No Revivalism: Shackleton looks firmly Forward

5 Minute Read
Shack solo Mario by Mario Bergmann
Written by Alasdair King

Exploring the diverse and exciting musical trajectory of a producer who doesn’t sit still.

Shackleton remains one of the most interesting experimental musicians in the UK – over the years Sam has released some of the most diverse and innovative electronic material but has never been bound by one particular sound, having more recently ventured into the realms of free jazz, dub and beyond. Over the past few years he has worked with a broad array of musicians and collaborators, seeking to push boundaries by drawing upon the creativity and influence of others.

Recent releases alongside the likes of Wacław Zimpel, Scotch Rolex and Anika are just a few of these to mention – as well as work as part of the group Tunes of Negation featuring Heather Leigh, Takumi Motokawa, and Raphael Meinhart.


All of this emerged from what was once a fairly active musical presence in the underground dance and electronic music scene – albeit that of the off piste.

Collaborations with the likes of Pinch cemented Sam amidst the UK scene whilst his own record label Skull Disco, run in collaboration with Appleblim, retains cult status in the bass and techno spheres. Then there were releases on the likes of Perlon, Hotflush and Crosstown Rebels. At one point in time ‘dance music’ was very much an important part of the Shackleton sound.

However, it is with Honest Jon’s that Sam has retained perhaps the longest standing relationship – the prolific label has acted as a home for a number of releases over the years and shares a similar ethos and sense of adaptability to Sam. Not one bound by hype or genre but one which represents a deeper musical ethos. It’s always been about pushing things forward.

At a time in which music seems to be going through a celebration of revivalism: be it dance, dubstep, trance or whatever the next hot minute is…

Shackleton remains firmly focussed on what comes next, performing live and breaching the gap between musical intersections.

Your music has mutated and evolved over the years – from your early origins in Punk and Dancehall through to Bass and the weirder fringes of Electronic music. Where would you place yourself in the present and are there any musical elements which you feel underpin your own personal aesthetic or interest in sound?

“I can not say I have ever consciously made my music to fit a certain genre. It always just seems to be what sounds right to me at any certain time. I just go with my ear and feelings on these things. I think there is a kind of shared aesthetic and sensibility to all the music I do though no matter what and I would suppose that it is partly grounded in a ritual trance aesthetic, especially with the repetitive elements and the longer forms. It also doesn’t use traditional western “verse chorus” structures, tends to have a non-narrative approach and is often more centred around a drone. These are characteristics shared by a lot of music around the world too and, in a general sense, I would guess that these sensibilities are probably more about appealing to the transcendent or mystical experience and so I would guess that is approximately my own interest in sound too. I think this aspect is the same for me now as it has been since I started releasing music.”

Collaboration has always been an important part of your musical progression – what is it about the process of working with other musicians or artists which excites you?

“Partly I think it is finding the aspect of the other person’s approach or even personality that is alien to you or that would never occur to you and feeling inspired by it. Sometimes you can have a person who inspires you just by being so different to you on a personal level. Then there are cases of working with people who are great musicians and who can do things on a technical level that you simply can not do, like playing a particular instrument for example. Generally, it is a combination of both with a lesser or greater emphasis on either side.”

What is it you are looking to achieve when working collaboratively with other musicians?

“Generally things sound finished when they sound “right”. What determines this is dependent on what the dynamic between the partners is. Working with Siddhartha Belmannu is going to have a different result than working with Scotch Rolex and again with Heather Leigh. They are all great musicians in their own right though with their own brilliant qualities. To make sure that the music ends up sounding “right”, you need to be able to listen to each other and work out what the best qualities are of the other person musically.”

There was a period in time in which you were focussed on releasing music for the clubs, albeit left of centre, does this hold any interest in the present still? Does club music still interest you?

“I am not so sure I was focussed on releasing music for clubs but it is true that I would like my music to work in the dance. The potential of the club space for an awe-inspiring musical experience is the same as ever. Darkened room with a big sound system, what more could you need? I am not going out dancing as much as I did though but it is hard to work out whether that is because I have become older and have different interests or whether the continuous revivalism you refer to in your next question seems to have become more common.”

Skull Disco has evolved into a ‘cult’ label of sorts – very reminiscent of a particular time in the UK, given that dance music seems to be in a state of continuous revivalism could you ever see it being brought back to life?

“I find this kind of revivalism a bit sad. I like music that aspires to be timeless but I am not interested in retreading old ground. I suppose that Skull Disco evolved into a cult label and I am pleased about that but I think it ran its course. I don’t really want to buy into my own myth in this respect.”

“I like music that aspires to be timeless but I am not interested in retreading old ground. I suppose that Skull Disco evolved into a cult label and I am pleased about that but I think it ran its course. I don’t really want to buy into my own myth in this respect.”


From an outside perspective you don’t strike me as someone who necessarily cares or responds to the notion of ‘hype’ and or pays much attention to the ‘trend du jour’. What has that perspective afforded you creatively in terms of freedom and do you feel that it limits other musicians and contemporaries?

“There are a few different themes here. First of all, I genuinely do not have the mental space to pay too much attention to what is in fashion or what the hype is. I think I can only concentrate on doing my thing. Being without social media is probably helpful in this respect as I do not really get wind of what the hype is except for in a quite approximate way through other people and, even then, I have a wide spectrum of friends with a lot of different interests and these kinds of things are not really the conversations we have.

I do of course care about having an audience though and I am really pleased when people like a release I have been involved with but that cuts both ways as there is also the danger that you can also take negative opinions too seriously and get discouraged. I think this avoidance of trying to be hype or even being aware of it is probably useful for me creatively but it also serves for my self-protection. If I exposed myself to what people were saying about the music, I might start to take it personally or subconsciously try to change what I was doing. That said, there is a certain irony to me saying this as I know that Skull Disco also became a bit of a hype thing back in the day so it is not as though I have always been immune to it as it did freak me out a bit, especially when some people seemed to project things onto it which I was not intending at the time at all. This was part of the reason why I felt it was a good time to shut down the label.

I can not really say what works or doesn’t work for other people creatively. I tend to like music that isn’t reliant on a genre but, even then, some artists have such a strong sound and unique that they define the genre itself and that is also great.”

Over the years you’ve formed close relationships with a number of labels and artists. Honest Jon’s has played a key role in a lot of your work, why is it important to forge and cultivate a longstanding relationship like this? What does it afford you musically?

“I see the people behind Honest Jon’s as being enthusiasts and I like their no nonsense approach. I think you always have to understand that public taste can change and what is considered to be the hype at one time, can be considered to be quite uncool at another time. Over the years though, you get a sense for people who have integrity and are in it for the right reasons. I regard Honest Jon’s as being amongst the best in the game in this respect and I hope that they will also continue to have time for me moving on.”


"I see the people behind Honest Jon's as being enthusiasts and I like their no nonsense approach."


You seem to have a pretty prolific work rate considering the number of records and collaborative projects you’ve been involved with as of late – why is it important to keep things moving?

“I just feel the compulsion to create. I had worried that I might dry up as I get older but I actually feel quite the opposite.”

How has your perspective of music changed since you first began – where does the excitement lie for you and do you ever feel jaded?

“Yes, I see music differently now than when I was younger and that is the same for art generally. Now I like ambiguities and multiple layers of meaning but also the striving for something that exists outside of the here and now and outside of the common discourse. I think when I was young, I probably would’ve welcomed art that acted as a kind of propaganda tool in some perceived battle between the forces of good and evil but, as I get older, this notion mostly leaves me quite cold and instead I want to feel “elevated” by art for want of a better way of expressing myself. In terms of making music and believing in the power of music, no, I do not feel jaded. Quite the opposite, I feel vital as ever and want to carry on.”

What comes next?

“I hope I can just carry on doing what I do and still have an audience that will listen. I loved working with all the artists so far and would be happy to work with any of them again.”

Catch Shackleton at Positive Education in France HERE. Photography courtesy of Mario Bergmann.