René Pawlowicz doesn’t belong to the techno universe that we know. He remains outside, in another parallel universe very similar to the one that we know, but in which aesthetics have been sublimated according to previously-known models. In this parallel universe, where Shed lives—or in “geek” language, “in a galaxy far, far away”—there are only a few other names, and all of them fall into the category of classics: innovators like Derrick May, as varied as the biggest names in the intelligent faction of the early 90’s English sound. Nothing is formulaic in this view of nonconformist electronic music. On the contrary, everything is compounded of passion and science (although he might deny it). Shed sounds like the last great heir and defender of a techno that only those who have studied its mysteries know how to make: it’s the sound of fiction, exploring infinites, with it’s roots in Carl Craig, B12, Drexciya, and Reload. Detroit-like in form, Warp-like in substance.
In the interview that follows, Shed tells us that he didn’t want to make another album like “Shedding the Past” ( Ostgut Ton, 2008), the LP debut where he opened himself up to a new audience. One which doesn’t follow vinyl releases, doesn’t consult material by and for DJ’s, and that knows nothing about the catalogues of labels like Subsolo –founded by Pawlowicz himself in the middle of the last decade– or Delsin or Styrax Leaves, but one which does go regularly to the club Berghain, which is where Shed DJs the most often and the best, protected by the uterine safety of his clear, brutal sound. “Shedding the Past” was a modern techno manual, with an irregular geometry, dense, removed from the clichés of minimal, with a hard, revival sound. It followed laws of its own, matured by experience and recognisable as belonging to a regulated, respectable tradition. “The Traveller” (Ostgut Ton, 2010) picks up where the previous CD left off, and opens itself to the memory of the past and the exploration of the uncertain. It’s an album in expansion, because the album is the universe. Slow, lumbering and atmospheric, it defies laws of physics like universal gravity (one floats, it’s a proven fact) and turns techno to listen to at home on its head, at the same time as dusting off forgotten ways of dancing in a club. Perhaps it’s for this reason that Shed is so sparing with his words. In these 47 minutes, he’s almost said it all already.
There was a time when you seemed enigmatic. Were you slightly shielding your identity (like with Redshape, some people know who he is and it’s not a secret, but it’s not widely public) or was it that we didn’t investigate enough?
I never had a plan to hide myself. It was no problem at all as it was clear who's behind the projects. I mean, Redshape, he’s an entertainer. He's playing with a mask and he wants to entertain people. I don't care about that. I just make music, music for DJs. No more, no less.
From the very beginning, with the first Subsolo releases you put out over half a decade ago, you’ve avoided the usual 4x4 pattern. The beat’s always broken or asymmetric. What took you to this kind of sound?
It's because I'm often bored of using straight drums. In broken music there is so much more space and groove. And it's better to dance to.
Some producers are a bit lost today for how to work. After discovering that going just digital wasn’t a good idea, and after discovering that just analogue equipment is expensive and might sound undesirably retro, some look for a hybrid set-up. What solutions have you found? Is the right set-up the only way to achieve “correct” music?
I don't think about it because I only want to make music. I don't care about this analogue / digital thing. In my studio there’s a mixture. When the music is good and sounds good, who cares about the technical background. I don't.
“Shedding The Past” was an incredibly pertinent title, putting together a lot of ideas developed in the past into a coherent form on record. “The Traveller” seems evident too, moving forward and exploring new areas. Is this a leap into the unknown? How much did you have the desire for discovery in mind with this album?
Yes, I wanted to go forward, and show up different skills and the full range of music I like. I don't know how it will be received or how people will react to it, but I was very sure what I didn't want to make: another straight techno album. The references to outer space might mask an astronomy fan (as some techno producers are). Are you into science?
Science wasn’t the reason. The title was just the name of a track but I thought it was also good enough to be the album’s title.
“44A (Hard Wax Forever!)” is dedicated to the Hard Wax record store in Berlin. What’s your first memory of walking up those stairs? Some find the first time shocking, like entering home and an alien construction at the same time.
I’ve known Hard Wax since ’92, when the store was in a different location to where it is today. It wasn't very easy as a young raver to get all the cool records. It was always kind of tricky getting some respect from the vendors!
How long have you been affiliated to Hard Wax, are you still working there? How much has being part of it modelled your spirit, taste, and musical and personal lives?
I quit the job in the store but I stay in contact. I have to, because Hard Wax had a big influence on me since as a record buyer. The way they manage the store, the way keep the spirit and interest for good music, I respect that. No big words: just quality, not quantity.
After the years of DJing, shopping (and selling), you must have acquired a big collection of records. Are you obsessed with completing label catalogues and full discographies, or do you actually own few vinyls and don’t bother about filling gaps on the shelves?
It's more of a mixture of the two. I try to find good old records of the early 90’s. And of course I want to hear new stuff. New stuff is harder to find than good old records. Unfortunately.
What have been the most shocking records you’ve discovered this year?
I've found a record label that I’ve bought every record from - almost. Check out Ramp Recordings.
When producing, how does having access to so much music affect the process of creating your own material?
It's easy. When you're listening to many records you know very fast if it’s good, if it works or if it's bad. There’s been lots of nostalgia in dance music in the last years (like the ongoing disco / space trend) that leaves little room for artists that want to push the sound. Are revivals absolutely necessary?
There is always the temptation to look back when you're bored of the present and you're not able to find anything new that does it for you. I think sometimes you need to know how older music works to find out something new. It’s easy to connect you with some sort of an ongoing Detroit techno revival, but aesthetically your music is more European –that Warp A.I. era, New Electronica, GPR, ART and Planet E licenses– than American, and more leftfield (as in Detroit Escalator Co., Sherard Ingram and other Drexciya-related periphery artists) than dancefloor oriented. Do you have a difficult relationship with the Detroit sound?
Detroit music was of course a big influence on me. But, as you’ve realized, I was always more into the "English" Detroit sound. Like Network or Warp or KMS. The early Detroit sound was influenced very much by music from, for example, Kraftwerk. I'm not so into that. I know it's actually impossible to not love Kraftwerk - but I don’t.
“Hello Bleep!” is like a shout out to early Warp and Network fans, then?
Yeah, for sure!
And are titles like “Can’t Feel It” or “Mayday” some kind of encoded messages for old school fans?
No. It's coincidence.
You’ve recently remixed dBridge, and Martyn has remixed you. You’ve played with Pinch and other dubstep guys. In the 90’s, techno and breakbeats, if you forget about some Aphex Twin or The Black Dog records, didn’t get along very well. But you put them together, as does a lot of techno now. What rewards do you find in hooking it up with the dubstep crowd (besides the Panamax project)?
I love the exchange between different music styles. It keeps things interesting, to watch various scenes develop concurrently and to “profit” off that in finding new ways to make music. Everybody benefits from the exchange I think.
You’ve used some aliases recently, like Wax and Equalized. Do you have future plans for them? I mean, do you still have things to say or have those side-projects been cast away now?
I don't know, we’ll see. There is no plan, as always…
Is separating the Shed work and those other aliases, the more track and dancefloor oriented ones, what allows you to have a more freeform arrangement for Shed ? Is there a direct link between these dynamics?
Actually, I've never really thought about that. I always make decisions very quickly. I think releasing records under different aliases is more of a game than a business for me. But it’s good to see it all works out well.
Working all day, producing, DJing, and traveling – there must be lots of time for music, but maybe little time for anything else. Are you 100% satisfied with your life, or is something lacking?
Since I can live on that, there is a lot freedom in my live. I'm 100 % satisfied with that. I keep it very easy. I don't play that much.
You play a lot in Berghain. Can you recall your most memorable night at the club?
The album release event for “Shedding The Past”, that was really good.
You’ve been called a purist, but your music doesn’t sound exactly purist and is not a fossilized sound. So, seriously, are you a purist?
No.* To whet your appetite for the album, if you haven’t heard it yet you can download the song “No Way” below, for one week.