Name: Shelley Johannson
Occupation: DJ, Producer
Current Release: Tribaltone EP on Bedrock
Recommendations: Listen to Ludovico Einaudi in circumaural headphones so you can be baptized in beautiful strings. His tracks 'Night' and 'Life' are moving. As for illustrative work, observe Kozyndan. I have their prints all over my house. My favourite piece from them is Black Bunny Blossom.
Website / Contact: If you enjoyed this interview with Shelley Johannson, visit her facebook profile for more information as well as recent tour dates.
When did you start DJing - and what or who were your early passions and influences? What what is about music and/or sound that drew you to it?
I started DJing over a decade ago now. But my love for dance music goes farther than that. I was always drawn towards this culture. I would watch this live dance music television program that aired on MuchMusic called Electric Circus and saw influential DJs perform. Once I got into DJing my biggest influences were the local DJs in my hometown that played the after hours. They provided joy and an escape for people through music. One Saturday morning I was in the middle of the dance floor and I just stopped and looked at all the people around me and thought "I need to contribute to this community." I can’t really explain why I had this striking realization but in that moment I found my life's task.
For most artists, originality is first preceded by a phase of learning and, often, emulating others. What was this like for you? How would you describe your own development as an artist and the transition towards your own voice? What is the the relationship between copying, learning and your own creativity?
I’d like to think that you can become your own mentor by internalizing the voices of reputable artist, as well as pushing to learn from every possible source such as tutorial videos, books and like minded people. For me watching/listening to others and a self directed apprenticeship has driven my own development. I'll learn a new technique by watching and reading about it, then applying that knowledge in my productions. As you learn and gain skills you become absorbed in the practice. Once your actions become automatic you can analyze yourself and take note so proper corrections can be made. Having high standards you can measure against is important for progress, so that you’re aware of how far you have to go and to develop a sense of constructive self criticism. Understand, practice, apply and repeat.
What were some of the main challenges and goals when starting out as a DJ and how have they changed over time? What is it about DJing, compared to, say, producing your own music, that makes it interesting for you?
My goals have been the same as when I started DJing. But over time they've been refined so that I can identify clearly how I want to reach them. It's hard to compare what I find most interesting about DJing and production because they are different facets of the same gem. When making music I'm a state of flow and tend to be intensely focused. Whereas DJing I’m having just as much fun as everyone in the crowd and feel uplifted.
How would you define the job and describe the influence of the DJ? How are the experience and the music transformed through your work?
Performer, educator and a medium for sounds to speak through. There are many types of DJs and each can have a huge influence on many aspects of life. Fashion, art, travel, technology, life style choices etc. Music is universal and part of our genetic make up so the way people DJ may change but the job will always be the same. To give the gift that is uniquely human ... music.
What was your first set-up as DJ like? How and for what reasons has your set-up evolved over the years and what are currently some of the most important pieces of gear for you?
In the beginning I would use whatever I could get my hands on. Friends who had turn tables or club owners who would let me use the equipment during the days or I would go into music stores that rented out gear demo the product just so I could play around. My first set up was two Pioneer CDJ-800 MK2, one Pioneer DMJ-800. Over time I tried different ways of mixing like with Traktor with time coded CDs and played them off my CDJS. Now I use Pioneer CDJ-2000 Nexus (I need at least three) a DMJ-900 Nexus, Pioneer RMX. I also have Technics 1200 tables for when I feel like throwing down vinyl.
How do you make use of technology? In terms of the feedback mechanism between technology and creativity, what do humans excel at, what do machines excel at?
Electronics are so portable and powerful that production can be done anywhere. With unlimited connectivity and information I can connect new ideas and apply them immediately to projects. Using technology to gain knowledge permits creative ideas to link. Once those ideas link using technology to execute those ideas is easy. Machines excel at communicating our musical message, but it's a humans responsibility to give that message meaning.
Could you take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work? Do you have a fixed schedule? How do life and creativity feed back into each other - do you separate them or instead try to make them blend seamlessly?
I definitely have a fixed schedule. When at home (which is also my studio space) every morning I wake up before the sun and read. I find that this kick starts my brain to internalize ideas. I power up the studio and for remainder of my morning I play. I try to make a track a week and during my morning routine I’ll give myself an allocated amount of time to finish specific tasks related to my productions. This way of scheduling has worked for me, allowing me to be productive and it also frees up my time for other music relevant tasks. Most afternoons I DJ freely on the CDJs, never putting a time limit on spinning because I’ve done the most important work of the day first. When I’m organized and have set deadlines I find that I work in more creative ways.