Inside St. Jerome’s Laneway Music Festival's Ghostly International stage including and interview with Zach Saginaw (a.k.a. Shigeto)

This month sees the stateside debut of the St. Jerome’s Laneway Music Festival in Sterling Heights, and Ann Arbor will be prominently represented. Locally-based indie-record label Ghostly International, renowned for a decade now of spotlighting top of the line talents in ambient electronica, techno and synth-based IDM music, paired with Detroit’s Movement Electronic Music Festival to curate its own stage.

While headliners include arena-tier titans and perennial darlings of highminded indie-blogs like Sigur Ros and The National, Ghostly/Movement stage features Matthew Dear (with a live backing band,) ADULT. Heathered Pearls, Beacon..

And Shigeto.

Dear got his start in the Ann Arbor area during the earliest days of Ghostly, making this a particularly special occasion and a cool nod to this area’s key role in shaping modern progressive electronic music. Detroit-based ADULT., a multifaceted art-shocked post-techno duo released their latest LP The Way Things Fall on Ghostly last spring and performed in May at the annual Movement festival in Detroit.

These two electro-celebrating camps coming together like this marks an exciting moment in modern local music history and having the Australia-based Laneway choose Michigan is a cheering acknowledgement to what the world considers to be the true birthplace of techno music.

Jason Huvaere, current president of Paxahau (the production company that’s brought you Movement for the last seven years), said: “Collaborating with Ghostly’s illustrious talent on an energizing showcase is a perfect fit for this exciting new music event. We look forward to bringing back the excitement of Movement for this highly celebrated event.”

Shigeto, meanwhile, just released his newest and most formative full length album this week (also on Ghostly). Producer/drummer/composer Zach Saginaw shared some thoughts on No Better Time Than Now with Current.

Shigeto’s Music For The Moment

Zach Saginaw grew up with the drum. He felt such a close connection to the drum. The instrument that it was his entry into a whole life of musical creation and production. He’s come to consider it “the most human” of instruments.

Saginaw, who records, performs and tours under the moniker Shigeto, doesn’t mince words when he describes what he does: “I…am a drummer…” There’s notable reverence and an unflinching loyalty as Saginaw concisely cuts to the core of his musical arrangements: heavily percussive instrumental explorations furrowing between hip-hop rhythms and post-techno’s dark grooves. “It was the first instrument I ever expressed myself on.”

Saginaw grew up in Ann Arbor, a better student strictly of music than he was in academics; calculus couldn’t compete with the motivation he had for those drums.

Shigeto is not just homage to Sagniaw’s Japanese lineage (translated “to grow bigger,”), but also his middle name and the namesake of his grandfather, and heritage informed his musical life from the get-go. Saginaw's taste was shaped by the records passed to him by his father. He was further inspired by whatever he excavated from the local record shops, excavating seminal Detroit artists from the 60’s scenes, particularly in experimental jazz and Motown.

“It was when I started to embrace ‘the now,’” Saginaw says, “things started to make more sense to me…” No Better Time Than Now, Saginaw's new album, is essentially a soul-searching album and it effectively captures and exorcises frustration as well as resonating with revelation.

His first few releases on local-based ace electronica label Ghostly International unpacked his own past as well as his family’s, while Now is about “living in the moment,” recovering from what he considers “a pretty intense year.”

Having studied jazz at the New School in NYC and weathered woodshedding’s intensities through further music studies, he’d go on to spend hours experimenting on beat-arrangements during some time in London.

Finally, in the mid-00’s, Saginaw settled in Brooklyn to begin his music career proper. This lead to a life of touring the world. “The European crowd is more accepting of stranger music and going out to see artists they’ve never heard of,” Saginaw says of international music listeners. “American crowds tend to be much more energetic. I love playing in both.”

But his music, heavily contemplative and reflective of his sensitivities and proclivities towards philosophizing time and identity, lead to this latest work: “(Now)’s about living in the moment, obviously, but more about reminding myself to continue to do so.”

Now’s songs are visceral; they tumble together gracefully, with intricately arranged percussive elements that wind and accelerate towards a certain tension. It’s a propulsive suspense show, turning the screw towards a cinematic trip that could just barely be danced to if it wasn’t so stormy at points. Each track, particularly the grooving, soulful flares and hip-hop beats of “Detroit Pt. 1,” often refrains to a sighing, meditative bridge; the celestial synths feather the song back down to Earth.

The album was, Saginaw admits, composed to serve as a release valve for his life, dropping the pressure as much as possible. It’s nervier rhythmic fits likely erupted from majority of the songs being “completed in a short time while going through a pretty rough time.” It’s no heady concept album or maudlin heart-break record; just the composer captured in “quite an emotional period. So, Saginaw submits, “maybe” it’s some of his most “honest” music.

Saginaw moved back Detroit and set up his own studio space two years ago. “I was curious how it would feel.” The Ann-Arbor-ite echoes in him, having never lived in Detroit. “It was a warm welcome. Ann Arbor, I’ve felt, always had something in the water. I’m completely biased, can’t help it. There’s always been a large concentration of talent from each generation and I’m proud to see my friends like Charles Trees become one of the most prominent DJ’s in town, loving what Tree City and their whole crew has been doing.”

“Too much good music in Ann Arbor,” he surmises.

Current agrees, Zach.

+ posts

Jeff covers music for Current, posting weekly show previews and highlighting new bands in the area.

Jeff Milo
Jeff Milo
Jeff covers music for Current, posting weekly show previews and highlighting new bands in the area.

Recent Articles