Shy FX is sat in a big leather chair in his darkened studio in the old Saatchi Gallery building on the South Bank. Eyes tucked under baseball cap, eating a family-sized Cadbury’s Fruit And Nut for breakfast, at 4pm, and visibly gathering himself for the chat. His long summer - Bestival and Boardmasters, the latter of which he played in the Desperado’s Dome, have been festival highlights - is coming to a close, and the Digital Sound Boy sound, so synonymous with the summer months, is having to re-adjust for the cold snap.
How do you pinpoint Shy’s musical style? Within the Digital Sound Boy-released ‘Peace And Dub’ video - an amazing edit that went viral, the music for which is done by Die, Break and MCs Fats and Buggsy - the contradictory life stages of Shy’s DSB vision transpose themselves onto film.
On the film are: ‘childhood’ - men playing dominos, a row of ivory counters shelved in one hand, chicken in its skin cooking in a silver pot, shiny shoes sliding at a blues dance; ‘Adolescence’ - MC Fats standing like a leathery sentinel of the rave days, before drum and bass was pushed out of the arenas, over ground; ‘Present’ - We see a clip of Sergeant Pokes and a crowd at DMZ coiling vertically like a tectonic plate; ‘Future’ - The sonics of the track, their reconstructed, ‘21st century dub’ feel, and an endemically spotless production which we feel is the hallmark, and the future for the Digital Sound Boy label.
“My new album, which is almost finished, is a reggae project called ‘Cornerstone’,” Shy tells Clash. “It is supposed to feel old-sounding, but with contemporary singers on it. I thought sourcing singers who would be interested in the project would be difficult, but the moment I started using these guys more people would start calling me up.”
“I was speaking to David Rodigan the other day,” he adds, “who was describing my grandfather as the cornerstone of reggae music over here - he was one of the first people to import reggae music to the UK, and he had the first reggae hit which was a tune called ‘OK Fred’ (by Errol Dunkley).” Shy’s grandfather was Count Shelly, an important sound system operator and record importer from North London in the 1970s and 1980s, and resident DJ at the 4 Aces club in Dalston (see the new film about the club, Legacy In The Dust). He says: “I grew up amongst all of that, growing up with the blues parties, walking downstairs and seeing everyone wilin’ out to the music: my father was a reggae singer as well.”
Shy went from gangster jungle the mid/early-’90s, with ‘Original Nuttah’ and ‘Original Gangster’, to Latin drum and bass of the early-Noughties with ‘Shake Your Body’ (which made a UK top ten), to being in charge of the varied output of Digital Sound Boy. When Shy first started with jungle, “most of my friends at the time thought it was devil music - especially with the drug culture and everything; it freaked everyone out. My circle was into reggae, hip-hop and rare groove.” Shy’s friends will be relieved, then, after a long time worrying. Shy has renounced the dark arts and is reaching back to his soul.
He tells Clash about his summer: “I loved playing the Desperados Dome at Boardmasters, it was heavy, with Murkage. I rarely stay at a festival after I’ve played, and this time I stayed.” And after Shy filled the Desparados Dome so effectively with hungry ravers, the powers that be have upgraded his next set at Freeze to the Desperados Factory - so even more fans can catch the full effect of his bass weight.
And the producer is fully psyched: “Yep, playing Battersea Power Station is pretty amazing; watching the snowboarders do their thing - wicked!” And with that Shy reverts to munching on his maxi-scale Fruit And Nut bar, breakfast for a man who’s played for the summer of a thousand and one white nights.
Shy FX will be playing at The Desperados Factory, along with Raf Daddy (Two Bears DJ set), The Nextmen, Murkage and many more, at Freeze Festival, London, 26th and 27th October.
Words: Miguel Cullen
Photography: Samuel John Butt