A couple of weeks ago Berlin resident James Shaw, better known by his alias Sigha, dropped by the EB office.
His latest album Living With Ghosts, released through Scuba’s Hotflush imprint, had caught our attention with its pulsating, granite-cold rumination on techno purism with tracks like “Puritan” “Dressing for Pleasure and “Scene Couple” capturing a particularly British sternness: this is music made for massive spaces, for bodies slick in chemical sweat, for six feet-thick concrete walls and Monday mornings that could be Saturday nights or Sunday afternoons. There has been, of course, a recent appetite for techno of a more pummeling stripe, with the continued influence of Regis’ bruised limbed industrialism (and, of course, the return of British Murder Boys) and Blawan’s subterranean schlock gaining traction. Living With Ghosts, despite its citations of techno past, feels, in its mood, distinctly contemporary. We wanted to find out more, so when we invited James to come by to do an interview we decided to add a twist: ever-inspired by visual art he suggested he would bring some pictures of his favorite pieces with him. The only brief we set was that they must have some resonance for him and his own art. The hope was that by appealing to a more personal narrative we might trigger discussion on subjects that you never expected to broach and in turn gain greater insight than a usual Q&A session might usually allow. We hope you agree that it was a successful experiment.
You’re from south London originally. Right now there seems to have been this swing towards south, in terms of a party scene.
99 percent of my friends when I left were living in North London and were all, “Yeah, I don’t wanna go south of the river” and now everyone’s relocating to Peckham. It’s the new East London.
What brought you to Berlin?
The thing that first brought me here was definitely music; I was coming out to play and to hear techno, but the more time I spent here the more I started to realize how cheap it is compared to London. There you’re struggling if you’re an artist, but here it’s possible to really live. Since then I’ve started to fall in love with the city. Since I’ve moved here, I’ve also thought of living in different cities as well for short periods of time—taking the opportunity to soak up different atmospheres that you might not normally see when you just come to a place, play a show and leave. Berlin is the first city I’ve lived in abroad, and it’s opened my eyes to that massively.
Last night someone asked me what was going on in the Berlin scene, a question that I actually found quite difficult to answer. Is there a Berlin sound anymore?
Everyone’s going to have a different idea of what a certain place sounds like. Maybe my idea of it is ignorant; I’ve only been here a year, but it seems to me that if you’re looking at the broader electronic landscape in Berlin, techno and house still have a massive stranglehold on the city. I can only compare it to London, where people are so obsessed (consciously or unconsciously) with newness, freshness. That has positives and negatives, of course. It means that some scenes never get a change to grow or develop in a way that would allow them to reach their potential. Suddenly, all the followers disappear because the sound or scene isn’t hip anymore, and it collapses. On the other hand, it’s so inspiring creatively. You get something like dubstep, which has completely changed the musical landscape.
You started out making dubstep, but you’ve moved into the realms of almost purist techno with your new album Ghosts. How do you feel about dubstep, about what happened to it?
For me, the early wave of dubstep, the sounds that were just emerging out of the collapsing garage scene, the sort of sparse halfstep sound was what drew me in. In a way that’s also what attracted me to techno. Producers were doing so much with so few elements. Every week I’d be down at Plastic People and, for me, that time was so exciting. It was this amalgamation of sounds I loved: huge amounts of bass, sparseness, it was hypnotic… it was like a drug, you’d get drawn into this deep sound in a black room, losing yourself to it. But quite quickly, and I suppose this was when the genre was still developing and people were finding their feet, it grew in popularity and started to follow certain rules and patterns. Unfortunately this kind of energy that had drawn me to it started to disappear.
Maybe this is just me, but I feel like people started to lose interest in that halfstep sound when the smoking ban hit. I’ve always wondered how much of an impact not being able to smoke weed in clubs anymore had on people not wanting to listen to slow, spacious music. Suddenly, the energy changed, the whole wobble thing picked up and the mid-range vibe came in.
And what about your own development?
It was a natural progression, really. Even around the first time Scuba hit me up, and I sent him the first load of tracks that resulted in the first EP, I was more interested in playing and writing techno than I was dubstep. At times it’s been frustrating because for a long time I’ve played what I would call purist techno, but people I guess have had this perception of me as something different. Even after the first few Hotflush releases, there were a couple of EPs like Rawww, which was dubby kind of house, and then Shake. Those two EPs I actually made after a trip to Berlin to see Cassie play in Panorama Bar and losing my shit at ten in the morning.
How did you first get into electronic music?
My first electronic epiphany came when I was wandering into a warehouse squat party and just hearing techno blasting in this massive room. I was 16 at the time and had never heard club music in a club environment. I’d played in bands and was studying guitar, and that was what I was into then: more traditional music, however abstract you want to consider it. I’d listened to some Warp records and such, but I had a bit of a low opinion on club music. I remember hearing the cool crew on the bus playing their garage mixtapes and thinking, “I just wanna hear some Nirvana.”
But when I stumbled into this party—I had just come to pick a friend up—it just blew my mind. I’d never heard that music in the right environment. It totally changed the way I thought about electronic music. I started hanging out with more producers than guitarists, and I was picking up bits and bobs from different people. My knowledge of electronic music was next to nothing, and suddenly this whole vast sea of unknown sounds was opened up to me. When I started making sounds it was honestly the result of taking too many drugs and the result of that was some very strange music.
In what way?
I wanted to make music not for parties, but for after-parties—things that would mess with people’s heads, basically. That was my logic.
Art is an important influence within your work and the first picture you’ve chosen is a very familiar one.
Sir John Everett Millais, Ophelia
This, obviously, is Ophelia by Sir John Everett Millais which is one of my favorite pictures ever. Maybe it’s a bit weird because it’s not the sort of image you’d ascribe to techno, but I just think it’s so lovely. I’m a massive fan of pre-Raphaelite art, and this is the painting that started that. The story of her singing while she’s drowning, and her expression while it happens has such a melancholic beauty to it.
Do you have a tendency toward melancholic impulses in your work?
Massively. I don’t know if it’s a good thing or what it says about my psyche, but I tend to dwell on things a lot. I’m a solitary person and I spend a lot of time thinking heavily on things. I guess my way of getting it out is in music and writing. There’s something i just find incredibly attractive and appealing about this beautiful sadness.
This is a picture of a sculpture by Cornelia Parker called Mass (Colder Darker Matter)and it was nominated for the Turner Prize. I remember going to see the Turner Awards with my mom in 1997, and she was always really into art and galleries—that’s where I get my obsession. This piece has resonated and stuck with me. A church in Texas was struck by lightning, and Parker collected the charred wood and suspended the pieces in a way that looked like an exploding cube. It took up this whole room in the Tate, and the negative space between the charred wood… the impact was incredible.
Next, this a still from Kenneth Anger’s Scorpio Rising. Anyone following me on Twitter will recognize it as my default pic. I’m just a big fan, basically, and I think this photo is such an incredible capture of male strength and beauty. So I hijacked it for my Twitter profile.
I’ve always been intrigued by that version of masculinity fetishized in leather boy culture.
I think when you’re not involved with a way of life that’s sufficiently different from your own, it makes the fascination toward it even stronger.
This is perhaps the most striking, unsettling image.
This is by David Noonan, a multimedia artist who works with prints and embroidery. I stumbled across him last year at the Great British Art Show last year. There were a couple huge, grayscale and sepia embroideries hanging there and they were incredible. I think he sources images from all over, film, photography, anywhere he can find and just makes this surreal pieces. I find them very evocative.
The final picture I’ve chosen is Kohei Yoshiyuki’s Untitled, Plate 18 by Japanese photographer Kohei Yoshiyuki, who in 1980 released this book called Dokyumento: Kōen (Document: Park). There was this park in central Tokyo that people would go to at night and just hook up, and he documented this scene. And it wouldn’t be just couples; there’d be three or four people sometimes, or people actively standing there and getting off on watching others, and basically he just immersed himself in this culture. I’m fascinated by how people can just let go, not worry about the judgments of others. I’m also interested in the work of Miroslav Tichý, who was a Czech photographer and a real voyeur—if he was taking the portraits he did today, I reckon he’d be locked up. He basically went around with a homemade camera and took pictures of women when they didn’t know he was looking. He’s now become an incredibly influential photographer. I love the voyeuristic attitude of the pictures but also the composition, the untouched rawness of the shots due to the nature of them and the rough equipment he was using as well as intentional processing mistakes meant to dirty it up further. He once said, “If you want to be famous, you must do something worse than anybody in the entire world.” And it worked for him.
Your last choice is a video.
This is a collaboration between Gareth Pugh and Nick Knight. It was also used for the imagery for a feature that Dazed & Confused did on Pugh—who I absolutely love. In a kind of similar way to art, fashion is influential to me. Not all of it, but someone like Pugh… The clothes he makes and the ways in which he showcases them are amazing. He has this vision of a universe, and he creates it. ~
Hotflush Recordings released Sigha’s Living With Ghosts on November 19th, 2012.
Every time we hear the phrase “Don’t judge a book by its cover” we cringe. Though well-meaning, as an idiom it stopped making sense when most books (and people) ceased to be covered by whatever old piece of brown sacking happened to be laying outside the village weaver’s hut. Of course you can judge something by surface appearance. That’s why we have graphic designers. Rarely do people have time to read a book before purchasing to determine the contents; in the same way, who has the chance to read a person before having any thoughts on the subject? True, the contents are the most important things, but what makes you discover those contents in the first place? Your eyes; your sense of aesthetics. A good cover speaks volumes, and The Book’s Cover gives voice to those who wear theirs well.
Since finding Dirtyflaws early last year, it has remained one of the most inspirational style blogs we know—and one of the few we visit on a daily basis. Through owner Nikki Moose, we’ve discovered beautiful independent labels like Sisters of The Black Moon, InAisce, and Bond, as well as a plethora of inspirational imagery. Moose’s style is, of course, impeccable: black is the base, accented with silver, gray and white. And as for her stunning tattoos? “I’ve been getting tattooed for the last ten years by some of the raddest artists: Eric Eaton, Maxime Buechi, and Robert BonHomme. I feel really fortunate to have those dudes do my favorites pieces, including the large vulture head on my left outer thigh, the “infamous” Gareth Pugh sketch (a silhouette from his Spring ’07 collection) on my inside left arm, and last but certainly not least that mother of a skull/geometry piece taking up 80% of my right leg.” Not to mention she lives with one of the sweetest little beasts on blogland.
What’s Nikki’s ideal cover? Let’s find out.
1. Rick Owens Hun – Leather & Fisher Fur Coat
2. Tom Ford Sunglasses
“I’ve always liked the style of the cat eye and rarely see a thin frame that pulls it off. These look both sultry and slick.”
3. Gareth Pugh Mongolian & Fur Leather Gloves
“Two reasons. One: they are Gareth Pugh. Two: Mongolian and leather combo heaven. Although I can promise you if I lost one of these I wouldn’t hesitate to just wear one.”
4. Sara Samoiloff Sterling Silver Rings
“Sara Samoiloff jewelry is pretty much all on my skin: eight holes in my ears and they all contain her silver pieces, three or four necklaces I hang from my neck and now I am just working on getting my ring collection in order .”
5. Isabel Marant Leather Jenny Boots
“I own the Jennys in taupe and I love them – throw ’em on and you’re out. If I have known that leather was in the works I probably would have waited, but oh well – guess I gotta get these guys so my taupe ones have a friend in the closet!”
6. Number Nine Python Bag
“I’ve been obsessed with this bag since I spotted it last week (I know, one week and I’m already losing my shit over something I really don’t need) – you could look like absolute shit, but if you have this python tote in hand you’re going to rule the streets.”
7. The Row Moto Stretch Leather Skinny Pants
“Leather Moto pants? Really?? FUCK yes.”
8. Ann Demeulemeester Asymmetrical Drape Top
“Tried to channel that inner lady in me with this Ann D top. Her pieces are always so beautiful, and a little white with an all-black wardrobe really breaks everything up.”
You can’t throw a stone in Sweden these days without hitting an avant-pop chanteuse. Not that you’d want to throw one at Karin Park. Her latest release, Highwire Poetry, proudly takes its place at the forefront of the country’s biggest cultural export boom since chocolate covered Surströmming. Bowie’s a fan. She’ll also be joining the Brandt Bauer Frick Ensemble and Fil Lavin in Montenegro this weekend for a special EB-presented show.
1 memorable line in a film or song:
“I don’t give a damn what men find attractive. It’s unfortunate what we find pleasing to the touch and pleasing to the eye is seldom the same.” – Fabienne, Pulp Fiction
2 decisions I regret:
I don’t regret decisions. I just deal with them. It’s part of my survival instinct, for better or worse.
3 people that should collaborate:
Vladimir Putin, Lydia Lunch and Eddie Izzard… in a musical. That would be one hell of a show. All three fascinate me in different ways, and I truly believe they have the potential to bring out the best in each other.
4 things I haven’t done yet:
Made friends with Dave Gahan and Martin Gore.
Been to Istanbul.
Collaborated with Gareth Pugh.
5 things I used to believe:
There’s really only one important one: That grown-ups knew better.
6 hours ago…
I tried to raise a flagpole in my dad’s garden. After near death, we conceded failure.
After 7 p.m.
I’ll be going for a bath in a big outdoor tub even if it’s fucking freezing outside. The water’s hot, around forty-one degrees Celsius. It’s Sunday, a good Sunday. And I just got home from a two-day studio session in Stockholm.
8 albums everyone should own:
Keith Jarrett – The Köln Concert (ECM)
Tricky – Maxinquaye (Island)
Burial – Untrue (Hyperdub)
Arne Nordheim – The Tempest (Aurora Records)
Scott Walker – Tilt (Fontana)
Whitney Houston – Whitney (Arista)
Fad Gadget – Under the Flag (Mute)
Flaming Lips – The Soft Bulletin (Warner Bros.)
My 9 lives …
Cats have nine lives; I have as many as I have twangs in my throat.
Wouldn’t touch it with a ten-foot pole
True! I prefer touching it with my hands and my body.
When it comes to dream-shopping, few stores offer the wide range of fantasies that Layers London affords. Created by Keven McDermott and Cheng Qu, the concept store stocks not only bigger names like Rad Hourani and Gareth Pugh, but also up-and-coming designers. The selection is curated perfectly; while there’s plenty of variance in styles, everything feels like it fits side by side. The prices are such that you won’t be stocking your wardrobe here exclusively, but you can easily find a dozen needful things that will make you set aside your extra cash for. Here’s a few of our top picks that will help make your AW wardrobe something truly special.
Normally people talk tops before anything, right? But sadly you generally can’t show your bare butt+balls in public, so let’s cover that first. Lately I find myself eschewing the skinny jean in favor of slightly more voluminous pants. These slouch-tucked trousers from Forme D’Expression are technically womenswear, but nix the suspenders and they totally work as unisex. Clean, lovely and extremely comfortable. The double layer long skirt from Damir Doma is equally stunning. Doma’s blend of futuristic and traditional world influence creates something uniquely timeless.
I fell in love with this knitted top from Individual Sentiments the first time I touched it. Immensely comfortable, the slightly extended arms add a level of snug coverage that makes this one of my favorite pieces of cold-weather clothing. Ma_Julius‘ wire-neck blouson is equally cozy, and the shock of white adds a nice contrast to the normal darker tones of cold-weather clothing.
I’m a shoe whore. If I could, I’d wear a new pair every day. But since I’m just a writer, I have to make do with the occasional splurge. I’ve been lusting over the Damir Doma creepers for months now, and they still haven’t made them in dude sizes. As a consolation prize, however, you can pick up some beautiful horse leather creeper boots that will immediately become the coolest thing you own. For the girls, you can still get the normal creepers (you jerks) or the pony skin versions here. For something so sleek and sexy your junk will tingle, these unisex heeled boots from Gareth Pugh are the perfect choice. But if I had to pick any one thing from Layers London to shove my weird feet into, it would be the high tops by Julius. With beautiful criss-crossing straps and a zipper on the back to accommodate the lazy (hello there) these are perfect for high-class casual everydaywear.
Ma+‘s box hat is a beautiful way to keep your head warm and handsome, as is the Serien Umerica hat with its buckled strap running down the back. For a sable-chic alternative to purses or wallets, Gareth Pugh combines both as a necklace-bag that’s almost too pretty to stretch out with nonsense like money and credit cards.
Neither you nor I are probably going to own even 1/3 of this lovely stuff anytime soon, but there’s surely one or two things at Layers London that you’ll fall in love with and say, ‘I need this in my life.’ Your bank account may not thank you, but your body will.