Working with Drake’s in-house producer Noah “40” Shebib, and remixing the likes of The Weeknd, Steven Vidal aka Stwo is a DJ and producer on the come-up. We sat down with him in his Toronto home where we discussed his work with the OVO producer, his career trajectory and his view of The 6.
Steven Vidal, the French producer and DJ known as Stwo (pronounced “Stu”), thinks in sound. His music, a concoction of blithely, droney melodies that sit atop deep, after-hours basslines, reference Top 40 summertime jams, chillout SoundCloud mixdowns and underground hip hop in equal parts. On his remixes, he’ll tick the pitch of a singer – be it Keyshia Cole, Banks or The Weeknd – in either direction, and carry the essence of the original composition into uncharted territory with finesse, evidenced in tracks like his excellent remix of Majid Jordan.
His newly acquired Toronto apartment serves as a resting place between regular live shows, like his recent Boiler Room set at SXSW, and sessions with Noah “40” Shebib, co-founder of October’s Very Own and architect behind some of Drake’s most monumental, landscape-shifting work.
In the liner notes of his 92 project, which came out last September, Stwo called Nothing Was The Same one of his favorite rap albums ever, and in a few months since, caught the attention of one of the most accomplished – and elusive – music producers working today. But this is hardly a case of pleasantries, as evidenced by the varied, extensive catalogue of music on his SoundCloud. His vision of reworked, modern American R&B fused with wispy downtempo instrumentation speaks for itself.
But his raison d’être stretches further than the prospect of part-time DJ, part-time studio hand. Indeed, this 22 year-old from Cormeilles-en-Parisis, with inquiries from A-list music A&Rs sitting in his inbox, is busy wrapping up a new EP; a thematic, experimental and risky departure from his current body of work. In between studio work in a new city, a regular stream of DJ sets and the uncertainty set by a new approach to his craft, Stwo is doubling down on his artistry, tapping new wells of inspiration along the way.
How did you get into making and playing music?
I was 15 and bought a pair of cheap CDJs. I was so happy to have them but didn’t know where to start. I just didn’t get it. I ended up giving up and selling them. Then years later, after seeing legends like DJ Mehdi, Mr. Oizo and Busy P live, I got it.
I played bass in a reggae group, like 10 years ago. Every time I had an idea, I couldn’t get it out and explain it to my band. I can’t write the notes down as sheet music. Still, the way I produce, I just hit the chords until I like what I hear. [laughs] I eventually got sick of the band, bought myself a computer, installed Logic Pro and learned to make what I wanted without relying on other people. In the beginning, I’d show friends, but at some point I stopped showing them and kept it to myself. Then I got 50,000 hits on one track on Soundcloud and they suddenly started caring. I had no idea what to tell them.
How did you meet your manager and get your start playing shows?
[My manager] Will hit me up two years ago, right when I started listening to Kaytranada. He invited me to meet at a festival Kay was playing in Paris. That was my first experience going backstage. So I get into the festival – I couldn’t speak English at all back then – and Will hits me up and is like “yo, what’s up?” and I could barely say hello. [laughs] And so we go to the artist area, into this white room, and all I see is Kaytranada just sitting there with two girls. I walk up and say, “yo, I’m a fan of your shit,” and before finishing my sentence he says, “yo, I fucking love your music!”
Two weeks later, Will offered to sign me and become my manager. It happened so fast. I was just making beats, and one month after meeting Will, he scheduled my first gig in front of 6,000 people, in 2013. At that time, I never played Traktor on stage before, but Will was like, “Okay, you’re gonna go to Eindhoven and open for Hudson Mohawke.” So I go on stage, like, I’ve never done that before and there’s a giant music festival in front of me. By the end of the set, Hudson Mohawke comes on and I just think, “What the fuck just happened?” I had to learn so fast because I had to do shows to make my name grow. I learned on the road.
I’m trying to get back to that feeling where there was zero pressure in making music. Don’t think about it too much. Sometimes thinking fucks you up.
Do you get nervous DJing?
I’m never stressed in the studio. But performing, yeah. I’ve always been a bit reserved. I don’t like being on stage. Now I see the fun in it. But this whole celebrity, popular aspect of it, it’s not what I was looking for when I started making music. I just wanted to make beats.
Speaking of that, are you working on any new original music?
My next EP is so different from all the shit I’ve been making, it’s much more mature. I’m singing and taking risks I’ve never thought of before. Until very recently, I’ve only ever thought of myself as a beatmaker. Just before I moved to Toronto, I still only saw myself as a producer. So when I began working with 40, like, I thought, “This is it. I’m just gonna stop making music as Stwo.” But now, I’ve totally changed my mind. With this new project, I see myself not as a beatmaker but as an artist.
This new EP is gonna be very different. My goal is to have a live performance show, no DJ sets. I don’t know how I’ll get there, but I don’t want to play clubs for much longer. I want to put on a real experience. Since I’m a bass player, I want to incorporate real instruments.
So how did you make the connection with 40?
I sent him the 92 project and he initially responded that he really liked it, but I didn’t hear anything for a few months, so I just put it out for free. And then all these R&B singers and rappers hit me up to use it, so I received a lot of people freestyling and rapping over it. It was cool to hear so many people fucking with it, because I was like giving them eight beats for free. He hit me up after I put it out and now we’re putting in work.
When I work for him, I try to bring every possible reason he started liking my music in the first place. Sometimes, all he wants is for me to give him my opinion on something. I think we have a good working relationship and I trust him. Every time I show him something, somehow I know it’s in his realm of musical perspective.
Do you enjoy it?
I couldn’t be happier to work with 40. He’s a legend. Straight up. I couldn’t ask for more.
You recently tweeted you find more interesting stuff on Bandcamp these days.
I completely forgot about Bandcamp. It’s not gonna make me leave SoundCloud, but I’m getting bored of the future beat vibe. Everyone’s doing this trap shit. I don’t want to sound cocky, but when I started making music two years ago, it was a very different landscape.
What’s different about SoundCloud now, in 2015?
It’s just daytime music, good for a day, two days, then boom! New track. Music could work like that, sure, but that’s not how I want to make music anymore. I don’t want it to be disposable. If I drop some shit, even if it takes two years, I want you to stop and really listen. But I feel this isn’t what’s happening on Soundcloud.
Do you feel any pressure to make music a certain way?
I never care what people think about it. This is what I wanna do. I’m gonna have people openly question where my sound went and want me to go back to the old Stwo sound. It was the exact same with Kaytra. When he started making house-y shit, then he came back with a track like his “Happy” remix, tons of people came out and said, “Where’s the house music? The club-friendly shit?” And [Kaytranada] was like, “dude, if you know me, you know I started with straight hip hop like five years ago.”
I’ve had my shit on Majestic Casual, and the bubble that sometimes comes from places like that makes me want to try new shit. I respect them, obviously, but the people who know me through Majestic really only fuck with me because I’m on there. They listen to Diplo, then Avicii, then they hear me because I’m posted there and “get it.” They’re not really looking into the music. Those people will then complain I’ve evolved.
This new EP is gonna be straight quality control. I want everyone who doesn’t fuck with me to leave me alone, man. If you really support the music, you’ll definitely like the music. But if you only know me because you only go on Majestic, you might hate it. [laughs]
You’ve made some big strides in music quickly. How do you keep it genuine?
Every time I’m in the studio, I ask myself, “What am I doing here?” I’m not even being arrogant, I truly think about how I even did what I did. It’s so clear to me, but I couldn’t walk you through it. Creating music is so clear. I listen to as much music as possible and actively pursue inspiration. I don’t think about it before.
What’s the hardest part about making music?
Never treat music like it’s a chore. I try not think about, “oh, it needs to have 100,000 plays,” all this shit. You can get cocky easily off the smallest shit. That’s not the point. You gotta keep it fun. I try to remind myself why I started making music in the first place. I don’t think about the music industry. I’m trying to get back to that feeling where there was zero pressure in making music. Don’t think about it too much. Sometimes thinking fucks you up.
What makes a good remix?
It doesn’t have to be better, it just has to bring something new out of the original. You need to focus on a part of the song and make that the main part.
Finally, what’s your views of The 6?
I’m living on my own in Toronto. It’s definitely made me grow up a bit and stress about things I never used to. But so far, I love it.
Written by Eric Zaworski for Highsnobiety.com
- Photography: Eric Zaworski for Highsnobiety.com