Few recording artists are able to claim success in the way Simon Neale has encountered it. While most artists are content in toiling away in one pre-designated corner of music, Neale has managed to conquer two opposing factions of electronic music, the underground and the mainstream.
As Dave Spoon he has had phenomenal success as a DJ, producer and remixer with a couple of Top 40 UK hits under his belt, remixes for global pop sensations like Madonna and sets at some of the world’s most prestigious booths during the height of the the superstar DJ era. With a distinctive big-room Electro-House sound, based on bold sawtooth bass-lines and groovy step-sequences he was a cut above the rest with tracks like “At Night” becoming crossover sensations, overnight.
Acts like David Guetta, Calvin Harris and Steve Aoki would arrive into popular culture much through the same channels, but Dave Spoon would always hold a little in reserve to appease an underground faction of his fans.
In 2012 he did the unthinkable and retired the Spoon moniker indefinitely and re-incarnated his musical output as Shadow Child, where we would trade in the commercially accessible sound that had brought him success for something closer to the beating heart of House music, buried far beneath the surface at the roots of the music, but updated for contemporary audiences. As Shadow Child he signed to Dirty Bird records, established the label Food Music with Kry Wolf’s Lewis Darvill, and became a weekly host on Rinse FM.
Trading in the big-room Electro-House sound of Spoon for “skippy garage tendencies and brooding, macho basslines” (as Noisey called it at the time), Shadow Child made an immediate impression on dance floors with his track “String Thing.” From there he quickly established the new moniker at the opposite end of House music’s spectrum from Dave Spoon and in the succession of a few years he came to dominate this spectrum of House music too.
“It was never a plan to shout about it being me, I simply wanted people to discover the music first,” explains Neale in an interview with Deep House Amsterdam. Even though these two distinct projects come from the same individual there’s never been a confluence and each has been allowed to live in their own corner on their own terms, completely independently of one another.
After an LP and several EP’s on Labels like Ovum Records, Super Tracks,Unknown to the Unknown and Food Music of course, Shadow Child has done for the second room, what Dave Spoon did for the main room in House music.
Simon Neale’s entry into music, production and DJing is the result of an early interest, education and some fortuitous conditions. He had been picking through his dad’s extensive record collection from a young age, making mixtapes from a dusty collection of Police and Rolling Stones favourites. When his secondary school was given a hefty increase in their state-allocated budget and decided to invest in the arts and a music studio in particular, Neale directed his inquisitive musical nature from listening to creating.
He was “fortunate to be around that type of kit at that age” he reminisces in a Rinse FM interviewand armed with a coveted arsenal of synthesisers and drum machines, he took his first baby steps towards a career in electronic music. He was “really taken with House music” at the time, but that would not be encouraged by production as much as it was by DJing.
He became “obsessed” with DJing at the same time, especially overcome with the sounds of early Rave and Hardcore. A friendly DJ neighbour would let Neale cultivate this obsession into a skill, leaving the latent young DJ to his own devices on a pair of borrowed decks. Production and music would be briefly sidelined for DJing after Neale left school. With no access to the studio at the end of his school career he honed his skills as a DJ instead, while computer technology developed to a point where he wouldn’t need a studio. By the time the virtual studio software Reason hit the shelves in its first incarnation, he had borrowed a computer from a friend and started making music again.
Being “a bit of a nerd,” he found an immediate affinity for music’s computer age, and in a mere few years went from bedroom producer to Dave Spoon, acclaimed producer and DJ. Even as Spoon it was always a UK “vibe” that would inform his music, as he channeled those early sounds into a contemporary voice. “I don’t really hold back my love for Jungle & DnB” he told Deep House Amsterdam, and though it might be quite imperceptible, it has always been there in his music. As he moved from Dave Spoon to Shadow Child, he accentuated that UK sound in his music, where he would join the likes of Julio Bashmore and Eats Everything on the Dirty Bird roster, bringing a distinctly UK vibe to the label out of San Francisco.
The decision to retire Dave Spoon and become Shadow Child was immediate and a definitive. There are “no plans to use him again,” he told Noiseyin 2013. “I had to break down the boundaries from what I was doing before.” As Shadow Child, Neale essentially embarked on a new musical career from scratch.”To be honest, I wasn’t into what happened to Electro House,” he explained about his decision to move on from Spoon. ”Where it’s gone is to America, becoming the EDM thing. Fantastic and very lucrative if you’re into it as a producer and DJ, but I just couldn’t get into it and didn’t want to play that music, so I had to change it up and here we are!”
It was Eats Everything that paved the way in bringing Shadow Child to the world through the former’s connection with Dirty Bird. Neale already had the seminal track “String Thing” done at that time, “but with no home, or name for it,” he reached out to Eats Everything to facilitate the introduction to Claude Von Stroke’s label. “It’s thanks to (Eats Everything) that the link came with Dirty Bird and now the rest is all history, as they say,” he muses in Deep House Amsterdam.
“String Thing” laid the foundation for Shadow Child to start a new label to frame this new sound, and when he heard Lewis Darvill (Kry Wolf) had similar ideas, he approached his friend with; “why don’t we do something together?”. He told Rinse FM that; ”It took us six months to come up with such a simple name, but a lot of thought and pride’s gone into it.“
That UK vibe that he has been cultivating ever since Dave Spoon was there more than ever in Food Music too. There’s a “distinct UK sound from the midlands” Neale mentioned in several interviews and it can be heard in the prominent bass figures and stoic 4-4 kicks that lay much of the foundation for the label. The label features an extensive discography, with artists like Junior Sanchez, A1 Bassline, Danny Howard and of course Kry Wolf and Shadow Child dotting releases.
Shadow Child’s own “Ooh Tune” and his debut, and only LP, a collaborative effort called “Connected”, have made their own impressions on Food Music, but he’s also made significant contributions on other familiar labels – three releases on Unknown to the Unknown, Ovum Recordings and Super Rhythm Trax came out in 2018 alone.
As a DJ he continues to proliferate the scene, playing paces like London’s Printworks and his Rinse FM show every wednesday between 9-11Pm. “I buy vinyl every couple of weeks,” he explains in Electronic Groove about the show.“ It’s essential for me to keep it all moving and not rely on all the music everyone gets sent by the promo companies every day… I have to keep separate from everything else or it’s always going to be the same.” He’s featured guests like “MK, Detlef and Eats Everything, right through to slightly more alternative artists like Lone, Coco Bryce and Super Flu.” He continues to maintain that balance between the obscure and the familiar as Shadow Child, and with his extensive experience in both fields he is able to move freely between these worlds, without upsetting one over the other.
From Dave Spoon to Shadow Child there’s something abstract that pulses through Simon Neale’s music with an innate ability to attract large audiences. It’s in the simplicity of it, but it’s also in the humbling nature of the man behind the music. “What I do seems to be striking a nerve at the moment,” he told Deep House Amsterdam in 2017. “So I take all of those positive feelings and comments and pump that back into my creations. Some aren’t musically genius, but they’re effective for sure and that’s what it’s about for me. Humbled to be doing what I do.”