Chilean-born DJ Shanti Celeste specialises in four to the floor dance music. With a popular NTS show and regular club night, we spoke to Shanti about developing her sound, how she balances creativity and commerce, finding happiness, and more...
How long have you been doing your NTS show now?
I think maybe four or five years now - I did an open deck thing where you can come and play, even if you don't have a show. It gives lots of different people a chance to have a radio show. I travelled from Bristol, it was really fun and then Fergus, who used to work there, kind of just came and offered me a show straightaway.
When did you first start DJing?
In my bedroom, I think I was like 17, 18, I bought my first set of decks. We'd always go round to friend's houses and just have a mix, and we would go to raves together or whatever. I would have a go sometimes, but I would get really nervous because I was the only girl. So, I'd be like, ‘Can I have a go?’.
So, was this in London?
This is in the Lake District. My friend was leaving to go to the army and was selling his 1210s - the turntables, a mixer with needles and everything for £500, which like now that would never happen. I took them to my house and just started buying records and just mixing in my room. Just so you know, because you asked me about where I live, I'm from Chile but I moved to the Lake District when I was 12, and I went to school there, and then I moved to Bristol after that.
How did people react to you when you first started DJing?
I mean, it was fun. It was just friends, playing in small places. People would come and see me playing. Like, at first when you start DJing I think it's all about your circle of friends, and they tell their friends and that's who comes to see you play. No one from the outside world. No one that might not know me, because social media back then was like Facebook. I feel like it didn’t reach quite as far as Instagram does now. So, I started small, and then when I moved to Bristol with my friend, who is now my agent, she's like one of my oldest friends. We started a night together and she would do the bookings and I was like the resident DJ.
"THE AIM OF AN ALBUM IS DIFFERENT, YOU CAN KIND OF EXPRESS YOURSELF A BIT MORE. ALL THE RULES GO OUT THE WINDOW, SO IT JUST GAVE ME A LOT MORE FREEDOM"
What's the Bristol scene like?
Sick. Like, even though dubstep started in London, so much music comes from there, and it's like really deeply rooted in the scene. If you're in the UK and you want to be a DJ and you don't want to move to London, it's quite likely you'll move to Bristol. There are so many young labels that are run out of there.
So, your album is called Tangerine, did you set out with a vision for the overall sound?
No. The only thing that I let influence the way that it sounded was just the fact that it was an open-ended project. When you're working towards making a 4 track 12 inch, usually it's aimed at the clubs. So, you're like, 'This has to have one or two bangers, which people will buy it for', so, that puts a lot of pressure on you. The aim of an album is different, you can kind of express yourself a bit more. The length of the tracks don't really matter. All the rules go out the window, so it just gave me a lot more freedom. So, that was the determinant that kind of gave it a sound, having the freedom to just do whatever the fuck I wanted rather than be constrained to like a format.
So, that's quite important to you, the freedom?
Yes, but also having confidence in my sound and knowing that even if I can't find a correlation between the way everything sounds, other people know what I sound like. Do you know what I mean?
Can you describe your sound?
No. Can you? No, I'm joking. I guess it would be like fun, energetic, euphoric. I'm just thinking of all those things that I try to evoke when I'm making music and DJing.
So, if you're making a track and it feels like that, then you know you're on the right path?
Yes, and I feel happy. Basically, if I'm making a track and I'm transported to the club, then it's good. If I get excited and I'm just like, ‘Whoop’, and I start dancing. Otherwise, I'm just like, ‘No’.
So, you mentioned being happy, what was the last thing that made you feel like that?
Trying on this yellow outfit in the store. it's the knitted one with the cuts that go up and they're like yellow knitted trousers - also the yellow knitted top. I'm going to buy it. I can't remember which brand it is (Baserange) but it's so nice. It's very sixties. I know it sounds a bit superficial because it's clothes, but clothes make me feel really happy. It's a creative thing I think.
Like, there's way more to it than that. Everybody wants to feel fresh and whatever, but I love mixing, matching and like wearing different shades of one colour together and different shapes. Do you know what I mean? I have like a denim jacket in pretty much every colour you can imagine. So, there's definitely a creative element for me with that, and me wanting to express my creativity through the clothes that I wear.
I hate it when people ask me this, but can you describe your style?
Mishmash, colourful. I guess comfortable. I don't like wearing things that are uncomfortable.
"MY FEELINGS ARE SO INTERLACED WITH WHAT I DO, LIKE MUSIC AND ART IS NOT JUST A JOB, IT'S DEFINITELY AN EXPRESSION OF WHO I AM."
When are you at your happiest?
Probably when I'm DJing, and it's going well. When I'm writing music, and it's going well. This is the thing, right, about this job - the highs and lows are so extreme. So, if I have a bad gig it's horrible, it's like devastating, I hate it. Although, I've learnt to deal with it a little bit better, and it's not so bad anymore. Like if I've spent a whole day making a tune, and then by the end of the day I realise it's a pile of shit, it's like the most depressing thing ever. And, I'm just like, ‘I've lost it, I can’t do music anymore.’ As soon as I turned 30 or like close to, I realised that I no longer was trying to figure out who I was. I'm just very comfortable with who I am, just living my life, focussing on like health and other things. And, I feel it's the same with my DJing and making music.
So, you were nominated for a DJ award, how did that feel?
To be honest, they've nominated me like three years in a row, and I never win because they'll probably give it to a DJ who's a bit more famous and who has more of an online presence. So, it did feel really good, it's nice that people notice what you're doing, but at the same time it's always just kind of like, 'Definitely not going to win.".
Did it put any pressure on you?
Not really, I don't really engage with that kind of stuff that much. I feel like when you start engaging too much with the outside world and their opinions of you, I find that it can get to me and it can influence me in a negative way. And, because my feelings are so interlaced with what I do like music and art are not just like a job, it's definitely an expression of who I am. So, if I'm being influenced constantly by what other people say and think about me, then that affects me in the way that I create music and the way that I DJ. So, I try not to get too involved with all that stuff, to be honest...
What is like the main indicator for you then that things are going well?
Just being booked really far in advance, selling out shows.
So, respect or financial success. If you had to choose between the two, which one?
Respect, 100%. However, I don't think that artists shouldn't be ashamed of earning money through what they do, and a lot of people are. I think in the art and music world there's a lot of snooter-y around if you're not struggling, then you're not a proper artist, which is just the biggest pile of bullshit in my world. Because, it's like everyone has different kinds of struggle, and it doesn't have to be a money struggle for it to be a struggle. And, actually, I think it says way more about you if you dedicate your life to music and get paid for it if you can and that's a possibility for you. Saying that though, I wouldn't compromise my artistic integrity for money, for me, there is a balance to be struck.
So, what would be your tip to artists to find the balance between the two?
Do what you're comfortable with. I'm not judging someone who does do that. Like, I don't feel comfortable doing it, which is why I don't do it. It's like just do whatever you feel comfortable with, and as soon as you start not feeling comfortable don't let yourself get pushed around, you know?
What are your thoughts on the DJ scene at the moment?
I mean, good. I'm very happy with the way that things are balancing out a bit. We still have a long way to go, but there's a lot more diversity. I feel like we still have a very long way to go. It's still all very white and male, but it's getting there and that's good. I would like to see more of a South American presence in the scene though!
Big picture, what's next for you?
I'm working on a lot of music, but it's all music for like compilations. I've curated the next Love International compilation. The Love International festival do a compilation, they've done two so far, one by Gatto Fritto and the other one is by Beautiful Swimmers. It's the Sound of Love International Compilation, and I'm doing the next one.