Elias Simos aka Elijah Simmons found his passion for music while still a young man in his native Greece. Moving the UK for studies proved to be the catalyst he needed to finally realise his dream. Further moves to Brazil and the Philippines followed and after returning to London to work on his MSc he decided the time was right to focus on his music. What happen next is nothing short of incredible, and starts with that fateful email from German uber label – Kompakt. Now with an diary full of international dates and the imminent release of some amazing new music, the world is very much in the palm of this personable young Greek superstar in the making. A&R man Simon Huxtable met up with Elias during a quiet moment to find out more.
Hi Elias, thanks for taking some time out to speak to Decoded Magazine. Hows your day been so far?
Hey Simon, thanks for taking the time to chat. Pretty good – I’ve been basically playing this silly game on my phone for half of it and working on this track that I am developing for the rest, so you know…life could be worse!
Tell us about growing up in Greece. We understand you were well connected with the psytrance scene there.
(Laughs) Not at all actually! The psytrance scene was actually something that I always kinda frowned upon, very respectfully of course – as something borderline nonsensical – also thought of in a very respectful way. I have been to a massive psytrance festival and observed the whole thing myself – longest 10 days of my life!!! I was actually more of a hip-hop and punk rock guy when growing up there..
Your dad was an avid vinyl collector and speaker designer. Did you inherit his love of music, or was your passion a more organic discovery?
Nature vs nurture eh? It’s always hard to tell between those two. It’s like asking me if I believe in free will! I think probably a bit of both – why did my father get into designing sound systems in the first place, is also an interesting question..
Tell us about learning to DJ. Where did you get your music from?
So back in high school we were a big group of friends, and eventually we all went away to study in different parts of the UK. When we would come back home for holidays, we would share our new musical influences, that initially varied from DnB to Trance – DJ Tiesto style. It was then that we all got into electronic music. In 2007 I got a couple of turntables and 10 records (2 of which were actually Kompakt records) and started mixing. Soon after I spun at a party in York (Beatcake) that did really well and then thought to myself: “hey, I like this thing”. That’s how the passion started growing. It then evolved a lot when I moved to London in 2010, when acts like Nicolas Jaar, Art Department and Visionquest were starting to make their mark on the music industry, while LCD Soundsystem had just raised a middle finger to the music industry majors. Music I was into around that time was so fresh and underground, yet so accessible and potent. A few years later, people like Mano le Tough and Blond:ish came along (2012) and I had just come back from 8 months living in Brazil. I started appreciating the melodic elements in dance music more, along with connotations of some tropical dystopia. Add some of The Doors and Radiohead in that melting pot and you’ll probably get close to where I get my sound and where I am going musically.
How did you come up with the name Elijah Simmons?
Its cool, no!? hahaha!!
It’s actually a play on my given birth name and family name, with an internationally recognizable spin to it. The name Elijah is quite an old one actually, making cameos both in the Old Testament and the Quran – and I like to think that there is a spiritual element to music and try to incorporate that in my work. I like that “Elijah”, who was actually a prophet, has a link to that.
You moved to the UK for study. Talk us through that first year away from home, the trials and tribulations…
I was 17. I wasn’t allowed in bars and clubs for 6 months. And it rained. A LOT. Bear in mind, Greece is a very sunny country. And then it’s also the North of England. Not exactly a smooth place. I remember walking up to the train station on a Saturday evening, and when I passed outside Ziggys (one of the hip places then), I saw this massive guy covering his ear with his hand and blood dripping all over…”he fokkin bit my eahr off mayt!” It was 9 o’clock in the evening.
How did you adjust to the livng in the UK? And do you still have challenges with aspects of our culture?
Honestly, the first year wasn’t very easy. But then being in a such a multicultural place, where ideas thrive, in a society that functions is pretty cool. So it wasn’t too long before I was fully immersed! I met some amazing people in my time here (and still do) and I suppose these memories make the place really dear to me. I now speak English with a British accent (well kinda) and have a fry-up at least a couple of time per week. There are a lot of things I love about the culture here, including queuing – it’s a secret passion. The only thorny point is the weather – still can’t get used to it, almost 10 years in.
We understand your dream DJ gig would be onboard the Robot Heart Bus at Burning Man. Why?
The desert!!! I’ve heard so many amazing recordings from that place, that have inspired my music, so it kinda makes sense in my head. Linking back to spirituality and music, it fits so well. It’s kinda like making a soundtrack for a Native American boy’s initiation to manhood – you know, the go into the desert, eat a whole cactus, find the big polar bear, wrestle it and come back a man kind of trip”. Btw, Pisces (from my upcoming EP) is a pretty kickass track for a sunrise there.
Having DJed in most parts of the world, what do you consider to be the main differences between the various crowds, and what ways have you developed to overcome those problems?
Honestly I can’t see that many differences these days. People are so well informed – culture-wise – through the internet, and the global scene is growing at such a pace that differences are smoother than ever before. The Greek crowd is actually the most challenging one I have encountered to be honest. Not so dance friendly, and it takes time until you get them going. Generally my recipe for success is patience and a deep and versatile record collection that is always characterised by my personal identity. This is one of the reasons why I prefer longer sets (3+hrs) – to get people immersed in my zone.
Tell us about your studio. Whats your DAW of choice and do you use any hardware?
I currently work on Ableton Live. I’ve got a couple of VST synths I prefer to work on and some plug-ins from the UAD suite. Then two HS7s and an RME Babyface. Recently got an Ableton PUSH – let’s see if that improves the workflow. No hardware – everything is in the box, although soon this will change. I’ve got my eyes on a certain Analog RYTM and a certain Prophet that will soon be part of the family.
What projects are you working on at the moment that you can talk about?
I am working on a new EP that will be a little faster and perhaps more dancefloor oriented than Pisces. This should be done in the next month. I am also running a couple of parties HYDE (in London) and Full Circle with my partner Mark_K in Sofia and Athens. We’ve got some exciting stuff coming up for both projects in the summer, on rooftops, canal and sea-sides with some pretty big artists featuring.
Talk us through getting signed to Kompakt. How much work had you done to reach that point in your career?
So Kompakt happened a few months ago in January – I had just finished a consulting project and decided to give music priority status for the first time in my life. It felt liberating! I wrote Pisces in 3 days, and on the 4th day, I decided to send it around a few labels, but not really expecting much out of it. 20 mins later I see an e-mail popping up from @kompakt.fm. I’m like “no way – this is a joke”, 5 months later here we are!
Up to that point I had been working on music for about a year and a half. The whole production thing got into me, when I started hanging out with Phipo – this really cool underground artist from Athens. Back then he was more into the Flying Lotus type broken beat scene. He showed me the ropes around the studio for the first time and the potential of music making seemed really exciting to me.
Every major artist can cited a point in their career when they first realised they made it. Arguably for you, that moment was having Otavio’s Dream picked up by Blond:ish for their Flying Circus mix album. What was your reaction when you found out, and do you keep in touch with the girls?
It was a similar moment to Kompakt – I had just finished that track and posted it on Blond:ish’s wall, under a track they had posted – I think it was the Black Bell from The Cheapers (Ruede is such a legend btw). Then an hour or two later, they’re like “yea, we want it for this compilation we’re doing”. We’ve met only briefly at a party in London, as the tide was coming up too fast – it was by the Thames – and didn’t give us enough time to catch up properly. Surely we’ll get the chance at some point in the future. P.S. I don’t think that I have made it yet by any means. Stay hungry, stay foolish, no?
Hahaha, tell us about your night HYDE. Hows it going?
HYDE is my spiritual home – and my testing ground, where I get to relax and play my heart out, able to push boundaries of what is “expected” and “normal” when it comes to music. We focus on smaller and often unexpected venues (we once had a summer party on the Old Street Roundabout terrace) and local artists. Programming wise, we try and keep things on the funk – soul and disco spectrum in the beginning of the night, moving deeper and deeper as the night progresses.
With the momentum in your favour, whats next for you? A label?
Far from that! Building a quality release backlog and digging deeper into my own sound – carving out a signature is definitely a priority for me. And working with some of my favourite labels and artists, like Kompakt. As a young artist I think it’s really important to work with people much bigger than you are. Their knowledge is invaluable in shaping your artistic direction. When I have achieved that, then I will think about label. It’s really too congested at the moment, so even from a business perspective, I don’t see how it makes sense. But also from a product quality perspective, I don’t think I am at all ready to head a movement of sound that will be really radical and cool. That’s still in the making!
That just about wraps things up, thanks for sparing the time to chat Elias. We wish you the best with your future endeavours. Finally, where can we see you play over the summer months?
London, a few places around Europe and maybe some festivals…let’s see!
01// Maaskant – Eyo Olokun [New Kanada Recordings]
02// Agoria – Bapteme [Kompakt]
03// Slove – Flash (Pachanga Boys Remix) [Pschent Music]
04// Riley Reinhold – Light in My Eyes (Patrice Baumel Remix) [MBF Ltd]
05// Ruede Hagelstein – Native Aliens [Souvenir Music]
06// Audiofly – Excuse My Wildness (Masomenos Remix) [Supernature]
07// Vermont – Ubersprung (Marcus Worgul Edit) [Kompakt]
08// Mano le Tough – Mountains [Permanent Vacation]
09// Sasse feat. Ilija Rudman – Got 2 Be (Patrice Baumel Midnight Express Remix) [My Favourite Robot]
10// Primal – Boundaries [Just This]
11// Sascha Funke – Zug Um Zug [Kompakt]
12// Elijah Simmons – Pisces [Kompakt]