A quick chat with the artist formerly known as Dave Spoon, sometimes known as Polymod, and always known for quality house music…
Once upon a time, there was a young man called Simon Neale. One day, he started making house records, and decided to call himself Dave Spoon. Then he decided to make a different sort of house records, and called himself Shadow Child. And then suddenly he was one of the most in-demand DJs and remixers on the scene.
But you knew all that, because unless you're only pretending to like house music, and secretly go home and listen to Sheeran, Adele and Capaldi on repeat, Shadow Child's ascent to the upper echelons of the global house music industry since ditching the Spoon alias in 2012 has been pretty much impossible not to notice.
So we won't rehash his oft-told life story here… suffice to say his new single Space Riot came out on Nothing Else Matters last week and that seemed like as good an excuse as any to find out what he's been listening to lately, discover the rest of his plans for 2020 and get his thoughts on the "melodic techno" that's swept clubs and festivals over the past year or so…
We're talking today because your new single Space Riot has just dropped on Nothing Else Matters, so tell us a bit about that. There's just the one mix: how come you/the label decided to go down that route?
"Yeah it’s pretty basic to release it that way, but feels fresh and straight to the point. The record is like a DJ tool in my mind: I didn’t sit here thinking I was going to change the world with it, it’s just massively effective on the dancefloor and people have loved it from the off – I even got a fan who wanted an ID on the demo on Instagram to name it. It’s great to keep it all simple, people’s attention spans aren’t what they were with everything moving so quickly, so a massive EP or loads of remixes just didn’t seem needed and it’s done the trick as far as grabbing attention goes."
It's been four years since your album Connected, three since the Re-Connected remix album – and you've previously described that album as "more of a story-so-far thing" anyway. So can we expect a full-length from you anytime soon?
"I have no idea! I have to stumble on these things to be honest. I can’t sit here and plan to do an album. Does the world need an album from me? Do I need an album from me? Who knows. What I do know is I need to flow into it creatively, and club tunes seem more fun at the moment for me."
A year or two ago where you talked in several interviews (not unreasonably!) about how formulaic and predictable the then-dominant sound of tech-house had become, so do you have any thoughts on the current "melodic techno" tsunami?
"Ha! yeah, I remember that. Thing is, people love that sound so you can’t knock it, it’s just not really my thing – you either connect with it or not. The occasional tech-house tune is okay, but I just think people needed to pour some character into them, that’s all.
"The same goes for the melodic stuff you mention. My next few tunes this year touch on the melodic thing as it goes, but in a different setting and a throwback kind of way. I think some may be surprised at it, but Space Riot and other recent bits are definitely a nice bridge to what’s coming."
Back then you were enthusing about a more lo-fi house aesthetic… are you still feeling that vibe in 2020, and/or what else is floating your boat musically right now?
"I just like music with character in it. There’s too many ‘functional’ tunes out there, I guess you could argue that’s okay too, but personally I just love music that feels like it has something to grab hold of. It doesn’t just have to be house, as listeners to my Rinse FM show will know. I love what Chambray and Dance System are both doing at the moment for instance, but I also dig the new Silvestre release on Meda Fury too. I can’t sit still, I get bored!"
You've also spoken many times of your love of vinyl, and how important it is to get out there and dig, not just rely on promos. Is that getting harder to do now, though?
"It’s definitely not harder at all. The vinyl labels I support release primarily on wax, it’s their main thing. There’s another world of music out there at your local record shop that doesn’t rely on Spotify or the digital world, and it’s essential for me to stay inspired away from the digital thing. Maybe it’s a personal thing, but I learn so much from buying actual records and remain inspired."
Something else you're known for is your love of hardcore, jungle and UK garage. You famously played a jungle set at fabric a couple of years back and I know you play a lot of different music on your Rinse FM show, but do you ever get to indulge that side of your musical persona in the studio – whether as Shadow Child, or on the QT?
"I have loads of stuff here on my studio machine that ticks all those boxes, but I think my profile and positioning as Shadow Child demands I stick to the 4/4. Sometimes it really throws people when I do a rare jungle set, so I try to keep it together as SC and only be self-indulgent now and then. Maybe I’ll do something one day under another name, although I do sometimes dabble as SC on an EP with a curveball track. I have to scratch that itch for sure!"
Speaking of the radio show, that's been hugely important for you, hasn't it? But it's also been running for a good few years now. Can you see a time coming when it's time to move on, or can you see yourself still there in 20 years, like a John Peel/Annie Nightingale type?
"I love doing it, it makes me prepare and hunt for music in a way that I wouldn’t if I was just DJing at the weekend or whatever. It’s a totally different process that aids my usual club and festival DJ sets.
"It’s a massive privilege to still be on Rinse after almost seven years, and I never take it for granted. I share my slot now bi-weekly with Mall Grab, so it’s an honour to be on there among the most exciting fresh talent, still doing my thing. I’m not going anywhere at the moment, so you’ll have to put up with me on the air for a little longer!"
Since 2018 you've also been recording as Polymod. How do you see the difference between the Shadow Child and Polymod material? To my ears it's a much less radical shift than the 2012 transition from Dave Spoon to Shadow Child was…
"Yeah, I guess it’s closer in some ways actually, but for me the idea of starting Polymod was to give me some musical clarity in the studio. I started making much more underground music again a couple of years ago, releasing on Ovum and Unknown To The Unknown, but then I was also doing more accessible major label remixes the same month, with vocals and stuff in.
"It needed some separation, and also gave me some freedom to work with Dusky on 17 Steps, somewhere maybe Shadow Child wouldn’t release. To me it’s all just music, and I love it as one, but my part in this industry demands me to be in a lane and have a certain position, so that’s where it came from."
Speaking of which… it's funny, I used to review a load of Dave Spoon stuff back in the day, and I knew that was you, but the name Shadow Child's become so ubiquitous now I'd actually forgotten! Does that make you feel happy or a bit sad?
"It makes me happy! I loved the Spoon era, but there’s some things I did back then that wish I hadn’t, and some music towards the end that was just me trying to fit in, nothing like where I wanted to be. Shadow Child was a bit of a leap into the unknown at the time, a risk some have told me, but musical contentment and finding the love for what you do again is so empowering and couldn’t have happened without everyone’s love and support for me switching it up, but that’s not the story with Polymod of course!
"People ask me if Spoon will ever come back, and the answer is never a straight no, however it’s definitely not a yes right now. I’m in a good, interesting place and I hope the new music in 2020 will raise a few eyebrows positively again!"
Finally, what else is going on for you right now that iDJ readers need to know about?
"How many column inches do I get? I’m about to launch a new sister label to Food Music, and we’ve picked up so much great new music for it. It’s a slightly more edgy sound and the first will be around in May 2020.
"I’m also mentoring people online who are at an advanced stage with their music and ideas, helping them with A&R and some production stuff too. That’s off to a flyer, and I love helping people shine the light on what they’re doing if I can – look up One For The Nerds [or just click here–ED]. And lastly, I’ve been making a music documentary with a film-maker friend, too. I'm co-producing and loving it and I can’t wait to unleash more on all of the above later in the year."
Words: Russell Deeks
Space Riot is out now on Nothing Else Matters