From his early days working alongside Matt Edwards in Radio Slave, through to his collaborations with Firas Waez as Waze & Odyssey and with Tom Neville in Retro/Grade, Serge Santiago has always sought to keep things interesting.
The Brighton-based producer has been rocking dancefloors since the 90s – he was a co-founder of the infamous Stompa Phunk event series – and he’s bringing those tough basslines and hands-in-the-air moments to a new album, 11:11, released on 11 November on Jack Said What. You can pre-order it here.
It’s the second long player to land on Irvine Welsh and Steve Mac’s recently launched label, and is also remarkably Serge’s first as a solo producer – expect lashings of bouncy house, Italo vibes and disco beats. Check out recent single Rave Dance (which features Welsh himself on vocal duties) for an idea of what to expect.
909originals caught up with him.
Hi Serge, it’s an absolute pleasure to have you with us. How are things with you at the moment and whereabouts are you chatting to us from right now?
I am very well thank you, really enjoy working in Brighton with such a wonderful group of people. It’s a family thing, feels good!
We’re pleased to be speaking with you as the release of your debut solo album, 11:11, approaches. With a history in the scene as extensive as yours, we’re surprised that this hasn’t come sooner. We’re excited to get our ears on it and equally excited by the fact it’s arriving on Irvine Welsh and Steve Mac’s recently launched Jack Said What imprint. Can you talk us through the story of how the idea to do an album with the label initially came about?
Steve and I go way back – like 25 years. I remember inviting a load of people back to his studio once for an after-party, thinking it was ok after our night Stompa Phunk. It wasn’t ok. The look I got for him could melt fire, so I had to throw everyone and myself out onto the street.
Anyway, what I’m saying is that I’ve known him for some time and very much value his opinion, so once I finished my album I sent it over just to see what he thought. He called me back about an hour later and said ‘he wanted it’, and I said ‘wanted it for what?‘ forgetting that he told me down the pub he was starting a label with his mate Irvine Welsh.
A lot is heard and forgotten in a pub, so initially, I wasn’t sure as new labels take time to get going and I was ready to go. But then I started to think about it and it made sense. Being part of something in Brighton, alongside our night Stompa Phunk with all the amazing people, could be brilliant. He told me who was involved, who they were signing and what the plan was and I loved it, totally sold. That, coupled with signing to Brighton-based Elite Music for DJ booking is just perfect – again it’s a family thing!
11:11 cohesively spans a wide range of feelings, from emotive tracks such as Rain to moments of dancefloor euphoria on the likes of Nobody. What were your initial thoughts and directions when you first sat down to create this album and how did these develop along the way?
I had written a lot of music over lockdown – loads of ideas and edits, half-tracks, and finished stuff. I kept going through it every weekend with my other-half, thinking I liked some and hated others, but just sat on it. I then wrote more and more and added it to the pile, not worrying too much about what style of ‘house’ music I was making.
I pulled eight tracks that kept standing out to me every time I listened to the collection, and I put them into a folder and sat on it again. I listened a week later and they sounded ace but I still wasn’t sure as they felt very different from what I’d normally play or make.
My missus kept calling me mad as I kept dismissing them, saying ‘no one would get it, no one would listen to them’ – proper producer paranoia. Eventually she forced me to send them out just to get a response. So I did, sending them to mates first and wow what a response I got – my friends went mental for it. It’s an odd way to write an album, for sure, but it worked!
The third single off the album, Rave Dance, features Irvine Welsh himself. What’s the story behind this one?
I wanted to write an acid track without using a Roland 303. It’s been done before by some absolute legends of the game and I didn’t want to disrespect them by messing it up. So I started writing something, and obviously it didn’t sound acid at all so thought, maybe something different, a narrative, a spoken word would work. So, I tried a few other things and nothing seemed to gel.. so in a panic and frustration, I threw a load of other R’n’B acapella samples on, which I was semi-happy about. I sat on it for a bit then played it out a couple of times to a good response, so I put it in the album folder on my Mac.
Then, I thought, ‘I need other people’s views’ so I played the album to a few friends and they said the only track that didn’t fit was this one. I massively disagreed and de-friended them. ha ha, no.. joke.
Anyway Steve and I agreed after a mega discussion down at the pub about what do do with it – Steve said ‘let’s talk to Irvine and see if he’s up for it’. Great idea!
After about a week, Irv sent through audio of him reading a script he’s working on. So I was like, ‘ok, what do I do with this’? I loved the story, so I worked hard, stressed hard, cried a little, nearly threw my Mac out the window a couple of times but it came together. Again, I wasn’t sure it was even good but it was done.
I played it to Jax, my other half, then we ended up getting off our faces and listening, again and again. It worked, but it worked in a twisted way, sending you down a rabbit hole. It was different, you felt part of the story, with the music like a backdrop to your life. Rave Dance was born and was messed up perfectly.
Had you ever considered creating an album as Serge Santiago in the past?
I always wanted to do an album, and tried it a couple of times, but touring or parties always got in the way. I offered it as an idea to a few labels I was working with but they said ‘no, just concentrate on singles‘. Now I know this was just because they couldn’t be bothered – a single is quick and easy for them.
What was your creative process like for the album overall? Did your process alter much from how you would approach an EP for example?
I had no idea I was writing an album until the end. It was a product of lockdown – having much more free time in the studio, I just wrote and wrote. I tried to write a big track I suppose, listening to a lot of other music, using different synths to get other ideas, whatever came to mind or influenced me.
The enjoyment and freedom was nice, writing without structure or formula was important, as I felt like I had been doing that for the last 10 years.
What was the first track that you made for the album and also, is there a track on it that sits closest to your heart?
I have an emotional connection to all of them, to be honest. They’ve been listened to 100 times, with so much analysing. Transition is my latest fave. I love how powerful the chords are and the change within them, with the two different tunings. It’s a real raw nod to progressive house I suppose.
I didn’t want to make it about snare rolls or white noise rises, as that is so easy and lazy sometimes. It had to be about emotional shifts inside, something you felt listening to, whether partying or not. I tried to work that with every track.
How does it feel now to step back and view the finished project and what has the reaction been like from your peers?
I’m enjoying it. I’ve achieved something I thought I never would and my friends and family love it. That is all that matters to me, so anything else is extra.
Great to chat with you Serge and congratulations on the album. To round things off, do you have a final word for the readers on what they can expect from 11:11?
I’ve written a house music album in my vision. I’ve bent the genre to my will at times, but what I’ve written has all the moments in house that I’ve picked up and loved over the years. It’s a journey to make you dance.
11:11 is released on Jack Said What on 11 November. You can pre-order it here.