Restored 19 April 2017, originally published 29 November 2014
Texas likes to do things big. Big state, big steak, big football. This is common knowledge in the US. But not-so-common knowledge is Texas also does big beats.
Ben Garside, AKA Shag, from Denton, Texas, has made a name for himself on the internet as a talented and productive beat-maker and DJ. With nearly 30 albums to his name and more on the way, I’m sure, it’s clear what this guy’s passion is, music. From hip-hop to jazz, from soul to electronica, he infuses each of his albums (at least the ones I’ve heard so far) with a little bit of everything.
Don’t worry, we won’t be going through all of them or even several. We’ll focus mostly on his 2013 release NULL with some attention given to his overall style.
Hip-hop is a ubiquitous element in Shag’s releases, NULL is no exception. It can be more energetic like in the futurist “Robots” or the eponymously funky “(The) Funk”. Or it can be downtempo like in the soulful “Expectations” and the melancholic “Cosmonaut”. Jazz is another essential ingredient in Mr. Garside’s mixes. Pianos are present throughout, as are various horns. Snippets of rap also find their way onto the tracks in the form of samples or outright original rhymes. “In Reality” hearkens back to the Nas and his highly-acclaimed debut release Illmatic…
…with the infamous lyric “Life’s a bitch, and then you die, that’s why we get high.” “Me Again” from Shag’s 2012 album with the same name contains a romanticized and completely reinvented sample from the The Pharcyde’s “Passin’ Me By”:
“…she’s my type of hype and I can’t stand when brothers tell me
I should quit chasin’ and look for something better
But the smile that she shows makes me a go-getter…”
While we’re talking about samples, I would be remiss not to mention Mr. Garside’s apparent obsession with video games, The Legend of Zelda in particular. No less than two full albums under the names Flyrule and Flyrule: A Terrible Fate contain tracks replete with references, sound effects, remixed game tracks, and a heaping helping of originality. Even if you’re not the biggest fan of video games, the quality in these tracks is high enough to make them enjoyable to just about anyone.
To make things even better, Shag ties in a hefty portion of electronica. Synthesizers, pads, 8-bit effects, and glitches add a synthetic element which I find flushes out Shag’s productions and makes his music all the more outstanding.
To illustrate, let’s take a closer look at “(The) Funk”.** A high hat and rapid bass pad open the track before transitioning to a synth and hip-hop samples, “Uh huh,” “Yeh,” “This is serious shit.” An oscillating electric piano and deep bass ooze funk. Groovy breaks at 1:06 and 2:12 make you want to drop what you’re doing and bob to the beat.
To showcase the soulful aspect of Shag’s music, I want shine light on the track “Expectations”. Similar to “(The) Funk”, it combines all the elements we’ve discussed, hip-hop, electronica, jazz, et cetera, but instead of infusing them with energy, they’re dressed down to make for a smooth, sultry listening experience. A deep, plodding bass line conveys a sensual feeling while a light synth tickles the eardrums. Each layer is carefully constructed to draw the listener in deeper and deeper until you’re totally absorbed in Shag’s musical meanderings.
After all his dedication and generosity, I think it’s only appropriate to return the favor. Show Shag some love!
Shag – “(The) Fun”
Shag – “Expectations”
NULL download page
** Not to be confused with The Funk from The Mighty Boosh sketch featuring Old Gregg