Shigeto is the charmingly laid-back, prodigiously talented Ann Arbor artist thumping his way through a “kind of crammed” European tour. Last week, he stopped by Brudenell Social Club, where fans enjoyed his trademark brand of drum-induced delirium. Rory Haworth-Galt caught up with him before the gig.
His dressing room is a modest scene. Piles of pitta bread and one solitary bottle of Jack Daniels sit atop a table, next to which smiles a comfortable – if not a little tired – Zach, known by his fans as Shigeto. The docile bundle of comfort clothes slumped opposite me is a contrast to what I’m used to seeing him in. This is the calm before his sweaty storm; before his thrashing of drums in a heady, grinning frenzy. Shigeto’s notorious stage presence is the reason why so many across Europe have been coming out to see him live. “Performing is where I’m most comfortable, it’s my strength. Because I have the jazz background from Detroit, I see the live show as the real important thing for me. I think it was Dexter Gordon who said that “The records are just to promote the show”. That’s just it. Performing is where I come through.”
And come through he does. So effortless is his penchant for performing, one could be forgiven for overlooking the striding transitions he’s made. From a Detroit Jazz instrumentalist to releasing Full Circle – his first, Reason-produced, sample-looping album on Ghostly International – Shigeto has sustained his creative evolution impeccably. His new, perfectly polished album, The New Monday – crafted in a studio he earned off the back of ten years of solid grind – is a manifestation of his most eclectic musical palette.
The name Shigeto, he tells me, is the Japanese forename of his great-grandfather. Its etymology is, he says, nuanced with connotations of “growth”, “development” and “getting larger”. I can’t help but get a little excited: “Now that you’ve done these world tours and had all these experiences”, I ask, “Is the name ‘Shigeto’ and its emphasis on growth more relevant than ever to you and your work?”
A smoky chuckle slips out. He’s too polite to say that I’ve overthought that one.
“I don’t know… It’s definitely interesting to think of it that way. Being creatives, we hope that we are getting better and building. If I look at the journey, it does feel like it’s taken that lineage. It’s happened that way. It’s been a nice, steady growth.”
I suggest that, despite his superior growth, we’re perhaps kindred spirits; we’re both from similarly under-appreciated towns. Where I’m from, it’s only the recent poisoning of an ex-Russian spy that’s catalysed our sudden rise in status. Ann Arbor has, I posit, been put on the map rather more favourably by Shigeto. “I mean, I hope so, man. But I don’t see myself as the artist who’s putting Ann Arbor on the map, not at all. Iggy Pop was from Ann Arbor, the Stooges too.
American punk music has a lot to thank our city for. It was a place musically for a long time, but completely in the shadows of Detroit.
In the shadows or not, Shigeto’s Detroit meanderings have helped him become the diverse musician he is today. Talking to him about music is like digging through a delightful pile of leftfield vinyl, flicking expertly between genres. He knows his stuff. His 2017 collaboration as ‘ZGTO’ with friend and Detroit rapper ‘Zelooperz’, resulted in ‘A Piece of the Geto’. The album presents a delectable distortion of the Hip-Hop genre: “My friend showed me the video of Zelooperz’s ‘Hit a lick’ from years ago. I thought he was a crazy, kind of alien rapper kid. I dug it. Years later a friend told me that ‘Z’ fucks with me. We saw each other at a house party and he said we should get together. A couple of days later he hit me up. We’d made maybe 15 songs but had no name for the project – and no need to make it a project – it was just for us. But all our friends were pushing us, they said, ‘You’ve got to put that shit out’. In the end it just came together.”
You need search no further than the album’s opener, ‘Drownin in the Paint’, to feel how Zelooperz undercuts Shigeto’s production with hazy, menacing vocals that’ll twist your ears right up. Then, listen to ‘Whippin’ for a lighter, more carefree product of ZGTO. With Zelooperz signed to Detroit rap legend Danny Brown’s Bruiser Brigade Recordings, there may even be a mouthwatering Danny Brown x Shigeto collaboration on the horizon:“If Danny Brown wants to collaborate, most definitely! I’m never one who goes looking for this type of interaction. Our first ZGTO show was opening for Danny; so, I already work with Danny from afar through “Z”. He supports and respects me, and I respect him immensely. If he reaches out, I’d love to work with him. I’d definitely love to do a ZGTO track that featured Danny Brown – that would be sick.”
This is, arguably, Shigeto’s most remarkable quality. The music he makes is all natural. Nothing is forced, and nothing is chased; his art is entirely a product of his life. Some of which was, naturally, spent selling cheese in London. “I lived here (the UK) 2003 to 2007. I was working here maturing, selling and exporting cheese. The typical job that people come over here for (he laughs). When I was living here, it was a significant time – Grime and Dubstep were still blowing up. I’ve always loved the music here. The British take music to the furthest realms. I was talking about this over dinner with my friend Kai (of Mount Kimbie) recently. I think some of the most progressive artists in terms of post-genre music are British. Warp Records is what got me into electronic music.”
Having his proficient fingers in such a variety of transatlantic pies manifests in his musical development. I ask him about two of his better-known tracks, ‘Detroit Part 1’, of No Better Time Than Now (2013), and its successor, ‘Detroit Part 2’, of The New Monday (2018). The tracks paint such different pictures of the eponymous city; why does ‘Part 1’ feel hazy and cold, when ‘Part 2’ flexes with groove and warmth? “It’s actually more a reflection of where I was in myself and in my mind, rather than in Detroit. ‘Detroit Part 1’ was actually gonna be called ‘Ann Arbor Part 5’, but then I moved back to Detroit. Interviewers didn’t understand why it was called ‘Detroit Part 1’ – they were like, “it doesn’t have techno elements”, “it doesn’t have House elements – it doesn’t even sound Dilla-inspired.” It’s my take on a soulful House track. The sax player is Marcus Eliot – a good friend of mine and prominent player in the Detroit Jazz scene. It just felt right.”
If Detroit’s anything like that, then we’d all best get over there. Shigeto had Brudenell Social Club popping with a sweat-drenched serving of The New Monday, peppered with cameos from old favourites. He performed whole-heartedly, heading off-stage before returning with an improvised encore of ‘When We Low’. After all, the records are only to promote the show.