Elite Force: A tech-funk force to be reckoned with

Since its beginnings back in 1996 in the wake of the deactivation of his former ‘band’ outfit Lunatic Calm (whose breakthrough ‘Leave You Far Behind’ single went on to grace numerous high-profile film soundtracks), UK-based breakbeat producer / DJ Shack’s Elite Force project has gone from strength to strength, alongside his long-running fortnightly ‘Strongarm Sessions’ online radio show. With a solo album project looming in 2006 alongside a full-length album collaborator with long time studio partner Meat Katie due sometime later that year, ITM’s evilchris caught up with Elite Force’s Shack to discuss his numerous impending projects, the importance of imagination when remixing and the difficulties of juggling music and a label.ITM: You first started DJing at student nights and self-promoted events back in 1990 in the South West of England, before moving to London and shifting predominantly towards breaks in 1995. What was it that initially attracted you towards breaks in particular?

Shack: I think ‘breaks’ per se has always been something of a confused genre. Back in the early & mid-90s there were a lot of DJs out there playing what was termed ‘eclectic’ sets, drawing on a variety of genres from house to techno to instrumental breakbeat tracks, a kind of mentality embodied by the likes of Andrew Weatherall, Chemical Brothers, David Holmes, Justin Robertson, Norman Cook etc….. Breaks kind of grew out of that, with the likes of the Chems & Renegade Soundwave translating the desire for uptempo breakbeat tracks and for a long time it was a genuinely exciting new prospect, with a rich & varied palette. Since it’s become more ‘rigorously’ defined it feels like a series of rules have developed which at the moment’s straight-jacketing the creative side in a way you’re not seeing with the likes of house music & minimal techno. That spirit of eclecticism, and the wealth of quality music in other fields is the reason I’m tending towards the idea of ‘tech-funk’ rather than ‘breaks’ at the moment.

ITM: I first came across your productions when you were working as part of live ‘band’ outfit Lunatic Calm (particularly through the track ‘Leave You Far Behind’ which was licensed by quite a few compilations and film soundtracks). Has Lunatic Calm come to a natural end, or could you see yourself reprising this collaboration again in the future?

Shack: It came to a natural end, for which the likes of V2 & MCA can take most of the credit! We just tired of battling against disinterested major labels and called it a day – although in the words of Bond, ‘Never Say Never’.

ITM: You certainly have a close working relationship with Mark ‘Meat Katie’ Pember, having released your first Elite Force album ‘No Turning Back’ through his Whole9Yards label, as well as working together on numerous collaborative 12”s, including the recent ‘Fabulous Mint 400’. How did this link with Meat Katie first develop?

Shack: It actually goes way back to ‘97 when I was running Fused & Bruised and we were doing the odd party with Kingsize (who were at a similar level, just starting out). Mark was already releasing tracks with them & we decided to do a remix swap – a Lunatic Calm mix for a Meat Katie mix on F&B…I was a big fan of Whole9Yards after that and when I decided to fold the label, they were a perfect choice for me as they’d put out some house tracks alongside their breaks, so I knew I wouldn’t be too straitjacketed.

ITM: I understand that you and Meat Katie are currently collaborating on an artist album involving a number of guest vocalists, which is expected to come out early 2006 – are there any details you can reveal at this stage?

Shack: Well, actually we’ve decided to put it back a little from early 2006 as we were finding it impossible to get enough time together in the studio in one go to properly drive the tracks through and instead we’re both releasing solo albums next year, before we come back to the album project. That’s not to say we’re not still doing a lot of stuff together – we have a single ‘NuTron’ out in October (with remix from the excellent Switch), and then a double pack 12” that should be out in February called ‘Divine’, which features a vocal from Roland Clarke again…the remixes will come from Hardfloor, Infusion and D Ramirez, so needless to say we’re really excited about that one.

ITM: You’ve certainly been in considerable demand as a remixer, with reworkings for the likes of Santos, UNKLE and Infusion both on your own and alongside regular production partner Meat Katie; are their any particular favourite remixes out of the ones you’ve done so far?

Shack: It’s hard to say – each remix provides it’s own challenges and normally I’m most into the most recent one, which in this case is a Black Twang remix that’s actually being mixed down as I type. I suppose the most difficult challenge was to remix Grandmaster Flash’s ‘White Lines’, which I did for Warner Brothers earlier this year – aside from the fact that’s it’s obviously a defining, prototypical classic, they couldn’t find any of the original parts so I did it from a CD of the original and a lot of imagination…

ITM: I understand that we can expect collaborations between yourself and the likes of PMT, Soul of Man’s Jem Panufnik and Lee Coombs during 2005 – any sneak previews as to the sorts of things we might expect?

Shack: haha…well the PMT thing will definitely come about at some stage, but both me & Will are a little hard to pin down at the moment. I did a track with Jem early this year, which I really enjoyed doing, and we’re still looking for the time to put in a couple more days of studio time to complete what would be an EP. I did do something with Lee earlier this year, but we weren’t 100% happy with how it turned out, so we’re gonna need another day or two on that one.

ITM: You regularly post your Strongarm Sessions webcasts on a fortnightly basis at protonradio.com – how would you describe Strongarm Sessions to those who haven’t checked out the show before?

Shack: It sums up everything I’m about musically; it’s a tech-funk manifesto that covers anything and everything from acid house to deep breaks & from booming electro to chunky funk. I usually do a 2-hour live mix myself & feature a one-hour guest mix. We’re now up to over 6000 listens to each show, so it’s going great guns.

ITM: You originally put your Fused and Bruised label on the backburner after five successful years of operation in 2001; was it a case of wanting to focus on making music rather than label logistics / finances?

Shack: Yeah it was, completely. I was spending 4 days a week doing admin and one day a week making music. As an administrator I make a good musician!

ITM: So, what do you have planned now, for the rest of 2005?

Shack: In the immediate future I’m massively looking forward to a 2 week break with my wife & my dogs, and then it’s properly back into the fray with a hectic DJ schedule up to Xmas. I’ve been working on tracks for my album and that’s gonna be filling up most of my studio time until early in the New Year….plus the Strongarm Sessions continues to take up a fair bit of time.

Check out: http://www.strongarmsessions.co.uk and http://www.eliteforcemusic.co.uk, and don’t forget to get down to a club near you and experience Elite Force for yourself this October!

Thu Oct 13th – Cairns, Soho
Fri Oct 14th – Sydney, Chinese Laundry
Sat Oct 15th – Brisbane, Moon Bar
Wed Oct 19th – Hobart, Halo
Thu Oct 20th – Byron Bay, La La Land
Fri Oct 21st – Melbourne, Fractured
Sat Oct 22nd – Perth, Ambar