Shiba San ‘OKAY’: How a Song Defined an Era of Dance Music
Mar 6, 2023
Angus Thomas Paterson
5 min read
When French DJ and producer Shiba San transitioned from hip hop to house music and released his breakthrough hit "OKAY" in 2014, it was arguably a matter of right place, right time.
“OKAY” achieved hit status as wider dance culture in the US approached a fork in the road. Several years after the massive embrace of the hyper-commercialized sounds of EDM saw the festival scene exploding to colossal popularity across the country, blasting out to huge, ecstatic crowds, the attention inevitably turned to the longtime marginalized history of dance music in the US.
In the midst of this, there was something about “OKAY” that struck a chord. Stealing the #1 spot on the Beatport House Chart and holding it for a formidable 82 days, the track stayed in the top 10 for more than 180 days in total. Further still, it remained a ubiquitous crowdpleaser on dancefloors in the years that followed as the US house renaissance bloomed, and imprints like San Francisco’s Dirtybird stepped into the spotlight.
With the warped vocal sample and cascading bassline of “OKAY,” it was a track that boasted a funky, driving energy, as well an unmistakable quirky weirdness that similarly characterized the output from stalwarts like Claude VonStroke and Justin Martin, who were ascending to new levels of success at the time (and who’d always been averse to taking themselves too seriously).
The term “ghetto-funk” was bandied about, and pointed to Shiba San’s background as a producer behind the scenes in the French hip-hop scene. It didn’t go unnoticed that he’d managed to smoothly infuse his hip-hop heritage into his newly-minted productions, gifting him with an edge as he built his name in the US house scene. It saw his music signed by the likes of Suara and Dirtybird, and eventually encouraged a relocation to Miami.
“OKAY” also arguably provided an early genesis for forming the somewhat controversial ‘Future House’ genre, which fused classic house music archetypes with a bouncier sound that was fashioned to work on the mainstages. However, Shiba San most definitely stood apart from rising ‘Future House’ stars like Oliver Heldens, who were embraced at EDM events, never giving up his underground grit and often speaking on the classic sounds of Chicago house as his defining musical influence.
In an early interview with VICE shortly after the release of “OKAY,” just after he embarked on his first tour of the US, Shiba revealed that Chicago house was actually his first true musical love, proving definitive when he was learning the ropes as a producer.
Watch at 39:17 to see how Shiba San's "OKAY" still hits.
“It’s such a mythic house city,” he says of Chicago. “I started listening to house music when I was really young with vinyl from the crates of Sounds of Chicago, that was really the start of my musical story.”
When “OKAY” dropped to much fanfare, Shiba San was surprised by its quick success and the warm reception he received in the clubs on his debut US tour.
“To be honest, I never realised that Americans had been waiting to see me and I never really expected that these many people were listening to my music out here. Every date has gone really well… and the crowds have been getting super into it.”
Speaking on the reception of “OKAY,” he told VICE that its release was a spontaneous affair, rather than anything he’d put too much thought into prior to throwing it out to the world.
“No, you never really know how well a song is going to do… you never really know when it’s going to hit like that. I mean, you know when you have a track like ‘Okay’ [that it features] a good bassline, but you have no idea if other DJs will like it. And even if they do like it, will the people listening like it? And from there, will it be a hit? If [you were able to guess] when something would be a hit, then it’d be too easy and that’s all we would do.”
That aside, once it started to get a proper rinsing from the likes of Claude VonStroke and Coyu, he knew he had a banger on his hands.
“It’s happened quite a bit, there are a lot of people I really respect that have played the track. I mean, there are BIG people from different genres outside classical house, even EDM, that love playing this song and they’ve made it something for themselves, which is really special. The first thing that was really shocking to me was that the track got signed to my favourite label. I’ve been a fan of Justin Martin and Claude VonStroke for a long time, and signing ‘Okay’ to Dirtybird was a huge rush.”