Swiss producer spreads his wings on album #2
Recently landed in stores is Transition, the second album from Swiss producer Bobby Shann.
Following on from last year's more experimental Auto-Reflexion, Transition sees the Zurich native focusing more squarely on the dancefloor and developing a style of his own, one that's rooted in techno, but that draws in influences, too, from house, electro and disco – as well as from Shann's first love, hip-hop.
From electro-infused opener Mind Control to eyes-down closer Frame Of Mind, via the funkified percussion of No Rulez, the big-room tech-house of Jump Up And Down and a cheeky Janet Jackson sample on Principles, Transitions is an album that wears its dancefloor intentions proudly on its sleeve – and, impressively, it's an entirely DIY affair to boot.
With tracks from the album already picking up support from the likes of Danny Howard and Joseph Capriati, we reached out to Bobby to find out more…
To start with, can you tell us a bit about your musical background? I gather you started out as a hip-hop producer, so how did you get from there to making house and techno?
"I was inspired early on by the classic artists my parents used to play around the house. Over time I became more interested in music, and I was also able to understand the culture of music and how it was created. I was so influenced by grooves – like Latin grooves and percussion, and especially disco music.
"One day I was sitting in the living room at the age of 12 or 13, watching MTV and seeing these people dancing and doing stuff on the ground with these breakbeats accompanied by some electronic sound. This hit me so hard – I tried this out at home and I was so fascinated that I actually started breakdancing for a couple of years. While being in that scene I started producing my own breakbeats and so I became a beatmaker first without thinking about any genre.
"In that period, at the age of 18/19, I also discovered the house and techno scene, where I felt very comfortable and so inspired by the grooves and rhythm. I was extremely fascinated by the scene – it always felt good at a show and even the crowd was so nice to meet. One of my friends always said: 'Man you should become an electro DJ! It’s your scene, believe that." I didn’t take that seriously at the time because I was too involved in the hip-hop scene. I also remember people I knew criticised me, saying, "You’re doing hip-hop, so what are you doing in fucked-up clubs like that?" and stuff… but you’ll find those exact same people there today! I didn’t care, though – in my mind I only had music, doesn’t matter what music it is. I just was a big fan of making creating music all day long.
"By this time I wasn't really feeling the hip-hop scene here in Switzerland. So I stopped doing music for a while, which gave me time to realise a few things. It was hard for me not doing music anymore. Some of my friends always had these private parties where they had their own DJs playing house music all night long, and people always tried to convince me to DJ there. Then all of a sudden I had this flashback to when my good friend told me I should become an electronic DJ! Now I began to realise things, and that this could be the chance to start my new journey.
"And so I did. I changed my whole brand and became Bobby Shann! But the mentality remained the same, inside I‘m still hip-hop, and this is also what you can hear in my productions. And that‘s where my mindset comes from – today I can say that it’s the best decision I ever made, because with my hip-hop mentality and flexibility of electronic music I finally can express my creativity in a way I’m comfortable with."
I read a quote where you said the scene in your native Zurich is "a bit restrictive" – can you explain a little more about that?
"Oh yeah, I mean the first time I visited a club in this environment was at the age of 18/19 and I can still remember how the events and parties were back then. Of course that’s not how it is today.
"They still have good spots and events, but nowadays it‘s become more of a 'trendy' thing to be part of the scene. After playing at some spots here, I noticed that I really don’t fit in with my sound – other people also noticed that when I play it sounds completely different to what they usually hear. And that’s exactly the point – I will never change the way I play or how I represent my brand just to have more gigs here. That‘s the issue. I am what I am and I have to stay true to what I want to play."
We're told the Transitions album is an entirely DIY project… are there no collaborators involved at all, either on the musical or the production/engineering side?
"No, I did everything myself and still do for all my projects. From the songwriting, production and A&R, and during the process of making all this music I also learned how to do the engineering part by myself."
There's a strong sense of rhythm on Transitions – am I right in guessing you're the kind of producer that usually starts with a beat, rather than a melody?
"Yes, well guessed! Like I mentioned before, percussions, rhythm has always been in my blood and that’s why, before anything else, the first thing that has to be on-point are the drums. Some of my drum arrangements contain 20 tracks on their own – the drums are the key part of what makes a track groove or not.
That said, there's no shortage of melodies or vocals either… is that something that's missing from contemporary tech-house and techno, do you think?
"Well, I like to work with melodies or vocals, but it really depends on the project I‘m working on. For Transition I decided to make it sound more straight and legible for clubs, which means it has to be groovy and techy and also take on some urban influences.
"Whether this is missing from the scene in general I couldn’t say – I think the sound should be created by an artist in a way that feels right to them. I can’t say if it is wrong or false, but of course there aren't as many tracks like this around."
According to the hype sheet, the album's semi-biographical, with each track representing a different mindset or phase of your life. Can you give us some specific instances of that?
"Exactly, it takes this direction more or less. Frame Of Mind, for example, the was the first single which I also shot a video for – it explains the confrontation we have sometimes with ourselves to make the right decision. And this is exactly what I had to confront with myself going this or that direction – what am I? What do I represent?
"My music is my product, but I’m not only a DJ – I‘m an artist in a wider sense, which means I want to expand with my music and work with different genres too. Listen to my latest remix that I did for Richie Nuzz‘ Bad Habits to get an example of what I mean.
The album comes on your own Shann Music label… was it important to you for this to be a fully independent project? Would you like to have more tracks signed to other labels, or will you stay with Shann Music going forward?
"First of all, for me it is important that I can release as much as I want and through my own label, I‘m able to do that when I want and on my own terms. I once got asked why I made an album because it’s not usual in electronic music. For me, it doesn’t matter what genre it is – as an artist it‘s important to generate output to have a full catalogue you can always present. Music is the way you market your brand and that‘s why it is important to have releases, and also to build your momentum through your content and collaborations with other artists, fashion or whatever.
"But yeah, I’m always open-minded for collaborations like I said. Even If it‘s a release by another label, why not. It’s always a good chance to get heard by other important people. It’s all about networking, after all."
Let's talk about your DJing… any plans to visit the UK any time soon?
"Well, my plans are to make footprints worldwide and of course I would love to visit the UK again. I really love the venues and the music scene. For Europe, the UK is the right market for my music."
Finally, what else is going on for you right now that iDJ readers need to know about?
"I still have so much music and collabs coming – I can’t get enough. So there is a lot to expect.
"I had a release party for the album last month in Zurich and I had my good homie Blas Cordero from Cuttin Headz playing. We played the first time B2B without knowing each other and it went so crazy that afterwards we decided to make an EP. This EP will be released on 6 December and it’s called B2B, not only because of the B2B we did, but also because of our names Blas and Bobby.
"It's going to be an exciting journey. Thanks to the iDJ team for having me!
Words: Russell Deeks
Transitions is out now on Shann Music