or real girl—disco queen Sally Shapiro is perfection you can’t touch.
BY LAVINIA JONES WRIGHT
The DJ puts the single on his deck and it spins
hypnotically. A voice breezes by like a cool gust of wind whispering I wish you never knew/How I feel for you. The
honey-sweet tones bounce as a soft dance beat leaps in and your feet start to
move. The mesmerizing track, “He Keeps Me Alive,” is a single from Swedish
disco siren Sally Shapiro’s debut album Disco
Romance (Paper Bag) which was released in the US
in late 2007 to critical acclaim.
Disco Romance is
currently receiving no less than two facelifts—at presstime, Remix Romance Vols. 1 and 2 were set for back to back releases in
April and May, respectively—with famed electro artists such as Skatebård, DFA’s
Juan MacLean, Jon Brooks and Lindstrøm taking their shot at improving on the
near flawless dance gems while fans and critics were getting their second and
third look at the woman behind the songs.
Shapiro’s voice evokes ancient tales of sailors lured to the
rocks by the sweet melodies of dangerous women. When she sings, her reedy
soprano is at once sultry, innocent, delicate and dark. The sharp “s” and
guttural vowels of her Scandinavian accent add the exotic touch to her vocals,
making them the perfect soundtrack to dance floor sex.
Disco queen Sally may be, but diva she is definitely not.
Shapiro is so cripplingly shy that she not only refuses to perform live, but
also eschews phone and in-person interviews and insists that no one be in the
room when she’s recording. Including her producer.
After being treated to my own email interview with Shapiro,
the answers to which were practically verbatim copies of another interview she
did last year, I started to wonder something that other writers have also suspected:
does she even exist? All of these endearing and strange quirks could either add
up to one very magical piece of electro-perfection or to a person created, very
cleverly, with marketing in mind. After all, it’s undeniable that we are drawn
to what we can’t have, to that beauty that we have never seen know must be
Sally’s responses came via her producer, Johan Agebjörn, the
mastermind behind Disco Romance and
Sally’s emergence. “When we had been singing Christmas songs together he had
said that I had an italo disco sounding voice,” writes Shapiro. “He had made
this track “I’ll Be By Your Side” that he needed a singer on, so he played it
to me on the piano and asked if I wanted to sing on it. I liked the track so I
Shapiro’s relationship with Agebjörn began eight years ago
when they worked together in an office (the company name is absent from her
responses) and passed mixtapes back and forth. They bonded over a mutual love
of dancey pop music. Recalls Shapiro, “Some tracks on my tapes were Madonna
“Material Girl,” Limahl “Neverending Story,” T’Pau “China in Your Head” and
Nixon “Anorak Christmas.” Some songs on Johan’s tapes that I particularly liked
were Valerie Dore “Get Closer,” Italian Boys “Midnight Girl” and Squash Gang “I
Want an Illusion.” We both like poppy, romantic electronic disco music. The
melancholic feel of, for example, Valerie Dore in particular provided
inspiration to our musical project.”
It would take the duo a few more years to start the
recording, and then another year to finish it. “The actual recording of my
voice goes pretty quickly once it happens,” Shapiro explains, “but I need to be
in the right mood to sing, so sometimes we postpone the day of recording a few
Once Disco Romance was released in North America, it was two
short months before it was being spun and remixed compulsively by fellow
electro artists. Shapiro was delighted, even going so far as to say that some
of the remixes such as Jon Brooks’ remix of “Skating in the Moonshine” on Vol. 1 and Dyylan’s remix of “Hold Me So
Tight” on Vol. 2 are “better than the
originals.” Agebjörn sat down with Paper Bag Records and chose the tracks, a
mixture of enthusiastic newcomers—Woodhands and The Canescos experimented with
live instruments to add new dimensions to “Anorak Christmas” and “Hold Me So
Tight” on Vol. 1—and sage older
voices: Alexander Robotnick gave “Anorak Christmas” a fun 1980s teen bounce on Vol. 2.
One of the strange things, though, is that everything else
about Sally Shapiro besides her mysterious sound is completely ordinary. When
asked what kinds of music she listened to growing up she merely replied,
“children’s music and later pop music,” with not one but two nods to the
Eurovision Song Contest. She claims no eclectic interests, and maintains her
decidedly dull laboratory day job.
Even more suspicious is that Sally Shapiro isn’t her real
name, merely an alias invented by Agebjörn in the spirit of accessibility,
choosing the name because they liked the alliteration and the Italian feel.
They claim that the photo of the pretty blond that graces the purposefully
cheesy cover of Disco Romance is an
actual photo of Sally, but considering that she came to her own album release
party in disguise, how do we know it’s really her?
What’s more, how would all those musical splicers who worked
on Remix Romance feel to find out
that they just remixed a ghost? Or is it the eerie feeling of something
strangely absent yet still warm that makes dance music so sexy? Maybe that is
the reason that Sally is such an ideal candidate to become the princess of
nightlife. It doesn’t matter whether she exists or not — that said, she was
spotted twice in NYC this past March, deejaying with Agebjörn at the Plug
Awards on night and at the Mercury Lounge the next —because her spectral
mysteriousness is generous, but not overbearing, loving but not needy. She is
the perfect woman.
[Photo Credit: Frida Klingberg]