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Shapeshifter’s P Digsss Talks “Traumatising” Christchurch Earthquake Experience & New Releases Coming Soon

Written by Cyclone Wehner on October 25, 2018

New Zealand’s seasoned drum ‘n’ bass collective Shapeshifter are finally returning to Australia. The five-piece toured in early 2017, but postponed dates in February this year.

Shapeshifter was formed in Christchurch by jazz students in 1999. They created a hybridised drum ‘n’ bass, with an emphasis on live instrumentation. The posse debuted with 2001’s album Realtime on the underground Kog Transmissions. Soon after, they recruited Paora “P Digsss” Apera as their frontman – the soulful vocalist bringing his positive vibes.

Shapeshifter’s subsequent albums would go platinum in NZ. The band also established a profile on the European tour circuit (they hit Glastonbury in 2011, the same year as Beyonce!). Back home, there were even concerts with orchestras. In 2010, Shapeshifter aligned themselves with the cred of London drum ‘n’ bass fold Hospital Records, run by Tony Colman (aka London Elektricity).

Shapeshifter last released the epic Stars – their sixth album – in 2016, following a break. It underscored that the band are not necessarily purists – the lead single (and title-track) a Rudimental-mode EDM banger. In July, Shapeshifter released a slick video for ‘Oculus’, featuring the IDentity Dance Company’s hip-hop stars, as a tribute to Christchurch – still recovering from the devastating earthquakes of 2010 and 2011.

The good news is that Shapeshifter – its current line-up Apera, Sam Trevethick (guitar), Nick Robinson (bass), Dan McGruer (keys) and Darren Mathiassen (drums) – are now prepping fresh material. They have a big summer on the horizon, co-headlining the sold-out Bay Dreams in NZ alongside Cardi B and Migos.

Music Feeds caught up with P Digsss to talk about Shapeshifter’s latest activities. “We’re all really looking forward to coming to Oz,” he says. “Unfortunately, we couldn’t come earlier on in the year or last year, when it was, so we’re itching.”

Music Feeds: Stars still sounds like it could come out tomorrow – it’s so hybridised and contemporary. But I wondered what you’ve actually been up to since. I imagine you’ve done heaps of touring?

P Digsss: Yeah, we did tour it quite a lot – and we play quite a few songs off that album as well in our set. But, since then, we’ve just been touring, playing, writing… Most of this year we’ve been getting into studios with each other and working on some new stuff. It’s a good feeling, really.

MF: You recently put out a video for ‘Oculus’ – and it’s a homage to Christchurch. What can you tell us about the concept?

PD: Oh, right, yeah, well, the video concept, Sam, our guitarist, actually came up with it and had the idea of doing it. He’s a Christchurch boy – the whole band’s basically originally from Christchurch. So it’s a special place for us, Christchurch, ’cause we rehearsed there for years, all through the years, and it’s drastically changed. It looks really different and it’s been pretty heartbreaking. So, as you were saying before, it’s like a homage to Christchurch. It’s just showing the colour and vibrancy coming out of such a harsh time for poor old Christchurch. It suits the song. It suits the vibe of the song. It’s quite an upbeat song and tune – and just good vibes; a good vibes tune. I enjoy the video.

MF: Marlon Williams, who’s also from Christchurch, has spoken about how the earthquakes really affected the music scene and a lot of people just moved on. But I remember you guys were spread out, anyway – I think even before the first earthquake. Where are you all based now?

PD: Well, pretty much everyone stays in the same places. Nick is still living in Christchurch. He was in the second earthquake. When the first big one happened, we were all in the Cook Islands, actually; in Rarotonga. We’d just played a gig over there, woke up in the morning to hearing the quake had hit that town and that stuff… Then we came back and then the next one happened later on in the year. Nick was there and it was traumatising for him and it was heavy-hitting for the city. A lot of people were quite traumatised for quite some time, ’cause there were lots and lots and lots of after-shakes and all that stuff. It was just like, “C’mon, man, give these poor people a break!” It broke a few people down to the point where they just had to leave. It was pretty sad for a while. But they’re on the up, man; they’re on the up. They’re rebuilding and it’s looking good and it’s looking hopeful, you know?

MF: It seems like there’s just so much good music coming out of NZ, across the board. There’s LA Women and there’s a guy called Montell2099 doing trap… What do you think of some of these new wave kids coming out of everywhere?

PD: Yeah – oh, it’s awesome. I’ve been blown away with the stuff I’ve heard from Australia as well! Like I saw a video, was it REMI – oh, I can’t remember her name… But some of the stuff I’ve heard that’s come out of Oz lately has just blown me away. I think it’s a sign of the world we live in now where people can get out there. People just travel around the world and will be exposed to flavours. Look what hip-hop did! That ran around the world – and look how music does that. It connects with people. Now you’re lucky to record your own stuff at home, so you just get so many more people making music. It doesn’t necessarily mean all of that’s good (laughs). There’s a lotta shit out there. [But] there’s some really good stuff that’s coming out… At the moment in NZ, there’s a lot of kids doing some incredible stuff. Another cool one is [Auckland’s] Yoko-Zuna. They do some new school kind of jazz, soul, hip-hop, funk… They’re really good musos, Yoko-Zuna. I was blown away with those kids.

MF: What’s coming up for you guys? There’s been talk of an EP?

PD: Yeah, well, what we’re doing at the moment is we’re just writing songs for the sake of writing songs and collecting them up and getting a good strong base and then eventually an EP or an album will come out. We’re gonna release something pretty soon – hopefully a single

end of the year. One of the songs that we’ve got [entitled ‘Break Me Down’], we did a collab with Brad Baloo from [UK beats duo] The Nextmen. I wrote some vocals for him and he did some music with us in London earlier on this year – it was really good fun… Oh, last year, actually! So we’re gonna release that as a single, ’cause we’ve played it out live… We’ve added a few extra things, and layers to it, which is kind of how we discover songs, really – you know, we write them in the studio… Some songs don’t really transcend from the studio to live performance, [but] some songs go to the next level when you play them live, so it totally makes sense in a live-on-stage sense. So we played [‘Break Me Down’] out a couple of times and we were like, “OK, we’ll go back to the studio and put these other bits in and maybe do it live.” We’re gonna release some stuff soon. It’ll be good fuel for our summer tours and for oncoming gigs over in Australia as well.

MF: You signed to Hospital Records around 2010 and it’s such a prestigious label. What has the experience been like working with those guys?

PD: Oh, we’ve known Tony Colman and the Hospital dudes for a while. It’s an honour – it’s an absolute bloody honour to have releases with those dudes and to be associated with that label. They’re really awesome. The last gig we did over there was Hospitality In The Dock [in 2017]. It was basically on Easter; 10, 000 people, inside these three huge indoor arenas, down in the docks… We played live on the jungle stage – we closed that stage – and it was an honour to be a part of it. It was heaving. It was a middle-of-the-day rave. It was awesome (laughs). Every time we’ve got to be a part of any gig with Hospital, it’s always been awesome exposure for us, playing to people that have grown up with the scene; grown up with drum ‘n’ bass… So it’s always quite nerve-wracking at times as well, ’cause you can turn up there and all the people on the side of the stage are a lot of your bloody heroes! So it’s kinda like “Holy shit” sometimes. But we always get charged and amplified when we go over and do Hospital stuff.

MF: Drum ‘n’ bass is so enduring and keeps on morphing – and you’re part of that evolution. Brockhampton have a song, ‘WEIGHT’, that sounds like Reprazent!

PD: Well, yeah, everything evolves. There’s a time and a place for everything. It’s interesting hearing people’s interpretation of it. What we do is a live interpretation of what we wanna hear – it’s a band who can play it live… It can be quite funny ’cause, through the years, we’ve had a lot of people going, “Oh, you know, it’s not really dancefloor stuff.” We’re like, “Nah, it’s not made for playing in a club.” Some is and some isn’t. Not everyone through the years has liked our version, or our take, on drum ‘n’ bass. But, hey, that’s the beauty of the world – that’s the beauty of being able to make music and how you want it [and] to give your interpretation… We enjoy all types of music, man. It’s just a lot of our stuff is a drum ‘n’ bass-style interpretation. But I listen to equal amounts of other stuff other than just drum ‘n’ bass – it’s just good. I’ve been listening to lots of Afro-beat lately, just for the rhythms and all of that. It’s really inspiring listening to classic old dub roots as well lately. So everything goes around in cycles. It’s pretty beautiful.

MF: The live shows, what can we look forward to? I guess you might be testing some new things out?

PD: Yes, we’ve got a few new tunes in there, revamped… And, basically, we love playing in Australia. It’s always been awesome – like a mix of expats and a mix of our Aussie crowd. We always get people who’ve never seen us before, which is always great. We get the stalwarts. For us, playing in Oz is just like playing in NZ – I mean it like it’s our second home and it’s really comfortable to us. We’re the same people and that’s what we love about going to Oz. It’s like we get hyped and we bring our fucking A-game! We really love performing over in Oz – it’s always lovely PAs, [we] always use your nice venues, and the kids are up for it.

Catch Shapeshifter playing live in Australia this weekend. Dates below!

Shapeshifter 2018 Australian Tour Dates

Tickets on sale now

Friday, 26th October
170 Russell, Melbourne
Tickets: Official Website

Saturday, 27th October
Manning Bar, Sydney
Tickets: Official Website

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