Name: Stelios Vassiloudis
Occupation: Producer, DJ
Current release: Stelios Vassiloudis's All Else Fails is out via Balance.
Recommendations: Goya’s - “Black Paintings”, particularly “Saturn Devouring His Son”. Every time I’m in Madrid, I make it a point to visit the Prado and check them out.
Miles Davis - “Blue in Green”. One of my favourite songs of all time. It’s the closest thing to perfection that I can imagine.
If you enjoyed this interview with Stelios Vassiloudis and would like to know more, visit his official website. He is also on Facebook, Soundcloud, and twitter.
When did you start writing/producing music - and what or who were your early passions and influences? What was it about music and/or sound that drew you to it?
I got involved with music at a young age - started on the piano when I was about 4 or 5 years old - and, as I learned theory and how to play other instruments, I went through quite a few transitional and experimental phases, before settling into electronic music production.
My most formative influences were, obviously, what was being played at home by my parents (who are both music enthusiasts) - everything from The Beatles and Pink Floyd to Bach and Beethoven.
As I grew older and started building my own record collection, my taste became more refined I gravitated towards and sought out more niche sounds (as most people do). Luckily for me, my studies and career trajectory have taken me all over the world and allowed me access to a wealth of music outlets - even before the internet became a factor - and so I’ve been fortunate enough to be exposed to and informed by disparate genres of music from post punk to drum and bass, and all points in between.
Having said that, I nowadays find myself often revising the music that soundtracked my childhood and inadvertently tracing its influence on me. So, to answer the question as succinctly as possible, I’d say that my life would probably not have turned out the same had I not heard David Gilmour’s guitar playing on “Shine on Your Crazy Diamond”.
For most artists, originality is preceded by a phase of learning and, often, emulating others. What was this like for you: How would you describe your own development as an artist and the transition towards your own voice?
I absolutely agree with you. Learning and emulating is a fundamental phase that most of us have to experience in order to acquire and develop the skills necessary to express ourselves. Furthermore, I’ve found that in a world that is sometimes hellbent on imposing and rewarding homogeneity or discouraging critical thought, it can be a daunting prospect to develop one’s own voice. The arts world is no different and it seems to me that the (very) basic human instinct of “belonging” to a collective can often outweigh the urge to be original - particularly if there is some sort of incentive connected to remuneration and/or sustainability.
In my case, I’d say that I’m probably a cautionary tale for the affliction described above. Unfortunately, the music industry is an environment that is in a state of near-perpetual flux and achieving any measure of success is dependant on a a delicate and volatile equilibrium of factors. Without proper guidance or experience, it can be a confusing and treacherous career path - not exactly the sort of place that inspires you to strike out on your own and march to the beat of your own drum.
The last two years have been life-changing in many ways, for (almost) everyone in the world and one of the unexpected positives that I derived was the perspective and time it afforded me to examine my current relationship with music. While I had become subconsciously sick to my stomach by the cookie cutter production supply line in which I was / am a part of, I dared not question or challenge - lest I lose my standing in the pecking order.
It took a global pandemic and the prospect of an industry-wide armageddon to finally stop giving a fuck about what anyone else thought or liked and just get on with making the music that was in my head, regardless of what box it fit in, what its utility was or how it fit in with my overall career strategy.
How do you feel your sense of identity influences your creativity?
This is an interesting question to ask an artist because so much of what we create is inextricably linked to (the ongoing development of) our identity - in a basic sort of feedback loop. Instinctively, when defining identity, we’d all be quick to do so by using a set of standardised criteria - name, age, background, education, job, hobbies etc - but it’s actually an incredibly complex and continuous phenomenon.
Following from this, and to some extent my answer to your previous question, I think there’s a dangerous interplay at work here whereby the struggle to create art and live off it becomes your identity. You are no longer encouraged by the creative process, rather, you can become bounded by it.
Ultimately, the act of being able to disrupt this contradiction between sense of identity and the creative process is more urgent than examining what bearing my community or cultural background has on my creativity. That’s not to say that my music doesn’t intersect with or surround who I am; but I find that true inspiration comes from identifying the most meaningful of those connections with every facet of my life and creating something meaningful out of them.
What were your main creative challenges in the beginning and how have they changed over time?
To be brutally honest, I’d have to admit that I was completely underprepared to be a professional electronic music producer - at least in the modern sense.
Up until the point I started making this type of music for a living, I was a very mediocre engineer (in fact, I remember almost failing the music technology modules at university!) and more or less ignorant about dance music. Add to that, the fact that I was accustomed to the roles of composer, engineer, producer and mix engineer being completely separate, I found it stressful and aggravating to translate what was in my head to the DAW.
DJing changed everything for me. There’s an inimitable interplay between the two disciplines of producing and playing records. One informs and refines the other in this brilliant, interlinked yin yang relationship. Apart from the fact that my engineering chops gradually improved (I guess all I lacked was proper motivation), I’d have to say that going to nightclub university and merging real working experience with my academic knowledge was a pivotal point in understanding the mechanics and dynamics of the genre.
It’s ironic then, that the biggest challenge (as is often the case) was to throw out the rule book once I had managed to commit the rules to memory. It’s taken me far longer than I would have imagined, but the biggest challenge I’ve encountered has been to use all the knowledge I have accumulated and try to create things that are capable of transcending the club and bucking the fickle trends to which we often fall victims.
It’s easier said than done, but it all starts with serious and constructive self criticism and I’m (now) convinced that’s something you only acquire through experience.
As creative goals and technical abilities change, so does the need for different tools of expression, be it instruments, software tools or recording equipment. Can you describe this path for you, starting from your first studio/first instrument? What motivated some of the choices you made in terms of instruments/tools/equipment over the years?
If anything, I’d say that the most consistent trend for me over the years has been to downsize. Obviously, this has largely to do with the rapid improvements in computing power and widespread availability of great software solutions which make it possible to produce great results working from within the box. Additionally though, I’ve found that an overabundance of toys and tools (with which I am not well-versed) can be a creative hindrance.
These days, the overriding factors to consider are speed and agility - being able to get things done quickly and efficiently - without being tied to a particular space or setup. I’ve come a long way from the days of working out of a professional recording studio (bringing only my guitar and amp) but, for now, I prefer to keep things simple and focus on crafting and refining my compositions using essential kit.
I suppose that, in a way, this confidence and focus reflects an improvement in my technical abilities (and not a deterioration in the quality of my creative goals).
Have there been technologies or instruments which have profoundly changed or even questioned the way you make music?
I started recording my first demos and compositions using a Tascam 4 track, back in the day, so any kind of DAW capable of handling more channels and FX was a game changer, as far as I was concerned.
The ability to potentially layer and arrange instruments ad infinitum altered the realm of possibility but unfortunately also challenged some basic principles of music production in terms of moderation, balance, taste etc.
Collaborations can take on many forms. What role do they play in your approach and what are your preferred ways of engaging with other creatives through, for example, file sharing, jamming or just talking about ideas?
I have mixed feelings about collaborations. To my mind, and even though I haven’t managed to consistently adhere to this, the golden rule should be that the synergy created between two (or more) meetings of the mind should be rooted in some shape or form of complementarity.
Of course, it’s convenient to share the workload and share half-baked ideas across the internet hoping that your partner will pick up the slack (or, at the very least not ruin your brilliant ideas) but looking back at the musical collaborations in my career, I think I can honestly conclude that surprisingly few of them were the result of purely artistic and co-operative motives. I’m aware that this might sound cynical but not all collaborative works are as selfless and romanticised as they seem - definitely not in the microcosm of electronic dance music.
In an ideal world - or the naive one we create for ourselves before the inexorable realities of the business sink their claws into us - collaborative projects should be about generous and like-minded creatives joining forces and sharing their visions, working together to achieve a result that is greater than the sum of its parts.
A great place to start and reinvigorate ones creativity is to engage with artists from a different discipline or medium - be it a video artist or a singer - and try to widen the scope of what you’re doing by allowing them to infuse their point of view into yours.