The Aston Shuffle is a DJ duo, not a dance move based on a British sports car. Composed of Vance Musgrove and Mikah Freeman, the electronic music duo has gone through a number of stylistic evolutions in their decade long career. But their core devotion to making feel good beats remains the same.
CONVICTS caught up with the group’s Brooklyn-based half, Vance Musgrove. We got his word on the uniqueness of Australia’s music scene, collaborating with Mikah across the globe, and signing prosthetic eyeballs on tour.
Hey man, can you introduce yourself for us and tell us where you’re originally from?
My name is Vance and I’m one part of The Aston Shuffle. I’m from Canberra, but now based in Brooklyn, New York.
How did you get into music?
I started playing piano when I was three so I’ve kind of been doing music stuff for quite a long time. I started DJing when I was thirteen. Aston Shuffle’s been going over ten years now. It was 2006-ish that we really started applying our souls to it and making things happen.
How does your musical background shape the work of The Aston Shuffle?
It’s pretty crucial. With Aston Shuffle, styles have changed, productions have changed – you’re always gonna change and shift over time – but what really connects with people is the music. We’ve always just tried to be super musical and less about being right in the middle of a particular sound or genre or bubble. We try to make stuff that’s really strong and will stand the test of time.
How do you and Mikah collaborate although you’re living in different cities?
We live in different cities, different time zones, so Dropbox is our biggest friend. Because we’ve been doing it for ten years, we know what we’re doing and how we work, so we can send stuff back and forth and add to it in our own ways. We’ve been so tight for so long that we can really find that balance and make it work.
Can you talk about getting into music at such a young age?
It was weird to get into dance music and production so young. I never had a moment where I was like ‘Hey I’m gonna go quit my job and do this,’ because I was thirteen years old and in school when I started. I was never a rebellious enough kid to drop out and go and do that, it was a slow burn for me. But deep down, I always knew I wanted something to do with music for a living. I kept working at it and building my skill set, tried new things and stayed involved with music and the scene so that after years of hard work, when a handful of opportunities came together at the right time and place, I was ready.
Can you talk about Australia’s music scene right now?
Australia is hugely influential. It’s amazing being over here and talking to American DJs because and everyone’s heard that there’s something about Australian music that feels different from what’s happening with the rest of the world. It’s hard to put your finger on exactly what it is, but it definitely exists. There’s something about the perspective Australians have on music, the sounds they tend to use, that lends itself to a certain mood people from other countries don’t necessarily tap into easily.
Do you drink before you go on stage?
I’m a little more in the zone when I’ve had a couple of drinks to settle in. I’m definitely a better DJ then because I’m thinking a little bit less and more in the moment. But there’s a tapering off point, you’ve gotta keep it professional.
What about the audience? When you’re making music, do you take into the account that people are using drugs and listening to music?
I’ve never really been a big drug guy. A lot of people’s entry point into the culture is partying and drugs, but that was never my entry point, so I’m never trying to replicate that experience or tap into that. I was always coming at it from a music nerd point of view.
Makes sense considering you started music at such a young age…
That’s exactly it. Some people discover electronic music because they had an amazing night when they were like twenty-something and that one experience changed their whole perspective and gave them an entry point into the scene. I wasn’t the thirteen year old kid doing that. I was very politely asking my parents if I could start taking DJ lessons.
How do you get the vibes right on different tracks?
You’ve got to try and set the mood appropriately. It feels weird to work on 4:00am techno at ten in the morning. For example that 2:00am to 4:00am window can be a bit of a witching hour where you’re half asleep or a bit drunk and it’s dark and quiet everywhere else, so you can tap into things then that you might not be able to tap into at ten in the morning.
What’s the difference between producing solo and then producing with a group?
Producing solo you’re the dude in the driver’s seat. That concentration lends itself to a certain set of ideas but when you’re with other people, there’s always a bit of a rotation. If you’re just sitting at the back of the room chilling on your phone and get an idea, it’s like the studio equivalent of having a bright idea in the shower. When you’re distracted, you get ideas you may not get when you’re the guy sitting in the seat with the mouse, because that thinking is very linear. You can’t think laterally and have weird tangents.
Do you get inspiration being in New York with music everywhere?
I love that about New York, just walking down the street and all the cars pulling up to the traffic lights with four different future records playing at the same time. I love that. It’s not like that music is not accessible in Australia, it’s just there’s a context here that lets you tap into that vibe.
What are some challenges particular to being a DJ?
It’s a super big privilege to do what you love for a living, but it can feel like you don’t have a real job, yet your life is all consumed by this thing at the same time. So you have to set some boundaries and say ‘I’m gonna try and not really do anything related to music for a little bit,’ but that is easier said than done. Back in the day there were a couple of years where we were doing like a hundred and forty something shows every single year, averaging like two to three nights of DJing every single week. When you’re twenty-five that’s cool but when you’re not twenty-five anymore you don’t necessarily want to go that hard. You have to make time for life to exist around music.
Alright. We’ll finish on some hard questions. Are you a dancer?
I can’t dance. I need more drinks to be able to dance than I need to be able to DJ.
Right on. Lastly, what’s your craziest tour story?
Mikah was asked one time at a show in Newcastle to sign a dude’s prosthetic eye. This dude was like, ‘Can you sign my eyeball?’ Mikah’s like ‘What do you mean can you sign my eyeball?’ and the guy just pops it out, and says ‘There you go.’ Mikah’s like ‘Alright, okay,’ signed the eyeball and the dude just stuck it back in his eye socket. That was pretty cool. Only time that’s happened.
Thanks man. Best of luck with everything.