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John Shima: Local producer discusses The Lonely Machine

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Sheffield's electronic music lineage is like ripples reverberating in water when you cast a pebble.

Right at the centre are the foundations of the city's electronic revolution, from Cabaret Voltaire to Warp Records and 30 years beyond. Each new ripple takes on its own form and reaches further afield, far beyond the seven hills. In 2019, Sheffield is home to the recognisable imprint of CPU Recordings, the warehouse euphoria of Hope Works - and the polished studio mastery of John Shima.

With almost ten years of productions chalked up, Shima has just released his debut album for the supreme B12 Records imprint that is Firescope. It's a striking double platter on rich blue vinyl with a futuristic space-age sleeve that matches Shima's mature and authentic techno.

We spoke to him about The Lonely Machine and the influences that helped him become one of Sheffield's finest and most underrated electronic exports.

Who inspired you to start making your own electronic music?

Hearing the early Warp Records releases in 1989-90, tracks by Nightmares On Wax and Forgemasters that were just amazing. They sounded like they were from the future and I was instantly hooked.

Around the mid-nineties a friend showed me a magazine called Future Music and we were both fascinated by all the equipment in there. We hired out a local studio to write some tracks but we soon realised how expensive it can become hiring out a studio per hour and getting little done. So we started buying a few bits here and there to build our own studios.

As someone who has travelled to play at some of the world's techno hotspots, do you think the genre still has that local identity it had back in the early days, such as with Detroit, Sheffield, Tokyo and Berlin?

Yeah, I think so. Every city I've played around Europe has a crew and a group of DJs who like to put parties on in their hometown and bring in guests who play a similar sound to them. These guys have a great following, with people who turn up to their regular events knowing that they'll understand and trust them with the bookings.

Places like Romania and Barcelona have an amazing local scene, where everyone supports each other. I played a few weeks ago in Paris and the DJ before me played a set of bleep techno, all brand new bleep stuff. I was blown away. It was amazing to hear the bleep back in such a modern way.

Sheffield introduced me to electronic music

You've released your debut album through Steven Rutter's Firescope label. How does it feel to have finally produced your first techno LP?

It's amazing to have an album out, which is something I didn't ever think would happen. I love listening to albums at home or in the car as they offer a great insight into the artist. I wrote the music but Steven has created a stunning package, a real piece of art - double coloured splatter vinyl with bespoke artwork and printed sleeves, and even matching CDs.

It has a real quality feel, like albums we used to buy in the Warp Artificial Intelligence era. No expense spared. I can't thank Steven enough for having the faith in my music and creating this amazing package. It was so much hard work and many hours in the studio and I burnt myself out, but it was all worth it in the end.

What was the process for putting together a longer collection as opposed to a four-track EP?

Usually when I do an EP it's four tracks and they can be written at similar times or years apart, but I put together tracks I think make a rounded EP. Steven asked me if I wanted to release an album on Firescope, so that was the plan from the start. I put all other tracks I was working on to one side and wrote 14 tracks as an album.

I wanted it to be a well-balanced piece of music. Something you could listen to on headphones, on the bus or train, something you can play in the car or in the background as you go online, and still have something for the DJ to play in a club. I also wanted to take advantage of showing what I can do. It allowed me to make a few slower tracks and more ambient-based tracks.

The collaborations with Steven Rutter must have been special. How did they come about and how does it feel recording music with such a legend of the UK electronic scene?

It was funny actually, because he is such a legend, and his B12 albums on Warp are timeless. I was obsessed with them for years and they've definitely inspired my sound. He even said once that I sound more like B12 than he does.

The collaboration we did wasn't really planned. He came to stay at my house in Sheffield for the weekend, so of course we had a few studio sessions together. We were walking around the studio, he would be jamming on the drum machine while I played chords, then he'd get up and walk over to another synth and play a melody. It was so much fun and so easy to work together, we just said, 'shall we do an EP together?' Thinking back, it is surreal that Steven Rutter was here in my house, playing in my studio, but at the time it was just two close mates playing around.

Sheffield has a strong history of electronic producers. As someone with close connections to the city, how does it feel to contribute to that legacy?

It's a strange feeling. Wherever I play in the world I'm always representing Sheffield and our scene. People always ask me what it's like here. Sheffield introduced me to electronic music. It was Warp Records' early stuff like Nightmares On Wax, LFO, Forgemasters that I heard first and it blew me away. I remember spending Saturdays in the Warp Records shop with friends buying records and being in dark, sweaty warehouse parties and hearing those tracks.

It was just something else. Something so futuristic and alien, yet these were people from my own city. It just made me want to create it myself. So it's amazing that I can add my sound to the many amazing artists to come out of this city. If you take away the chords and pads my tracks sound like 1990 bleep tracks, without the bleeps. There's still a strong influence there.

What plans have you got going forward?

I've always got releases planned with various labels in their schedules. At the moment there's a four-track EP this summer for Subwax Barcelona, a few various artist EPs that I'm appearing on. I have another EP for Firescope also lined up and some remixes out soon, two of which I'm really excited about, one of them being a legendary Sheffield act that influenced me, so that really means a lot.

Gig wise, I have many European gigs planned again. I'm currently discussing a mini tour of South America which is really exciting, so hopefully that will happen.

Andy Tattersall

The Lonely Machine by John Shima is out now on Firescope Records

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