Tsatsamis: Queer Culture and Introspection

The 80s is an iconic era of pop music, but there are certain artists such as Pet Shop Boys and George Michael who really refined that sound and created timeless club classics that are still admired today, especially in queer culture. Producer and singer-songwriter Tsatsamis has been reviving this sound through his debut EP VERSIONS, an introspective record that will have you crying on the dance floor.

The EP is a love letter to queer culture. With raw lyricism intertwined with driving, hypnotic beats, we see Tsatsamis speak about his own experiences and coming to terms with his sexuality. Despite being new on the music scene, Tsatsamis’ obvious talent has allowed him to quickly gain support in the industry. His tracks ‘Good Time’ and ‘Single Tear’ were made BBC Introducing South East’s ‘Ones To Watch’ and his collaboration with TAAHLIAH on ‘Fall Into Place’ earned him BBC Introducing’s ‘Track Of The Week’.

Ahead of his recent success, the London-based artist has an exciting couple of months ahead, with a performance at Birmingham Pride, a BBC Introducing Three Counties gig, supporting alt-electronic artist Paige Bea, and an upcoming remix EP. Tsatsamis kindly took time to sit down with me at Pophams Bakery in London where we had an enlightening conversation about his debut EP, the influences behind it and the successes that have since followed.

 Tell us a little about yourself, how did you get into music?

I guess I’ve always been doing music, it’s always been a part of my life in some way. I did piano lessons and drum lessons when I was younger and then my first writing experience was for my GCSE music composition. We had to make a song and I was really nervous but my teacher was like ‘you can sing!’ and that was like the validation I needed. I’ve always been making music on the side and trying to make it more of a thing. It was when I released this EP early this year I really found my voice. I’ve always had the confidence in it before hand but then I put it the EP out there and the response was really validating.

The soundscape in your EP is so beautiful and interesting. Sonically, where do you pull your influences from?

I have inspiration that I always refer to like Caribou, Jamie XX and James Blake and you know, the old electronic kings. They’re people who are really meticulous with their soundscape; their methodology and approach has always been an inspiration. The EP was very inspired by clubs and dance music and ethereal vocals with lots of reverb, you know, hypnotic with driving beats.

Looking more specifically at your artist influences, you’ve mentioned before with the single ‘Good Times’, you’ve taken influences from ‘Smalltown Boy’ by Bronski Beat. how did that particular song inspire you?

When I came to write this EP I was thinking about when I first started thinking about my sexuality and I finally understood how to write about myself in an authentic way. I think from listening to people like George Michael, Pet Shop Boys and Bronski Beat, especially after watching It’s a Sin on Channel 4, I kinda found the angle that I was looking for which felt right. They helped me massively with the concept of what they wrote about and how they approach their sexuality in quite a nuanced but commercial way – but like commercially acceptable, if you know what I mean?

Of course! It must feel quite vulnerable to write about your sexuality in your music, was it ever difficult to write about that at all?

Yes. Well now not so much – once I got into the flow of writing the EP, I was a bit like ‘this is fine’ but it took me a really long time to get there and I think I just didn’t realise it. I remember I just wouldn’t really write about myself and my true feelings and ‘Good Time’ was the first time that I wrote honestly about it.

It must have been quite cathartic to get it out there.

Absolutely yeah! When I was writing I was under the impression I would put some music out and it wouldn’t really go anywhere so I was like ‘it doesn’t matter’.

When it comes to your writing and producing your music, what is your method?

It’s often quite production based first. At least this EP was very production based, I’ll start off with a beat, then some chords and then I would come up with a melody and then I often figure out some lyrics and then go away and come up with a concept and then come back and fit it all together. But yeah very production based first, I’m trying to get out of the habit now because it can be a bit restricting at times!

I’m a big believer in the idea that an artists chosen name is very telling of them as a person and their creative process. What made you go for Tsatsamis?

It’s my last name! My mum’s last name. It’s a funny story actually – I’ve grown up with it and never thought of it as something interesting. I was thinking of different monikers and I was talking to my friend about it and I was coming up with all these boring names and he was like ‘why wouldn’t you just call yourself Tsatsamis?’ and it just made so much sense. Now, It feels right but I’ll be honest in saying I was quite numb to how it sounds for other people, but I trust people think it’s a cool name!

I even noticed on your Spotify you have how to say Tsatsamis in your description.

Yeah it’s like ‘Tsunami’ or ‘Satsuma’! And also the name is so good for search-ability, I got my username and website because no one else has a name like Tsatsamis.

So, let’s talk about your first initial release from VERSIONS which was ‘Good Time’. What made you release that song in particular first?

It was kind of lucky, in hindsight I’m so glad that I chose it because I think conceptually it was the strongest. I kind of had to rely on other people a little, it was originally gonna be ‘Grass Stains’ because it was the first track that was done, and then my brother said ‘why don’t you go with ‘Good Time’?’. It’s more of an introduction and more accessible. It made sense because it was the first track on the EP and when I was making the track, I thought whatever this EP is, this song will be the opener.

Out of all the songs on the EP, which one means the most to you and what is the significance behind it?

I think either ‘Good Time’ or ‘Lose Yourself’ – probably more ‘Lose Yourself’. I wrote that about when the artist SOPHIE died. It was one of those big moments. For the EP it was one of the first tracks finished and it was a moment where a lot of things clicked and I thought this feels right for the sound. I remember I had the instrumental and I didn’t know what to write about, and then the morning she died, I opened up the project and wrote it in like 10 minutes. It was one of those moments which felt so honest, it was such a raw dialogue and an ode to queer culture, being in clubs and how much she meant. I was shocked at how much I was impacted by her death, I have never been so impacted by a death that wasn’t personal – it was a way of processing it and realising how much queer music has made me feel comfortable in who I am.

So you could say its a love letter to SOPHIE?

Yeah absolutely.

The visuals on the VERSIONS EP are super interesting, very reminiscent of Aphex Twin. Could elaborate on why you went for these kind of visuals for this project?

Yes, Aphex Twin! I’ve been working with this amazing designer Decoy. It never felt right to use my plain face. The point of view I’m trying to put across is about how uncomfortable I felt with my sexuality for a long time. The EP is called VERSIONS and it is all about the different versions of myself, every track is an introspective look at my sexuality. My branding is very much taking a commercial, pop thing and experimenting with it. I wanted the same with the visuals, I wanted my face warped slightly but still realistic.

So let’s talk about year you’ve had so far. Its been very exciting few months having gained ‘Track of the Week’ and ‘One to Watch’ on BBC Introducing. How have things been since then, how has that made you feel?

It’s really, really cool! It’s validating I can’t lie. I know its not good to rely on numbers, but its nice to know that what I am doing is connecting with people and hopefully it can grow into a bigger thing. For a long time beforehand I was doubting myself a lot, I was really disillusioned by the whole thing – I really thought nothing was going to happen, so when a lot of stuff happened in a short space of time, it was really nice.

You have also gained a lot of traction on social media, in particular on TikTok. Its such a unique way of marketing yourself. What is it about that particular platform that speaks to you more than others?

TikTok is such a brilliant way of reaching new people. I think some platforms are quite insular and its hard to reach new people. Also, because it’s such a new platform it was like ‘I have nothing to lose’ so I just kept posting and posting. Again, with the single ‘Good Time’, because of the way the algorithm works, it’s really good at reaching niche audiences. Once I started talking about what the song was about and having these references, it was another moment where I realised being authentic is actually a good thing! That track connected with a lot of people and suddenly I was getting a lot of messages from people saying my music has helped them – like complete strangers! It had never happened before, that was really cool. There’s a lot of hate towards TikTok; it’s very frustrating when it doesn’t work, but when it works it’s so empowering, better than any ad you can run.

Following you recent success from VERSIONS, you’re meant to be releasing a remix version of this EP in the coming months. What can we expect from that?

So I got a bunch of friends and other artists to remix the whole project. The idea was more clubby versions and it’s called Their Versions. The whole project should be out early next year. I’m working with the same designer again, and the artwork for each track will be a face merge of me and that remix artist in a similar style to the VERSIONS artwork. I’m so excited about it, I’ve heard some of them already and they’re so good! I can listen to them and rinse them in a way I can’t with my own music, they’re so good. Hopefully this project will also draw more people to the original mixes as well.

What made you collaborate with these specific artists?

A lot of them are queer artists and I’m a big fan of all of them. TAAHLIAH is doing one, my really good friend Ben is doing one, they’re an amazing queer electronic artist. The only one I didn’t already know was a band called 0171, I went to see them at a gig and I love their music. You know those artists where everything they put out is amazing? I DM’ed them on Instagram and I was like ‘please do a remix for me’ and they said yes.

You have such an exciting career ahead of you, what can we expect next from you?

More music of course! I want to take the visual side of things up a level, maybe like a music video. I’ve been a bit apprehensive about it because I don’t know how it will look and I’m quite meticulous with the visuals, and I’m still figuring it out how it would look on budget. I’m also trying to explore braver song writing at the moment, more poignant lyrics and more melodic instrumental ideas. I want it to remain pop, but still incorporate experimentalism, a lot like Daft Punk and Björk I think.

Words: Amber Jones // Photos: mercedes 666

‘VERSIONS’, the debut EP from Tsatsamis is out now. Stream and purchase the release via Bandcamp.

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