Creative Strategies w/ Matt Shadetek: Imperfectionism

In this creative strategies article, Logic expert and Dutty Artz label owner Matt Shadetek breaks down the Japanese concept of wabi-sabi and the value of imperfection in art.


People sometimes ask me if their work comes across as “professional.” For beginners, this is very important. Beginners have the desire to make something that gives the impression that they know what they’re doing, that they’re in control of the process.  Often we feel that in order to look competent, powerful and in control, we need to make everything look easy, smoothing off every rough edge and polishing everything until it looks perfect.

A while back I read a piece by Seth Godin on his excellent blog. The piece was called “Effortless.” Godin writes:

“Sometimes, ‘never let them see you sweat,’ is truly bad advice. The work of an individual who cares often exposes the grit and determination and effort that it takes to be present. Perfecting your talk, refining your essay and polishing your service until all elements of you disappear might be obvious tactics, but they remove the thing we were looking for: you.”

This is really useful advice for us music makers for two reasons:

1) It might allow us to be a little less hard on ourselves as we strive to create high quality work. The drive towards perfectionism is one of the most crippling forces I see in my fellow artists.

2) It offers us a way to give our audience some intimacy with us. When we expose the process a little bit, it better conveys how we were feeling as we made something.

The reason people consume art is not to have a “perfect” experience; that simply doesn’t exist.  They do it to experience the emotions that the creator is trying to convey. Sometimes imperfection, visible seams and a few drops of sweat help to convey those feelings.

The Japanese have an entire cultural aesthetic concept for this idea of the beauty in imperfection, which I love:

Wabi-sabi (佗寂) represents a comprehensive Japanese world view or aesthetic centered on the acceptance of transience and imperfection. The aesthetic is sometimes described as one of beauty that is “imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete.” Characteristics of the wabi-sabi aesthetic include asymmetry, asperity (roughness or irregularity), simplicity, economy, austerity, modesty, intimacy and appreciation of the ingenuous integrity of natural objects and processes. – Wikipedia.

We are not robots or one-person art factories. We are humans who have headaches, clumsy fingers, fears and desires.  To try to smooth off every fingerprint is to erase ourselves from the process.  Allowing imperfection lets people see a bit behind the curtain and glimpse the hand of a creator moving.  In fact, the ways in which we go wrong are often the main ingredient which we are contributing to the process.  Very often we are inspired by some other piece of work and it is only our failures that steer our own work in a different direction than that of our inspiration.  This is a good thing. No one falls in love with a xerox machine.

Today, when people have so many ways to discover art and entertainment, so many sources to choose from and so few barriers to access that work, personal connection with an artist is more important than ever.  People don’t purchase albums today because they just want to hear the music. They do it because they identify with the artist, they see something of themselves, or something they aspire to, and they want the artist to win.  If we erase our imperfection, our flaws, our human-ness, there is very little there to connect with. There is no one to root and hope for.  Today as all artists try to answer the question of why fans should vote with their attention for them and not for someone else, it becomes more important than ever to be open and intimate with your fans.

Fundamentally, the willingness to show your imperfections is a form of bravery in the face of vulnerability. We all want to connect. We want to be loved, appreciated, admired, respected. But to achieve that we have to risk, and be open and share. We have to give of ourselves in ways that may feel dangerous.  Your audience is looking for a real human to share a connection with through the medium of art. Open up, share your imperfection and let them in.


About Matt Shadetek

Matt Shadetek is one of New York City’s most exciting producers. His live sets encompass contemporary Dancehall, UK Funky, and Dubstep, all delivered with Shadetek’s unique production voice which bridges the underground-mainstream divide. He’s one of the rare DJs who can rock a crowd with sets composed solely of his own dancefloor bangers and remixes.

Matt’s early love for Hip Hop and Dancehall along with edgy electronic sounds led to his Warp Records debut album Burnerism as part of the duo Team Shadetek. While Matt was living in Berlin and touring Europe, the followup LP Pale Fire was released, featuring the underground hit “Brooklyn Anthem”. The hit song kick-started a dance craze in the Brooklyn reggae scene (leading to over 100 fan videos of kids dancing to it).

Returning to NYC, Matt founded the Dutty Artz label/production crew with DJ /Rupture. Shadetek produced Jahdan Blakkamoore’s debut album, Buzzrock Warrior (!K7), pioneering its signature Reggae-Dubstep-Rap sound. In 2009 he also teamed up with Rupture to release the mix album Solar Life Raft (The Agriculture). His latest release, on Dutty Artz, is Flowers, an effervescent solo instrumental effort that references dubstep, UK Funky and Garage. He has toured internationally both solo and accompanied by Jahdan as vocalist.

Connect with Matt on Twitter | SoundCloud | Website


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