recorded by the band, but released on their new label. This came about after an exhaustive effort trying to get a major label on board (rumour has it, it was EMI): “Negotiations took ages and were very expensive in lawyer’s fees. It’s real easy to get dicked, especially at the moment when they’re all freakin’ out about the decline in music sales worldwide, due to the net and piracy. It’s the artists that they come down on. It took us a while to realise that, but as soon as that happened it was a reasonably smooth process setting up Truetone”. Kudos goes to their distributor Rhythmmethod and their kick ass NZ manager, ex bFM marketing manager Charlotte Ryan for making this so easy for them. And send them in your demos guys, coz they’re looking to release other people’s stuff too!
So by the sounds of it, it hasn’t been as hard a slog as other New Zealand bands have experienced over there, but there is still no place like home. What does Trevethick miss about this great wee place? “The music, the land, the culture, the people, my girl! Australia can be very redneck at times. Be proud of your culture people!” Although they were relative unknowns when they first made the move, the crowd response has been encouraging. “Even though the dingoes don’t have too many clues about drum and bass, we still have a lot of respect for them, because they go crazy and have a wicked time without scratching their heads too much. NZ is more used to our sound and live show, so we try harder to try new things and take it to the highest level we can, coz if we don’t live up to peeps expectations, they can be disappointed.” Judging from the crowd reaction at Sub Nine, they have nothing to worry about.

Shapeshifter, like all good bands, are looking to conquer the world, most likely Europe. But for now, a cuppa tea will do. Look out for their latest album, Riddum Wise LP, in all decent record stores now, and future releases from Trevethick’s side project Sambora, and Abrams’s established Pacific Heights. And with that home studio, dare I say the boys are probably hard at work on another gem of a release from Shapeshifter. Mmm. They are basserific.

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