Lewis Jankel is a force to be reckoned with; The 22-year-old who trades as Shift K3y is, as he puts it, “an all-in-one” – writing, producing, DJing all over the world and singing with sparkling soul. “It is a vulnerable thing to say: no one else touched this music, no one, from start to finish,” he says. “This is me, hands down.”
It’s been a gradual growth in skills that culminated in March 2015 with his first live show as the frontman of his own band – at Camden’s legendary Roundhouse with Ella Eyre, no less – and began at the age of seven when his dad, Blockheads keyboardist Chaz Jankel, brought home the Logic software for home producing.
In between, he was making dubstep-influenced instrumentals that came out on producer Marco Del Horno’s Bullet Train label while he was still in the sixth form. UKs’ favourite radio stations began supporting him then and haven’t let up, propelling him to success with a top three hit in spring 2014.
It was at an Annie Mac Presents night at Koko in 2012 that he began picking up a microphone to sing his own songs during his DJ sets. All part of a desire to be involved in every musical avenue available. “I wanted to make a living from music, however possible. That’s how I’m here”. His ingenuous approach has seen him morph into the role of singer, DJ and craft a remix where required.
That work ethic hasn’t diminished since chart success became a reality. He’s trained himself to live on five hours sleep a night, something he learned to do early on at his first studio (Trevor Horn’s historic Sarm Studios in Notting Hill). He’s already got a morning’s work under his belt before whichever star he’s working with that day has rung the doorbell.
He keeps late nights too, with a gang of hot young singers and producers that includes MNEK, Joel Compass, Becky Hill, Kate Stewart and Producer/school friend Linden Jay. “If we go on a night out, it’s all back to my studio in Holborn.” MNEK and he fuel each other’s fires, pushing each other to push pop music forward. “We’re both trying to set a blueprint. I don’t feel the current blueprint works anymore,” he says.
That’s how he describes his debut album too: “For me this album is a blueprint for how electronic music should sound from now on.” He’s painfully aware that sounds arrogant, but he’s not stumbling into the world of radio A-lists and dizzying chart placings from a place of ignorance. He’s given this a lot of thought, as evidenced by the response if you ask him about his interests outside of music: “Ummmm…”
With a father in a successful band, co-writing many hits with Ian Dury, obviously music was everywhere growing up. “I had my dad’s music playing in the house, and funk, disco, jazz, soul, classical, R&B, hip hop. Then I started listening to club music and going out.” He went to a private school in Hampstead alongside other young musical successors, but bad behaviour put paid to that, and he was sent instead to the sixth form at Muswell Hill state school Fortismere – fortuitously also the alma mater of Kinks Ray and Dave Davies, Rod Stewart and, more recently, Michael Kiwanuka and Jess Glynne.
The school’s investment in a brand new music block inspired him. “It was the most incredible place ever. Three floors, every room patched into one of two studios. I was covering D’Angelo records, trying to get them to sound exactly the same.” Meanwhile at home he also had plenty to play with. “My dad’s got a real Seventies jazz bass, the one everyone wants, which is what I learned bass on. I was playing a Minimoog at age five. The house keyboard was a Korg M1, which was on my on all my early records. You can hear those influences on my music – these things have sunk into my brain.”
Outside of home and school, a love of clubbing took hold early on. He winces when admitting to going to all-ages clubs such as Let’s Go Crazy, but soon it was on to DMZ raves in Brixton and “the dingiest of dingy warehouses”.
“Having gone through that helps me to put myself in these people’s shoes when I play,” he says. “It’s pretty obvious but it’s as simple as that.”
Once he took to the decks himself, Skrillex and Diplo were early supporters, the former taking him on tour around the US. 2 years on Shift K3Y is a seasoned DJ on the club and festival circuit including his first residency this Summer at the Hard Rock Hotel in the Dance Music mecca that is Ibiza.
Now he’s got the big names coming to him, with Tinie Tempah, Chaka Khan, DJ Mustard, MNEK and James Fauntleroy all working with him on his album. Khan was the big one. Of meeting the funk queen in LA, he says: “It was the most intensely amazing experience of my life.”
But there’s no time for laurel-resting just yet. “When it comes to this, I never waste any time, ever.”