Shanti Celeste Interview: 'A Good, Honest Ear'

John Thorp discusses the rise and mind of the celebrated DJ and producer ahead of her appearance at Manchester's Soup Kitchen on April 15th.

Mike Warburton

Date published: 14th Apr 2016

Photo: Shanti Celeste Credit: NTS Radio

Between the two of us, it has taken four or five aborted or forgotten attempts before Shanti Celeste is holding fort on Skype, while affectionately chastising her noisy flat mate for disrupting our open and refreshingly introspective chat.

Celeste, Chilean born and Bristol based, is rushed off her feet and deep in the process of packing records and otherwise for a mini-tour of Scotland along with fellow NTS DJ Moxie, as part of her 'On Loop' residency. The two will also pair up alongside Manchester don Jon K at the city’s beloved Soup Kitchen on April 15th. Despite them both acting as long running fixtures on NTS, both selectors aren't quite so close just yet.

“I don’t actually know her that well”, reveals Celeste. “We’re friends, but I imagine we’ll be better friends after this weekend. But she was basically one of the first people to support my music in its very early stages, and the first time I did NTS was with her. But she’s always been really supportive and pushed me. I’m really excited to be hanging out with her, and it’s nice to be DJing with someone.” 

Along with Moxie, Celeste has had a huge army of support from both club bookers and label bosses, gradually bubbling up to be one of the most promising and distinctive names in UK house. Working in Bristol’s acclaimed Idle Hands record store lead to only her third record, Days Like This, being released on their own label, while the rest of her evolving releases have been spread across an enviable collection of similarly acclaimed imprints such as Future Times, Secretsundaze, Apron and Julio Bashmore’s own Broadwalk imprint. 

She also runs the acclaimed Bristol clubnight Housework, where she’s provided a South Western platform for a new school of taste making selectors including Anthony Naples and Call Super, not to mention a scene setting warm up session for each from her own, coveted record collection. Now becoming the deserved darling of European clubs and slotting comfortably onto heavier hitting festival line ups, has she embraced the transition to headliner easily?

“It’s cool!" exclaims Celeste, before succinctly reinforcing the understandable ambition of most DJs. “I love doing the warmup, but you know, I want to DJ to loads of people who are dancing.”

Celeste has nonetheless retained said skills, as evidenced in a recent, deep and atmospheric four hour warm up at Berlin’s feted Panorama Bar as the club steadily filled up. “I really enjoyed playing that slot”, she recalls. “It’s nice to have people sort of come into your space, rather than one where the vibe has already been set.”

Over a relatively short period of releases, Celeste’s sound, always somehow authentic, punchy and club ready (watch her Boiler Room Bristol set above), has explored a plethora of musical corners, from bubbling Jersey inspired house, to traces of acid electro amid soaring, soulful melodies. With no formal musical training, Celeste’s tunes are consistently memorable, hummable even, full of hooks lodging in the heads of dancers long after they've left the club.

“I’ve just got a good ear”, she reveals. “I can hear when things sound in and out of tune, which is a start. And I like listening to nice sounds, and a keyboard has a lot of nice sounds, so I’ll play some keys and then if I like it, I’ll record it.  I’ve taught myself to play a few chords now. But originally, it’s essentially just listening to things that sound good. When I’m building the melodies, I do the pad first, if there is going to be a pad. Then I just do loads of layers, until I just can’t possibly fit any more in. And even if I don’t use all of it, at least I know it all works in there.”

Despite her refined yet pleasingly simplistic formula, Celeste, still relatively early in her career, has admitted feeling slightly burned out by the hype and expectation often placed on young artists. 

“I reckon something definitely happens, and has done to a few other artists I know”, observes Celeste. “At the very start, you’re scared what people are doing to think about your music, but at the end of the day, there’s nobody backing you already who thinks that you’re good. You don’t have to keep anybody content. You’ve got your mates, who are supportive and what not, but you’ve not got anyone behind you who you want to keep happy.”

Indeed, more than two years on since her release on Broadwalk (above), her third in a short period, Celeste reassuring recalls being suddenly concerned for her musical future, and completely burned out of ideas. 

“I genuinely, thought, “Shit, that is my musical peak, I’m not going to be able to make any more music like that”, Celeste admits. “I was freaking out! I thought I wouldn’t be able to give people what they want. I genuinely thought I’d lost my mojo. But also I’d changed studios, and then I’d changed my approach, trying to do an electro thing. But that was just wanting to do something a bit differently, as I get easily bored. I wasn’t trying to tackle a new genre. I was just trying to do things for my own peace of mind.”

Now entrenched in multiple musical worlds, alongside her NTS cohorts and the Bristol music scene she’s still a firm fixture within, Celeste has the benefit of being surrounded by artists and DJs with great personal taste. But whose opinions does she trust most?

“I think I trust myself more now”, she affirms. “But it’s good to trust your friends, and get an outsider’s perspective. And very often, people like the stuff that I don’t like. I’ve played tunes I don’t think are any good to friends who’ve liked them, and then I’ll want to finish it. I’m totally going through all that anxiety again, by the way. I’m totally worried I’ve lost my mojo.”

But surely she knows how to get out of that mindset? 

“I may have been here before, and I may have come out of it”, she acknowledges. “But it’s not unheard of for an artist to start making shit music forever.”

It’s admittedly reassuring to hear an artist talk so openly and with good humour in regards to the anxieties of creativity, especially amid the cyclical hype of dance music. Of course, while we’ve yet to hear her next EP, Celeste is undoubtedly a victim of her own attention to detail, a quality that if nothing else, has locked in a small but celebrated discography and a string of impressive upcoming dates, from the finest Croatian festivals to appearances in acclaimed, taste making clubs such as Concrete in Paris.

“I had a bit of a crisis in the winter, where I decided I needed to be more creative”, Celeste, also an illustrator, laughs when recalling. “And I spent the last £40 I had in the world on a canvas to do more painting, had to lend money off my friends to make rent, and I still haven’t used any of it.”

Humble, self aware and endlessly creative, one can only assume Celeste will eventually fill that canvas with ease.

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