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Harrison: “You Have to Keep the Illusion That Everybody is Making Their Own Music.”

The UK-based DJ who has collaborated with Hardwell and David Guetta talks about ghost producers, his India debut and producing pop music

Riddhi Chakraborty Apr 05, 2016
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Harrison performing at Kitty Su in Mumbai, April 1st 2016. Photo: Suraj Nongmaitham.

Harrison performing at KittySu in Mumbai, April 1st 2016. Photography by Suraj Nongmaithem for Rolling Stone India

Last weekend, UK producer and vocalist Harrison Shaw’s Mumbai gig witnessed nostalgia and the new in equal parts. A techno version of Justin Bieber’s 2015 track “Sorry” made an appearance, followed soon by Eminem’s mega hit from 2000, “The Real Slim Shady.” Remixes of Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and the White Stripes’ brooding “Seven Nation Army” were thrown in for good measure. “I only got into huge, rave music when I was 16 or 17,” said the mononymous Harrison.

The singer first burst onto the electronic music scene in 2013 as the vocalist on French house icon David Guetta’s summer anthem “Ain’t a Party”. He later went on to work with some of the biggest names in EDM including Dutch producer Hardwell, American DJ Steve Aoiki and Filipino-Dutch electronic artist Laidback Luke.

Although no less skilled than the biggies he routinely teamed up with, 23-year old Harrison says it was difficult it was for him to start out as an independent artist. “I needed to collaborate with the guys that do have the fans, that are making the headlines”¦ I had to find a way to get heard.” He did make headlines with collabs like “Sally” [Hardwell, 2015] and the multiple tracks he’s worked on with Italian DJ duo VINAI. This year, however, Harrison embarked on a solo career, and has so far had shows in Germany, Italy and Taiwan.

His India tour comprised two stops ”“ Mumbai [KittySu] and Calicut [National Institute of Technology]. Here are excerpts from our conversation with Harrison at his Mumbai gig.

Given the success of your team-ups with big names, are you ever afraid of being typecast as a ”˜serial collaborator’?

No, I just needed to get famous and that was the best way to do it. I didn’t have any fans and so I just thought I needed to collaborate with the guys that do have the fans that are making the headlines and are doing things. I think in this industry there are so many different DJs and not really that many great labels, so you have to do with what you’ve got. Then by the time I was within industry, it was pretty saturated.  I had to find a way to get heard and now I get to tour the world because of it.

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Do you also produce tracks for other artists ”“ tracks that you don’t feature on yourself?

Yeah, I have produced a lot of tracks which I haven’t featured on, but nobody is allowed to tell anybody about that kind of stuff because then unfortunately everybody’s heroes are not as special as you think they are.  You have to keep the illusion that everybody is making their own music, even if you are being the ”˜ghost producer’ as such.

How do you feel about touring in India?

It’s always nice to play somewhere for the first time. I had heard a lot of great things and seen the Hardwell after-movies of how crazy it is — with breaking barriers and the crowd going really hard. It’s always nice to experience different people and different places. I was also excited about the Indian sun because we get nothing in London! [laughs]

You’ve been travelling a lot in the last few weeks. What’s the best thing about life on tour?

[It’s] probably the different cultures. The cool part is you get so many crazy people and so many people that just want to have fun. That’s the most important thing, you know? Getting the crowd going and just seeing how different people are. People in Germany like a certain type of music [and] people in Taiwan another. I didn’t realize I was that big in Taiwan because every single person knew every word to every single Harrison song! [laughs] It makes you realize how crazy and big the world actually is when you’re playing all these places you didn’t know existed. To go over and win the crowd is an amazing experience.

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You’re a versatile vocalist. You’ve explored rock & roll in “Sally” and indie, dream pop in “Man on the Moon”. Would you want to maybe work with a band?

Yeah, I definitely feel like I want to branch out a little bit more from just the really hardcore EDM like “Ain’t A Party”, “The Wave”, “Sit Down” [both with VINAI] and move on to songs that are a little bit more radio-friendly. For instance my next song is called “L.A. Girls” and its super pop-y and has some good summer vibes”¦ We’re shooting the music video next week on some beaches and it’s going to come out on the 22nd of April. We’re really, really excited.

Which are some of the artists who influenced you while you were growing up?

I was very into Sting, Phil Collins, the UK garage scene. I loved rap and Eminem.  I wasn’t really that interested in dance [music]! I only got into huge, rave music when I was 16 or 17, but while growing up it was all about rap and hip-hop.

Are there more projects you’re currently working on?

I have a new song with [Dutch producer] Kill the Buzz that will be coming out on the 23rd of May. That song is really special to me. It’s an integration between a Harrison sound and a more progressive kind of euphoria which I’m super happy about. Plus I have a bunch of really cool original stuff that I plan on releasing for the summer.

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