Shanti Celeste: Life and soul
The first thing you see when you walk into Shanti Celeste’s living room is a painted canvas. The inviting centrepiece depicts an image of a tangerine hanging in the sky above a multicoloured mountain range.
Celeste painted the piece herself, and a variation adorns the cover of her debut album, aptly titled Tangerine. When she meets me at the door, she’s even wearing tangerine-coloured jeans. “Fruit is really colourful and I like everything colourful and sweet,” she tells me, by way of explanation, and the statement reveals something about the 30-year-old Chilean-born producer’s nature. She’s animated, positive and naturally funny. We’re here to discuss her anticipated debut album, but not before she cooks pasta for us – good food is important to her.
© Bex Day
The album, which lands this month, comes via Peach Discs, the imprint she runs with Berlin-based DJ and producer Gramrcy. Launched in 2017, the label is evolving steadily. The roster is a balance between electronic music’s new wave – like Ciel and Chekov, who chose to release their debuts on Peach Discs – and established artists like Call Super and Hodge. She’s also preparing to head back on tour again after a busy festival season, which included a highly celebrated back-to-back slot with Call Super at Lente Kabinet. “We kind of just banged it out and it was like – ” she clicks her fingers – “one tune after the other.” But the set also had more significance in the larger scope of her life: “It’s when I had first stopped drinking and I wasn’t used to it yet. I was getting quite nervous,” she remembers, before adding with typical candour: “but I just took half a pill and then was fine.”
Best known for her club-ready productions that explore the headier realms of house, her debut album marks a new chapter for Celeste. When approaching Tangerine, she liberated herself from the expectations that come with the dancefloor, although she’s hesitant to use those words. “When I say this, it makes it sound like my album is going to be extremely experimental… and it’s really not! It was just nice to have that freedom, whether it came out as an experimental piece of work or just a Shanti Celeste album.”
The track Natura is one of Tangerine’s most unexpected moments, and feels personal. For it, she flew to Chile – where she lived until she was 12 – and recorded herself playing a kalimba in her dad’s living room. The instrument is a kind of finger piano traditionally made from a pumpkin, belonging to her father. “My dad loves all kinds of music and dancing and playing in drum circles. He has a kalimba, and he has loads of drums that he’s made – he makes djembes with agave plants. There were always djembe, kalimba and other South American and African instruments in his house.” The recording, as it exists on the record, feels almost three dimensional; a piece of meditative sound design, but it originally took a very different form. Her friend said the track reminded her of a horror film. “I was like, oh fuck,” she explains. “Every time I listened to it I pictured a little girl in white pyjamas walking across a dark room and I was just like: I can’t use this. So I found another bit that I recorded which was a little bit more chirpy.”
Tangerine is a marked departure from her sound in other ways as well. Despite her refusal to go all-out dark, she reveals that it is the first time she hasn’t felt self-conscious about making music that uses minor chords. “Everything has to be really euphoric or rhythmic or just ravey. Just whatever comes out, as long as it’s not emo.” She stresses the word emo, to make her point. “Deep is fine but not emo – not sad. So with the album, I was like, well now I can be emo.”
The album, she concedes, isn’t really emo. Instead, it wanders through lots of different sound palettes that she’s delved into over the last six years: bubbling synth droplets, tranquil ambient, deep techno and pumping sunrise house. For many, Celeste’s reputation is pinned to her productions for labels like Future Times, Idle Hands and her first imprint Brstl, and a glance at her track titles suggests an impulse for joy – Golden, Good Spirits, Universal Glow. Tellingly, she reveals that the images conjured in her mind when producing are, “moments on the dancefloor, people hugging, people feeling euphoric.” Days Like This, one of her earliest releases released on Idle Hands, features deep, shimmering pads that sound like she’s grabbed a sunrise from the sky and placed it into a synth.
"I've started realising that I just really like feeling that euphoria"
Idle Hands, and the scene surrounding the Bristol label and record shop, had a formative impact on Celeste. She moved to the city in 2009 from the Lake District, where she first began raving at quarry parties. Celeste was supposed to be studying Illustration at The University of the West of England, but she dropped out, instead taking a job at Idle Hands, run by her friend Chris Farrell. The atmosphere was encouraging and creative, and in 2013, she started co-running Brstl with Farrell & Rhythmic Theory.
Her period behind the counter coincided with a spike in US house reissues, with records by the likes of Moodymann and Kerri Chandler coming into the shop. She lights up when she discusses this formative period in her life. “I loved New York garage-y house and I love Chicago drum machine-y stuff. It’s definitely music that’s really influenced my sound, just that particular swing and shuffle…” While she still loves that sound, she’s been seeking a different, more heightened energy lately. “I’ve started realising that I just really like feeling that euphoria. UK techno/ rave can just be more jacking, energetic and faster in tempos in comparison to the deepness of US deep house & garage I used to play more of.”
Now, based in London and at the height of her career, you sense that Celeste is figuring out what’s important, what makes her happy. With a busy touring schedule that can take her from Europe to Japan to Australia in the space of a month, she’s figured out how to make touring more comfortable for herself. “I like routine. It makes you feel grounded,” she says. “It makes me feel like my life is not out of control, when oftentimes it does feel like that.” She continues, somberly recounting her first experience of insomnia which occurred recently, disrupting her normal sleep pattern. “It was horrible. I was crying, I was anxious…”
The topic of anxiety comes up frequently during our conversation, and she is open about the aspects of her career that she’s found tough. “For years I used to get so anxious when I DJed, every single time,” she says. “I do get why people would want to have a drink to relieve anxiety because I used to do it.” Now, though, she’s given up alcohol entirely, which seems to be working for her. She reaches into her fridge and holds up a bottle of natural wine that has been languishing there untouched. “I enjoy myself when I DJ anyway – the more time I spend not drinking alcohol, the more time I can enjoy DJing.”
Celeste is most excited when regaling me with stories from behind the decks. She regales me with anecdotes from a recent set in Berghain’s garden alongside Moxie, Peach and Saoirse, detailing a particular moment when she played Slam’s Positive Education. “We were all bouncing around and everybody was really high and obviously that tune has a massive drop and everybody was…” She emulates the crowd’s excitement. “It was everybody together, collectively.” This reaction feels like the essence of Shanti’s mission as a DJ – connection. “Everybody was united and we were all just exploding with happiness, together.”
Photography: Bex Day
A previous version of this interview claimed that Celeste commenced co-running the label Brstl in 2011. The correct date is 2013.