WHP FEATURE 025
Theo Kottis is on fire at the moment. With regular play on Radio 1 and gigs all over the world he might look to some like an overnight sensation, but Theo has really done his time. First as a promoter and long-standing resident DJ back home in Edinburgh, and then in Glasgow at the legendary Sub Club.
The over-riding feeling you get when speaking to Theo is that he’s grateful to be where he is, and that he wants to do what he can to encourage other people to do the same. His story in itself is a pretty inspirational one for the many enthusiastic amateurs that prop up the scene, i.e. he threw good parties, played good sets, made music of melodic value and eventually got noticed by enough people to make a living out of it.
One of the latest industry heavyweights to notice was Yousef, who hosted him at his recent Circus takeover at WHP. For Theo this was a big step:
“I used to go to the Warehouse Project when I was younger so I felt really privileged being able to play,” he says. “When I went I would have been around 18,19… I remember going to see Justice which was a completely different style to what I play now but I think back then my musical tastes hadn’t quite matured. I was a big Justice fan - I loved the French electro kind of sound. I think I saw Loco Dice once. Too many hazy memories to be honest!
“It was really nice playing for Circus - it was good fun - that’s the first time I met Yousef actually. He’s a great guy - it was good that he had me on the lineup. I liked how busy it was - it kind of reminded me of the scene back home in Scotland. Because it was early entry that night, everybody needs to be there quite early so it gets busy and you do a nice warmup set.
“I think more promoters should do stuff like that. It opens up the opportunities to put more DJs on the lineup as well and you can give DJs longer sets which in my opinion is really important. I don’t like playing short sets - I like playing for as long as possible. If you told me that I had to open a club right now and play for three or four hours, I wouldn’t mind at all. I’d be very happy to go there and be the first person and just play.”
“The concept of major DJ residencies,” I say, “is a bit of a lost art these days. It’s such a shame.”
“I totally agree. Residents are probably the most important part of a successful club night in my opinion. They help shape the sound of the night and the branding. If they get a good warmup set then the DJs that you booked are going to be really happy, they’re going to talk about it and they’re going to play for you. But like you said, it’s definitely been lost. I think a lot of people don’t appreciate it any more.”
No sooner had Theo made his debut at WHP, he was off to conquer America. Another thing to tick off the bucket list.
I was massively massively inspired to come home that summer, lock myself in my bedroom all winter and just try and learn to produce. That’s how I did it.
“I’m doing 16 states which is quite a lot! I’m away for just over 5 weeks so I’m just preparing for that really and trying to pack everything. Because I’m doing so many different states, there’s different weather in every state, but I’ve got to pack everything into one small case!
“It sounds cliched but I guess it’s what a lot of musicians dream of - it’s playing away from home, and it is pretty far away for me. I think it is quite a big deal. I haven’t been that far yet so I’m really looking forward to it.”
As a full-time touring DJ, has he experienced the bad side of life on the road yet? Stranded at airports, dodgy equipment, paralytic promoters… it’s bound to happen eventually.
“So far I’ve been treated really well. I always make an effort with the promoters myself. I always like going for dinner and meeting their friends and their crew and I always love going to see the DJs on before me because I’ve been in that position before. And I can remember if I’d booked a DJ and he came to see me back home, that would make my night. I always try and get to the club early. But I’ve not got any horror stories to be honest… all just good vibes from me… everyone’s pretty friendly.”
Now things are really taking off, does he think his experience slugging it out as a promoter in Edinburgh stood him in good stead?
“It definitely opened the door into seeing the DJ lifestyle and meeting a lot of artists that I then became friends with and also meeting a lot of agents and managers. That’s how I got my agent now - I actually met him just through booking people from him. But to be honest I wasn’t really taking my DJing seriously at the time when I was a promoter - I was just doing it for fun as a hobby.”
So what changed?
“It was a trip to Ibiza - I did a season there - 2013 I think - and I just remember seeing Dixon play. I hadn’t seen him before and I just remember straight away I was massively massively inspired to come home that summer, lock myself in my bedroom all winter and just try and learn to produce. That’s how I did it. And eventually I got signed. I stopped promoting from then onwards and just focused on DJing and producing.”
His big break as a producer came thanks to a meeting with Jaymo & Andy George when they came to play in Scotland. They stayed in touch and signed him up to their Moda Black label, and from there it all snowballed. It wasn’t long before he was on Ajuna Deep, Sasha’s Last Night On Earth and Nic Fanciulli’s Saved.
“It looks like it’s happened quickly but I think I was very patient for a year. I met a lot of labels, a lot of management - I just kind of took my time - I didn’t jump at the first opportunity I got. I think a lot of people do that now, where they’re just not patient enough. Also people who haven’t reached their full potential, sending demos out just to get gigs.”
To anyone who is at the beginning of their creative journey as a producer, it seems nigh-on impossible to be able to finish a body of work to a high enough standard to attract the attention of some of the best labels in the land. That’s what people dream of, but they soon realise the technical art of sound engineering takes years to perfect, certainly longer than the couple of years it took Theo to get his name out there. He’s refreshingly honest about his process:
“I’ve got an engineer just for my mixdowns. I can mix myself but I feel there’s always going to be someone out there who’s going to be better than you at mixing down. There’s a lot of negativity around it but I personally don’t think there’s anything wrong. I’m never going to be a sound engineer - I’m a creative producer who writes melodies. If they’re gonna make your song dynamically sound better, it doesn’t change any of the creative idea… all he does is make it sound better for a club sound system. I’d always want somebody to do that. Back in the day you’d have a mixing engineer, a producer, an arranger, special people just doing the drums and the bass etc.”
Theo’s actually doing a lot more than many up-and-coming ‘producers’ at his level. The role of the ghostwriter is fundamental to the rise of many an overnight sensation, but that’s certainly not his bag. Just by talking to him about the technical side of things, you can tell he’s proper. So what other advice does he have for artists starting out?
“For me the first few months or even year I wasn’t really writing songs - I was just learning processes and what everything does. So you spend hours and hours just reading up on compressors and stuff like that. So for me I think in that first year it’s really important not worrying about writing a full song or melody, just understand what everything does. Then you should just go ahead and start writing. For me that was really helpful I’d say. I think some people go straight in and try and write something when they’ve got no idea what the buttons do. I’d say learn the basics first.
“Also, a lot of people with many jobs in the world think about the equipment the wrong way. Say, if a photographer buys the best camera, they think they’ll take great photos. But it’s just not going to make you the best photographer. So you’re not going to be the best producer if you buy the best equipment. It’s more about your work ethic and determination - it’s how you use your tools. Keep trying every day!”
He did, and look what happened. Next time he plays at WHP, he’ll probably be the headliner.