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Anthony "Shake" Shakir - Frictionalism 1994-2009

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Artist: Anthony "Shake" Shakir

Album: Frictionalism 1994-2009

Label: Rush Hour

Review date: Feb. 24, 2010

Now that techno producer Anthony “Shake” Shakir has been doing what he does long enough to release a retrospective triple-disc, we can pretty well confirm what seemed to be true all along: that his music is pure portent. With little fanfare and even less ego, Shake has anticipated an uncanny number of electronic music’s future moves for the better part of two decades. In the bitterly negotiated canon of Detroit techno legends, Shake is one of the few names safely ensconced. He wasn’t a founder. He doesn’t throw the biggest parties. He never flirted with chart success. But his work has a quiet grandeur that none of his colleagues can touch.

Most biographical summaries of Shake begin with his years as a minor figure in the nascent moment of techno, as a Metroplex errand boy trying to parlay a couple of big-deal track credits into something more sustained. The story should really start from youth, when Shake was merely listening. A lot. And to everything. To this day, he gets a lot of mileage when DJing by throwing on an unexpectedly funky rock track, but the gesture isn’t about novelty. Like a lot of Detroit radiophiles of his generations, Shake was exposed to ambitious programming as a kid that reached far beyond the boundaries of today’s rigid, demographically-hemmed playlists. Schooled equally well in his formative years in Marvin Gaye, Kraftwerk, the Jackson 5, disco, hip hop, the Velvet Underground, the B-52s, Chicago house, Prince and much more, Shake was well-positioned from an early age to make unusual connections.

But it’s more than just a connoisseur’s ear that makes Shake’s records what they are. His disposition is often summarized (by him and others) as “moody,” although truthfully there’s more to it than that. Shake is serious — about Detroit, his family, his software, his records, race, life, and god. Rather than moodiness, we might more accurately say that his records are frank confrontations with difficult emotional matters. As a person, Shake has a reputation for being opinionated, funny, and garrulous—but on vinyl, vulnerable. Any number of his tracks demonstrate this; we’ll move chronologically.

“Mood Swing”

“Mood Swing,” from the 1996 EP Mood Music for the Moody, has a hard, sparse, characteristically second-to-third wave 808 beat. But rather than taking the sci-fi route of some of his contemporaries, Shake opts for psychodrama. A sample that evokes (or maybe is) ESG’s “UFO” is transformed into a bittersweet layer under orchestral strings. This is a dispatch from the consciousness of the city, not the cosmos.

“Mood Swing” is a solid song, but was more or less typical for its time. A track like “Plugged In,” meanwhile, was both superlative and early.

“Plugged In”

Released in 1997, “Plugged In” could have been a prototype for the disco revival that peaked several years later, and lasted well into the 2000s. The combination of fast, live (or at least live-sounding) drums and a big Moroder organ hook with more contemporary micro-textures made possible by software-based composition was essentially the basis of electroclash around 2002, the work of European producers like Farben, and the second coming of dance-punk in the U.S. By 1997, Shakir had already explored a lot of the territory that would be mapped out over the course of the next decade. But disco wasn’t even his central focus at the time: he also continued to produce exceptional deep house, represented here on songs like “The Floor Filler.” And Frictionalism barely even alludes to his talent as a hip hop producer, perhaps because the emcees he worked with were always overmatched by his beats. Still, Shake seems to be juggling, successfully, at least three major ideas at any given moment.

There is, finally, a segment of his work that seems to defy everything. 1998’s Songs For My Mother is Shake’s best all-around EP, capped by the ultra-elegant “Simpatico.” Building instrument-by-instrument, sample-by-sample, you feel the song being composed in front of you. Together, the crunchy textures, stutter-step drums, and reverberant organ start to feel full. Then the bassline hits — one of those deceptively simple eight-note melodies that you can’t believe no one’s thought of before.

Two years after “Simpatico,” Shake produced what I think must be his best song. I’m so touched by “Assimilated” that I’m nervous to write about it. For 10 years, I’ve come back to it again and again and never once felt diminished returns.


“Assimilated,” to my ears, not only matches Timbaland beat-for-beat, but could be the best microhouse track ever made. Thrilling and disconcerting at the same time, it’s a summary of what makes Shake special among techno producers. Like “Simpatico,” “Assimilated” grows as it goes, beginning with a warm sample punctuated by a few dramatic silences. The first layer to join in is a disco-standard timpani fill, but clipped in such a way that the groove remains deferred. Next come two samples — one percussive like a shaker, slotted in an off-kilter place, and the other a high-pitched digital thing, also nested weirdly. At 45 seconds comes some dramatic keyboard, and the suspense keeps building. The kick, which you might have expected, drops next, and hard. The shaker sample suddenly gets more assertive, and finally the whole thing explodes with an exhilarating melody, later to be soothed by yet another, this one more restrained. It’s worth mentioning each of these elements because, as a producer, it’s very difficult to make so many pieces gel effectively. Every single sound here is in its own textural and rhythmic space, and yet the net effect is of super-funky coordination. For all that’s happening, “Assimilated” never feels busy. It feels whole.

At some point in the middle of the period covered by Frictionalism, Shakir was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. It hasn’t stopped him from producing (he took a few years off, apparently for being unhappy with his equipment, although this collection only includes two tracks from the last five years), and he even still DJs from time to time. If you’re lucky enough to catch him live, you’ll be treated to some fantastically fluent curation, tracks that perhaps you had no idea existed, and that you certainly never imagined being mixed so seamlessly. You might hear the needle slide clear across the record at some point (it happens when you have muscle spasms), but from Shake’s hand, even that typically abrasive moment has a distinct beauty. Any crowd that came to hear Shake was already prepared to toast idiosyncrasy.

By Ben Tausig

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