Growing up, Canadian electronic music duo Sultan + Shepard did not anticipate being where they are today. Sultan had aspirations to become a skateboarder, while Shepard dreamt of playing for the Yankees. The two met while attending McGill University in Montréal, and connected on their mutual obsession of dance music and DJing. As they began producing music together, they drew inspiration from a melting pot of artists, including Pearl Jam, Wu-Tang, The Chemical Brothers, and Sasha & John Digweed. This deep bag of influences helped set the duo apart from others and is clear in their tactful productions.
A meticulous and well thought out production style challenges Sultan + Shepard to create the very best. To begin, they collaborate and draft an initial idea as the foundation of a new song. Once it is complete, Sultan says Shepard will “usually have an existential crisis in the middle of a song”. This means that he’ll try a new idea and tweak it in various directions to see if it works. Once he believes he has exhausted all possibilities, the duo will reconvene and decide which idea to pursue. Although they don’t always move forward with Shepard’s new idea, this workshop style approach pushes the tandem in creating the best possible song. This enduring process is not the easiest, but it is the creative approach that needs to be done to consistently produce good and original music.
Sultan + Shepard apply this comprehensive and detailed production system on a larger scale. In a scene that is constantly evolving and changing, it is crucial for artists to adopt their sound with the ever-changing dance music scene. The duo is in a constant battle to maintain its core sound and simultaneously stay up to date with the latest music trends. This is one of the hardest struggles they have encountered in their careers. Over the years however, they have learned that patience equals success. Just like their tedious track process, the tandem learned that good music takes time to create and is not always successful on the first attempt. Their tracks might not be as good as others sometimes, but it allows them to learn from their experiences and grow as artists. “Sometimes you have to make a few tracks that aren’t that good, until you get that one that’s like okay that’s it. Or you have to work at one song and do six or seven versions,” Said Shepard. And that’s exactly what happened with their track “Walls”, which was reworked six or seven times over the course of a couple years before they were happy with it. This initial struggle taught the duo how to successfully manage the constantly evolving dance music industry, and develop a detailed work ethic all while maintaining a genuine interest in creating good music.
The group’s perpetual drive to create quality work is a main catalyst to their success. However, in the world of show business, there will always be naysayers who dispel others’ work. After releasing what they thought was a very good record on John Digweed’s label, Sultan + Shepard were surprised that some people did not like it. At first they took it personally, but soon realized that this cannot be taken to heart, and it is impossible to please every single fan. They decided to remain authentic to their sound and create music they wanted to listen to. In that sense, the fans that enjoyed the music they produced were the fans they wanted to have. Staying authentic to their sound allowed the duo to solidify and grow a passionate fan base that genuinely enjoyed the music they were producing.
For Sultan + Shepard, conveying life experiences to fans through their musical productions is a core pillar of their authenticity. They realize that people who attend shows open-mindedly will be receptive to whatever the artists play. This is why each time they take the stage, they hope to project their joy and exuberance through their music. Not only are they playing to welcoming crowds, but it is rewarding to see the smiles on people’s faces. The music allows fans to escape from the stresses of life and enjoy the moment without worry. It’s a good reminder to Sultan + Shepard that it’s okay to let go and forget everything, and something they want to pass on to fans.
The duo from up North brings a wide range of experiences and influences to the table. They learned firsthand how to keep up with the rapidly evolving dance music industry, while simultaneously balancing their authentic sound. Through this experience, they now understand that slow methodical work always triumphs in the end, and that failure can lead to a success. Always remember that patience is a virtue, and it’s not whether you get knocked down, it’s whether you get back up.