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Skinshape

Agent:  Yiwei Meng
Territory: World 

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ABOUT

Under the influence of retro funk, soul, reggae, Morricone, psychedelic rock, afrobeat, folk and the Fab Four, multi-instrumentalist William Dorey as Skinshape maintains an evocative melting pot, keeping categorisation open-ended across five individual albums expressing globetrotting expertise with the ease and base need to just plug in and play.

An organic route of self-discovery had Dorset-born Dorey learning guitar and teaching himself piano at school, and feeding off the fertile finds of like-minded friends until bands were formed and copies of Garageband and Albeton changed hands. Dorey’s school listening would range from the sounds of the 60s, psychedelic and folk, to ambient strains of Aphex Twin, Lemon Jelly and Moby later on. Dabbling in six strings, then synths, then bass, and the sample-based beats of Bonobo, DJ Shadow, Quantic and DJ Premier, is when Skinshape started to truly take form. The name Skinshape itself has little rhyme or reason – just a mere lightbulb moment from sitting at his parents’ kitchen table – with Dorey’s intuitive search for the sound to fit his moniker continuing as a student at Goldsmith’s University.

“What I was interested in, was not something that they teach”. Inquisitiveness superseding any implied bravado, a growing interest in archive recording techniques, including using vintage tape machines, inevitably lead to Dorey’s student loan funding a 16-channel mixer from the 1970s, described as “crappy”, and a four-track tape machine that he would eventually master as a labour of love.

Dorey’s first Skinshape output, 2012’s four song ‘Skinshape’ EP, aimed to mould reggae rhythms with trip hop beats. Dovetailed with Greece’s Melting Records discovering Skinshape’s Soundcloud activity, the ‘Skinshape’ LP (2014) – the ghost of Bristol’s past and monochrome jangles for the boys of summer – handpicked the best of his back catalogue and introduced the world to Dorey’s bedroom-born methods and mechanics: sample-free, putting the tape machine to good use, and working on a building blocks basis. “I generally start songs with just a drum break and use that groove as a foundation to write to. Most of the time I’ll start writing with a guitar and if I come up with a part I like, the writing is intertwined with the recording at the same time”.

2014 also saw Dorey jamming with the London band Palace, going on to co-write 2015’s ‘Chase the Light’ EP and 2016’s ‘So Long Forever’ album, before stepping down to concentrate on Skinshape and his Horus Records stable. Originally intended as a Skinshape outlet in partnership with school friend Ben Bell, the reggae-centric Horus, tape machines again to the fore, brought together productions from The Arch studio in Tottenham (a  working space built and catering for numerous musicians), while reissuing a wealth of rare roots reggae gold.

Recalibrating another set of works handpicked from storage, 2015’s sophomore LP ‘Oracolo’ (“the soundtrack to a psychedelic Spaghetti Western”) came via London’s Beatnik imprint. Two years later, ‘Life & Love’ (“an album which exemplifies the distinctive vibes Dorey can produce”), was released on French label Dloaw & Co, Dorey sustaining the fast-becoming classic Skinshape template as well as developing the arid, after hours balance of pride and sorrow. The role of imaginary film soundtracker presented itself with 2018’s ‘Filoxiny’. Flitting in and around the BBC 6 Music playlist and racking up millions of online streams, the album featured arrangement and keys from Jon Moody (another school friend/bandmate that featured on ‘Life & Love’) and a focus on cinematic, psych-coloured anticipation. Still keeping his archives honest, the title track features bass taken from a recording back in 2012, the album reaping comparisons to “a stream of other admired acts like Air, Beck and Tame Impala”.

Meticulous and divergent, fine tuning his work by ear over and over (and over), Dorey handles pretty much any instrument he can find – guitar, bass, keys, percussion, sitar, flute, vocals, but tellingly never the drums (“I always prefer those to be played by a true pro”, he says with a humility belying a hands-on approach). Conversely, he can be laissez faire, letting vibes take care of tracks, and keeping original ideas in tact even if “I didn’t play that part play very well”. Fuelled by the challenges each new album brings and with trusty valve amplifier and mono tape machine ever present, Dorey asserts that he has “never used a complex set up. I think people over complicate things when they record”. The studio will always be his stage, as well as his medicine. “I don’t want to feel like I have to tour. I don’t have a live show because I am happy with focusing on recording new material. I’m thinking more about my own happiness and wellbeing really”.

With 2020’s ‘Umoja’, Dorey makes good on his promise to take himself from out of his comfort zone, yet finds his global vision and ambition, honing his love of African music, more often than not right under his nose in cosmopolitan London. “‘Umoja’ was a real journey, full of highs and lows. Some days I almost felt like giving up and other days I felt exhilarated. But when it finally came together towards the end I felt glad I had made the extra effort to go all out and make something different.” Out of 20-30 ideas, frameworks and half-songs, ‘Umoja’ stands as a 10 track celebration of sounds, beginning with the Latin lustre of ‘Sua Alma’, featuring Portuguese chanteuse D’Alma. With the classic Skinshape ideology still to the fore, embedded in this sense of adventure is an unfaltering want to do the basics right and find solutions out of limitations – “’Sun’ is pretty much a bedroom production” says Dorey, and the vocals articulating the problems in ‘Sudan’ “were recorded above a pub in a small town on Norway’s South coast”. ‘Umoja’ takes in African grooves, native tongues, input from the likes of Heliocentrics’ Malcolm Catto and the returning Jon Moody, and plots a course across Senegal, Nigeria, Ghana, Mali and much more, the consummate worldwide voyage from the comfort of your front room. 





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