- Words Solly Warner
- Photography Cam Rose
Electronic music producer salute discusses his new single "Jennifer" and reminisces on his favourite club moments, plans for when he can play live again, and much more.
salute (AKA Felix Nyajo) spent the first 18 years of his life in the small city of Vienna. Despite the city’s rich history in classical composers, salute’s musical interest came from a much more modern inspiration when he started to become enamoured with UK music. Exposure to genres like grime, drum and bass, dubstep and garage via YouTube and Boiler Room is where the then-budding creator’s production career really started.
Settling in Manchester via Brighton, salute immersed himself fully in the club culture of the UK by going to nights out and building a network within the scene, which allowed him to quickly evolve and refine his sound.
With EPs such as ‘My Heart’ that focused on softer, lighter vocals and melodies against an R&B backdrop, and the critically acclaimed ‘Condition’ trilogy which started to lean more towards a dance-heavy, clubbier sound through garage-type samples, the versatile producer has evolved his sound over the last few years to create a diverse catalogue of music.
Marking a new era for the 24-year-old, salute’s new single “Jennifer” has been born into a world where club life feels like a distant memory. “Jennifer” is the first piece of music to be released via the newly formed dance music imprint Echorex, and it’s crammed with bright energy, housey 4-by-4 beats, bittersweet synth lines and vibrant cut-and-spliced vocals. Listening to the song evokes a complete feeling of nostalgia; it instantly fills your body with an excitement of the euphoria we’ll all be experiencing together in real life, in the not-too-distant future.
For now, we’ll just have to wait until we can party safely again, but this tune NEEDS to be one of the first tracks you play when that day comes.
Notion caught up with salute to chat about why he wants to bring “weird music” back into our lives, his favourite anime, and how he hopes to use his platform as a Black music producer.
So how’s everything with you? You’re currently based in Manchester, right?
Yeah, I’m in Manchester. Everything’s fine, just been waiting for this release [“Jennifer”]. It’s been a release that I’ve been looking forward to for a long time now. So I’m really glad it’s finally out there.
How have these last few months been? Have they been quite tough for you creatively? Or have you been able to really focus a lot of your time into your work over the past year?
Um, the past year was all right, because at the beginning of the pandemic, I was kind of motivated. I think, as a lot of other people were, to just actually be able to spend time at home and focus on making music. At the beginning, although I was struggling a little bit because of the change, I actually ended up being a lot more productive than I thought I would be and that was really great for me. But when the days started getting shorter in the in the autumn and the winter, I just mentally crashed completely. I stopped writing music in November and actually, I haven’t written any new music since then because I’m still processing everything. I realised I’d mentally fatigued myself towards the end of the year, because I tried so hard, just make stuff and that worked but it came at a cost. So, I kind of had to make the decision to just stop writing music. I’m getting back into it really slowly and I’m not putting any pressure on myself. But the thing is, thankfully, I already have most of my releases for the year finished. So, I’m just relying on the fact that I have a bunch of songs for this year.
Ready to go?
Exactly, yeah! It would be a lot worse if I didn’t have anything ready. The fact I have stuff ready and was able to write a lot of stuff last year has allowed me to rest now.
It’s good that you’ve got that to lean back on. So, you’ve been in the UK for a couple of years now but grew up in Austria. Were there any key moments for you or new experiences in the UK that you felt really helped you and your music evolve?
It was it was a mixture of things because as much as we have a little bit of a club scene in Vienna, it’s nothing that you can really compare to that happens in the UK. There’s obviously just a lot more musicians and a wider variety of stuff. I mean, moving here and meeting all these new people and being able to actually see the music in clubs, or hear the music and clubs that I was making, was a novelty. As far as the music that I was making, I was one of the only people that was really DJing that music in Vienna at the time. But then actually being surrounded by people who were making similar stuff to me, that was really, really important because it made me listen to the music more differently, it gave me new ideas. Just being surrounded by people who were more like that was really, really important to me.
Have you been able to keep tabs on Vienna and the music there? Have you seen a bit of a shift since you’ve left, or has it stayed very much the same do you think?
I mean I love Vienna a lot but unfortunately, it’s very sleepy. It’s basically Berlin’s little brother. Whatever happens in Berlin, maybe a couple years later it will also happen in Vienna. The thing is there’s so much talent. Vienna’s not a very big city but considering its size, there’s a lot of talent. I just think Vienna’s too comfortable and that’s one of the reasons I had to leave. Because, and this is without sounding big-headed, but I hit a ceiling pretty quickly. The scene is not that big and there’s not much that you can achieve within the scene. Whereas when you move to somewhere like the UK, where everyone’s making music, it challenges you to be a lot better at making music. I think without the move to the UK, my skills wouldn’t have necessarily excelled. I wouldn’t have excelled in the sense that I’m a lot better as a musician now. I don’t think that would have happened if I’d stayed in Austria. It pushed me. Being around people who are a lot better at making music, I was like, ‘Okay, you need to step it up now’. But keeping tabs on Vienna. There is cool stuff happening, but I think there would be more cool stuff happening if Vienna wasn’t such a nice city to live in.
It’s just all easy breezy?
Exactly! When you think about the UK and the obvious issues that the UK has, not even just the fact that the UK has a lot more poverty than we see in central Europe. Like Austria, obviously there’s poverty, but everyone is pretty comfortable there and where people are comfortable, the art isn’t necessarily as striking.
Yeah, it’s not able to reflect the issues that the country is going through.
Yeah, exactly. Something like punk or grime would never be born in a place like Austria.
You need those specific emotions behind it.
Exactly. So, that was one thing that helped me. Living among people in the UK just helped me get into that mindset a lot more.
So, if we fast forward to the present day, I wanted to say congrats on the new single “Jennifer”. The reception has been great so far. When did you start working on the track and how did it come about?
Thank you very much. Well, this was March of 2019. I was at a studio that I was sharing with friends and I think I was just on social media. I can’t remember what big publication it was. They’d posted this video of an actress singing this Japanese song from the mid-80s.
I think I saw that clip in the little teaser you released for the track.
Yeah. So, it was like a technics ad for this hi-fi system, which also doubled as a phone. I just sampled that and the demo for “Jennifer” was born in, I think 30 minutes? There’s not that much going on in the song. It’s just the vocal sample, drums, bass and some chords so I just threw that together and put it behind the video and just thought it looked cool. I didn’t really think much of it at all. I thought it sounded cool but that was it. I put it up on Instagram and people were harassing me in my DMs being like “you need to release this. This is amazing”. But I was still in the middle of releasing ‘Condition’ and that track wasn’t for ‘Condition’ so I decided to release it early 2020. Then obviously 2020 happened… It was very difficult to plan around it because I was like, ‘this is a club track. I want to release it when I can actually be in clubs’. But as time passed last year, I realised that this wouldn’t be the case. So, it had to be early this year. It’s turned into a little bit of an in-joke between me and my supporters, because every time I announced a new release, they’re like, “oh ‘Jennifer’ is finally coming out” and I was like, “Nah, you’re gonna have to wait a bit longer”.
I feel like the track almost has this instant nostalgic feel to it. I don’t know if it’s because it reminds me of some of the music I was listening to when I first started going out, or whether it just makes me excited to go out in the future, or both. Was this nostalgic feeling of partying something you experienced or had in mind when making this track?
I think it’s been something that I’ve had in mind for a few years now. I mean, the first track that I released that was with the intention of evoking that kind of feeling was “Honey”, which I released in 2018. That also had those high-pitched vocals and stuff, and that was when I was re-listening to all the music that initially got me into UK electronic stuff. So stuff from around 2012 like Mount Kimbie and James Blake and all that sort of weird two-steppy stuff, post-dubstep and stuff like that. I was starting to get back into that loads because I was starting to DJ that stuff again because I really missed it. I felt like over the years, people were just moving away from that sound and nothing was very exciting anymore. Everyone kind of moved to techno and as much as I love techno and I play techno in my sets, I feel like that weird, syncopated stuff and really melodic stuff, sounds that were edging on being like a little bit poppy because of the vocal samples that people were using, that wasn’t really happening as much anymore. It wasn’t what people were talking about anymore.
It was no longer at the forefront of people’s minds.
Exactly. But the thing is, even though that’s not what people were doing, people still love that kind of stuff. If you play a track from that era, people go nuts on the dance floor, so I was like, let me just try make something like that. I think over the past couple of years, I’ve just wanted to revive that a bit. But obviously, not trying to dwell too much on the time that it was specifically but still make it sound like it’s current. That’s the motif I’ve got running through the music I’m releasing at the moment. Loads of vocal samples, or weird little phrases and stuff. Just trying to keep it melodic and happy and a bit moving. So, I think that’s something that’s been really important for me.
I also love the artwork for the new track. I know there doesn’t always have to be some deep meaning behind some nice-looking visuals, but can you talk to me a bit about the artwork for the track and how is it together?
Yes! The artwork is made by Tom Noon, who’s an amazing graphic designer. I actually discovered him via Jadu Heart whose merch was designed by him and I was like, ‘Who made this stuff? Oh yeah, this guy Tom Noon, he’s amazing’ and I checked him out and he’s just ridiculous, so good. I’ve been wanting to work with him for a while now and I wanted to work with him at the beginning of last year, but then obviously 2020 happened. So, towards the end of last year, I got in touch with him again. I play him the track and we just brainstormed. You know the little video that I put on Instagram with the original teaser for “Jennifer”? We looked at that video and took all the references from that essentially. You have this little fruit bowl towards the end of the video, so we took the pear from that and all the colours are colours that pretty much match the video. The little CD that comes out of the CD tray in the hi-fi system, those were those little blobs. We just took stills from the video and referenced them in the artwork, and I thought that made a lot of sense and ended up looking really cool.
Definitely! It fits very well with the tune.
I also got him on for the next couple of releases, which I’m really, really excited about just because I think I’ve found the person who gets what the music sounds like and he’s able to put that into visual form.
Is this the first graphic design artist you’ve worked with for your artwork? Because it feels like some of your previous tracks have an anime theme to them.
I don’t know if they’re just screenshots or?
The stuff that I was releasing last year, I was just like self-releasing stuff and I really got into anime last year. Like I’ve always been into anime.
What have you been watching?
So, my favourite animes are Cowboy Bebop and Neon Genesis Evangelion. I really enjoy stuff from that era. Like mid 90s.
The artwork is just incredible.
Yeah, exactly, and the style of animation. It just feels incredibly nostalgic. Which is one thing I thought felt really good with the music I was releasing. But now this is one of the first times that I’m working with a dedicated graphic designer where I’m like, running through every single detail and it feels really good. Because I feel like people are able to connect with a song even more so than usual if the artwork makes so much sense.
I’m excited to see the next few ones then. Just going back to the sampling on “Jennifer”, do you prefer to sample random clips you find or do you like working with actual singers?
I do both. I mean, this is a sort of phase thing. Before last year, so around the time of releasing ‘Condition’, I was working a lot with artists. I mean even “Honey” and “Nostalgia 96” and “All About U”, all those vocals, even though a lot of them sound like samples, they’re all original vocals where I worked with artists or their session vocals that hadn’t been used. I wasn’t really sampling that much around that time. But afterward, because I was starting to focus more on just really clubby stuff, I found it easier to just sample. So, I’m currently – and for the past year – I’ve been mainly sampling, although eventually when I go back to writing a more cohesive project, I am going to end up actually working with vocalists because I think that that will make a lot of sense. I just forgot how much fun sampling is and I’m really getting back into it now and it’s something I’m really enjoying doing.
Do you have a dream vocal collaboration in your mind?
That’s so difficult because there are so many people I’d love to work with, but not for the kind of music I’m making right now. The thing is, I’m not listening to very much electronic music. I mainly listen to psych-rock [laughs]. Over the past year, I haven’t really spent very much time listening to electronic music, so all my favourite artists are people who do not make electronic music at all.
But you could make that happen.
Yeah, I mean, when it eventually comes to album time, this is something I’m going to have to think about a lot. But I do want to sort of bridge that gap because there are people that could obviously go for big R&B acts and stuff like that. I think it would be more interesting and this is something I’ve been thinking about a lot, to just do stuff with people that you wouldn’t necessarily expect. People from maybe, the softer world, the world that isn’t necessarily electronic.
Okay, yeah. You’re keeping it a secret?
[Laughs] I just don’t know.
I know what you’re saying. That would be cool though. That would be something I’m sure people would be excited to hear. Two different worlds coming together is always exciting. We’ve been talking a bit about playing live and playing to crowds again. Is there a track that you’re particularly keen to play again? Or even for the first time on a night out?
Yeah! I mean, when it comes to my own tracks, I’ve only played “Jennifer” maybe twice so I’m really excited to play that. But then there’s this other track I’ve got coming out which is way more clubby than “Jennifer” so I’m really excited to play that out. That aside…
Yeah! I mean, I just really want to go and play a six-hour set somewhere and just go nuts and play everything. I mean, just breaks and garage and techno and house and everything. It’s been so weird thinking about going back to clubs. I like letting loose. I’ve forgotten what it’s like. But I think I just won’t be able to decide what to play first.
It will be all too much?
Yeah! I’ll want to play everything from rap music as well. Literally, everything. But I’m just excited to maybe play this stuff that I’ve been working on for the past year, because I just feel like it’s made specifically for the club. It’ll be nice to actually get the point where I’m able to test all the stuff I’ve been working on.
And get a reaction?
Are there any nights out that have been particularly memorable for you? Firstly, as a DJ and secondly, as an attendee?
Yeah. One of the last shows I played was in Munich, in November of 2019. I played a show with Dorian Concept and I didn’t know what to expect at all and I think that’s one of the things that made it even better for me. Because Munich is pretty much like Vienna’s sister city. So, I’d played Munich before and it was like, fine, but I hadn’t ever played this club before. I got to the club and I was like, ‘Okay, this is cool’. It was just a 300-capacity club, very dark and I ended up playing from 3:00am to 5:00am. It was one of the most fun sets I’ve ever played, just because everyone stayed for the duration of my set and everyone got really into it. Time was passing so quickly. By the time it finished, it was so intense that I came out of the booth shaking. I went and sat down, and I was like, ‘That was mad…I don’t know what just happened’.
That’s when you know.
Yeah, I was able to cycle through every genre that I want to cycle through. I was playing Jersey Club, I was playing breaks, I was playing garage. I was playing, like, just weird stuff and it all worked. That year in general was where I started to find myself as a DJ more and more, especially considering my style. I had a style change in late 2017 so I was still getting used to playing this stuff that I was playing. I felt like I was really finding my groove. That was one of the nights where I was like, ‘Yeah, this is working for me and this is what suits me’. That was a really great night for me. As for nights that I’ve gone to that have been great, the standout for me was Soup Kitchen in Manchester, which is my favourite club. Anz was a DJ from Manchester, her and Finn and a couple of DJs from Manchester were playing Boiler Room. This was in 2019 and it was easily one of the best nights I ever had, and it was kind of crazy because it was like a 7 to 11 thing midweek.
The Boiler Room is on YouTube and there’s a few points where you can see me. Basically, the club was so packed, and the energy was so high and there was this bit where Anz played “Heartbroken” by T2 and I had never witnessed a club erupt as much as it did then. You notice it in the Boiler Room set while you’re watching it, but it’s not really representative of what happened. Everyone just went berserk. It was actually unreal. People were all over the place. You can see my face just come into shot for like two seconds, I’m just like yelling. It’s pretty intense. So that night was unforgettable, probably one of my favourite club experiences I’ve ever had. But then another one was just before we went into lockdown last year. This was mid-March. It was the last club night I went to. It was organised by Finn as well. It was him and Anz again DJing and a few other people. Finn was like, “I’m not sure if anyone’s going to come tonight”, just because the government had just said, you know, ‘stay at home if you can’ and it was kind of a lost opportunity to go out and no one really knew what was going on with Coronavirus because at that point. The government was really downplaying it. So, I was like, “okay, if it isn’t that bad, then this is my last chance to go out” and it ended up being that everyone thought, “this is going to be our last chance.” So, I didn’t end up getting home until 8am. Everyone was just making the most of it. No one had their phones out, which I thought was really nice. Everyone was just there enjoying those last couple of hours in the club and that ended up being such a memorable night because everyone was really happy. Everyone was like, you know, really f*cked up. So that for me was really memorable.
Awesome. Well, I’m sure that it’s all going to be like that whenever the first night out is again.
Whenever the first night happens, I think there’s gonna be a lot of people having their stomachs pumped. It’s gonna be…
“salute 24 hour set”?
Yeah, I think people are just gonna go so crazy.
It’s gonna be chaos. Just going back to the new track “Jennifer”, I’ve seen that it’s already been added to a couple of popular playlists.It’s on Spotify’s ‘Altar’ playlist and Apple’s ‘Future Sounds’ playlist. When you see your tracks getting onto these playlists, is that how you measure when a track has become successful?
I mean, as much as I’m obviously appreciative to streaming services for adding my stuff to big playlists, I’d be pretty naive to measure success via those means because a track can get added to a playlist, but that doesn’t mean it’s connected to people. Because there’s plenty of music that doesn’t get added to playlists that is undeniably a lot better than a lot of the stuff that does get added to playlists, and that’s no shade to streaming services, but that’s just how it is. For me, what matters is, people reaching out and being like, “this is what this track means to me” and this is me listening to the track, and I get tagged in people sitting in their cars, filming their reactions, playing the track and being like, “this is amazing”. What matters to me is actual people loving the track and that’s the thing I felt with ‘Jennifer’, you know, people DMing me on Instagram, @ing me being like, “I love this, this is great” and that is what makes me feel like the track is doing something. Having that personal connection with the people who actually listen to my music, that is kind of how I’ve always measured when the track is doing well. Because there’s tracks of mine that have like streamed okay or like not that well, but to me personally, they’ve done well, because of the actual reaction I’ve gotten from people when I’m playing them in clubs and people come up to me, and they’re like “that’s my favourite track of yours”, “I love listening to this track”, “I like cycling or running to it.” That’s way more important to me than any of that.
Yeah, it’s those real moments, I guess, isn’t it? The tangible moments.
Exactly. Because, you know, if streaming services disappeared tomorrow, people would still want to listen to music. If they can listen to music, and without the streaming service, they would still say, I’m going to listen to ‘Jennifer’ and that “track means a lot to me”, that means so much more to me than anything else.
Awesome. I saw that you put a tweet out quite recently talking about Bicep’s new album and how you were quite regularly told that “it was impossible to achieve commercial success…without a really pop heavy / vocal led project”. Why do you think there has been this shift in the success of electronic music and where do you see the scene going next?
The thing with electronic music is that it comes in SO many forms. With the rise of EDM in the early 2010s with people blowing up, like your Swedish House Mafias and people like that. I think people then also thought that that was the peak of electronic music and you couldn’t really get any bigger than that. To have any sort of commercial success, you need to make that sort of stuff and people forgot that, if the music is good, then people will listen to it, and people will appreciate it for what it is regardless. So, when I tweeted that it was more like, Bicep has made a really good album and it isn’t particularly popy. It’s very catchy and when I when I got into electronic music and when I was thinking of writing an album, that I didn’t end up writing, every A&R was like, “you need to do this” and “you need to do that.” Hearing this album made me realise, not just this album, but this album as well made me realise that I have a lot freer rein to do what I want to do eventually when I get to that stage. It’s a really comforting feeling because that feeling that you have to conform to what people think a pop album should be and I think that’s a bit scary because it automatically puts you in that box. Bicep getting the number two album in the UK, making that kind of music. I think that will open the door for a lot of people to be like, “I can push myself to be a lot more experimental” and do this and do that. But you see this within pop music as well, not just electronic music. Pop music is making a lot more, weird stuff now and getting away with it and that’s good.
Like some of the stuff that I hear, I mean this doesn’t happen all the time, but some pop records that I hear and I’m like, “this wouldn’t have worked a while ago.” It’s definitely a testament to how music is evolving and think that’s really exciting for pop music, as well as for electronic music. You see people like Sophie, who obviously revolutionised pop music. I think people like her were extremely important for the development of both electronic and pop music.
People making that kind of stuff that’s being really Avant Garde and just weird. That, in turn, helps people like me, who want to be more out there with it. So, I think it’s looking really positive. People are going to be able to do a lot more of what they want without feeling like they need to be popy in like a classical sense.
I think so too. Again, I don’t want to like talk about COVID and whatnot the whole interview, but I think it is definitely going to happen with everyone coming out of this lockdown life. It’s almost a bit of a cliché thing to say, but I think it’s going to be a really exciting time for all creatives because everyone’s just going to be like wanting to just put anything out there and just share all those different ideas.
Yeah, it’s definitely going to be a surge of like, just weirdness I think, and that’s always going to be like a very natural by-product of a time that is as weird as it is.
Yeah, definitely. Lastly, just to wrap things up, what does the next year or so have in store for you? You’ve also been very open online in regard to the events of the past year, so I was curious whether you have any bigger plans with your music, your platform and your voice, in the future as well?
Well, firstly, this year, I’ve got a lot of sort of singles lined up that I’m going to release and then I’m going to start thinking about putting some sort of project together. Because the last time I did that was 2019, so I’m going to start looking at doing that one that eventually when I get back into writing music more regularly. That’s going to be my next big project, but then also platform wise…I mean, I’ve been awarded this platform as a Black music producer of electronic music and I think there’s so many things I can do with that. I want to encourage other people. People reach out to me and they’re young people of colour, Black people who are getting into producing electronic music, and there hasn’t been that much space for us within electronic music but I feel like that’s opening up now. Using my platform to reach out to these people and platforming young Black artists. I think that’s going to be something that’s really important for me. The more I grow as well and realising what it is, I can do. Because I think there’s a lot of exciting things that you can do there.