The Aston Shuffle are Australian duo Vance Musgrove and Mikah Freeman. As DJs, producers, remixers, selectors, and radio presenters, they have established themselves at the forefront of the Australian dance music scene and are forging a growing presence on the world stage. The duo first rose to prominence as standout remixers, with Aston Shuffle remixes of Claude Vonstroke, Empire Of The Sun, and London Grammar becoming blog sensations. Their profile grew exponentially with several contributions to the iconic Ministry Of Sound mix compilation series, and their debut album Seventeen Past Midnight was critically acclaimed, receiving a 4-star review in Rolling Stone. Their 2013 collaboration with fellow Australian producer Tommy Trash, “Sunrise”, was an era-defining record, hitting #1 on Beatport, and becoming a main stage festival anthem across the globe. The duo took their sound further into the pop realm while still staying true to their club roots on their sophomore album Photographs, which featured the gold-selling single “Tear It Down”.
When and why have you started producing music?
I started producing music a long time ago now, at the age of 13 or so. I starting playing piano at the age of 3, taking piano lessons and very much focussing on a strict classical music education, so my whole idea of music was based on the classical world. I had a friend at school whose brother was a DJ, so my friend would bring mixtapes to school, and once I heard dance music my mind was basically blown, I had no idea how any of those sounds were created or how the mixtapes were put together so seamlessly, so I was pretty much instantly obsessed and wanted to learn everything about it – how to DJ, how to produce dance music, everything – and I basically haven’t stopped since then. I’ve been playing drums all my life and was really into heavy rock music during my teen angst years. When I was around 16-17 years old, a friend of mine took me to an underground rave party and the whole experience blew my mind. Musically, It was so different from anything I had heard previously and there was also this feeling of togetherness in the crowd. As cheesy as it sounds, I really felt like there was a sense of love and unity among us all. I was instantly hooked! The very next week I sold my drum kit and bought two turntables and a mixer and spent many sleepless nights trying to learn this new craft I had absolutely no idea about. Once I felt like I was competent enough I started playing out in local clubs and then the next obsession came along – I wanted to learn how to make the music I played out in clubs. So I saved up enough money to buy a computer and again spent many sleepless nights trying to work out how to make dance music. 10 years later I still spend many sleepless night trying to make decent dance music!
You’ve started producing a long time ago (some of your singles aren’t even on spotify, and you’re still releasing music. How the dance music scene has changed since then?
Things are quite different now, but over our career we’ve seen multiple shifts at this stage – musically, things seem to change roughly every 3 years. The hottest genre (or scene) right now is probably going to last around 3 years or so, and by then something else will have sprung up in its place. The genres that were dominating our musical landscape when we started out as The Aston Shuffle are basically gone at this point – the fidget house sound, and that nu rave / electro sort of sound – and there’s a renaissance of some classic house sounds from the 90s right now as well. So at a basic level, the genres that are really connecting with people now are different to when we started out, and it’s been exciting to see those shifts happen.
The way music is consumed by fans is so different now as well, as is the way fans interact with artists and expect artists to interact with them. The pace of things seems a bit more frantic overall now, you need to put more music out more often, and engage with your fans on a constant basis, to stay at the forefront of your fans’ minds. There’s a kind of palpable hunger for content that drives the entire scene now that feels markedly different to when we were starting out.
What do you think inspired you guys the most for your new song stay?
Usually it’s a bit difficult to track down one definite inspiration for a track, but in this case we had a super specific one – Kink. We are huge fans of his tracks, and for some reason he immediately came to mind early on in the process of working on this track, both in terms of the overall vibe of the track and in certain production choices we made – the drums and some of the synths.
How did you hook up with Fabich and what was it like working with him on this?
We’ve been big fans of Fabich’s for a while, his track One Two is one of our favourite tracks of the last couple of years, and it was released on The Magician’s Potion Records, which we’ve released a lot of music through over the last couple of years, so that was the connection in initially getting to know him. And then as luck would have it, he was in LA in 2017 at the same time we were, so we jumped in the studio and basically got the track done in one afternoon – it was one of those sessions where you quickly lose track of time because everything was flowing so quickly, was an absolute pleasure and heaps of fun!
Where do you find The Bangers that you put on only 100s? How many hours do you end up trawling the internet for these tracks?
We receive a lot of new music for the Friday Night Shuffle on triple j, 100-150 new tracks or so, and the full process of going through all that music, assembling the playlist and recording the actual show takes both of us one full day per week. When it comes to Only 100s we’re always focussing on the tracks that we feel have been the hottest and made the most impact to us for that month, so we can really put those on a pedestal. We’re always keeping an eye on what’s being played elsewhere in the scene too, but the focus for us is what we’re personally feeling strongest about. There’s so much music dropping each and every week that this can be a daunting task and can lead to some heated debate between the two of us but the tracks that make the cut for Only 100s are always the ones we feel really strongly about.
Congratulations on your single, ‘Now Or Never’! Definitely a song that makes you wanna get up and dance. What has the response to it been like?
The response has been really positive so far, it’s gotten into some awesome reactions from fans, and it’s been played in DJ sets by the likes of Sister Bliss, Oliver Heldens, and Dimitri Vegas & Like Mike, which has been great to see – it’s more of a club-focussed track and so it’s been great to see it being played by those DJs in their more club-focused mixes. We’re pretty stoked so far!
Can you guys walk me through a little bit of how you guys approached this track and how it transitioned into what it is now?
We initially started this song in Melbourne, Australia. Like a lot of tracks of ours it started life as an instrumental, the chords and the drum groove came first and we knew it felt like it could be a great track basically immediately, so we kind of left it for a while, which we often do so that we aren’t overworking a track so much that we lose what makes it special (which we’ve definitely done a few times). A few months later, Vance was in London and played it to Ryan Ashley, who we’ve worked with a number of times now, he’s an amazing writer and has worked with H.E.R, MNEK, and The Magician, among others. He pretty much instantly connected with the track and the vocal came together very quickly, so we fleshed out the track over the next few months and eventually played it to The Magician, who had some suggestions on how to finish it. A few revisions later and we had the final version.
So you guys started off as remixers, right? I see you guys have remixed songs like ‘The Whistler’ by Claude Von Stroke and ‘DNA’ by Empire of the Sun (which are killer remixes might I say). Those are both some incredible artists, so needless to say, you guys have good taste! I would love to know, who are some of your biggest inspirations when it comes to making music?
Yes, the very first tracks we ever did were remixes, and in fact the very first remix we ever did was done when The Aston Shuffle had just been set up as a label, and the idea was to do remixes under that name purely as a way to promote the label, but then as our tracks started connecting, the label kind of faded away and The Aston Shuffle became an artist project. Our musical inspirations are constantly changing as music evolves and as we evolve. When we were first getting into producing music we really looked to artists like Armand Van Helden, Paul Johnson, and Todd Terry, all of whom are still huge inspirations to us today. New names we’re into right now include Illyus & Barrientos, Walker & Royce, Dom Dolla, Rebuke and Weiss. We feel like house music is having a huge moment right now and we couldn’t be happier about it.
Is it challenging finding time to tour and produce your own music while doing your weekly triple J show? What have you learnt from 8 years of doing both?
It’s definitely a challenge juggling all the facets of touring, producing and radio, adding in to the mix the fact that we live on opposite sides of the globe (Mikah in Canberra and Vance in New York). Our approach is “divide and conquer” based on our strengths and skill sets so I might be working on new music ideas while Vance is mixing down a track ready for release or compiling new music for the Friday Night Shuffle on triple j. Email, Dropbox & FaceTime are probably the three most crucial tools to being able to juggle everything we do and we wouldn’t be able to get through our never ending ‘to do’ list without them. After 8 years of radio and 12 years of Aston Shuffle, we’ve learned that passion and talent are great but it all comes down to how hard you’re willing to grind, day in, day out.
Who are you seeing as the next big Australian Producer export? Who should we be keeping our eyes on?
There are so many Aussie producers doing great things at the moment. On the house tip, Dom Dolla is getting bigger and bigger at the moment, he’s going to have a huge 2019. Some others to watch include Brux, doing some intense, moody electronica; Made in Paris, owning the techno game; Flash ‘89 is killing it with his rolling bassline, tech house vibes; Kormak is doing some great things at the moment too, making some very classic-sounding house tracks and getting lots of plays from big international DJs.