Late last year, we had the pleasure of speaking to Shanti Celeste at her home studio in Bristol. Her studio space is certainly small, but what it lacks in width it makes up for in synthesisers and drum machines. The West Country-based producer has had quite the stream of critically-acclaimed releases in the last year, from summery deep house on Idle Hands to razor sharp electro on Apron, all of which are characteristic of Shanti’s search for the lusciously melodic side of dance music. Her attitude of naivety towards production enables her to approach genres with a fresh perception, not weighed down by her own self-criticism, resulting in faultless visits into styles other producers would be too scared to delve.
Take a read of the full interview below, with some exclusive shots inside her studio, supplied by 2257AD.
So before we start, are there any questions you’d like me to ask? Or even better, any questions you’re bored of by now?
“When was the first time you got into music? How has Bristol influenced your sound?” Well actually, it hasn’t. I live in Bristol, but the music that’s influenced me is from Chicago, New York, Detroit and Germany. Maybe – in the back of my head and I don’t even know it – it’s influenced me, maybe a little bit. I love Bristol music but I didn’t move to Bristol because “Oh my god I love Massive Attack and dubstep.” I moved to Bristol because I got into a good uni. I went to UWE to do an illustration course and as soon as I got here I thought this is wicked, I want to live here.
Yeah, people are almost offended if you don’t give a shout-out to the dubstep.
Well to be fair, the dubstep I love. When I first started DJing, I had a choice. I was playing my friend’s records and he had a lot of old dubstep. He had a lot of minimal techno, and I was learning to mix on his records, but I was like, ok I need to just learn on one thing, so what should I focus on? Then I though I would focus on the minimal thing. I had been listening to dubstep a long time anyway, but it was more new to me, more fresh. Even though obviously house and techno had been going since the 90s, I actually grew up on dub, jungle and dubstep. So, to me, it was a new thing.
Was that in Bristol?
No this was in the Lake District!
There’s a scene in the Lake District??
No, there was just loads of raves. When I used to live there, there were just massive raves in the quarries. There’s this place called Hodge Close – oh my god I can’t believe anyone actually did raves here, it’s the most dangerous place anyone could do a rave. I don’t know how people didn’t just fall into it. Look they used to raves in the caves down there [points to a google image of “Hodge Close” on the computer monitor], but imagine that’s in the nighttime, when you’re on pills!
I’m actually really proud of the fact that I was able to save up and buy one of those [Juno], because I never thought I’d be able to buy something like that.
Wow, that is mad. How did no one die?
Maybe they did?? God that’s so weird, it was ten years ago. I’m getting to that age now where things are actually ten years ago. I think I’ve been DJing for that much now. I started Djing when I was about 17; well, mixing. The summer I started, I saved up, bought some decks, started practicing and, as soon I moved away from home, I was DJing in Falmouth. So I had maybe four gigs there, actually no, I had more than that. I had my first really rewarding gig in Falmouth actually, with actual people there, y’know?
And were you playing the minimal techno stuff?
Yeah. We also used to go to Leeds to the West Indian Centre quite a lot, for Subdub, which was the first time I ever heard a soundsystem. I didn’t even know that anything could sound that loud or that you could feel bass like that. I remember going when it was at Chapel Town, they had one room which was Iration Steppers, then the other room would change all the time but most of the time they would have Benny Page there and all sorts of drum & bass and jungle crews. I remember one time I got a ten pound note out to get a beer and my ten pound note went BBBRRRRRLLLLLBBBBB [simulating a vibrating paper], and I was absolutely gob smacked. I went back to the Lake District and told my mate Sam about it and he was just like, “yeah whatever, it’s really cool”, and I kept going on about it so much that they’d make it a joke, “fucking hell Shanti is gonna cream herself over this soundsystem” – because northern humour is crude – but then we all went together and Sam was like, “fucking hell”, I actually got a proper apology from him [laughs].
Then my first ever, proper rave that was house and techno was The Warehouse Project and it was Booka Shade and Sasha. It was fucking amazing.
I bet! When artists get “big”, there was always a nice little starting point where they were a bit more restrained and more levelled, right?
Yeah, it’s a more naïve sound. When you get a bit bigger, it’s just creative development, you know how to do things better, so everything’s a bit more polished. But this is something that I do think is really important. It’s trying to hold back, which is actually where I think that I benefit from the fact that I’m not a geek, because I don’t spend time thinking, “I need to learn every single thing about this synth [points to her MikroKorg]. I’ve had that for three years and I still don’t really know how to use it properly. Obviously I know how to use all these [points to a knob] because I know all the settings, but then there’s all these [points to a different knob] and I have no idea. I just use what I need. Maybe if I learn how to use those things, I would get some cooler sounds out of it? But that’s why the Juno is great because you don’t need to know that much. Because it’s analog, everything’s kinda there.
I’m finally at a place with my studio where I’m not sharing with anyone so everything in here belongs to me, and everything here I’ve bought or been given.
Have you found yourself restricting your sound, or have you already got an idea about what’s too far and what’s not?
I only restrict my sound when I feel I need to strip things back a bit but I do find it hard, only because I get a bit bored. Sometimes I feel like I’m not doing enough. I’m sure loads of people have it. I’m in the studio and I’m sometimes thinking, “oh god I don’t know if this is something that I like”.
So you might have an image in your head, and it’s just not doing what you want it to do?
Well, I’m actually not that good at having a vision in my head. I think if I have a vision then I’m disappointed. For me that’s a huge thing. Because of the way I am, that has the power to completely shut me down and make me feel like I don’t want to do anything for the rest of the day.
Did you have any musical background before you started producing?
No, just singing. I went to music college, straight after my GCSEs and I just sang and I was in a band. I didn’t like it because I was a singer I didn’t feel I was gaining enough from it. One of the main reasons I went was to learn theory but the theory teacher quit in the year I was there! I wanted to learn how to play the piano and we did learn a bit but, at the same time, I wasn’t that serious about it. I didn’t make the most of it myself, and I wasn’t passionate enough about singing to make a go of it and we messed around with Reason a bit, but not enough. Then I did an A Level Art in one year and I think I got an A, but I didn’t have anything else to do. At that point I was starting to DJ and just dabbling. I was like, “ooh I want to be an artist, but my hobby is music” [laughs]. But I didn’t know I would like doing this.
When did you realise you liked doing this?
When I was DJing a lot, I remember thinking, “oh this is really good, all these reactions are cool, imagine if that was one of my tunes, imagine if people were doing THAT to something that I made.” I’d listen to tunes and feel like, ooh that’s cool but I wish the kick drum was more like that. I’ve always been really critical about things I like and don’t like in the music.
Even if just one person says, “ah I really like it”, even just that, it’s just so nice.
What was the first piece of kit you bought?
I bought some Alesis monitors that were alright, a soundcard and a midi keyboard; just the basic entry-level production stuff. I’m finally at a place with my studio where I’m not sharing with anyone so everything in here belongs to me, and everything here I’ve bought or been given. I’m actually really proud of the fact that I was able to save up and buy one of those [Juno], because I never thought I’d be able to buy something like that.
And which would you say you use the most?
I use it all. My music is quite melodic and I always have at least one sound from one of each.
You’ve ranged quite heavily in terms of styles recently, from summery house to the electro stuff with Funkineven. Do you change up your production process when doing different genres?
Not really. If you listen to the stuff on that Funkineven record it’s still really melodic and still sounds like me but the beat’s different. But to be honest though, yeah, I did change my process a little bit. Since writing the first three records I was going through writer’s bloc, and my friend Andy Mac said, “maybe you should try starting with your melodies” because I always used to build the drums first, starting with the kick drum. So Andy was like, just start with the pad, then build melodies on top, and I thought actually that’s a really good idea. But this is the thing: some people are really good at thinking of different ways to approach things, whereas I find it really hard. As soon as I’ve opened my mind, the ideas just come flooding in, but I need to be prompted by something, so Andy saying “start with your melodies” I was like “how did I not think of that myself?”
So then I started doing a pad, some little twinkly bits, a funky bit, then another twinkly bit and I basically just crammed it until there was nothing else I could do with it. Then I put the kick drum on it then you built the percussion while listening to all the other melodies you’ve just done, so the percussion follows a lot of the melodies.
Call and response almost?
As soon as I’ve opened my mind, the ideas just come flooding in
Do you have more fun doing certain genres? You were talking earlier about how you had to work for certain tracks, but does that happen less with certain genres, like with electro?
I am better at making electro but I think it’s because I don’t know it as well. I’ve been into it for a while, but I’ve always only been into certain types. Electro’s all about making the weirdest noises you can make; the squelchiest, weirdest kind of whatever, like broken but not necessarily broken. I prefer kind of electro that has some nice pads, even if it’s still quite weird. I don’t know it as well as house, because I’ve been buying house records for years. It’s really difficult for me to make something housey that I would like to listen to.
I suppose it’s because you’re so well versed and you become hyper-self-critical. Are you referencing against stuff that you know?
I don’t even reference – I do in my head but I don’t listen to my tune and then a tune that I really like, because then I’ll start crying. But in my head I do think “oh this doesn’t sound like this really good Kerri Chandler tune I heard the other day.”
So going into electro blind means you could have more fun because you’re not thinking about it?
Yeah, I’m not completely blind but pretty blind. I just sort of know the usuals but some people know so much about electro and they get really into it, and I’m kind of getting more that way now. It was more of an experiment for me and it kind of paid off quite well. Obviously I’ve listened to a lot of Drexciya , ERP and the usual suspects, but there’s still so much more out there. So I know a lot about it but if you compare it to how much I know about house music, I don’t know very much at all. I think that’s why I found it easier. Sometimes I want to make techno, but the thing is with making techno…I’m listening to a DJ Bone record for example and I’m thinking “ah this is so good, I love this”, but then I realise I couldn’t make it, because I’d get bored with something that fast and repetitive. Maybe I just don’t have a formula for it yet. Maybe I will soon.
I’d quite like to do an album at some point. I wanna do something collaborative with other musicians
Are there any other sounds you’d like to develop more, or other projects you’d like to pursue?
There’s so much stuff I want to do. I want to really delve into techno and know how to do it well and just make some good techno. I would never make relentless techno, it would still be emotive in some way and still have my melodies, because that’s what I do.
I’d quite like to do an album at some point. I wanna do something collaborative with other musicians, like my house mate, he’s got a Rhodes and he’s amazing at playing it. He’s a really good jazz trumpeter and he’s got all these pedals that he puts his trumpet through and it’s so good. And then Daisy [Moon], she’s a really good singer and she makes music as well. She’s really good at sound design, and then I’ve got my other friend Hannah who’s the most amazing piano player. These are people who surround me and I feel like it’s such a shame to not.
I also really want to make some really deep house, but every time I’m making music I’m thinking that it needs to be really “party party”. But then actually some of my tunes do end up coming out quite deep anyway.
Would you not call it deep house so far? What’s the deepest thing you think you’ve done then?
Probably my Idle Hands release, I think that’s deep house. Yeah actually okay – I have made some deep house [laughs]. You don’t go into it thinking “this genre I’m making today”, it just comes out.
Do you feel that you’ve satisfied that early urge of “it would be great if the crowd were doing THAT to one of my tracks”?
Oh my god, yeah. I’ve had some amazing reactions when playing some of my own tunes, it’s just like, I wanna cry. Sometimes I’m putting my hands over my face..it’s nice, it’s great. Definitely what keeps me wanting to do it more.
That’s the addictive feeling at the end of the day.
Yeah, people like this!!… I should do it again [laughs]. That’s not the only reason I do it, obviously! I do it because I love making music, but you know that’s definitely a part of it. Even if just one person says, “ah I really like it”, even just that, it’s just so nice. I reckon that’s the main reason most producers do it, if anyone says “Oh no, I don’t do it for anyone else”, they’re definitely lying. Maybe don’t put that in there…well no that can go in actually.