"I've always been into sound," says J Shepherd, better known in the electronica and experimental worlds he dwells by the handle Slugwrench. The eccentric artist's fondness for electronically induced pain, however, goes far beyond mere standard synth sounds. Contradictions abound in the musical and philosophical prism from which J views his morning acid. Hailed by several critics as the only genuine prodigy that the electronic music scene has produced, he's also been assailed as the kind of crackpot-idiot savant that some critics still feel the misunderstood genre deserves. A quick once-over of the Slugwrench rumor checklist reveals a refreshing litany of mercurial musings. He cites no influences, though owns well over 3,000 records. He's made most of his critically acclaimed tracks from the confines of his small home based studio. He readily admits to a preference of abstract work while purposely destroying some of his own best works.
His first large scale release on Intolerance Records called Prole, continues it's groundbreaking assault on the senses. J mines his previous obsession with organic sounds, as well as new territory. Complete with static, electric fizzle and hum, he even spun off the temporal collaboration with the legendary scumbag; D.J. Gagball on the eerie "Gagslug." He's been having a go at records, tapes, knobs, instruments and effects boxes since the age of 9, never satisfied with the store bought sounds the wizardry produced. "When I bought my first synthesizer I really didn't like it," says J. "l thought it sounded like ass and I really didn't have any money to buy anything better so I had to open it up. I just started with basic alterations, but as the years went by the alterations got bigger and bigger." That bit of understatement doesn't do justice to the massive library of sounds J has produced over the years. Experimenting with everything from vacuum cleaners to blenders, critics have worked overtime trying to describe the results.
"I will never be happy with my instruments," J told one writer recently. Instead, J unwittingly was challenging the staid 'musical rules' that most people took for granted. With a precocious sensibility he's bucked the conventional wisdom as to what makes sound appealing in the first place. He studied electronics at home, learning to build circuits from scratch. This lead to his penchant for homemade noise boxes, which J would unleash during his first D.J.'ing stints as a teenager. Many critics credit him with making experimental tracks nine or ten years before the scene first exploded.
J's first release as Slugwrench was "Demo Tape One" on the Intolerance label. It became a sort of a cult favorite for the underground club scene in Germany. But it was the release of the speed-barrier mind-fuck anthem "Trapped (remix)," that his reputation as a crazed technoid of the first magnitude began to spread. The Akron, Ohio native (the town where the legendary Soap Box Derby races are held) began to conjure up a myth of his own.
Rumors abounded about this new Tech-head. Stories were rampant that he never slept, that he favored artificially induced mind altering states before he'd even turn his tape recorder on and that he had hundreds and hundreds of hours of music stored on data cartridges from somnambulist work binges brought on by those altered states. The legend was born. Remix work poured in. J was notorious for leaving the original tracks virtually unrecognizable, all the more reasons for many dance music critics to hail whatever he touched as mini-masterpieces in themselves. He's sliced up sides for a varying range of artists, everyone from Skinny Puppy to DJ Gagball.
The local press began to find his candor refreshing. With post-punk clones pretending to thumb their noses at the music industry by smashing guitars and diving through amps, J had sort of become their 'post-post' modern rebel. One that's not merely content to bite that hand that feeds him, but to show that such big gulps are expected of any pop star who's ever made it to the now obligatory long in the tooth stage. He's quick to point out, however, the difference between making music, which to him is something of a bodily need, and putting out 'records', a system he's been contemptuous of from the start. This type of provocation started at an early age. One of J's earliest memories is pounding tribal rhythms for hours on his fathers drumset. J was quoted as remembering the first thing his father ever said to him about his drumming as, "Wow, you're really beating the Hell out of them aren't you?" Something he's devoted himself to ever since.
An early release was 1995's I Hate. Once again ahead of the curve, J traded in the blinding speed of hard edged techno for a much more industrial direction. The came the 1993 digusting collaboration, Ode to Boy with Jeremy "Dubsack" Williams amd Aaron "Aeroin" Miller. The follow up single later that year, was even more eccentric. J utilized sounds he gathered from his "7th & Birmingham Studio in the Hood" for the song. It was a collaborative piece entitled "Delaware" with Tampon Plasticimer and Zhopan Ganatti Nazari. The latter was created in one take, under the influence of strong psychoactive mushrooms. More somber in it's tone than any previous work, the album shocked a lot of his more hard-core fans, but helped cement yet another building block in the fun house style maze that has mapped J's career.
Which brings us to Demo Tape Two. The range of J's current soundscape is breathtaking. Featuring titles like "Plan 19", more surprises are in store for those who think they've seen just about everything from Slugwrench. The album delights in the juxtaposition of sounds, from the crazed industrial opener, "Dead Ride," to the chemically-laden "Wrapped (original)." J's knack for striking a duality between noise and experimental shears through every track. "Pinned," is an ominous sounding, acoustic / industrial cut that seems to confirm the Alternative Press' assessment of Slugwrench's place in pop music as 'disjointed avant-garde techno'.
The next rare analog release was Demo Tape Three. This tape had favorites that later appeared on Prole such as: The Mood is Fear and Chog as well as remixes and different versions such as: Drat (extended mix), and Meek (instrumental dipped in cum). Demo Tape Three also contained favorites never released elsewhere such as: Slugwrench Girls, Trapped (remix), Repulsive Discoveries, Plan 00, Plan 60 and The Plan 101 soundtrack. Regarding the latter... It was J's first attempt at video recording. His equipment consisted of a Connectix Quick Cam taped to a home made tripod. He then used circuit boards and clay to fashion a stop motion animated music video. (Incidentally, if anyone has one of these I'd love to see it again or get a copy of it to show on the website. Contact via Slugwrench myspace page.)
The year is 1997 and the Intolerance Starving Parasite Studios upgrades some equipment and is able to have their first semi-digital release. This CD is called PROLE. Regarding the Prole CD, Alternative Press says SLUGWRENCH has manned the 'industrial-edged electronic-noir trench dug by cEvin Key' of Skinny Puppy. This CD contains seventy-four minutes of mind altering experimental electronic industrial music.
The artist himself, who says "people are mostly huge sacks of shit, we do what we do to survive." doesn't spend too much time thinking about what's up next. His quirky philosophy extends to his own mortality, as well. "I'm obsessed with sound," he says. "I'll be making sounds until the day I die, which will hopefully be pretty soon, unless all of you die first, which is my first preference anyway. Fuck off."