Theo Kottis discusses his debut LP Beautiful Strangers
Edinburgh DJ and producer Theo Kottis talks us through the making of his dance floor-focused debut album, Beautiful Strangers
A favourite fixture on the Scottish clubbing circuit, Theo Kottis has established himself as one of the UK's most versatile DJs. Growing up between Scotland and Greece, Kottis started out as a promoter in Edinburgh while still in his late teens, before subsequently turning his hand to the decks. He's since held down residencies at Glasgow's Sub Club and with FLY Club at Cabaret Voltaire in the capital, and has built a reputation as a standout support DJ both locally and internationally through his ability to adapt his sets to multiple moods and environments.
His production breakthrough came in late 2014 with the release of Waiting Game on Moda Black, and a string of further releases on Moda Black, Last Night On Earth, and Anjunadeep have followed. This month marks the release of his debut LP Beautiful Strangers, via his own Beautiful Strangers label – "I was just fed up of labels, and taking ages... maybe sending a label a certain tune, but it wouldn't fit. I'm also really into graphic design and photography and stuff like that – to be honest, I just really like having control over everything! It was just as simple as that." Kottis is now more than ready for the album, the product of 12 months of work, to see the light of day.
"It feels like it's taken an absolute age, but I guess it took about a year to do," he explains. "It was all recorded in Edinburgh in my bedroom studio. So not too exciting – I just built myself a studio in my bedroom! I got into a routine, I was getting up every day, going for a run, and then just working on this album. But the frustrating part was, I feel like once it was done and I'd signed everything off, it felt like so long until I could even announce that I've got an album coming out. So it's all fun now, because I can talk about it!"
Whereas Kottis' previous productions have generally stuck to a trajectory of melodic, emotional deep house, his club and festival performances, and mixes for the likes of BBC Radio 1, Fabric and Rinse FM, demonstrate the breadth of Kottis' musical tastes and his adaptability as a selector. With Beautiful Strangers, Kottis says, he aims to close the perceived gap in versatility between his DJing and productions.
"The main thing for this album, what I wanted to come across, was that whenever I DJ, I'm very varied, and I think that's one of my strengths. I can adapt to certain sounds. I mean, I was playing with a lot of DJs on different line-ups and they'd come up to me like, 'Oh, I didn't know you could play that style of music', because I wasn't producing that style of music.
"Everyone was [mentioning my versatility] when I was DJing, but no one was saying that about my music. So I thought, right, I need to do something about this!"
Beautiful Strangers therefore marks a turning point in Kottis' creative journey. Delivering seven unique, expressive club tracks that reflect the varied moods encountered on the dancefloor, it encompasses everything from breakbeat grooves and disco, to acid house and UK garage rave. Unifying the seven tracks is Kottis' ear for what makes a standout party tune, regardless of the crowd or environment it's designed for.
The infectious opening track Get Down has club classic written all over it, from the pulsing percussive intro, to its euphoric pattern of synth flourishes and rave-indebted vocal samples (complete with cheers from a rapturous crowd layered into the mix). Keep It Simple is a journey through melancholic deep house, the perfect closing track at the end of a long night, while Reasons is a classic Ibiza anthem, all 4/4 kicks and summery, yearning strings.
Acid Disco, meanwhile, does exactly what the name implies, incorporating a funk bassline into a mix of brass flourishes with 303-squelches, overlaid with a classic disco vocal sample. Of the track Kottis says, "it was the first time that I was like, right, this is going to be the main single, because I could just tell straight away."
He continues: "sometimes something just happens in the studio, your ears click, and I was like, this is the one. I hadn't even finished it and I was just sending clips to some friends and DJs and the feedback was really good."
The process of crafting Beautiful Strangers also allowed Kottis to develop his skills in the studio, free of compromise or label pressures. "I bought quite a few synths, and hardware and stuff like that, thinking it would help me – and it did, but what happened was that I ended up spending months and months trying to learn the hardware, because it's not as easy as it looks!" he laughs. "I end up just jamming for like a week on a new synth, and I'd have no music done, but I'd have like a 30 minute live jam.
"It's the first time I actually tried sampling as well. I love sampling. I think that's me," he laughs. "Going record shopping, and trying to find stuff that you can use. So it was the first time that I'd been sampling and using hardware for it all. It's been a fun process."
The album is also set to form part of a trilogy of LPs, the second of which Kottis has already begun work on. The series of albums, he says, "shows that I want to make music and I want to keep at it. I don't just want to release an album, and then that's it. I want it to be a bigger picture. So hopefully, in this album, I'll see myself improving in it as well.
"DJing for me is where it's at," he states. "I feel like I'm a better DJ than I am a producer, and with these albums I guess I get to experiment and practice and learn, without labels telling me what I can and can't do. So I'll always be a DJ, always. I guess what this is going to allow me to do is get booked on line-ups that I maybe wasn't getting booked on before, because of my sound." With the release of Beautiful Strangers, Kottis has certainly shown that his talents aren't just limited to behind the decks.
Beautiful Strangers is released 15 Jun