Techno has for too long clung to its self-mythology: the unshakable idea that it’s a vanguard music, that it’s still some kind of future-rushing phenomenon.
In the past half-decade the hollowness of that claim has become increasingly obvious. Techno today feels like a nostalgia industry, fixated on its own past, and all too eager to operate within established boundaries, not to break any rules. A once fluid and revolutionary sound has become – in the main – polite, toothless, interminably dull.
Shed – real name Rene Pawlowitz – is one of a handful of producers bucking this trend, quietly advancing and enriching techno’s remit by example. Like so many visionaries across the arts, Pawlowitz looks to the past in order to find new paths into the future. While legion DJs, producers and listeners have continued to worship slack-jawed at the altars of classic Chicago house and Detroit techno, Pawlowitz has spent the past five years revisiting the ruffneck UK hardcore, jungle and breakbeat music that made such an impression on him as a teenager. You can hear this music’s influence – as well as that of contemporary dubstep, which he follows religiously – in his own work, which manages to display a guarded respect for techno tradition and an impatience with its more outdated patterns and customs.
Shed manages to display a guarded respect for techno tradition and an impatience with its more outdated patterns and customs.
Self-reliant and uncompromising from the off, Shed debuted with the Red Planet Express EP on his own aptly named Soloaction imprint. After releasing a number of attention-grabbing records on the label, including the Citylicker EP (2005) and ‘Masque’ (2006), Pawlowitz retired it, though its less prolific offshoot, Subsolo, is still extant, providing a home for Pawlowitz’s more experimental and dubwise productions as STP and The Panamax Project, as well as like-minded artists and remixers such as A Made Up Sound, T++ and Peverelist.
Pawlowitz maintains that Detroit techno has never been a direct influence on his work; growing up, the techno he was exposed to and felt a kinship with was predominantly European. Nonetheless, the spirit of Detroit, and explicitly Detroit-influenced labels like Holland’s Djax-Up-Beats, animated much of Shed’s mid-noughties work – the aforementioned Soloaction 12″s and also his breakthrough releases for Delsin and Styrax Leaves (among them the Soloaction and Handle With Care EPs). By 2008 Pawlowitz was already one of the most talked-about producers in the dance music underground, but it was the inclusion of his track ‘Warped Mind’ on Marcel Dettmann’s Berghain 02 mix and the subsequent release on Ostgut Ton of his debut album, Shedding The Past, that pushed him over the barricades.
As its title suggests, Shedding The Past was an elegiac record, reflecting its maker’s disillusionment with the commercial and conservative direction taken by techno in the 2000s. Shed used the album as an arena to reflect on the meaning of “true techno music” (to quote the voice heard on ‘Waved Mind/Archived Document’). Though the centrepiece of the album is a locomotive 4/4 number, ‘That Bears Everything!’, its tracks for the most part explore tricksier steppers’ rhythms, teaming them with melodies evoking both the bug-eyed optimism of the rave at peaktime and the serotonin-sapped melancholy of the morning after.
Shedding The Past‘s melodies evoked both the bug-eyed optimism of the rave at peaktime and the serotonin-sapped melancholy of the morning after.
In the wake of Shedding The Past‘s release, Shed’s stock has deservedly risen, and he has duly become more prolific, if no less exacting. As well as turning out extraordinary remixes of Substance’s ‘Relish’, Radioslave’s ‘Tantakatan’ and Taho’s ‘Energy Fields’, and collaborating with Marcel Dettmann as Deuce, Pawlowitz has founded two “anonymous” white label series, Equalized and WAX, dedicated to new-school club tracks with old-school energy. The popularity of these tracks has come as no surprise: infectiously funky, and cannily engineered for maximum dancefloor impact, they also have real feeling to them – witness the teary-eyed breakbeat reverie that is EQD002B or the muscular but wistful warehouse flex of WAX3003B.
On August 30 Shed will release The Traveller, his second artist album for Ostgut Ton. It’s a more subtle and perhaps more confident record than Shedding The Past, taking in austere dub minimalism (‘The Bot’), gauzy ambient interludes (‘STP 2′), imperious acid techno (‘My R-Class’), and, on closing track ‘Leave Things’, a kind of scuffed, ecstatic jungle reminiscent of Aphex Twin’s ‘Polynomial-C’. FACT’s Kiran Sande called up Pawlowitz in Berlin to discuss the LP, and the unlikely debt it owes to the Pet Shop Boys…
You’ve always said that you are, at heart, a techno guy. Where did it all begin for you?
“There’s not that much to say about it [laughs]…Where should I start? I’ve been into techno since 1991. It’s hard to talk about, because at the time I wasn’t so interested in where the music was coming from or what it was actually about, I just wanted to go out and experience something new. I was young, only 16, and so I didn’t want to know who was making these records; I wanted only to listen to them.
“I was a pop child. My biggest influence is, I think, the Pet Shop Boys. Hard to say exactly why. Up to the Behaviour album it was all good, and then it started to get boring. But yeah, that was my starting point in electronic music, and I’ve been into UK music ever since the Pet Shop Boys. I don’t know if that’s exactly a cool starting point, but I really did love their records [laughs].
“After that I was into the kind of techno compilations that were available in every store here – not particularly cool stuff at all. Like – actually, I can’t tell you, because you’ll write it down and I don’t want people to know! [laughs] You know the track, ‘Who Is Elvis?’ by Interactive? Cheesy stuff like that at the beginning. That was it for me. I sometimes would read Bravo, the German magazine for young people, and they would write about this scene, this acid stuff, the acid parties. But it was cheap, cheesy news and interviews, every guy in there had a smiley on their shirt…”