Exclusive: Shadow Dancer – Al’s 4.43am Mix Vol. 2

Last year electro stalwarts Shadow Dancer surprised us all with an ambient mix put together to mark the summer solstice. Named “Al’s 4.43am Mix”, the hour-long ambient journey sat perfectly with the annual moment of sunrise on the longest day of the year. At turns elegiac and wistful, heartbreaking and uplifting, it showed a side of the Shadow Dancer name often forgotten – the side as inspired by soundscapes as video games. Just over a year later, Al has put together a second mix of similar stature. Darker and even more introspective – if that were possible – it’s another glimpse down a dark and ominous rabbit hole that opens up with a brand new dawn. As that first mix was tragically removed from Soundcloud (the dreaded copyright issue), Shadow Dancer have kindly offered us the chance to share the mix with you.

First off, thanks for a great mix! It’s always great to get a mix that’s not just wall-to-wall exclusives (though of course these mixes serve their own special purpose in our world too) – did you enjoy putting it together? “Cheers, yeah I really enjoyed it!” You made a similar mix last year, what was it that drew you to do something so seemingly uncharacteristic – for those that don’t know your taste I mean? “I grew up listening to lots of ambient music and I just think sometimes I need it. When you’ve been making a track and listening to a kick drum for 12 hours straight you need a break. Takes me back to the womb or something…”

Are there any other mixes or works that inspired the way these two were assembled? “No actually, It just started as an experiment last summer I’d see if it worked to make a DJ mix that had no beats at all, and I’m going to try and make one every summer until I die!”

While the first mix was not without its dark points, the second takes us down a more sinister path – one more menacing than mournful – was that a conscious decision? “No, the only rules I set myself was that I couldn’t take a track from the same album as any track featured on the first mix, and to try and include as many different artists from the original mix as possible. I didn’t realise ’til afterwards that it has a bit more of a creepy vibe than Vol.1!”

Can you tell us about the process you went through when recording the mix? “I made a big shortlist of tracks I thought might be suitable in my iTunes, then created a big Ableton live file in which I shifted tracks round over a period of months until I felt the transitions sounded right. You can lay some of these tracks over each other for 5 minutes straight but I wanted to make the links brief as I think each track stands out in its own right.”

There’s something particularly timeless about some of this music – for example the Moderat track sounds like it could be from the 90s, while the Seefeel track could have been made yesterday – did that make it easier for you when it came to piecing them all together? “Yeah, definitely. There are tracks spanning five decades in this mix but I think they are all broadly of the same genre, which I would call ambient but I don’t know if that would be considered an unfashionable genre these days!” What is it about some of this type of music that defies the ageing process? “Because it doesn’t conform to any dancefloor trends it can never be out of fashion. Also, I think the need to relax occasionally, the desire to recharge or sleep is universal and I think this mix can be the soundtrack to that. Life can’t be about bangers 24/7.”

I notice you’ll use snippets as segue points, from tracks that are otherwise completely incongruous with the mood – does that sum up your approach to music, always looking for something unexpected? “This mix was as much about picking unusual tracks as much as trying to make the best ambient hour of music that I could with my idiom. There are loads of great ambient classics, but they tend to feature on every ambient compilation that gets released so I avoided them where possible.”

Unreleased Shadow Dancer track “The Light” is in a similar vein to some of the 4.43 stuff, have you made any more tracks like this? Would they ever surface on an album? “Yes, we’re not sure on what label yet but that track is definitely going to be released! It’s the sort of track that would fit into this mix perfectly, but it hasn’t been mastered yet. We definitely have a few more tracks in a similar vein, two of which are going to be on our forthcoming album on Bad Life and another we hope to be on our next album for Boysnoize Records.”

Has the particular box you may have found yourselves lumped into precluded you from trying anything in this style? “Possibly, but I think we’ve overcome that now. Also we call these mixes ‘Al’s’ just to distinguish them from the main Shadow dancer DJ mixes. I did get some negative feedback from the one from last year on Facebook because it is almost like an anti-DJ mix. I guess some people kept waiting for the kick to come in and it never did! They are going to be just as disappointed this time around!”

That said, how much of this, let’s say, “ambient” style inspires the more club-oriented music you make, in terms of mood and spirit? “I’d hope that some of the subtleties in production filter through (in tracks like ‘Voice Tracer’ for example), but for me there is a different intent. In the main, our remixes and many of our original tracks are designed to make you move you jack, basically.”

Are there any artists out there right now whose work would fit into the 4.43am bracket? “I must admit, I spend so much time listening to club promos that I’m probably a bit ambient-deprived (hence making these mixes to listen to which contain a lot of older tracks). No-one ever sends me ambient promos and labels that I used to rely on for my ambient fix like Warp have moved in a different direction. If anyone could give me any pointers about great new ambient labels I would be very grateful!”

What’s in store for Shadow Dancer for the rest of 2012? “We have an album out on Bad Life soon which is made up of tracks that we made before being Signed to Boys Noize (between 1997-2002). It’s a real mash up of techno, electro, tech-step, breakbeat and ambient. We might have a couple of new tracks coming out on other labels but in the main we are continuing to work on our second album for BNR, which is about 2/3 completed and should be out early 2013.”


SHADOW DANCER // Al’s 4.43am Mix Vol. 2

Tracklist
ENGINEERS // Pictobug (Part 1) // (Echo)
REDCELL // Wastelands // (B12)
CARL CRAIG // Es. 30 // (Planet E)
FUTURE SOUND OF LONDON // Ill Flower (Virgin)
MODERAT // 3 Minutes Of // (BPitch Control)
BIOSPHERE // Startoucher // (R&S)
JOHN CARPENTER // Main Title (Halloween III: Season Of The Witch) // (MCA)
PINK FLOYD // Shine On You Crazy Diamond (Part 1) // (Harvest)
THE ORB // U.F. Orb (Big Life)
BOARDS OF CANADA // Olson (Version 3) // (Warp)
RADIOHEAD // Treefingers // (Parlophone)
TANGERINE DREAM // Phaedra // (Virgin)
SEEFEEL // Utreat // (Warp)
SPACETIME CONTINUUM // Simm City // (Reflective)
WAGON CHRIST // Glass World // (Rising High)
BOLA // VM8 (Skam)
STEWART COPELAND // End Title Theme (Wall Street) // (Varese Sarabande)
JEAN-MICHEL JARRE // Harpe Laser (Disques Dreyfus)
RIDE // Untitled (Creation)
GLOBAL COMMUNICATON // 9 39 // (Dedicated)
GYORGY LIGETI // Lux Aeterna // (Wergo)
AUTECHRE // Garbagemx36 // (Warp)
ENGINEERS // Pictobug (Part 2) // (Echo)

BONUS: Shadow Dancer – Al’s 4.43am Mix Vol.1 (edited)

Aidan Hanratty
Aidan Hanratty

Dublin ... @adnhnrt | @Bandcloud

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