DJ Chris Sheppard shares the Love Inc.

ANDREW FLYNN

, Last Updated: 10:33 PM ET

TORONTO -- If you're not into the hot-and-sweaty urban pursuit known as clubbing, then you probably haven't heard of Chris Sheppard.

But "Shep," as he's known in the dance nightclubs, is probably the most successful club DJ this country has ever known: a mixmaster who believes all the technology he employs responds better to primitive human emotions than most live acts.

Sheppard's metier is "dance" music -- though he's uncomfortable with the vagueness of the term, preferring to refer to it as "club culture."

"You have to identify what it is -- it's like alternative when it had no name and people were just getting into the grunge sound," says Sheppard.

As a DJ, he and other practitioners of club culture spin records.

But it's not a matter of slapping song after song on a turntable. The DJ's skill is to make the music flow together, integrating each song with the next, overlaying their beats to create a new sound. A good DJ can read a crowd writhing in a dark and smoky nightclub, give them what they want to hear and make a statement in the process, he says.

"It does seem kind of an organic process when you consider that a crowd will almost instantly react to what you play," says Sheppard.

"The challenge is to catch some unspoken vibe and that's what makes it a real art form."

Sheppard began cutting dance mix albums almost 10 years ago, when club mixes were considered underground, too new and strange for the mainstream.

Since then, he has released no fewer than 25 albums of remixed music, including three with his former techno group BKS. If staying ahead of trends has been Sheppard's sermon, his pulpit has been radio: Groove Station, a syndicated radio show.

Over the years he's connected with cutting-edge musicians like Skinny Puppy, the Beastie Boys, the Cult, the Prodigy and the Clash, earning a reputation as an innovator who has always carefully avoided the harmful effects of the limelight.

"I think being outside of that kind of pressure gives club culture music an extra edge," says Sheppard.

"We're not being dissected every day, nobody in the industry's paying it a lot of attention, so it develops on its own, quietly."

As the electronic rock known as "techno" seeped from the fringes to mainstream radio over the last few years, thanks to groups like England's Chemical Brothers, Sheppard decided to change his style.

Forming Love Inc. with vocalist Simone Denny and remixer Bradley Daymond, a pure electronic dance-pop group, Sheppard has taken a bold step in an extremely commercial direction. He's already known as a relentless promoter of his mix and compilation records, but some critics say his foray into mainstream territory is a sign he's lost his edge.

"I think pop music is really an exciting music right now," Sheppard says defensively. "It's happy, it hasn't got too many problems on its shoulders. I like listening to pop music.

"People forget I've already been through all those other scenes that were considered subculture. Now even the underground is commercial because there's thousands of people coming into the party," he says.

When Love Inc. goes on tour this fall, Sheppard says he'll take the group to many smaller venues, not to find new markets but to share the music that makes him feel good.

"People always think the big dance music scene's happening in Montreal, Toronto, Vancouver, Edmonton -- but it's everywhere," he says. "We're spreading the love everywhere.

"I don't do anything for the money, I'm financially stable," Sheppard says, recalling a recent video shoot for the upcoming Love Inc. single Homeless.

"Or else I wouldn't be spending $60,000 of my money filming dead ravens and rats in an alley, standing there at five in the morning, going 'Why am I spending $60,000 of my money on this?'

"I guess I enjoy it."


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