Velvet Velour chats X-Kalay release

Born in the UK but based out of Lisbon, Velvet Velour has made a name for himself with releases on labels such as Welt Discos and Nuances De Nuit to Limousine Dream and Mindhelmet. He carefully chooses labels based on a dream list he created early in his career, aiming to release with those that align with his musical vision. His recent release on X-Kalay, XK035, showcases his love for early tech house, was described as having a “strong tech house current with extra zonk.” A description we loved that definitely sums up his great sound palette. We caught up with him recently to learn more...

Can you tell us about your journey in the music and how Velvet Velour came to be?

Of course! My musical journey has been nine years in the making and seven of those years working on music production. A lot of it I have to thank my friend Charlie for, he introduced me to house music and the rest was history. After university we moved out to Canada together for a three year working holiday. He introduced me to Boiler Room sets in the hostel when we first got there and as a result I quickly got obsessed with electronic music. A few months later I talked him into coming to a festival in Mexico called BPM; because lots of the names from the sets he'd been showing me were on the lineup. I heard the likes of Jamie Jones, Eats Everything, Seth Troxler and The Martinez Brothers playing sunrise sets on beautiful beaches and I was thinking - ‘I neeeed to do that’. haha! I'd never been so drawn to anything before in my life, so I purchased a set of decks as soon as I got back to Canada. A copy of Ableton followed soon after. 

I even have Charlie to thank for the name. I owned a velvet Puma tracksuit at the time and he used to take the piss out of me for wearing it and call me 'Velvet Velour' because of the double velvet. When it eventually came to releasing my first record with Ba Dum Tish I had to think of a name and I knew I wanted a fun one (inspired by the likes of Dr Banana, Gene On Earth, Sugar Free, The Ghost etc). I was still always wearing the tracksuit bottoms (the jumper was long lost unfortunately) and the name always popped into my head whenever I wore them; so it was a no brainer to use it! The funniest part is I told him recently about it he doesn't even remember coming up with it

How has life in Lisbon inspired your music?

It hasn't directly inspired my music making but that's nothing to do with the city because I can see why it would be inspiring for lots of artists. I'm not a musician or artist by nature, I've forced myself into both of those things; so inspiration for me is a bit of a myth sadly! I wish I could say I look out at a beautiful view and hear a melody in my head and want to go and make music but it's not the case for me. If it were the case I'd be inspired every day though, because it's one of the most beautiful cities I've ever seen! 

You've released tracks on labels like Butter Side Up, Welt Discos, and Nuances De Nuit. How do you choose which labels to work with? Do you generally produce music with a label in mind, or how does that work? 

I've always had a list of my ‘dream labels’ and my goal has always been to release music with them one by one. Butter Side Up and Limousine Dream were on that list from day one, as their records were both among the first few that I owned. Then as soon as Youandewan and Truly Madly started MINDHELMET and Small Hours they both went straight onto the list too. 

I was pretty strict with this at first but I’ve veered from my plan a few times and I’m super glad I did. For example Dr Banana is one of my dream labels, but I wasn’t making anything that fitted quite right; so Sandy (Dr B) and Alec put my first tracks out on Ba Dum Tish and that ended up being amazing for me.  

I also veered from my plan along the way to release with friends or labels who have made a nice invite, and that ended up being a great way to release more music that might not have left my harddrive otherwise. X-Kalay was one of those times and I hadn’t initially had the idea to release there but I’m super glad Sam reached out. I feel like those tracks found their way to the right home as a result!

As for producing tunes with the label in mind; this was definitely the case with Butter Side Up, MINDHELMET and TSOL. I had already started communicating with them and they’d been listening and letting me know that the music wasn’t quite right for them. So I kept going until I had some music that they wanted. When I was making music for BSU and MH it was during Covid times. I was making a tune a day and was super motivated to lock those EP’s in, so when I went back to the drawing board with their feedback I was able to make playlists with 20/30 tunes to return to them with. It was a once in a lifetime experience to be off work for that long so it was very lucky timing for me. 

I think it's quite a challenge to create music that fits the aesthetic of a label whilst retaining your own sound. I actually really enjoy it, it's always an amazing learning experience getting to work with one of your favourite DJ's towards creating something that they like enough to put out on their label. I've learned so much from working with those guys and I'll be forever grateful for their guidance and honesty.

As for the rest of the music I signed, it was always from having a playlist of 80/90% finished music and they would pick the ones that fit their label best. 

In "Khaosan Rodeo (Terrific)," you channel the late Nathan Coles' Get Fucked alias. What impact did Nathan Coles have on your music, and how do you pay tribute to him in your work?

This was a Henry Ivry quote from RA and whilst it's a wonderful compliment, it was not intentional! This would have been a happy accident if people heard some of the great Nathan Coles in this particular tune. 

That being said, Nathan's tunes certainly had a huge impact on me when I was first coming across tech house records and they still do to this day. He's one of those rare artists who blows my mind with every track I hear from him. Some of the naughtiest and bounciest tracks out there! 

You can have an ‘ok’ drum pattern on the go and then listen to one of his tunes and think; fuck me I’ve got a lot of work to do. I’m still a million miles away from his level of understanding of groove which I find very exciting and motivating. RIP to a true legend. 

Your music often walks the fine line between funkiness and deep emotion. How do you strike that balance in your compositions?

I think I've always been lucky to have a clear understanding of which notes on the keyboard get me excited. I'm definitely more drawn to the happier keys and scales. And whilst I'm not a musician, I've always been able to clearly identify which combinations of notes I don't like so much, often just because they sound a little too moody or dark. With that understanding alone it's meant that I've always made my music in this one lane or 'mood', and I think that's what helped me develop a 'sound'. 

As for striking a balance between funkiness and emotion, I wish I could say it was on purpose but every tune I ever make is a total happy accident to be honest haha. It's always just a case of me turning up on the day and keeping at it until I've made something that sounds nice to my ear. 

Your latest release on X-Kalay, XK035, has been described as having “a strong tech house current with extra zonk”. A description we really love! Can you tell us more about the inspiration behind the release?

Loving that description too! Early tech house is one of my all time favourite genres so it's amazing to hear that my music fits that vibe. This release was more of an archival EP, so Sam dug through all of the music I was sat on and pieced together four that worked for the direction he wants to take the label; whilst keeping it cohesive as an EP.

Can you break down the creative process behind each side of this record? Did the tracks all end up as originally planned? Or did you go on a different course at all?

All of the tracks were made at different times, the B side was made around 3 years ago and the A side was made last year. They are all from very different stages of my journey but I like them all in their own way. Full Circle is a super melodic garage'y number where I would have gone to town making chords and patterns in one of my favourite musical scales. I can hear that it would have been made around the time of my Welt Discos and Nuances De Nuit EPs. Q&A was one I made whilst producing a bunch of tunes for my MINDHELMET EP. I totally forgot about it and dug it up when I was making a playlist for Sam. The other two are experiments from last year where I spent the year working hard to get closer to the direction for my sound that I’m working towards.

It's always been a journey for me trying to make stuff that is clubby. My brain seems to conjure up more podcast / radio / home listening type electronic music very naturally, but making club music has been a constant battle. These are two tracks where I think I started to get closer, they both sound pretty clubby to me.

What do you think about the current direction of tech house music, and where do you see it heading in the future?

It's interesting times for sure, there's so many amazing new producers it's hard to even keep tabs any more! Weirdly though that's actually made me pull back from new music for the most part. The sheer amount of it is a bit overwhelming and for me a lot of it sounds familiar, so I spend all of my time digging for music in the past tbh.

I think it's booming like crazy at the moment so it will probably lead to a place where everyone gets a bit tired of it. But that will probably be a good thing because the majority will move onto the next trend, and the producers who truly love the genre and want to keep trying to make their own fresh takes on it will still be chipping away. 

How do you keep your sound evolving and avoid falling into the trap of clichés in tech house music?

I've always just tried to tune out as much of other people's music as possible and make music for me. During each session I'm looking to make basslines and chord patterns that excite me whilst not reminding me too much of musical ideas I've heard before. 

One thing I notice is that new producers often want to learn how to make music like another certain producer. For me that's the worst thing I could do, if I was to spend my time trying to replicate something that somebody else has already done then I'm going to end up miles behind them by default. 

For example I always hear tunes where people have mimicked Sweely’s style. It sounds like Sweely but not quite as good. I never find myself bothering to figure out who made those tunes. Versus when I hear something that sounds truly fresh and not like anything else, I’ll sometimes get quite obsessive trying to figure out who made it and where I can hear more of it. That in itself says a lot I think! 

Can you share some of your favourite moments from DJ sets in London?

My favourite London sets have been at Pickle Factory and The Lion & Lamb for sure. Ba Dum Tish at Pickle was a particularly special one, I got to dance to a perfect warm up set from my friend Lucy Cook and then I got to jump on the decks and build up from her downtempo music into club tunes.

Her playing a downtempo set meant that as soon as I played some house the room erupted, so it was a super lucky experience. I was playing deep house warm-up'y tunes and people were screaming for them haha! Then I got to hand over to two DJ's and producers I love, playing their first ever b2b - Alec Falconer and Garrett David.

Lion and Lamb is always a treat because the set up is so perfect. You can really enjoy yourself and play a great set when the equipment is working well. It's one of the few places I've played where you can get into flow state straight away and mix tunes exactly the way you want to. It allows you to take a few more risks and throw a tune whenever you want because you know the pitch fader / monitoring works perfectly and there's not going to be any skipping on the turntables.

How do you approach crafting a DJ set, and what do you aim to convey to the audience through your mixes?

I usually pack my records as close to the party as possible, because I like to pick records based on the mood I'm in at the time of the event. If I’m in a super good mood then I might pack a super bouncy and fun bag of tunes and I feel like that translates to a genuine mood in the set.

The other big factor will be the space / venue that I'm playing in. I'll usually have a bit of an understanding of what it looks like or what type of people they usually book there, so I'll lean to a side of my collection that will compliment the space whilst still conveying my sound. 

The second statement also aligns with my online DJ mixes. I like to try and do 'my take' on the mix platform’s sound. Like in my recent Limousine Dream and Dr Banana mixes I reached for parts of my collection that I felt like they complimented the platform's vibe. 

As for energy levels I’m aiming for, I'm a hyperactive / energetic person; so those are the types of tunes I'm mostly drawn to. It's natural for me to try to convey that in my sets, so I like to keep my foot on the gas the whole time. I like to keep the grooves rolling and try to keep the mixes as tight as possible so that people can keep bouncing along the whole time without any distractions. 

Which artists or producers are currently inspiring you, and why?

Some of my favourite artists at the moment are actually previous students of mine who are now releasing on Silky Beats. It's quite incredible how they've been able to start conjuring up such sick tunes in such a short space of time and I'm loving that they come back to me with demos and I get to then put them out on my label. 

Henry Hodson and Mtty are two that have blown my mind especially. Mtty - The Elongator on SILKYBEATS002 is one of my favourite new tunes of recent years. And Henry Hodson will be the first artist EP on the label. I'm super proud to be putting that one out, it's some of the freshest and most unique stuff I've heard in a long time. 

Another Silky Beats artist Astral Wayne is a big favourite of mine. Bouncy, garage’y, tech house’y bits all right up my alley.

Bob G is probably my no.1 producer at the moment. There's two of his tracks I'm playing and both of them are arguably my favourite moments of the set every time haha. He's unreal at making club music and getting the most out of a soundsystem. Very inspiring for me as mixdowns has always been a big struggle of mine. 

I love everything John Manhard puts out too and I’m always loving Tiago Walter's vibes as well. I've also been loving some upcoming unreleased bits from Phone Traxxx and Snoozin' B.

Can you tell us about any upcoming projects or releases that we should look out for?

I have a six track downtempo EP coming out on Josh Tweek's new label Sonido Chido which I'm super excited about. Josh is probably my all time favourite DJ so it’s a real honour to be putting out a record with him. 

And then I have nearly wrapped up the biggest project I’ve done to date but I have to keep that one under wraps for a bit longer so that it’s a surprise when it comes out. Hopefully this year! 

How do you handle the pressures and challenges of staying relevant in such a fast-paced and ever-changing industry?

It’s not something I’ve ever thought about to be honest as I've always known the sound I’m trying to achieve in the studio and the sound I want to achieve with my record collection. I’m still a long way off of both so I’m just slowly trying to buy up the records on my wantlist and keep edging closer to the level of quality I’d like my productions to be at.  

I’m happy to build things slowly over time and be doing things my way. I just keep chipping away at my list of goals and keep trying to get closer to a place where I can be DJ’ing every weekend and making music Monday to Friday.

What advice would you give to aspiring DJs and producers looking to make their mark in the tech house scene?

Try not to spend your time trying to find your favourite DJ's ID's or make music like other people. It will only leave you behind them and sounding familiar. The only way to tap into what your sound is and develop your own thing is to fully trust your gut and your heart about what sounds you truly like. 

I used to not buy certain records because I was scared that DJ’s I look up to wouldn't like them. Then years later I come across them again on Discogs and realise how silly I was because they are records that I love. I would instead buy records that weren't my sound, just because they were bangers and I knew someone I look up to would like them. All that ends up happening when you do these things is your sound becomes confused.  

There's a reason why it's so sick to see people like Rasho, Tho and Kyle Toole; it's because they have their own tastes that are so unique that no one else is doing anything close to it. It's so much more than just listening to a few hours of bangers, it's like jumping into an entire mood. Every record connects to the last one even if the genre changes, it sounds like their internal mood / personality has transcended into all of the records that they play. It’s the only way I can describe this level of cohesion and the feeling I get from their sets. 

It's easy to cultivate banging records or banging sample packs. What's not easy is to say no to bangers because they aren’t 100% you. To create a universe of your own that is so unique that word travels. 

Finally, where do you find inspiration outside of music, and how does it influence your creative process?

A full day or weekend in nature once in a while really sets my head straight and allows me to go back to the studio with a clear mind. There will always be a moment where I’m grateful for the journey I’m on and everything makes sense again. 

It’s not like it gathers sounds and inspiration in my head, but I have this rejuvenated motivation and clarity which always gets things going well in the studio again!

Buy/listen to the release here