Interview: Shapeshifter


One of the most renowned live acts in the electronic music scene is Shapeshifter, the 5-piece drum n bass outfit who calls Christchurch, New Zealand home. Since 1999 they have redefined the sound of live drum n bass with global tours and 8 LP releases. Their recent ’Stars’ album was received extremely well with all the major music media, and confirmed they are still on the top of their game. We were lucky enough to caught up with P-Diggs, the band’s lead singer, just as they we were about to embark on their Australian tour.

You’re about to kick off a huge six-date Aussie tour, tell us a little about your past Australian shows and what we can expect this time around?

We have had some really fun times playing in Australia, touring the Big Day Out festival was supremely fun to see all the antics that go down when you have that many different artists in one place. We’ve done the Parklife tour which is quite similar to the Big Day Out for craziness, but just more dance/electronic orientated. Aussie loves to party hard and I must say we like to play at those parties.

Once you wrap up in Australia you’re heading to London, Zurich, Amsterdam, Berlin and Brighton… In total you’re playing 11 shows in under a month! With almost one show every two days, how was preparation for this tour?

This time around we will playing a lot of new tunes from our new album Stars, which is fun for us to mix it up a bit in the set and play some new songs with the not so new. Jamming the new songs lately has really brought some good energy and excitement and ramped up the fun factor with our live shows. Thankfully we have just finished the summer festival circuit in NZ so the whole band is firing on all cylinders and sounding pretty damn tight. We released the album in Nov and have been performing quite a bit over summer which is perfect for us prior to this tour of Australia and UK/ Europe.

As you mention you recently released your latest album ‘Stars’. How was writing your fourth LP? How was it different to your other productions?

In the process of writing our album Stars we came up with about 100 songs/ideas, not complete of course, but enough so we can get a feel and gauge the vibe. Some of the ideas were obvious from the get go that they would make the cut, some obviously not so. Some ideas/songs had to be reworked to get them close to a diamond. And then as we came closer to the end we had to be a bit brutal and have a team vote to see which would make the final list. Always tricky as a few of us had attachments and attractions to a few different tunes. All in all what had to be done was done and we’re mighty happy with the outcome.

You’ve said the tracks on Stars are about love, loss and the afterlife. How do you write your songs? Is it done as a collective or is it down to a certain few?

When we’re writing songs there is no set structure or right or wrong, whoever has an idea puts it forward and we’ll go from there. Sometimes it’s at rehearsal and we just jam out some feels for a couple hours, other times it may be an idea that comes from a studio session where we have vocals first to work with and we go from there. It’s all pretty organic to be honest.

Being the worlds only (as far as we know!) live drum ‘n’ bass act, your approach is truly unique. Your “off the grid” approach to live shows allows you to bring your music to your fans like no other. Did this style of performance stem from jamming live or was it always something you wanted to do? (For those playing at home, “off the grid” is complete analogue and digital synthesisers – so a full live band).

With the live drum and bass thing, there have been a few that have and still do it. I believe Netsky is performing as a full live band, drums and keys and a few computers for samples which is quite similar to us. Also, London Elektricity perform from time to time as a full live band. With Shapeshifter we all came from previous bands so playing live has always been the norm for us. In the late 90s we decided to form the band and try our hand at playing live jungle and drum and bass.

You recently performed at Glastonbury festival in the UK. How was your set and who did you get to watch while you were there?

We love traveling and love performing our music on as many stages as we can, and we’ve had the chance to play on some epic stages through the years such as Exit Festival in Serbia, Audio River in Poland, Love festival in London and Glastonbury which was truly amazing. 4 days long, 250 000 people and nearly every single artist that we’ve ever loved playing during the course of it. Simply put, if you’ve never been to Glastonbury put it on your bucket list. My head hurts just reminiscing.

Finally, you guys have been together for years! How do you manage keep the peace on such big tours?

It’s been a fun learning experience and a hell of a crazy ride, we’ve had a few lineup changes since ’99, but I think where we are now musically is the strongest we have ever been. As well as friendship-wise where there is a great respect between the band and our whole road/tour crew. We enjoy each others company which is the key to our longevity.

Shapeshifter Tour Dates

Wednesday 5th April:
Parkwood Tavern, Gold Coast
with special guest K-Lab

Thursday 6th April:
The Triffid, Brisbane
with special guest K-Lab

Friday 7th April:
170 Russell, Melbourne
with special guest K-Lab

Saturday 8th Sydney:
Manning Bar, Sydney
with special guest K-Lab + Metrik