Foundations #002 – Sheik
Words by James Budd
For the second instalment of our Foundations series, we caught up with Stephen D’Arcy-Smith, A.K.A. Sheik. He’s been moving up the ranks as a DJ/producer, with a quintessential taste for grime and techno in particular. Playing alongside the likes of Murlo, Compa, Spooky and Riz La Teef, Sheik’s already rubbing shoulders with big guns. We chat to him about the need for evolution and diversity as an artist, the current state of London’s underground scene, and he gives us an exclusive track.
Let’s get straight to it. How’s 2016 been treating you so far?
It’s started off well! I played at CTRL Sound’s night in January, alongside Compa, Goth Trad, V.I.V.E.K. and Spooky. It’s a vinyl-only series of events, and the future line-ups they have planned are mad, trust me! I’ve been DJing at a few nights, and I’m really impressed with London promoters at the minute. Out to Loose Lips, OiOi and Loud Noise especially. It’s good to see people still taking risks and keeping events more diverse.
I’ve also been doing a lot of producing, cutting plenty of dubplates and working on a deadly EP. Hexagon Dubs released an EP with my track 5151 in it; you can find it on our Bandcamp. I’ve remixed an Aerotonin track that’s forthcoming on Simply Deep, there’s a footwork track of mine coming out in May time, and Zartan In Reverse is nearly out on vinyl! Seriously can’t wait for that, out to District Sound and Tony Phorse for giving me the opportunity, and for Slackk and Mumdance for playing it on the airwaves. I think the way the scene is sounding right now, it should be refreshing.
There’s definitely no rest for the wicked then! We’ve been following you for some time now, and over the last year we’ve seen your new project, S.D.S., come into its own. For those who aren’t aware, tell us more.
I’ve got quite a lot of more experimental tunes that I’ve made before I decided to give the S.D.S. thing a try, so it’s always been there. I used to think, “oh no, this will never get a wheel up in a dance,” but I’ve come to realise that music comes in all forms, and that all music relies upon certain moods and moments for it to be fully experienced. The ethos of my S.D.S. moniker helps with my creative block. Lounging, soulful chord stuff, mixed with influences drawn from my personal tastes. One of my favourite artists is St. Germain, and his diversity is inspiring. He makes music you’d expect to hear in a French café, but he also makes hip-hop, dub, techno. Working on something like this also opens up more avenues from a creative perspective, meeting artists from different musical tribes, strengthening the network and creating the possibility of collaborative work.
It’s been said that sticking to what you know can sometimes mean that you’re left behind. Musical trends come and go, even in the underground scene, and some artists fail to evolve with the times.
As I’ve matured, I started to realise that there are certain formulas followed by musicians, producers and DJs who we consider as timeless. They tend to approach their music from all angles. People like Four Tet, James Blake, and the whole Hyperdub label. When I was younger I didn’t quite understand their music, but now I’m like, “oh, that’s it!” Like, Four Tet will murk a man with grime wax, but he’ll also murk a man with folk tunes.
A lot of dubstep producers suffered when the scene started to become something else, but key players like Kode9, Mala and Loefah survived it and are still relevant because they’re not confined to the boundaries of the genre. It’s the same with techno. Jeff Mills, Surgeon, they’re as big today as they ever were because they stay fresh.
Taking all of the positives we’ve been talking about into consideration, is there anything you’d like to see removed from the UK’s underground scene? What, if anything, leaves an unsavoury taste in your mouth when it comes to the current state of affairs?
Hmm, well there is something. I feel like if I say it I’ll somewhat annoy people, but it’s too true. So, I went to Berlin recently, and noticed a few things. First of all, you get heavily fined for downloading music illegally, it’s highly frowned upon. The clubs push out the music, the ravers buy it, and the scene manages to support itself. It’s healthy because nobody’s trying to look cool, and there’s massive appreciation for the artists and the music they bring. In London it’s just not like that. There’s a lot of standing around in clubs trying to look cool, and there’s a distinct lack of support for smaller acts. Narcissistic attitudes shouldn’t be a part of any communal movement. For example, take a look at any Boiler Room event in London, and compare it with any Boiler Rooms event in Berlin. There’s so much more energy and passion over there at the moment. I think it’s partly down to expense; in London you can’t even go out and support local acts because of how expensive it is. That’s why cities like Bristol and Manchester are killing it right now.
And for the rest of 2016, what’s in store?
By the end of this year I want to get my hands on some new production equipment, I’ve got more dubplates to cut, more releases in the pipeline. Maybe an NTS guest show, who knows? I’m enjoying my music. My family and friends are supportive, so if I have no crowd, I have them to fall back on, which matters most! But honestly, I don’t have to be the big festival DJ to be content with myself. I personally want to push out the stuff with the ethos I have created for myself, as well as keeping the people dancing whenever possible.
Finally, you’ve given us an exclusive track for our fans to hear. Care to introduce it?
I don’t think any of my tunes have a story, apart from Sega Megadrive, which started life in a dream of mine. The track I’ve given you is called Goku’s Loop, mainly because of the pentatonic scale used in the tune, and the Super Saiyan samples. That enough?