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Niles Shepard

Niles Shepard, minimal tech from Minnesota

A house music duo hailing from Minneapolis Minnesota – Niles Shepard is comprised of Cameron Windsor and Jim Brenk. As both producers & DJs, these energy creators have been moving fast; performing at both EDC and Electric Forest in 2019 after claiming the top prize of Insomniac’s Discovery Project. With releases on Slothacid, Box of Cats, IN/ROTATION, House of Hustle and more; Niles Shepard is on the rise.

Connect with Niles Shepard on Facebook | Soundcloud

Their Interlaker EP is the latest release on Sacha Robotti’s Slothacid – two cuts of glitchy, minimal, tech house. A bonafide vibe.

Thanks for talking to us guys – where in the world do we find you?   

NS: Thank you, we are stoked to chat! We both live in Northeast Minneapolis, Minnesota just a mile from downtown! 

Could you tell us a bit about your music background? 

C: I grew up as a huge music fanatic, never learning how to play an instrument but always ready to curate the next mix, or road trip playlist, or CD for a friend. After going to a few dance music shows in early 2009 I became curious with how it (DJing) all worked and got myself a cheap controller, fast forward after playing for countless hours and more than enough college parties, I found myself playing some legit shows in Minneapolis; where I met Jim. We played a few shows together, where Jim would drum while I dj’ed, before finally hooking up in 2018 and officially starting our Niles Shepard project. 

J: As a young boy I took piano lessons, played trumpet in band class, and when I was 13 commandeered my brother’s drum set while he was off to college. While in high school I played in metal bands with my friends and began my interest in recording both on digital recording devices & using a computer. In college, I finally got my first copy of Ableton Live (8) and I’ve never looked back. After college my focus shifted from metal music to electronic while performing in a dual drum kit live act where we launched clips via Ableton while jamming over the clips we made. This pushed me further into production & it’s my favorite thing to do. I love all of it, sound design, arrangement, mixing- especially now that I’m starting to feel more proficient in the software!

We’re going to come clean – we thought that Niles Shepard was a single person! But you’re a duo – can you tell us where the name comes from? 

J: Hahaha we get that a lot, but that was part of our intention when we chose our name. I worked at a brewery in Northeast Minneapolis that is located in an old building along the railway. The building is equipped with a massive crane system on the ceiling that was installed with the building for manufacturing airplane wings during world war 2. The crane, made by a company called Shepard Niles hung above where I worked everyday and I found myself staring at it while listening to the tracks Cam & I were working on.

After struggling to find a name we felt represented our vocation with this project, I thought about the name on the crane. We flipped it, becoming Niles Shepard, and we loved it. 

Who are your electronic music heroes?  

C: This question has changed a lot over time for me.  Early on when I was first entering the scene, the answer would be names like Tiesto, Sander Van Doorn, Armin Van Buuren and then as I developed more of a love for some of the more underground sounds and artists this has shifted as well. Today names like Justice, Eric Prydz, Green Velvet, and Justin Martin, are near the top of my electronic musical heroes list. 

J: I have so many it will be impossible to list them all. The biggest influences on me have been artists like Nicolas Jaar, Daft Punk, The Bloody Beetroots, Zedd & Nine Inch Nails  just to name a few. 

The dance music scene in Minneapolis isn’t one you hear a huge amount about… what can you tell us about it? 

NS: Yeah that’s true, you don’t hear a lot about our scene, but it’s alive & ready to be swinging full force while restrictions continue to roll back. Being neighbors to both Detroit & Chicago, dance music has been a staple in the Minneapolis scene for decades. Because of our location, most of the promotion companies started here are by way of grass roots. Many of these companies were started because they were such fans of the artists and were stuck seeing them play only in bigger markets; the best way to get them in Minneapolis was to throw a party. One thing that all of the different factions have in common in our Minneapolis dance scene is passion.

One thing that all of the different factions have in common in our Minneapolis dance scene is passion.

From the OG techno-nerds, young dub/bass heads, house & everyone in between, the passion for the scene is abundant. We have been participating in the local scene in one way or another for about 11 years. We started by going to club shows and after-hours parties, which led us to gravitating towards underground house. From big parties at DVS1’s secret spot, to small sweaty basement club sets with names like Sonny Fodera, Todd Edwards, Gene Farris and so many more top tier Dj/producers; we have been able to see an incredible list of artists, often early in their careers. Minneapolis has more to offer than meets the eye.

You’ve played some pretty huge gigs, EDC not least among them. Would you say you have a particular style or USP as DJs? 

C: We love all things house so really depending on the time of our set I guess. Earlier in the day you could get a groovy, disco house/Chicago house set whereas later in the night you could hear a set full of tech house bombs, thumping house tracks and all the way to the afterhours/early morning sets which you may hear some deep house or deep tech vibes. 

J: As performers, we find it paramount to be in tune with the crowd in front of us. We have never “planned” a tracklist for a set, it takes away from the fun of it all. We prefer to settle into whatever experience we are sharing with our audience & try to lead the way with music. Connecting with the crowd has been an essential experience for us. It has helped us write better music and have better performances. Energy is contagious!

Tell us about your new single on Slothacid … tell us about the inspiration for this one? 

C: I sent Jim this video of one of the Interlake Steamship company boats pulling into Duluth, Minnesota where I went to college. The epic horn inspired him to write the title track of the EP appropriately titled, “Interlaker.”  We threw in some samples of a Loon (MN state bird) with the horn synths Jim made to reflect the captain’s signal and before we knew it we had a track inspired directly by Minnesota and the Great Lakes!

We even ended up filming a live set aboard one of the fleet vessels on Insomniac TV with Slatin & Matroda just a week ago. It was an epic experience and one that changed our view on just how big we can dream for this project. You can find the whole set here:

How did you hook up with Sacha for the release? 

NS: We have known Sacha for a couple of years now. Our friendship has grown after playing a handful of shows for him as direct support in Minneapolis over the last 4-5 years and then camping near him in the artist camping area at Electric Forest. Most of the time our communication is via URL however once we do get the rare moments to hang IRL, it’s always a great time filled with great conversation and lots of laughs! Can’t wait to go out to L.A. and hang at his Sloth Palace soon!

 Tell us about your studio set up – any go-to bits of kit you’re really into at the moment?

NS: Honestly we don’t have too many toys. We produce predominantly in the box, using samples we have acquired as well as created, VST plug ins like Ana, Sub Boom Bass, Serum, Massive, Diva and more. We love using our hardware as well, a TR8S & Prophet 08 being the go tos. We are just big believers in using the right tool for the job. Sometimes that’s recording your own claps or tambourine, sometimes that’s messing with vst automation til your brain hurts & ears are happy. 

How has the pandemic affected you guys, both professionally and personally? 

C: It’s been one heck of a ride so far! We both continued to work through the pandemic at our day jobs, not working from home. I spun my wheels going nowhere for a few months at my day job as we navigated to bring in any revenue possible to keep the lights on. Being an event production company’s office manager, my duties have shifted from planning events and pulling permits to planning a route for our semi truck and playing dispatch while sending them on general freight hauls. Definitely not what I signed up to do but whatever keeps food on the table! After the work day wrapped up I would typically head home do a quick workout and meet Jim at the studio for a 6pm-9pm shift. This seemed to be the norm for the better half of six months, it definitely felt like the movie Groundhog Day.

J: This has been one of the hardest years of my life. Knowing I am an extroverted personality, I have been longing for shared experiences & have been feeling below my full energy level since this all began. Like Cam mentioned neither of us had even one day off since the beginning of this mayhem all the way back in March of 2020. I actually had to fill the role of one of my coworkers who stepped down from his position to help his family. So not only was I still working, I was actually doing two jobs. Work always is draining, but taking on additional responsibility really took its toll. Additionally, our city has gone through a lot in the past year as well. Between the atrocities that have occurred, the action for change, we have witnessed so many things we never thought we would. But there are always silver linings. Thankfully we had more time to work together in this last year than ever before since there was no other way to spend our time. We have completed more productions since quarantine began than we have in our entire career & genuinely can hear the difference in each track. 

Any positives you’ve been able to take from the last 12 months?  

C: Absolutely, from the progress we have made in the studio to the physical transformation I’ve gone through as I continue to try to lead a more active lifestyle.

J: Hard work always pays off. 

Do you have big hopes for 2021, both in terms of your music and the world in general? 

Always. We always like to aim high, and we have made it our goal for 2021 to have a release every month this year. Similarly we are really ready to get back to some touring and playing in new markets. At the beginning of 2020 we were just starting to play out of state on a regular basis before everything shut down. Nothing inspires us quite like traveling, and we really look forward to making that a regular occurrence again!

Finally, please recommend a piece or art, book or music we should check out to make us feel positive about the rest of the year ahead… 

C: I would suggest checking out some artwork from our friend Manolo. We met Manny through the music scene as he is also a producer/dj. Once the pandemic shut things down he took to digital and physical paintings as another way to express himself through art. He released a magazine whic highlights a collection of some of his early pieces from 2020 and he titled the magazine ‘Do It Anyway’. Manolo’s message was that even though you might not be a pro at something, you should go for it anyway; never know what will happen and the results might be amazing! Manny learned this first hand as he had no experience being a painter but he quickly found himself enjoying this new craft and even selling out his magazine and other pieces he has since made. It is a true testament of showing what can happen if you just drop your ego and go all in on something.

J: My suggestion is a book entitled “You Are Here” by Thich Nhat Hanh. This book changed my life when I first read it & continues to strike a chord with me each time I re-read it. It helps you focus on the present moment and how to harness the positivity within that moment! Can’t recommend it enough. 

 Thank you.

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