Shash’U: A Portrait Part I

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The artistic evolution of a Montreal DJ at Le Depanneur in the Mile-End

We agreed to meet and talk for an hour. I was familiar with the music but less familiar with the man so I didn’t know what to expect but to my surprise I came across a very warm and open gentleman, an artist that has the temperament of an engineer and the curiosity of young man. Saturday at noon I arrived at the place, spotted Shash’U right away and introduced myself to him and his entourage (consisting of his very friendly manager Carlos and two lovely ladies). They had just finished having brunch and there was a genuine happiness in the air, a Sunday morning ambiance. I got an Americano and we settled into conversation, talking about various things such as our mutual appreciation for the new Lupe Fiasco album, Tetsuo & Youth. My very first observations led me to start painting a picture of a very genuine and humble man.

The Painting of Shash’U

Shash’U is a Montrealer, born and raised. He has been active in making music for over 10 years, during which time he explored a variety of musical styles and compositions. Of Haitian descent, Shash’U is actually a Haitian nickname that his parents used for his real name, Richard. Childhood memories give way to scenes of musical freedom, curiosity and experiments.

Shash’U : “Music was always in the fam. We had vinyls in the house and my dad would let me play with them. We had this stackable record player that could hold up to 10 discs that you could switch on the fly. I was about four and I found this [music and the record player] mesmerizing. At about nine, I started playing drums in the school band (primary school). When I was 17, a friend lent me this demo cd of a music making software, I believe it was called Pro Audio DJ. My friend was raving about how ‘you can make your own beats’ which was completely new to me. Safe to say, the program didn’t even work on my computer (probably too old).”

Growing Up with Varied Pop

From a young age and while growing up, Shash’U was always drawn to the various sides of music.

Shash’U :”I just hanged out with other kids and listened to other types of music, especially since Montreal is somewhat outside the major socio-cultural bubble of major cities like New York and LA, so the music on our radios was more commercial stuff. You grew up with Backstreet boys, with Britney [Spears], with Spice Girls or like Nirvana or Green Day. You know at school dances it was Vanilla Ice, MC Hammer, Green Day and all that stuff, cool music I grew up with. In high school I experimented with playing alternative guitar [and was] listening to Moist. It’s always been part of me.”

Musical Scientist

But he didn’t just listen to the music. He observed it, studied it and tested his hypothesis.

Shash’U : “[At six years old] My dad used to play this salsa tape/cubano which had this super electro Star-Trek like intro – that sounded like a UFO landing – but I remember I always used to ask my dad to rewind it and listen to it again because I was so intrigued by it. I think that’s why I’m so in love with video games. Like some video games I don’t even play, I just go to the various levels and menu screens just to listen to the music.”

“When I was young I always used to take toys apart, see how they work and put them back together. I’m always trying to reverse engineer everything even in day-to-day things like why a certain app has so much appeal for me or why a certain song makes me feel that way.”

“[My first songs sounded] interesting – very video gamey. Back then, everything was self-taught. So I would try to listen to hip-hop songs I liked back then, things that Neptunes, Timbaland, Just Blaze were doing and reproduce the songs from scratch so I could train my ear, learn how to use the software and explore how to get the sound that I wanted. Because of that, now I can reverse engineer anything in music. I could hear it and understand right away how to get that sound. I work a lot on the process of why things should work in certain ways and how to get there. Behind the scenes, there’s an artistic journey to get to that understanding.”

From Composition to Krump

After spending his youth mostly studying and observing music, it was time for Shash’U to get more involved and express himself. As he went from musician to the beginnings of a producer to dancer and only after all this did he finally begin to DJ. The timeline? Only four years. This sprint is what allowed Shash’U to understand various perspectives of acoustic composition.

One surprising fact was that Shash’U is the first to produce krump music in Canada.

Shash’U: “[In the late ‘90s/beginning of the millennium], one of the first Krump dance movements in Canada was centered around Berzerk Squad which was started by a friend who went through all of Canada to find krumpers – there was nobody so he started doing his own thing. He started going to Urban Element (dance school). I met with them there (as I was going to that dance school) and I also saw them at a street dance competition Bust A Move (now held at TOHU)”

Dancing became a medium of expression and influence in his music. Even more so, it became a sort of looking-glass through which to better define music. This effect can be felt all throughout his work which is embedded with rhythms and emotions directly associated with movement.

Shash’U: “[Dancing] helped me understand and get in touch with the music better. Sometimes I just [sit back and] observe people and how they react to my music”

This interview continues in Part II (coming out on Thursday), where we find out about his “Time Machine”, Power Funk and his involvement with Fool’s Gold.