Shigeto talks cheese and jazz chops
“Cheese” – a term savoured for public displays of affection and jokes made by shameless uncles to the skull sunken eye rolls of bemused children. In electronic music, in any artform, describing someone’s art as “cheese” or “cheesy” is an assumption leaping swipe at their work, conflating it as a novelty; a passing fad.
For producer and performer Shigeto (aka Zach Shigeto Saginaw) however, musical endeavours have been built on and embedded with cheese, but not in the pejorative sense.
“I lived in London for a few years and sold cheese in a shop there in markets. I made and matured cheese. I sold cheese in New York and I sold cheese in Michigan, I sold cheese for so long that if I hadn’t been able to do this [make music] and sustain it, I would probably still be doing that.”
Having his career conflated with something larger than he cares to explore is a sensitive topic for Saginaw. Now based in Detroit, he actually grew up an hour West of the revered musical city in a town called Ann Arbor, and feels links to Detroit.
“It’s always been a part of my life; my father and grandfather are from Detroit. But I haven’t been immersed in the Detroit scene beyond jazz until I moved here four years ago.”
Even when innocently naming the title of one of his more well known works, originally dedicated to Ann Arbor, after the famed Motor City, Saginaw fell foul of the expectation.
“People were like, ‘Why doesn’t this sound like Detroit? It doesn’t sound like Dilla, it doesn’t sound like techno, it doesn’t sound like Motown’. And, well, it wasn’t supposed to, you know?
“But then I thought, I want to make one that does sound that way. I’ll make one my little ode to Detroit. And that’s what ‘Detroit pt. II’ is. It is a response to the questions of ‘Detroit pt. I’.”
I became okay with not being this virtuoso jazz badass that I had thought I wanted to be.
Detroit is now Saginaw’s base and he feels that a combination of legends and contemporaries keeps the city as a place where creation manifests in an earthly fashion.
“I look up to a lot of the veteran DJs who are in turn producers and record label people. Mike Banks and John Collins – the whole Underground Resistance, Kenny Dixon Jr. (Moodyman), Theo (Parrish). Then you people my age and younger like Wajeed, Kyle Hall and J Daniel.”
“All these people have been doing things the way they want to do them, not through major labels, creating entire movements just by doing them and doing it in a place with very little resources. Proving to other people who come from privileged environments – that art doesn’t have to come with a price. They are really impressive, the way they carry themselves as artists here.”
Just as a cheese matures, so to does one’s trust in their methods. Saginaw is the first to acknowledge his path to now as unconventional. He dropped out of a Jazz School in New York after two semesters and developed what he calls his “own kind of weird technique,” learning whilst producing and fine tuning his craft.
“I found my voice through combining everything I learnt. I became okay with not being this virtuoso jazz badass that I had thought I wanted to be. I realised this talent could be invested in other ways beyond even just making music.”
So what does this unique style create? It’s hard to categorise Shigeto’s sound. Saginaw seeks not to purposefully define it.
“There is a million things you could say, but I just try to make music that makes me happy. I am so grateful that I get to do it.”
For the curious reader and the record, he considers the closest description of his sound to be “instrumental electronic music with organic elements and a jazz, hip hop influence.”
With all things considered, from an musician who doesn’t like to fall into the artistic cliche, it would not be unfair to expect the unexpected at Shigeto’s Perth Festival appearance, and Saginaw confirmed this.
“I’ll be playing a lot of the new material. There’s a lot of stuff that I play that I make to only play live.”
Catch Shigeto during his limited run of dates down-under:
February 21 – Perth – Perth Festival’s Chevron Gardens with Too Many Zooz
February 23 – Sydney – Oxford Art Factory
February 24 – Melbourne – The Night Cat