Tech House Sensation Shonky Talks Math, Mind Expansion, and His New Label

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DJ-producer Shonky might have been the next great mathematical genius and invented the time machine or something. But instead, he followed his musical passion.

Since landing on the EDM scene with a big bang in the late '00s, the Parisian prodigy has been blowing minds and jacking bodies across the globe with his singular brand of deep, twisted future funk. And he shows no signs of slowing down.

We caught up with Shonky in advance of his Thursday night performance with LINK at the Electric Pickle to talk math, mind expansion, and his new projects.

Crossfade: Were you exposed to much electronic dance music growing up in Paris? What did you grow up listening to and how did you first get drawn to EDM?

Shonky: There was a time my best friend's brother was buying all the compilations made by Radio Nova, one of the main electronic and underground radios in Paris alongside Radio FG. Regularly they were releasing compilations including mainly some electronic music. My first real experience came when I was 15. Some friends and I decided to go out in a rave party. It was fucking crazy and since then I started to party all the time. Following that, I began hanging around in Paris at the coolest parties and quickly I heard about the Batofar afterparty. Everybody in the underground was speaking about this venue, so different from any others in Paris. Therefore I went there, and it was incredible. First, the sound system was new and the way it sounded was so weird but so interesting. Second, I met most  of the Freak n' Chic crew members there. What else... the energy was incredible and Dan Ghenacia was rocking at the decks. Besides electronic music, I was listening a lot of funk and soul music like Sade, George Clinton or Prince, to name a few.

When did you first start producing and how did you go about getting your first release out?

I started with a sampler and that classic TB303. That's all I could afford. But at this time, I was 16, I wouldn't say I was starting producing, but more getting familiar with the machine and the process. I really started producing in a proper way in 1999, helped by a friend of mine to understand better Logic Audio, and in 2005 I was releasing my first EP on Freak n' Chic.

You were a mathematics university student before getting into music full-time. How do you apply mathematical thinking to making music? Are math and music connected for you?

I'm a big fan of science in general, and there was a time I wanted to go deeper in it but I realized my love was into electronic music and since I was 17 I wanted to live through my music. I admit my studies help me a lot into the production process. Without being a geek, I feel math and sciences like an inspiration for my work. A former teacher would say that all in nature can be interpreted with mathematics, and even more today with the process of production. I wouldn't say it's a recreation or recovery, it's all linked!

What does the name "Shonky" mean?

I was a bit weird at school, all the time in music or on my computer. I was studying mathematics and not very sociable. After five years of mathematics studies, I changed my behavior but kept my nickname, as I have a very common french name, equal to "John smith."

How do you typically approach a track from inspiration to completion?

The process is always the same. I mean, I first build a track around any idea -- it can be a vocal, or a bass or anything else. But it has to be able to be a main thing. For example in "Le Velour", I built the whole track around the bassline because this element was the lead of it. I can use loops or samples, plugins or hardware. I try to add a little of everything to make a more interesting mix. I think it's good to mix a lot of different sources to get something more deep. Furthermore, the process has to be pure fun as much as possible 'cause I am in front of my computer more than 10 hours a day. I'm not a big fan of the technical part. If I could spend my days playing records I would be more than very happy.

Would you say 2010 was your biggest year yet? What were some of your personal highlights throughout the year?

Well 2010 has been a really busy year. Lots of release and gigs, but 2011 really starts in the best way, so I hope this one will be better than 2010 and less good than the next one. (Winks)

You were recently quoted as saying that you had given up DJing with software in favor of going back to vinyl and CDs. What was the reason for the switch?

Well, I was fed up with all these digital promos. I was not listening music anymore and I was not looking for anything new -- I became lazy. Plus, I'm living 5 minutes by foot from two amazing record shops Hardwax and Spacehall, and I thought it was stupid not to use them. CDs are required 'cause this is the only way to play new stuff from myself and from my friends. And the last reason, because it happens now that vinyls are not working in clubs anymore and you need then to play some CDs.

Your deep tech-house production style is very much in tune with what's popular in the transatlantic scene right now. Where do you think EDM will go in the next few years and where do you plan to take your own sound?

Everything is going so fast and I really don't know about that. I think this is very exciting to see -- everything moving that fast. It became open to everybody.

You have also described your sound as being "psychedelic". Is this sound inspired by your own psychedelic experiences or meant to provide the psychedelic experience for others? Or both?

When I'm doing a track, I try to recreate the psychedelic state I was in during parties or during the afterhours. Aiming to find this state back, trying to know more about myself.

How has your move to Berlin affected your work? What are your impressions of the scene there?

I moved to Berlin in October 2007. I live in Kreuzberg, in a really nice street called Graefestrasse. It's close to Kottbusser Tor. I decided to move there 'cause the entire city lives for and through electronic music. Before the move, I had to email the people. Now I'm in Berlin, I meet them at the café around the corner of my flat, it's much more agreeable. I have to say also that Berlin is cheaper than Paris. Everything is new and really interesting! Also, I prefer Berlin's nightlife, even if Paris's was really cool. But the good thing with Berlin is that you have good parties with good DJs and amazing sound systems running all the time. The crowd is nice and pay attention to the music. You can meet a lot of producers you like. And the best point for me is that you feel free and secure at the same time, and I think this feeling helps the people to enjoy more 'cause they feel better. I'm waiting hard for summer season, it should be amazing and it is surely the best time to open my mind!

What do you have going on for the rest of the year?

My new big project is to launch a label alongside Dan Ghenacia and Dyed Soundorom. Dyed and I have always wanted to start our own label and the end of Freak n' Chic allows us to do it with Dan involved as well. We share the same roots, the same tastes and the same musical vision. We'll mainly focus on releasing our own music and of course from producers all three of us enjoy. Also, I've been working a lot on production lately. I've got an EP coming on Culprit very soon as well as a few remixes. Some I did in collaboration with Dyed including a remix of Lee Foss on Culprit, one of Robert Owens' "I'll Be Ur Friend" and we will be reworking a remix of Agaric for Ovum soon! On my own, I did a remix of Maya Jane Coles' track "What They Say" which is coming out late March and one other for Soma's 20th anniversary. And of course I'm also working on music for our new label!

Shonky. With LINK residents. Thursday, February 24. Electric Pickle, 2826 N. Miami Ave., Miami. The party starts at 10 p.m. Call 305-456-5613 or visit electricpicklemiami.com.

Follow Crossfade on Facebook and Twitter @Crossfade_SFL.

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