Few producers have managed to maintain their studio output with such stamina and consistency as Sultan + Shepard. On the studio front, they were tagged by Beatport as the “kings of the progressive scene” with countless chart-topping productions including their collaboration with Junior Sanchez on Size Records, “Deeper Love”, “Renegade Master” on Musical Freedom and “Keep Moving” featuring The Boxer Rebellion on Nicky Romero’s Protocol Records. Then, Sultan and Ned Seppard joined forces with Dillon Francis to create “When We Were Young”, amassing 13-million-YouTube plays with their hilarious video. Sultan + Shepard are constantly on touring fire, hitting festivals such as Ultra, TomorrowWorld, Tomorrowland, Mysteryland and countless clubs across the globe through the years.
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Sean Ritchie: I know you guys met in Montreal. Talk a little bit about the city. What was it like going to McGill University there?
Ned Shepard: I got to Montreal in 2001. Montreal is a pretty amazing place, because there’s very much a mix of European and North American culture. So, the people there speak French, everything is in French, but it still feels Canadian. It has just a really interesting mix of people. Music-wise, when I got there, there was [maybe] five after-hours clubs that were open. Every weekend they were packed or had music festivals. It was really lively. There was a lot of stuff going on. They also had the European influence.
Electronic music and things that were big in Europe were always big in Montreal first before they were big in the [United States], or anywhere else in Canada. It just had that really edgy, cool vibe — still does. I still think it’s one of the best places to be an artist and develop your career, because it’s inexpensive and there’s a really nice community there. It’s just kind of mellow. It’s just a really special place.
SR: Amazing! If you had to suggest a spot to check out during the day, and then one at night, where would you tell is first-time visitor to go to really see the city?
NS: During the day I would say to go take a walk in Old Montreal. Or, you know what’s a really cool way to see the city? You can go hike up in Mount Royal Park. There’s a staircase that you can climb to the top of the mountain that overlooks the city. It’s a nice way to take it in. At night, I would stay stop off for a drink at this new terrace that just opened up, called Terrasse at the William Gray hotel. It’s a rooftop bar that’s really, really cool. There’s a bunch of really amazing restaurants around as well.
SR: That sounds sick. I have a couple friends that go up there pretty frequently, but I’ve never been myself. It sounds like a dope spot that I have to check out. So, to bring it into your music, how did you get your first initial interest in making music? Then, how did you guys first know that you clicked creatively when you heard each other’s sound?
Sultan: I started making music, technically when I was 16 or 17, back when I was living in Egypt. I was in a rock band and started off playing guitar. Then, I moved to Montreal when I started going to university and started a rock band there, until I graduated from McGill. After that I started getting into electronic music, trying to make electronic music right after graduating for the fun of it.
I was DJing at the time and then I met Ned. He gave me a CD of the music he was working on, he was doing a different project. I liked it, called him up and said we should hang out. So, we were friends for a really long time before we actually started making music [together], but we always had a lot of similar tastes in what we listened to, and what we liked. Eventually, we just started working on stuff together, and we just clicked musically because we liked the same things.
SR: Right, it just kind of built over time. That’s really cool that you guys were friends before. I’m sure that helps when you guys travel the world together.
SR: Now, describe how music and travel are intertwined and complement each other over all. How cool is it to spread your sound across the world?
NS: Every part of the world has a different vibe, and that goes for music too. When you go to different countries there’s just a different feeling that you get. There are different songs that are popular, and different styles that are really right in those places. So, when you travel to say Peru, Colombia or Brazil, you’re going to feel different then when you travel Amsterdam or Scandinavia. There’s just different people and sounds that you hear on the street.
Then, you come back, and kind of have different ideas. If people in different places are excited about something, it’ll get you excited about it. There are certain songs that become global hits, but there’s not necessarily one global sound. I think that that’s really cool. The worst thing that happens when you go to a place is that they’re playing the same music that they’re playing in [Los Angeles] or in New York. Whenever I hear stuff like that I always feel like I’m in the wrong part of town.
S: Yeah, like you don’t want to go to a Chinese restaurant and have a burger. You want to have Chinese food.
SR: I find it really cool too finding different cultures and see they’re interests in music. Along the same line, one of our core objectives at SCP is to bring people together while traveling, not only to influence people to see and appreciate our beautiful world, but to have people interact with others in different cultures. Our theory is if that happens cultures won’t seem as foreign, and people probably will be more open and accepting to each other. That really has a lot of parallels with dance music, going to festivals people from all walks of life gather in once place. Talk to how traveling has an effect in that regard.
NS: Yeah, if you’re American and you stay in the US, you’d just have an idea of what other countries are like just by watching TV, which is pretty terrible. When you go to other places and interact with people you really get a sense of what matters to them, and where they’re coming from. You see them as human beings who probably aren’t really that different from you, or maybe are, but in a really cool way.
I think it’s cool that when you travel musically, as an artist, even if you’re in a city for just a day or two, you’re already meeting people that are from there. If you’re a tourist, you may show up in a place and you don’t really know where to go unless you have a connection, so you do the tourist things. You’ll meet other travelers, but it may be hard to meet local people. When you’re an artist, within three hours, you’ll meet the promoter and their friends. You’re already plugged into a whole group of people. You can make friends quickly. It’s really cool to have friends all over the world. That’s one of the coolest things about being an artist.
SR: That’s really interesting to hear. So, when you guys are off the stage and you have some downtime, whether on tour or just at home, where can we usually find you? What are some of your hobbies or activities that you like to do?
S: If there’s a basketball court anywhere you can find us there. Otherwise, we’re just spending time making music in our studio, or hanging out with friends. Just chilling out, kind of taking it easy.
SR: For sure, I bet when you get downtime you cherish it.
S: Yeah, we do. We get to spend time with the people you care about, and people that you leave at home when you go on tour. It’s nice to come back and spend time with them.
SR: Describe the most picturesque place you’ve played at. What was the scenery like?
S: Yeah, Sharm El-Sheikh in Egypt is a gorgeous place!
SR: Where is that exactly? I’ve never heard of it.
S: So, it’s on the Sinai Peninsula right on the Red Sea. It’s on the Red Sea coast of Egypt. It’s a bustling tourist town. It’s a small city right on the beach. You’ve got beach on one side, with sand dunes and mountains on the other side. There’s been a big dance culture there over the years. They have a Pacha. They have a Space. They bring in a lot of international DJ’s. You get a lot of tourists coming in from Europe, especially Brits and Italians, a lot of Russians too. Then, you also get a lot of locals from Egypt that come from Ciaro and all around [the country]. It’s just a really nice blend of cultures. It’s such a gorgeous place. If you like scuba diving, it’s one of the best places in the world to go.
S: Yeah, I would say it’s probably top five in the world, for sure. The coral reefs there are insane. Then, if you like sand dunes and taking ATV’s and going out, it’s got some of the best terrain and tours for that.
SR: Sounds like a spot with a great mixture of everything. On a broader level, I know you both are well-traveled and have been all over the world, but are there a couple destinations, maybe two or three, that you still want to hit?
NS:Japan. Japan is number one. Somehow we’ve managed not to go to Japan. I’m not sure exactly why, but it’s never worked out with the tours.
SR: Can I tell you that probably 75 percent of the musicians we talk to say Japan? Then, the ones that have been say the fans are just amazing. They’re so passionate.
S: Totally! It sounds amazing. We’ve had offers, but it just hasn’t worked out with the schedule, but it’s on the list.
S: That was the city for it. It was nuts. It’s super random, but super fun. One of the best things that can happen to you as an artist is to be in a club, hanging out with random people, having a great time and thinking, “Wait … where [the hell] are we?” Not like when you’re in Barcelona or Paris, someplace that you literally have to look at a map to figure out where you are. It’s really crazy and fun. You also know that you would never go there in any other circumstance.
NS: Oftentimes, in those places, those people are the warmest. Romania is another country that’s so beautiful. There’s so many places in Transylvania that are really incredible.
S: I’ve met some of the nicest people in Lithuania, some of the most beautiful-looking people.
SR: That’s always a plus. So, I’m always curious when I talk to DJ’s what they listen to outside of their genre — rap, hip-hop?
S: We listen to everything. I don’t think we listen to too much dance music actually. We do when we’re getting ready for shows and stuff, but we’re more into indie stuff. Ned just went to a Kanye concert [seven] days ago. We’re into all kinds of stuff. We’re [currently] in LA, so we get to see a lot of interesting bands and artists that come through that aren’t dance acts. We really try and take advantage of that.
SR: I’m a music head myself. My girlfriend tries to get me to listen to country, but outside of country I can pretty much listen to anything. So, lastly to wrap this up, when’s the next vacation and where to?
S: That’s awesome! I’m going on a mini, mini vacation up to Santa Ynez. It’s like two hours outside of LA. It’s wine country. It’s just to take a breather for a few days.