“It takes two to make a thing go right. It takes two to make it outta sight.” —Rob Base & DJ E-Z Rock
Last year veteran Athens-based DJ/producers Stelios Vassiloudis and Tel Aviv-based Sahar Z joined forces to see what they could come up with. The two struck up a friendship when Vassiloudis released his Amnesia/Saturday Sky EP on Armadillo Records (the label which Sahar co-runs with Guy J).
The fruit of their labor is their smashing split single, “Nagasaki/Osaka,” out now on John Digweed’s Bedrock Records. Serving as the revered label’s final release of 2017, the collaboration was notable as it marked Vassiloudis’ return to the studio after an extended hiatus.
Currently working on more tracks with the possibility of touring in the future, the duo go b2b in a thoughtful chat about their musical collaboration and life as an electronic-music artist.
Stelios: If I’m not mistaken, this is your second outing on the Bedrock imprint and your first full EP. I know that when we discussed what labels we wanted to shop this project to they were one of our first choices. What do you love about the label and why do you think fans and DJs continue to hold it in such high regard?
Sahar: Well, I’ve always been a fan of Bedrock and what John Digweed has been doing to push the scene forward. The label is constantly pushing out fresh and new sounds but somehow sticks so firmly to its roots. It’s definitely something to admire and to have another track be a part of that collection is just a great feeling. I know you know! The cult following behind the label is only proof of the curation and execution behind the scenes.
Stelios: The early reception to the EP has been pretty great. One of the recurring themes I have identified in the comments we have received is the complementarity between our sounds. What elements do you think we have each brought to the creative table that have contributed to the success of this collaboration?
Sahar: I’d like to believe that what we’ve created together is something very new for me. Usually, I create a more hypnotic and calmer vibe in my productions. Working through these new melodic lines with you, in a tune that is a bit harder, has created an extremely rich, but also heavy-hitting track.
On the Road
Sahar: How much road testing do you do on your tracks before eventually settling on a final mix?
Stelios: Believe it or not, I have only recently warmed to the idea of playing my music in my sets, let alone road testing something before it’s released! This habit developed from my earlier DJing days when I would play predominantly warm-up/early sets — there was never really much of an opportunity to play uptempo, peak-time tracks and if there were, I was far more likely to choose a sure-fire banger that would get the job done! Over time, this developed into a mild sort of phobia, where I would anticipate the track being a total flop, leaving me stuck behind the decks like a deer in headlights and waiting 4-5 awkward minutes so that I could mix the next track in.
Massive developments in technology (and my confidence) greatly alleviated some of these concerns and I started incorporating loops, sections and elements of my tracks into my sets using Traktor. I also have to credit John Digweed, who sometimes generously acts as a sounding board for me. I often send him my stuff for consideration for his record label, so if he comes back to me with positive feedback, it’s reasonable to assume the track does its job (and is safe for me to play out!). I’m a great believer of the notion that DJing informs music production, but, at the same time, if you’re able to identify and articulate what kind of arrangements and elements make tracks “work,” then you might be able to save a few trips in and out of the studio to make revisions.
Stelios: Social media platforms such as Facebook and Instagram have done much to glamorize travelling DJ’s lifestyles. Tell me what your life is actually like on the road and describe your perfect day in one of your favurite cities?
Sahar: My life on the road is mostly about maintaining balance. You travel from city to city every day. See old friends and new friends, try to catch up with everyone at every place. It can be pretty exhausting and if you don’t take care of yourself and make sure you are eating right and sleeping well, it can get the better of you. One of my perfect travel days is preferably getting close to eight hours of undisturbed sleep. Then meeting an old friend, and having an amazing show where I can really perform because I’m feeling 100 percent.
The Final Cut
Sahar: If the last DJ set of your career were next week, what track would you end with?
Stelios: That’s a really tough question, and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve changed my answer in the last 30 minutes I’ve been writing this up. I think I’m gonna have to go with Laurent Garnier’s “The Man with the Red Face.” It transcends genres, still sounds fresh, has never left my record box/CD wallet/HD/USB stick, and it’s one of those types of song that you can listen to regardless of what mood you’re in.
Stelios: During the recent #samplegate controversy that surfaced on the web, involving a prominent producer accused of stealing/reproducing his peers’ work, an interesting perspective that I thought was insufficiently discussed is the fact that a great deal of this type of music seems to lack original creative ideas and relies on recycling loops and motifs. How do you think this approach to production affects a track’s expected shelf life and what would you advise young producer looking to strike a workable allocation of time between DJing and producing music?
Stelios: “Making music is a form of self-expression and people doing it are inherently free to use any or all tools at their disposal.”
Sahar: Well, first, it’s important to clarify the difference between just straight-up copying a track, remaking it, then putting your name on it, and taking inspiration from sounds that you love. From the very beginning musicians have been borrowing and mashing from generations of music — it’s part of the natural evolution. I think the main problem with today is that — especially in this genre — there is so much technology out there for purchase that has really simplified the process of creating music. There are popular programs with endless banks of pre-made loops, basslines, melodies, and pretty much everything you need to build a song. Now you have everyone borrowing and using from the same pre-made libraries, it’s no mystery as to why many songs are starting to sound the same.
With that in mind, this same technology has brought amazing advancements to dance music as well, with the introduction of new sounds and producing capabilities. My advice to a young producer would be to not fall victim to the libraries.
While there are amazing sounds and instruments pre-loaded, you need to try and create your own sample packs: play with the sounds, cut them up, break up the loops, and try layering effects to morph what was once “A” into a completely different “B.” And, if you ever feel stale in the studio, go out and take a walk. There is music in everything. Take a recorder and record everything, people talking, things moving, noise, nature… Take your findings and bring them to the studio, use some effects and have some fun. There is no wrong way to do something – it is only the wrong way until it becomes the right way.
Sahar: “Take your findings and bring them to the studio, use some effects and have some fun. There is no wrong way to do something — it is only the wrong way until it becomes the right way.”
Sahar: Do you feel that making music digitally versus analog yields different results? I’d like to know your opinion on the “analog is better” hype?
Stelios: It’s hard to answer such an expansive question definitively, but on principle, any kind of qualitative comparison between digital and analog music making is bullshit to me. Making music is a form of self-expression and people doing it are inherently free to use any or all tools at their disposal. As far as sonic quality is concerned, there are different objective (and subjective) metrics that can be used to highlight and assess differences, but it’s been over 15 years since I received my degree in acoustics so I won’t even pretend to remember what they are or what they mean, exactly! Speaking from my own point of view, I started making music using a drum machine, a keyboard, my guitar and a Tascam four-track and graduated to an analog Neve-equipped studio, but now work from a more modest home studio DAW. To say the results are not different would be ludicrous, but, unfortunately, I don’t think that’s the kind of distinction that people obsessed with “the best” are interested in making.
Sahar: To round things off here… If you weren’t living in Greece, where else would you be and why?
Stelios: Realistically speaking, I’d probably be back in England, as part of my family are from and live there. It definitely feels like a second home to me, and I’m well accustomed to the idiosyncrasies and aspects of life in the UK that many might find daunting at first. Ideally though, I’d love another opportunity to live in the USA, preferably on the West Coast this time. I find that part of the world to be incredibly beautiful. I admire the standard of living that can be achieved and generally feel very comfortable whenever I’m there.