Photo: Press (Innershades)
When you read the name Innershades, chances are your inner ear will immediately hear a very specific sound: melodic yet spheric synth lines meet a booming low-end. This at least has become somewhat of a signature mix of Thomas Blanckaert‘s tireless work throughout the past decade. However, the Altered Circuits co-owner seems to be cheerfully genre-agnostic even when his side projects like Emotive Response and Palermo Disco Squad – recently revived for a new 12″ on Bordello A Parigi – pay homage to specific strands of dance music. His mix for our Groove podcast is likewise more interested in emotional qualities than following strict formulas.
Belgium has a rich history when it comes to dance music, and you have even told a story about researching music released by local labels between the years 1988 and 1994 in order to find your own sound. How did you get introduced to dance music initially?
I got into electronic music with my friend Mathias, with whom I nowadays run the Altered Circuits label . We had known each other for a long time. We met at the local skatepark and about 17 years ago he gave me a mix CD by, I believe, 2manydjs. Electronic music quickly became a focus. We both bought a mixer and turntables and started buying records at our local vinyl store, e-Vinyls, where I eventually ended up working for a while until it closed. I really learned a lot from working at this store, and listening to new and old records. I guess those were my beginnings.
You grew up in Aalst, one of the larger cities in Belgium. Was there a scene with which you were able to connect once your interest in dance music grew?
No, at this point there was really nothing in Aalst aside from a couple of clubs who played shitty music. Nothing much has changed since then! (laughs) Belgium indeed has a very rich heritage when it comes to this type of music, but locally almost everything was gone when I started getting into it. I just ended up meeting other people who were interested in electronic music as well and I would hang out with them at bars or we would get together to listen to music or go to clubs to check out our favourite artists, but in bigger cities like Brussels, Ghent or Antwerp.
What got you into producing your own music?
After learning how to DJ, my interest in electronic music kept growing. The logical next step was learning how to make the music I was playing and loving so much . That was in 2011 to 2012. I initially just started out messing around in Ableton. Those early sessions then crystallised into a couple of tracks I liked and felt comfortable sharing, which led to my first release in 2013, That Girl on Wicked Bass.
You have stressed the importance of practicing your skills and even said that you try to produce three tracks per week. What advantage do you see in establishing routines like these?
This approach allowed me to learn and develop a set of techniques I can fall back upon. It helped me to get to the point that I feel at ease in the studio and have control when I produce a track, both regarding sound design and mixing. This work ethic also allows me to turn my ideas into tracks quickly once I am recording. I don’t like getting stuck, overanalysing loops and so forth. I prefer banging out a lot of music, and disposing of the filler tracks afterwards.
You have started the side project Emotive Response in 2020 and put out three EPs under the moniker in quick succession through 9300 Records from Aalst. What was the idea behind this project and why did you stick exclusively with this label for its releases?
During the COVID crisis in 2020, when everything got shut down, we were allowed to see one person at a time in Belgium. During this period I would often meet up with my friend Toon, who also lives in Aalst, and is one of the guys running 9300. We would just have conversations at his place and we would listen to early DJ Phi Phi mixtapes from the legendary Extreme , a 1990s club located in Affligem, a nearby village. These mixtapes influenced me so much I ended up making this type of tracks and then decided to do a trilogy dedicated to this sound coming out of Belgium during the 1990s. Given how all of this started out, sticking with 9300 seemed a very natural move. It was easy to work with them because they were on the same wavelength and they gave me the freedom to do what I wanted to do.
A while ago, you have also announced the comeback of your italo disco-informed Palermo Disco Squad, a new EP will be released shortly through Bordello a Parigi. What made you revive it after four years of inactivity?
During the COVID period I was also heavily listening to Italo for a few months. The new EP is the result of indulging myself into that sound again. I made around eight tracks, sent them to Otto, who runs Bordello A Parigi, and he was interested as well to do another release. I don’t really have a big plan with these other monikers: I reach for them when I feel really inspired by a certain style or sound. It all happens very spontaneously.
Apart from that, you also released the inaugural EP on Altered Circuits, a label that you have co-founded. It was followed by releases by Legowelt under his Polarius moniker and DMX Krew. What was your motivation to start your own imprint and how would you describe the concept behind the label?
I always wanted to run a label but I guess I was too afraid to take this step. Just before COVID happened I started talking to Mathias about setting one up and we decided to do it together. It’s been about a year since we released ALT001, my Faith of the Misbelievers EP. Apart from the long production times at the pressing plants, I am happy with how everything is going. We want to sign great artists who have a similar mindset when it comes to music. Ideally, I also want to put out records from people that are close to me. With Polarius and DMX Krew’s EPs, we were able to do all of this.
Last year, you were named resident of Brussels’ Fuse club. How did it come about and how do you approach those sets as opposed to one-off gigs elsewhere?
Fuse’s artistic director Steven called me and asked if I wanted to join the residency team! Of course I said yes, as Fuse is one of the best clubs out there. I have been going there since my early twenties. Most of the times I am doing an opening or closing set. I enjoy closing the party because I can tap into the energy present in the room, build my own vibe and try to keep the people on the dancefloor as long as possible. It is also nice to play opening sets and build towards peak time, trying to render the transition for the next DJ as smoothly as possible. I like doing these type of sets because most of the time outside of Fuse I get booked to play during the main hours. It definitely keeps things interesting.
What was the idea behind your mix for our Groove podcast?
I picked out some of my favourite records of the moment, put them in a fitting order and mixed them at my home studio using two turntables, a CDJ Pioneer 850 and, lest we forget, my shitty Pioneer DJM 400mixer. The mix starts off floaty, and slowly builds towards hi-energy grounds. You will hear a selection of electro, bleep, progressive and more from some of my favourite artists such as Giammarco Orsini, Ildec, Shaque & DJ Tjizza. I also snuck in a couple of unreleased gems as well. Enjoy!
Stream: Innershades – Groove Podcast 350
01. Giammarco Orsini – Through The Third Door
02. Shaque& DJ Tjizza – Falling C (Picnic Records)
03. Robert Dietz – EMQU EMJAY (One Eye Witness)
04. Riku Sugimoto – Carefree Wonder (Eya Records)
05. Innershades – it Is What It Is
06. Modex – Standardised Retro Argumentation
07. Innershades – Bleep ’22 (Smoothwaves)
08. Kumulus – Cloud Chaser (String Mix) (Electric Soul)
09. OCB & Malil – The Magic Laugh (CasaVoyager)
10. Ildec – Modification (Altered Circuits)
11. Gesloten Cirkel – pkbday (Turbo Recordings)
12. Sterac – Hydroxy (Delsin Records)
13. Legacy – Aqua Assault