South Africa’s Psy scene had its boom over ten years ago, and naturally we’ve lost a handful of pioneering producers who put us on the map. But Chris Hoy, more commonly known as Shift, is still in the game. Even if he were to hang up the gloves today, his legacy would remain – by way of his numerous solo projects, collaborations as Pitch Hikers (alongside Slug) and Twisted System (alongside Rabdom L and Phyx), or his label Nexus Media that helped springboard a number of careers. With summer approaching, Labyrinth will be hosting their last indoor party of the winter season this Saturday featuring Shift himself alongside Headroom, Feedback, Broken Toy, The Fogshow, Silo, Humerous and Afterlife.
The following questions were compiled on behalf of Psymedia by Evan Greenblo.
Photos courtesy of Stu Shapiro, Chris Christy, Julian Graham, Emelen and LVstar Photography
Psymedia : Howzit Chris! You’re one of the few remaining first wave Psytrance artists of South Africa. Tell me about your early years, involvement with Timecode Records, and why you believe the music coming out of South Africa in the early millennium managed to gain worldwide recognition?
Shift : Hey Evan, Psymedia, and readers. Okay, the early years. I started listening to Psy in 1995. I was introduced to it unknowingly on the second CD of a Danny Rampling‘s mix album – Hallucinogen’s track LSD was a good beginning! In my first year at UCT (1997) I was exposed properly to the genre by some pretty crazy friends, and in early 1998 shortly after attending my first Vortex I began messing about on a simple 1 bar tracker. A tiny beta program called Audiomulch, written by an Australian student. It was about the only thing I could get. My computer was slow and the net barely existed, but it was free and basic. I spent two years playing with the program learning the basics of synthesis, drum programming and effects without any of the modern ‘help’. Trust me, if you wanted a reverb, you had to make one from millisecond delays. It was even pre-Reason but pioneered the wiring approach that they use. Man, I didn’t even have automation for a year. I had to turn things on and off with the mouse – no arranger.
Anyways, I had been bashing away in my bedroom solidly for 3 years instead of going to lectures and actually managed to put together something that resembled an album. I pressed 20 copies of Bubble at the Right Temperature and sold them all! It got me my first set of gigs and allowed me to meet some other cool cats calling themselves Timecode. It was about this time (1999-2000) that I got hold of a copy of Reason and I never looked back. We were doing events at the time but soon realized that the label was the way to go and started releasing our music to the world in 2001. The same year I graduated from UCT. Our sound was a bastardisation of the English and French styles of Psy and the German Techno Trance. We had the ripping leads, pounding drums, huge baselines and epic pads that just pretty much blew everything else out of the water by 2003. Twisted System was a huge part in this. Craig’s (Rabdom L) mad melodies and mental pads, Ian’s (Phyx) mechanical rhythms and searing effects, and my production and arrangement just made a magical combination for exploring the depths of mental psychedelia and dancing like a maniacs! Just as this Progressive thing is the current flavour, we were finding success all over the world and the glory days ran as long as 2008 when the final switch to Full-On occurred.
Psymedia : A few years later you started Nexus Media with Slug (together known as Pitch Hikers). Why did you decide to create an entirely new label? How has the label’s vision changed, considering the current music industry landscape?
Shift : Yeah, I started Nexus Media at the peak of the South African Psytrance boom in 2004. Timecode was four guys and we all had so much music to release and sheez, I wanted to make more money myself! My first few CD’s sold easily 2 or 3 thousand copies – that’s huge! I got Liam (Slug) involved in 2005 but shortly that the landscape changed drastically with the internet and other new technologies throwing sales and CD’s right out of the picture. By 2008 if you weren’t prepared to move to Europe and travel every weekend for gigs you pretty much couldn’t sustain a trance producer lifestyle in South Africa anymore because sales had all but disappeared. Anyhow we soldiered on in the face of it and slowly accumulated a really solid group of artists. Mostly new faces and that’s pretty much how I like to do it still. I have seen Nexus Media launch some pretty cool acts like Deliriant, Hydraglyph, RAM, Pitch Hikers, Abomination, Brethren, and more recently Disco Volante and Depsypil. Our sound differed immediately from Timecode – less evil more kanevil!
Psymedia : How did you get your label off the ground? Looking back, what was the single best decision you made when setting up your business?
Shift : The best decision was actually doing it, just getting on with things and not wasting time imagining them. My first release was a compilation entitled Penguin Rebellion that was basically a Pitch Hikers collaboration before we were called that. I didn’t have to buy the tracks upfront so that was cool, but we did need cash for our first CD pressing and some adverts in magazines. These days you don’t need a cent. But because it’s much easier to get in, there’s let’s just say, a lot more crap out there. Second CD was the RAM album – it cost me a lot of money upfront, but I made it back easily!
Psymedia : You put some of your classics on Soundcloud as a free download. Do you think free music is the new direction?
Shift : It’s nothing new, free has worked as long as man has needed to market his products. Now I’m not making any money on that old rubbish and some people still like it, so why not make it available through an official channel that I control? It’ not only old classics, I have given away some more recent ones that I never planned to release – bootlegs and stuff. Honestly, releasing on a label is the same as giving it away. The sales are so minimal that they barely cover the cost of the administration, mastering, and artwork. It’s just another channel, a branding mechanism to get your stuff heard, then you can hope like hell it’s good enough to get you bookings.
Psymedia : A few months back you released your first single as ESCape called Take Over, around the same time sister label Nexus Bass launched.
Shift : Yeah, that was back in March. Actually I’ve had a whole bunch of ESCape material released on Just Music compilations, singles and Ministry of Sound annuals to name a few. I have since 2009 been busy up-skilling myself of Electro, Dubstep and all other EDM forms. Mostly through my connection with this Jozi Pop label I have done remixes for many huge local and international acts. Though the distribution agreements they have are limited to Southern African CD pressings and Digital sales on iTunes only. Nexus Bass is my way of exploring new avenues with my skills and the label. I really dig a lot more music than Psy and I have found so many great young producers in South Africa that are not getting the exposure they need. So far it’s just 2 releases but there are 4 more in production or submission right now. Ranging from Electro to Dubstep, Trap, Hip-Hop, you name it. The first Nexus Bass EP I made free on Soundcloud 2 months after release. Why not? It needs exposure for sure!
Psymedia : I’d also quickly like to summarize your other aliases – USB Human and Mantis. What are they about?
Shift : USB Human was the name I originally started to make Electro under. That project has become ESCape and I am now doing the Psyprog thing as that alias. I am about to have my first USB Human track released on the Depsypil EP. Mantis is still alive but I don’t do a lot of it. Its kinda evil boutique stuff made to order. Fat, dark, thick wads of sound, flowing over hammering beats and eerie pads. Meaner than anything else I have done, it’s bad ass to the T!
Psymedia : You’ve launched two remix competitions, inviting prospective artists to remix your tracks. The Consequences Remix EP came out earlier this year on Nexus Media, featuring 8 remixes of your track Consequences. Tell me about your decision to host such competitions, secondly why you feel it is necessary to have so many remixes of the same track?
Shift : Actually it’s not necessary at all, no one will ever buy them all [laughs]. It’s just for variety and exposure. I will be starting a new one soon, just deciding which track. It will probably be quite a big one! It’s great promotion for your brand and it’s easy to make a ‘prize’. I wouldn’t put out anything shit so you can count on the quality still.
Psymedia : You mentioned in the BPM interview you’ll be forming a creative management agency in order for artists to adequately receive gigs. Could you tell me a bit more about that? Do you think this might be the solution for solving short set times and promoters booking friends?
Shift : I’m still keen on doing it, but it’s going to take a lot of time and effort and I don’t have a lot of that unless it’s going to feed me, you know what I mean? Let’s just say once I’ve found out how it can support itself properly I will do it. To perfectly honest I think the interview had pretty much the desired effect anyway. I’m quite certain this summer you will see less artists per event, with moderately longer set times and even some pretty interesting ideas for the flow between them. I think you will see more deviation from normal Psy party blueprint. As the scene has grown so the need for different identities within it becomes apparent and I think this coming outdoor season will see the biggest and best effort by promoters to keep their crowds interested and coming back for more.
Psymedia : Any other changes you’d like to see this summer season?
Shift : Anything, just keep it interesting.
Psymedia : You’ll be playing at Labyrinth: Supernatural on the 3rd of August, a brand you’ve played for occasionally over the years. As an artist, how have you seen their brand grow? What are they doing right in the scene?
Shift : Ahhh, Labyrinth. Awesome hey! When they started throwing their Psy Thursdays at Opium back in 2005 or something it was a mad time. For the first time Psytrance was getting exposure to regular clubbers and even though it was mostly Psy people coming for a while, the crossover had started. It doesn’t take much to recognize a good party so more and more people from outside the usual Psy crowd became involved. A lot of the purists didn’t and still don’t like it but I feel it’s a very important part of the evolution and growth in the scene in Cape Town. It would have insulated itself and imploded if it weren’t for pioneers like Labyrinth taking it to new crowds! They get it right by not messing about with mediocrity. From the outset it was the best acts all the way, in an environment a bit smarter than most usual Psy clubs and with a very mixed crowd. You see other venues operating under very similar methods elsewhere now too.
Psymedia : How did your recent tour of India and Serbia go?
Shift : India was a nightmare, personally my worst trip ever, but I won’t get into that now. Serbia on the other had was awesome! Love it there. Fantastic people, good simple food, and a power party!
Psymedia : Any upcoming releases you want to mention? Maybe a Shift album in the works?
Shift : Hah, an album hmmm, nope! But a bunch of stuff I’ve done on the upcoming Midnight Storm V compilation. It includes tracks by myself and some other really cool artists. Technicolor, Deliriant, Menog, Disco Volante, EMP, Cybernetix, Lost & Found, a Twisted System remix and more. It will be available online in late September. Otherwise we have the new Depsypil EP and Disco Volante EP on neXus Media out on the 29th July and 5th August at Beatport. For Nexus Bass there is a GH#ST EP out soon followed by Jed Rabid and then The Variable (The Commercial Hippies electro project). Nexus Bass is another brand within neXus Media so I have chosen not to separate them in the shops as most labels do, so you will find a very mixed bag of quality music coming out of the Nexus stable at the moment. More fun ek se!
Psymedia : Thanks for the interview! See you at Labyrinth! Any last words?
Shift : Thank you for letting me share my thoughts. It’s always a pleasure. Have a wonderful day everyone!
- Shift on Facebook
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- ESCape on Soundcloud
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- neXus Bass on Facebook