It’s 11am on a sunny, Saturday morning and I have just sat down with a cuppa to chat with Irish DJ – Shampain. It has been a meteoric rise for the Galway based selector. Having only started DJing five years ago, Shampain has quickly established himself as one of the most interesting dance music characters in Ireland through a concoction of techno, grime and hefty dancefloor energy, all packed together with distinctive UK flavour.
After exchanging niceties, and an in-depth discussion about taking our various League Two teams to Premier League glory on FIFA, there’s only really one place to start – what’s he been up to throughout lockdown?
“Galway is a good city to do absolutely nothing in,” he says. “I’ve been doing that for the last week and a half, but it’s time to get back on the horse. The energy has changed a bit recently. I think with lockdown, I’m anticipating it’s end more than feeling grim about its existence. I think it’s eased a little in everyone’s mind. People are still taking it seriously, and rightly so, but the dynamic has shifted. The panic factor has gone.”
One thing that has certainly increased throughout lockdown is pointless scrolling. I have lost many hours jumping from insta story to insta story with vague interest. A few weeks ago I came across a story from Shampain who was sharing lots of old CDs and tapes that he had picked up in his early teens, featuring much cooler names (Daft Punk, Massive Attack, Missy Elliot) than what I was listening to in my early years.
“It’s actually gas,” he says. “I found this little letter that I wrote when I was fourteen where I had written down all my favourite artists and bands. My three older brothers were always mad into guitar music. Like, my dad was really into Thin Lizzy, growing up in Dublin around the time they were blowing up, so they would listen to that kind of stuff all the time. It was weird because I never listened to people like Jimmy Hendrix or any of those iconic American artists, it was pretty much all Irish, which is a good thing looking back.”
“When I got a little older I started listening to the radio a lot, and I still do. I can’t get to sleep at night without the radio playing in the background. Then I’d go into town, into the CD shops and that; the first CD I ever bought was Invaders Must Die by The Prodigy, and I still have it.”
Shampain’s sonic interest would yo-yo between genre and aesthetic throughout secondary school. He tells me that his school in Galway would host rhyming competitions regularly, with a top prize of twenty-five euro. He would win it every week and then go and spend his winnings in the local CD shops, much to the horror of his mother.
“I’d burn all the CDs and put them on my little flip up Walkman, and walk around at lunch blasting Voodoo People,” he says. “Then I got really into basketball, which maybe in some way led to me getting into rap. I was on that Disclosure deep house buzz for a while too. The clubs in Galway were all playing that commercial deep stuff. It’s hard to pin all my previous musical interests down, they’re all mashed together.”
It was at one of these clubs where he would learn to DJ.
“I knew the lads that ran Maze because I’d interviewed them before, and they were really, really sound,” he tells me. Shout out to Gerard Mannion and Ervin O’Donnell. One night, I was in Carbon [where they used to play] and they showed me how to DJ. I’d come in every week and play for half an hour. Evan Campbell – Kettama -and I got a residency on Saturday nights in the second room. We were there for two years.”
This residency was to be the genesis of VSN – a duo turned club night/collective that have hosted a stream of important dance music events, focusing on bigging up some of Ireland’s most exciting artists (Tommy Holohan, Sputnik One) and inviting overseas artists on the come -up, such as Miley Serious, to contribute to an increasingly diverse electronic soundscape.
“We were asked to do the residency, but I didn’t really know Evan,” he tells me. “He was really well known around town. He would sell wristbands for these teenage discos out in eastside where you’d get a bus out to a booked out club.”
“We did a re-branding launch thing for VSN. I think it started taking off when the club started booking people like Mall Grab, Sunil Sharpe, DJ Seinfeld etc. They started booking really good names and got us to support. Around that time we had started playing at this night in Dublin called Tea Party. Every two weeks we would be getting the bus to Dublin, very giddy, play to a packed-out room, go to an afters at an Airbnb and then not talk to each other throughout the journey back to Galway at 9am.”
Branching out to Dublin, and then France, Shampain spent a month in Montpellier before travelling to Paris for a two month stay, around the same time he had just taken up a writing role for Four Four Magazine. Here, the DJ worked as a broadcast assistant for Rinse France and would later take up a residency. Inspired by the diversity that only great underground radio can bloom, Shampain speaks of the Rinse crew like family, citing Azamat B and Manare’s refreshing attitude and varied programs as huge influences.
“I didn’t know that much French at the time and they gave me this manual of how to do everything in French and I was like oh, fuck,” he says. “It opened me up to so many different types of music, listening to a different genre pretty much every hour or two. You’d have one person come in and nearly blow up the studio, and the next there would be someone coming in to play French summer disco, and then the next person would come in and play UK funky.”
“That UK funky, afrobeat and hard drum shit… I got really into that. I made so many good friends over there, family really. I’ve gone over to see them and they’ve come over to see me and stayed at my house in Galway. I’d like to say that some of my friends in France are now honorary citizens of Galway. They’re very supportive. Massive shout to Laurant and Manare, because he couldn’t give a fuck who you are as long as they like the music you play. I know people say that a lot, but they’re really like that.”
Hopping back to the emerald isle, our attention turns to “G Town”. Although the selector was born in Dublin, and then moved to Wicklow for three years, it is his time in Galway that has inspired a coming of age, introspective pride. G Town tattoos, distinctively Irish landscapes and historic shots of Galway’s dot the artist’s Instagram feed.
“I haven’t always liked it,” he says. “I hated my first school so much, and they hated me, but then I moved to school in town and I don’t know what it is about Galway city, but being in it just makes me very, very happy. I find that when it comes to Ireland the focus is always on Dublin. I remember Evan played somewhere before, just when he started getting big, and they listed him as Kettama from Dublin and we were both like fuuuuuck that man.”
“Galway’s big enough to be a city, but small enough that you know everyone. I think a lot of people have a really negative attitude towards Galway, which I’ve had as well. There’s an in joke where they always say “eugh, small minded Galway”, because it’s sort of a small-minded place. I grew up in Inverin and that’s a really small place. You know who everyone is and who their parents are. Here, there’s a real buzz about town and it doesn’t take itself too seriously.”
“I think it’s very important for people do be proud of where they’re from. As much as I hated Inverin I’m also proud of it because if it wasn’t for that I’d be a totally different person. You have to be proud of the good and bad experiences and wear shit on your sleeve. There’s so much crazy stuff about Galway, like calling it G-town. It’s a joke, but it’s also like we’re reclaiming bad times. G-town is just something you would say in school, and now I’ve got it tattooed on my arm. It’s quite cool, because now artists like Mall Grab know what that is. I know that sounds corny, but if you had of told me at nineteen, when I was idolising these fellas, that they’d know about Galway I wouldn’t have believed you. Now some of them are honorary citizens.”
Recently I noticed that Shampain had been sharing lots of vintage football posters and historic photos of Galway city in black and white. Coming from a small town, and experiencing the fierce pride that this often spawns, I have always admired it when someone takes a real interest in the history of where they are from. You never know what you will find.
“There are so many little details about Galway that people don’t know,” he says. “Che Guevara has relatives from Galway. Christopher Columbus was inside one of the churches here.”
“If something has happened in the last few hundred years my dad will know about it. He’s been schooling me on Irish history and politics since I was very young. I think it’s been kind of gas lately how many DJs have been saying to use socials for music exclusively. I always have people saying things like, “he’s always fucking acting like a kid on his Instagram and now he wants to talk about politics.” I think that if you have a big platform you have a responsibility to do the right thing.”
As our tea turns lukewarm – and our conversation ticks towards its inevitable end – our gaze reverts to the future. It will come as no surprise to anyone to learn that Shampain has not been gigging recently. Between his Rinse France residency and BBC Radio 1 mini-mixes for Special Request, the DJ has been sporadically busy. Given that the coronavirus pandemic has essentially halted most of people’s dance music careers I’m keen to dip into his thoughts on his personal not-so-distant future.
Recently, he launched a VSN website; utilizing his skill and experience as a dance music writer to bring a series of interviews and opinion pieces soaked in authenticity.
“We actually wanted to do this magazine tv show,” he tells me. “You ever watch Champions League Round-up? Something like that, crossed with those Saturday morning kids shows, crossed with us running around Galway like idiots.”
“Throughout quarantine I’ve got really into skating, I’ve been watching tons of videos. I’m fascinated by how they’re always recording, and you think they’re so fucking cool, but in reality they’re really just going around with a camera and shooting everything. I love that idea. I’m living with a photographer, Rory O’Neill, massive shout out to Rory. We’re making some stuff together, and Evan is flying home from London, so we’ll be having a VSN board meeting soon.”
Quarantine has supplied many realisations and epiphanies, challenging the longevity and creative innovation of the culture’s contemporaries. One thing that has become abundantly clear to Shampain is this – radio reigns supreme.
“This quarantine has shown me that radio is undefeatable,” he says. “I’m working on my Rinse France residency; I’m trying to do back-to-backs with people when we can all link up.”
“I think it’s important to get guests on that can open me up to a new audience, because the more I’m opened up the more I can put people onto artists like Sputnik One and DJ Frequency. I want to build my platform so I can build a platform for others. I think as a DJ it’s important to be putting people onto new shit all the time. Not in a mad focused way, just trying to share. At school no one would ever want to listen to my opinion. I’d be playing stuff off my phone and no one would want to listen. Now I can create opportunities not only for myself but for other Irish artists, and that’s cool.”