Human Shield: Street Dance for the Masses interview

by  GERAINT REES  

 

 

 

It's pouring down with rain on a typically dark and murky Manchester night when we arrive at the Attic nightclub. Despite this dubious weather a fair sized crowd has turned out to see a rare live appearance from self-proclaimed ' wine based' electro merchants Human Shield at new club night SEQUENCE. 

 

Originating from the depths of 'deepest, darkest Cheshire,  production duo Tommy Walker III and Peter Mangalore,  have  built up a cult following since last years performance on Radio One's One World sessions. Their subsequent releases on their own label and a few relatively low key but memorably weird gigs, have confirmed their talent for fusing dark Detroit influenced electro, muscular techno, disco and an ear for pop melodies, which sets them apart from many of their contemporaries. Tonight they arrive at the gig armed with masks, which they dish out eagerly to the assembled crowd and by mid-set it's fair to say that the dancefloor resembles a mass of assorted pogo-ing animals.

 

They start somewhat comically as a chopped up section of the Gummi Bears television theme, drops bizarrely into sparse robotic beats - but from then on in the set spirals upwards. The opening track 'Clorn' fuses jackin' techno, snatches the beats from 'Outrun' the arcade game and adds obscure 80's funk-pop samples to create an infectious groove. This continues with the bongo driven loops and squelching acid of 'Blarge' followed by the wicked slap bass and deranged 8-bit bleeps of the appropriately titled 'Slap Bell'. 

 

The set drives on with barely a pause for breath before stopping off for the dark brooding electro of 'Sleeve' with it's evil teutonic undertones.The crowd lap it up while Tommy and Pete bounce away behind their rack of equipment grinning at the mayhem on the dancefloor. The set closes in frantic style with a combination of body popping p-funk, fierce breaks and electro shots firing in and out of the mix. Perhaps the only let down tonight is that they are hampered by the Attics somewhat lightweight sound system, but the response they get afterwards is enough to demonstrate why Human Shield are beginning to establish a pretty tidy reputation.

 

 

They certainly know how to work the dancefloor and their intention to move people literally and also dissasociate themselves from the electro-clash scene, is something producer Tommy Walker is keen to point out,  when I meet up with him post-gig.

 

'First of all we are not electro. We are street dance', Tommy says firmly.

'There does seem to be a lot of electro things cropping up… there's lots of what we call fashion electro nights with men in boxing boots and experimental haircuts, we don’t really fit into that whole scene, which is more closely related to indie rather than dance music. Our music is definitely for the dance floor, but we don’t mind if a few pretentious fashion people come to see us'.

 He goes on to point out that Sequence is a 'good electro night' and that they will be playing again soon, promising a more ambitious live set.  'Just watching a guy behind a laptop and some keyboards can be pretty dull, we like to dress up, but mainly in private!'  he laughs.

 

Danny goes on to put his finger on the Human Shield live sound, at which point, his somewhat dark sense of humour begins to take over.

'I would describe it as funky genocide',  he states matter-of-factly. When I ask about the stage names he responds dead pan - 'they are our real names, we are both sexy and funny'. This is typical of Human Shield, who whilst taking their music seriously, refuse to take themselves too seriously at all. Danny elaborates on their Radio 1 session, ' Basically we only got on Radio One because someone owed us a favour. It was highly enjoyable, we were in the studio after Tim Westwood, which I'm sure you’ll agree was an honour. I Just remember drinking loads of blue aftershock in the studio, while Pete was doing his mix. We were also leaving hidden messages for Chris Moyles to find and read out on air…'

 

We move on to talk about their recent collaboration with Dutch producers Legowelt from the Viewlexx label.

 

'There's loads of good stuff coming out of Holland and Tunisia for that matter ', Danny enthuses, ' But now we are actually better than the likes of Legowelt and I:F. We would challenge them to a big fight any day ! The north-west of England will defeat the west-coast of Holland in a massive electro hoe down.....probably.' 

 

And Tommy has every reason to be confident. It is clear upon listening to their live sets that Human Shield, unlike some of the current crop of electro acts, are not content wallowing in 80's nostalgia, but rather spit out a whole range of influences through their box of tricks. Heavy doses of p-funk and Prince-esque guitar licks litter tracks such as 'Slap Bell ',  but they are equally at home switching to the jagged Neil Landstrumm style techno of 'So Fucking Normal '. The darker influences of Berlin techno, electro and Direct Beat's output, pervade much material, but there is also the same sense of fun found in early 80's electro and hip-hop, combined with the simple melodies of Kraftwerk. Despite the nods to the past  their sound is not lo-fi or retro. Instead it comes across as their own mutant brand of dark electro, twisted pop and techno.

 

 

 

 

So what are their plans for the future.

 

' DOG CRYSTAL is our latest signing and should feature heavily on our next release...it's primary aim was to conceive the fastest beat ever, we also found it made some good street dance'. Danny concludes.

 

They have also come up the unusual concept of a 'Beer, Cheese and Street Dance Festival' as promoted on their website. Danny fills me in on the details, ' Basically we’re going to do a semi-regular Sunday spot at a soon to be disclosed location. We are going to be hooking up with some of our friends in Manchester and generally having a ridiculous time playing street dance, disco and Sunday soft -focus electro. We will also be showcasing a quality beer and cheese each month and there will be activities like dance class, 8bit computer club and free cigarettes. All for no pence.'

 

So if an evening sampling the finest ales, camembert's and impromptu break dancing is up your street -tThen keep your eyes peeled for the North West's first 'Beer, Cheese and Street Dance Festival' - and if you don't make that make sure you check out the disturbing but compulsive viewing that is Human Shield live, bringing their own brand of street dance to the masses.

 

For more details on forthcoming Human Shield events or for a glimpse into their twisted world check. www.humanshield.co.uk

 

words: GERAINT REES   images: Human Shield

 

 

 

 

(c)(p) june04 - musicdash / manchestermusic.co.uk 2004