Born Andrew Chen, globetrotting trance star Shogun is an almost permanent fixture in the annual DJ polls with a string of Beatport and iTunes hits and host of award nominations for his infectious and atmospheric EDM productions.
Recording for a variety of prestigious labels like Armada Music over his career, Shogun’s productions have taken the world by storm in recent years, cementing his reputation as one of the genre’s more popular talents. As such, he’s rocked most of the world’s major festivals and famously held a longstanding residency at London’s legendary Ministry of Sound club.
Though the gigs stopped due to the pandemic, Shogun could not have been busierduring lockdown, beavering away to create a plethora of tracks including a remarkable twist on the classic Super Mario Bros. theme, with all proceeds donated to the CDC Foundation to help frontline workers combat COVID-19. The release was swiftly followed by four more tracks – the Moombahton-inspired “Fuck Up the Party,” the poppy “Lalaland,” the proggy “Walls” and the vocal-driven trance cut “Into the Night” featuring Dean Chalmers. We recently caught up with the Irvine, Calif.-based Shogun.
DJ Times: You’ve been very productive in lockdown. How soon did you realize you had to adapt your lifestyle?
Shogun: It’s kind of crazy because I was touring in Asia when the pandemic hit and it was all over the news there. I live in California and it hadn’t reached the U.S. yet, but when I got back around New Year everything went bad. When I realized there would be no more gigs, I started switching up my lifestyle and using this time to be creative and get more music done.
DJ Times: Raising funds for frontline workers seemed to be your immediate response…
Shogun: I hate looking at the news every day when everything’s so sad and messed up, so I felt like I had to do something. It’s dangerous for people working at hospitals and grocery stores, so why not try to help them out? Plus, Mario Bros. is one of my favorite games and every time I hear the theme song I get happy, so why not do a full remix and try to bring that joy to other people? I wasn’t looking to make money; just put it out and ask people to donate a few dollars to the CDC Foundation.
DJ Times: Presumably, you’re a video-game fan in general?
Shogun: I’ve always been a huge gamer and did a few video-game bootleg remixes here and there – one was Final Fantasy. I love playing Nintendo, Sega Genesis and PlayStation, but one day I was listening to an album called Zelda & Chill [by Mikel & GameChops], which got me thinking why no one had made a really sick Mario remix. I checked YouTube and couldn’t find one, so I thought it was time to do something.
DJ Times: What was your approach to making a track based on that?
Shogun: I downloaded the MIDI for it. Once I had that, I knew I could choose all the instruments and the sounds behind it, but I also wanted to try using sounds and effects from the original game. For example, I wanted to incorporate the sound of Mario jumping on the block, taking the coin and innovate it. Obviously, the original Mario song was created in the ’80s, so I wanted to renovate it for 2020 and make something that could be played at festivals or clubs. Trance is my signature sound, but I figured that’s not going to work for this remix – I had to do something that gave it a little more swag, so created a trap version.
DJ Times: You’ve written about 25 tracks throughout lockdown. Looking back, do you think touring inhibited your ability to make music?
Shogun: When you’re touring rigorously, it’s hard to balance that with finding the right amount of time to focus on studio work. I’m always flying and tired, so it’s hard to find the time to get into a zone and knock out a bunch of songs. This period has been a bit of a double-edged sword. It sucks that everything’s closed, but I’ve had all the time in the world to get creative.
DJ Times: You’re not one for making music in transit on your laptop?
Shogun: I produce my tracks from start to finish, whether it’s the sound design, sequencing, mixing or mastering – so I do prefer to have everything set up in an acoustically treated studio. When I take my laptop on the road, I might write some basic ideas in Logic, but I won’t do a complete mixdown. I’m a perfectionist and need to have control over how a track will sound. I was actually a mix engineer before I got into producing, so I love the process of using analog equipment or outboard gear to glue the sound together.
DJ Times: Do you prefer hardware over working in the box?
Shogun: To the average person, it may be difficult to decipher the difference between digital and analog. But for an engineer, it makes a difference if you can get some analog zero and ones into the music. Today, the digital plug-ins are getting pretty close to their analog counterparts and you can get away with using plug-in chains that will give you that analog sound. But I like the feel of working with hardware gear, so I’ll always mix in the box, then bring the stems out and put them through a [Phoenix Audio] Nicerizer, Tube-Tech summing mixer or run my digital synths through an old-school Neve 1073 preamp to give them that beef and distortion.
DJ Times: Your first summer release, “Fuck Up the Party,” was a more pop/dance direction…
Shogun: My flagship sound is trance, but I don’t want to confine myself to that. It’s a bit like eating pizza. I love it, but nobody wants to eat pizza every day – there’s barbecue, tacos and good sushi, too. As a producer, I just want to do whatever I want, whether it’s a country or reggae song, and I guess that’s the process behind the four songs that I have ready for release. “Fuck Up the Party” is more of an electro-pop, Moombahton-inspired track and the next one, “Lalaland,” is more radio-friendly with a Brazilian-bass influence. The third song, “Walls,” definitely leans more towards my signature progressive-trance sound.
DJ Times: What inspired you musically?
Shogun: As crazy as it sounds, I grew up listening to ’80s music like Michael Jackson, Madonna and all these icons. That’s the music that inspired me. The first cassette tape I listened to was “Billy Jean,” and if it wasn’t for that, I probably wouldn’t be making music. My music influences can come from anywhere from pop to ska or industrial music – I loved Rage Against the Machine and Nine Inch Nails.
DJ Times: Have you had to find new ways to monetize your releases?
Shogun: I don’t have many other ideas around monetizing music. Because there are no live DJ gigs, I’m planning on giving virtual streams a shot, even though I recognize you can’t replicate the live-performance aspect of feeling the energy of a live crowd. Otherwise, I’ve been investing in stocks and that’s been keeping me afloat [laughs].
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