Emerging from his anonymous beginnings on Dirtybird, Shadow Child has stepped into the light to become one of the UK’s biggest artists. Combining modern house with elements of speed garage, hardcore and drum & bass, his weekly Wednesday Rinse show showcases his sound as well as providing a platform for up-and-coming new talent, to go alongside his Food Music label.
It’s this home base that provides a further platform with ‘Connected’, his debut album. A collection of collaborations that includes Bodhi, Huxley, Ben Pearce, Joe Ashworth and T.Williams, alongside huge remixes of Future Sound Of London’s ‘Papua New Guinea’ and Jaydee’s ‘Plastic Dreams’, it provides plenty of ammunition for the dancefloor — not least the ’92 breakbeat stylings of ‘Want My Love’ under the moniker Code 23, his new project with drum & bass producer S.P.Y.
It’s not Shadow Child (aka Simon Neale)’s first time around the block. Previously releasing as Dave Spoon, he was responsible for massive electro-house anthem ‘At Night’. With his re-birth complete, we chatted to him about making rave in school music lessons, remixing classics, and why Simon became Dave…
Why did you get yourself 'connected'?
“I’d love to do an artist album, and maybe I will at some point, but I feel like this is a DJ-type affair."
I wanted it to be club tracks. Once people start playing your music it's that famous old thing, 'Oh, let's get in the studio', which is great, it's fun to work with other people. So rather than spraying out loads of collabs on different labels at different times, I condensed it into one project.
“The oldest thing is the Future Sound Of London remix, which was just done for my Essential Mix and to play out. Always in the back of my mind was that I'd like to get it signed off by the Future Sound Of London to do something official, which eventually happened. They were really hard to get hold of first of all, then once I did make contact with their go-to guy he thought it was a great idea and was always trying to put it to them. Getting a thumbs-up like that was a real achievement. That's a record that's been bootlegged to death over the years, for want of a better word. Everyone's tried to do something with it, so to get to an official yes and get it on the project, we couldn't turn that down.”
Why did you decide to ignore the ‘never touch a classic’ rule? You actually did it twice by also having a go at ‘Plastic Dreams’...
“I do sometimes do VIP mixes to play out, they're not for doing anything with. But the Jaydee one I was asked by R&S to do. There was some hold-up their end putting it out so I just said, ‘I've got this album of collaborations’. A remix to me is technically a collaboration; although you're not in the same room as the person, you're still combining two worlds together. To top and tail the album with them, it worked out nicely.”
Were you a floppy-haired raver when those tracks first came out in the early ‘90s?
“I was a kid actually, I was 14. I learnt to do what I'm doing now at my school. Back then you couldn't be in a school full of iMacs and copies of Logic and Ableton. Music was recorders and guitars and whatever, but my school had a sampler, so I started to understand new music I was hearing.
I could get the keys to the music room at break-time and after school go and sample breakbeats. I didn't think anything of it until I left school and went to college and the other kids were kind of confused that my school could have that kind of equipment…
So I wasn't out raving, but I knew those records when they were brand new. I was listening to pirate radio on the South Coast and Radio 1 were just getting on the specialist thing, so you had Pete Tong playing them as well when he first joined. I wasn't on the dancefloor, but I was a floppy-haired raver in the music room!”
Code 23 is you and S.P.Y on a ravey, jungle breaks tip. Are you hoping that old school-inspired breakbeat is in the ascendency again?
“I think it's been around the last two years. Obviously Special Request has done really well with that, and Mella Dee and Benson, and there's a guy called Etch in Brighton whose stuff is incredible. To be honest with you, S.P.Y loves house and I love drum & bass, so as soon as we found that out we got together. The first two tunes are breakbeat and ravey, but the other stuff is more techno-y and we'll delve into that next year. We're both busy, he's finishing another big project and I've been doing this. “Once we've got that out of the way, we'll get our heads back together. It's just a bit of fun, it's no more than that, we're not launching some big project. We've not going to be the next Swedish House Mafia or whatever you want to call it.”
You used to be called Dave Spoon, so it was a massive surprise when we found out you’re not called Dave, let alone Mr Spoon. Where did you pluck that moniker from, and have you enjoyed this reinvention of your career more than then?
“Yeah, I'm enjoying it more. With Spoon it got called electro-house. I was doing it two years before that whole scene exploded in 2006, it was just making house music to me. It ended up being this whole EDM thing. I'm not going to waste column inches by dissing EDM, but it was just not my thing.
"I didn't want to go down that road. I could have done."
There was a big opening to go and do the whole thing in the States but I thought, 'I just don't want to stand there playing music that I don't like'. I'm not an actor, I'm a studio guy who can DJ, and I love DJing. But I'm not going to pretend I'm enjoying this for any amount of money, so I just hit the reset button.
“I already had 'String Thing', the first Shadow Child track, done, and I gave it to Dan Eats Everything who championed it. Then Barclay [Crenshaw, aka Claude VonStroke] signed it for Dirtybird and that's where this thing launched from. It wasn't really meant to be secretive, I just wanted people to discover the music before they discovered it was me. It's been really rewarding and organic. I kind of did it just before this whole house scene blew up again, and I didn't know what was going to happen. It just literally did what it did and became the sound of the last few years, which is great. I get my reward through the love of the music.
“There's no big extravagant story with Dave Spoon, unfortunately! I used to work in a record shop and people used to call me Dave in there off the back of a private joke. It just came from that. My mate had this radio show in the mid-noughties, which was this cut-and-paste Cut Chemist vibe show. I'd chop up bits of audio for him in my studio and send it over. Again, it was a private joke, this things about spoons. He used to call me Spoon, so I just stuck them together. In my naivety, I didn't expect to have this career in music off the back of any of it. So when I put my first record together I put it out under this name.
“Then a month later, I was everywhere! I didn't even want to DJ at first, Toolroom who signed me thought I was nuts. Then I caught the bug, and the rest is history...”