Being a producer and being an artist are two very different things. Some people spend their life as producers, turning out functional club tracks that get plenty of support from both DJs and dancers, and that’s fine. There’s nothing wrong with that. But some people push themselves and their work into new realms, using new techniques, ideas or forms.
Enter Sam Shepherd aka Floating Points, someone who has refined and evolved every time he releases a new record. As a DJ, too, he has carved out a real niche that stands him apart from the crowd. Here we explore the anatomy of the classically trained musician, NTS radio host and neuroscientist.
When Floating Points moved to London to study for his PhD in neuroscience, he used his student loan to travel around the US hunting for old music. On his trips, he picked up DJ tips from watching the owner of Peabody Records in Chicago play marathon and eclectic sets. He put the lessons to good use at Plastic People—the home of his CD:R night, where producers could hear their demos on the famously good system—and then in the best clubs round the world.
Eventually this lead to him setting up his own You’re A Melody night, where you’re more likely to hear a private pressing of an unknown blue-eyed soul record from the ‘60s than the latest techno 12”. Using a rotary mixer—and making them hugely fawned over as a result—he twists and turns through disco, funk, jazz and classic house with real energy and technical skill. He gets the floor in raptures with unlikely and obscure records—and hard to pull off blends—and makes hits of previously unknown tracks. He’s a throwback DJ where selection is king, and never fails to turn the dance floor into a quasi-religious place of sermon. Eclecticism and being ‘a selector’—with its connotations of a higher art form—is a big thing these days, but it was arguably Floating Points who kick started the trend.
It’s almost a decade since Floating Points co-founded Eglo Records. In that time his sound has evolved immeasurably. His breakout hit was his 'Vacuum' EP, an impossibly warm deep house EP with jazz motifs, floating keys and a suspensory feel that cocoons you in hi fidelity sound. His colourful melodies gently wash over you as the drums grow in stature and the whole thing boasted a sonic definition and richness of sub bass that was all too often lost as the laptop sound took over.
Since then his deft design and focus on the details has continued to define his sound. Impeccable cuts like ‘Sais’ got universally rave reviews and then Flo Po went quiet, only to return with 'Kuiper' in 2016, which head in a new direction all together. Fusing jazz, kraut, leftfield, downtempo, broken beat and rock into two 15 minute plus pieces, it was the sound of the artist breaking free from dance music and heading into band leader role.
The next stage was a sixteen-piece live incarnation of Floating Points, entitled the Floating Points Ensemble. It toured the world and played drawn out sets of jazz, prog and synth music that was hugely dynamic, swooping up into the heavens before sinking down into tender minimalism. This then manifested itself in 2015’s debut album, Elaenia, which played with weird time signatures across seven suites of piano, synths, strings and drones. Cinematic and epic, all consuming and romantic, exploding one minute and imploding the next, restless and adventurously orchestrated, it was one of the most accomplished albums of the year. Few dance music producers have achieved these lofty heights, so wherever Floating Points heads next is sure to be hugely exciting.
The You’re A Melody night soon spawned Melodies International, a label co-run by Floating Points, DJ Love on the Run, Mafalda and Javybz. Focused on reissuing rare disco and soul records aimed at capturing the spirit of a night at You're A Melody, it has put out essential 7”s whose original copies cost thousands. Next to the gorgeous gospel vocals, honey sweet soul and dusty drums, each release comes with a fanzine that features articles on the original artists, pictures, ephemera, reviews, thoughts and charts from various DJs and thinkers like social studies professor Paul Rekret and UK politician Jeremy Corbyn, among others. It is a beautiful analogue product in this all too digital world and is another carefully considered side to Floating Points that separates him from the rest.
Catch Floating Points (All Day Long) at Fabric London, April 1st
The Future Classic (Editor's addition)
This one hasn't left the office rotation since release. Immense.