A couple of years into my love of dance music, I found my dj. Just as I had initially got into Oasis and the Arctic Monkeys before landing on the xx as puberty started to really kick in, my first years of going to clubs in Bristol took me through a bunch of various boisterous nights before I stumbled on Shanti Celeste. It was at a monthly Bass night named Who Cares, which never announced its lineups, but had already featured favourites of mine like Barely Legal and Joker (DJs who presented a sonically colourful take on dubstep, grime and general bass music). It was 11pm, on a Wednesday. The crowd would eventually lose their shit to a barrage of liquid drum’n’bass, but beforehand there was Shanti. She kept the tempo light and the colours in motion, sliding through a warm mix of music I had no idea how to identify, one which had a wonderful balance of energy and intimacy.
I’d recently been skiing, a holiday that involved a lot of the gradual, sleep deprived drives through cloaked nountains, having recently fallen in love with a handful of tracks on a Dance Mania compilation that balanced out the 1980s Chicago label’s characteristic Ghetto House grit with patient chords and melodic eddies, forming a blissed out, addictive strain of Deep House that still felt totally modern in the 10s. As a Chicago specialist, who opened her first NTS show with one of those aforementioned tracks, Shanti Celeste’s work consistently shows off a characteristic ability to heat and stir up a room, stretching it into a looser, more emotionally open space, spinning and twisting classic elements into fresh streams. There are many ways to describe her abilities, but everything in the following article is basically a footnote to a comment a guy working in Bristol’s Idle Hands said to me a few weeks after that night, as he handed me a copy of Strung Up: ‘Shanti’s a genius’. Here are a few of her best cuts.
Released on the inhouse imprint of Idle Hands, where Shanti used to work. The shop has now moved to a well-lit, open space, but it was initially small and dark. Though I first heard the track on laptop speakers, this warm, minimal track perfectly embodies my memories of perching on Idle Hands’ window-side stool, letting time slip away as the records spin. Both of this release’s tracks pull off that defining Deep House trick of wavering on the edge of melancholy, ebbing out droplets of emotion as they unravel. Whilst she had yet to find her signature sound (she samples her own voice here in a way that she hasn’t since), these lyrics could fit neatly on any of her other tracks, words that could be overheard from a floorside hug or a bedside cry.
It’s hard to imagine a dance floor on earth that couldn’t benefit Universal Glow’s double-edged sword of calming textures and driving syncopated rhythms, released on Julio Bashmore’s label. Celeste would go on to say that she’s better at making Electro-influenced House than Deep House because of her relative ignorance of Electro, which makes sense to me; you can feel a solid sense of character developing on this track and her following Electro release.
Being is where Celeste starts to explore the ambiguity between 90s-flecked rave tension and meditative fantasy that will come to define her take on dance music. It’s Celeste’s equivalent to early Radiohead tracks like Sulk, tracks that had begun to secede from rock machismo but hadn’t completed the sound inversion yet.
Yes yes yes. Yes. YES! So much yes. Strung Up’s serene palette fits together so smoothly that listeners are lulled out of noticing the fast tempo and skittering production. I recently played it at a house party, mixing into it from my favourite track on the aforementioned compilation. I put Strung Up into the mix with a little time left on the previous track, and it lurked underneath, before slowly cresting to the surface and soaring up through the mix, making me feel like a don, even though the track was clearly doing all the work. I love this record.
Highly intelligent, playful, fluid motion, the name makes a lot of sense. Faced with a creative block a few years into producing music, Celeste handled it by changing creative tack, and starting work on tracks’ melodies first, before adding on rhythm, which makes perfect sense with relation to this track
Having moved to Berlin and created her own label, 2017 was the year that Shanti honed the rave fantasy sound explored earlier Being into something both nostalgic and futuristic. Listening to Being (the a-side) feels feels like blasting off on the aside, before entering zero-grav cruise control on the b-side, and gazing outwards.
Released on Celeste’s own Peach Discs imprint, with a sleeve sporting one of her own paintings, this is the sound of expansion. Whilst the flipside injects fresh life into an old school UK sample, I prefer Loop One’s transcendently alien feeling, like a foundational classic from some unseen realm.
‘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.’ Just as Dekmantel’s nerd-baiting lineups throw spotlight on scene originators, this release for the festival’s label allows listeners to clearly see the bread and butter of Celeste’s sound, as it gently develops an insistent beat, before clothing it with chords.