Xenia and the art of DJing and producing.
From traditional musical beginnings - she played the piano and flute as a child - Greek artist Xenia Ghali is now making a name for herself as a DJ, producer and songwriter. Her debut single Broken was released on Pitbull’s Mr. 305’s Records, while follow up Get Dirty was a collaboration with Wyclef Jean.
Her latest single, Under These Lights, recently reached number 1 on the Billboard Dance Club Songs chart, and she’s currently playing DJ sets in booths and at festivals around the world.
We asked Xenia to tell us about the 10 tracks that blew her mind, and she gave us a list that spans decades and genres…
1. Alina Baraz & Galimatias - Fantasy
“One of the most captivating tracks I’ve recently had the pleasure of discovering. Galimatias has created an absolutely outstanding sonic experience by fusing hip-hop, electronic, downtempo, quirky sound design and classical chord progressions and themes. Alina Baraz’ gentle and spacey vocal is the perfect match.
“The two combined create a perfect sonic and emotional experience. What I found most intriguing is the dream-like and fluid characteristic in the production of the track.
“Fluid is a key word here because every single time I listen to Fantasy I somehow stop what I’m doing and I literally visualise the sound. While listening to the track, I somehow begin to see objects and colours moving smoothly, intertwining and creating beautiful patterns.
“The lyrics further enhance this imagery as Alina softly sings: ‘Say you wanna get so high? Breathe me in like air tonight. Listen to the waves. I could be your fantasy.’”
2. Daft Punk - Around The World
“Around The World… Where to begin? Hands down one of the catchiest and most addictive tracks to date. The track is highly minimalistic, with a groovy bass riff, a funky synth melody and a repetitive vocal.
“This is a perfect example of the globally recognised ‘Daft Punk sound’. I remember listening to it for the first time when I was very young and asking ‘what is this style of music called?’ The answer, probably, is simply that ‘it’s Daft Punk’.
“What I find most intriguing about this track is the very clever use of the repetitive elements, both lyrically and musically. Daft Punk managed to somehow create a track that doesn’t get tiring or monotonous despite its extensive use of loops.”
3. Radiohead - Pyramid Song
“Pyramid Song by Radiohead is one of my favourite songs of all time. It has a complex chord progression with dissonances in the string arrangement. The result is a very haunting and eerie sound which, to me at least, creates a mix of strong feelings.
“When I first heard the track I was completely blown away by the time signature. The track fluctuates between 3/4 to 2/4 and back to 3/4 in a way that seems almost natural. I have to admit that I had to break down the track to figure out exactly what was going on because I couldn’t understand how I would count 3 beats and then suddenly 2 beats without feeling like something was wrong with the track. The genius fluctuation in the time signature is complemented by the drummer’s absolutely brilliant performance.
“In addition to the harmonic and rhythmic elements, the sound design is incredibly well crafted. It almost sounds like a piece of art, and is an addition to the haunting overall sound.
“To top it off, the vocal performance is outstanding. I love Radiohead and I have to say that Pyramid Song is probably one of Thom’s best vocal performances.”
4. Robert Miles - Children
“Children is a legendary ‘90s trance track. The piano riff is absolutely brilliant. This is probably what made it hit the top of the charts in Europe despite the fact that it has no vocals. It is an extremely melodic track with an almost dream-like feel.
“The most interesting aspect of the track, however, is probably its purpose. Children was created to help club goers who would drive after drinking. At the time there was a very high number of accidents occurring due to this. Children was written to be played at the end of the night so as to allow the club goers to calm down before having to drive home.”
5. Fatboy Slim - Praise You
“Fatboy Slim’s (AKA Norman Cook) heavy use of sampling in this track is incredible, and is the main method he used to create it. He looked on sampling not only as a technique but also as an art form.
“Cook sampled Take Yo’ Praise by Camille Yarbrough, which in Praise You remains almost identical to the original. The piano riff is a sample from Balance and Rehearsal from the JBL Sessions LP, while the guitar samples are from Disney’s It’s a Small World. In addition to this, in the bridge of the track Fatboy Slim samples a part from Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids’cartoon.
“The extensive use of sampling in this track raised a huge debate on whether this a ‘fake’ form of composition or a new way of creation. Cook made it a point to identify the source of the samples, while his clever use of sampling and arrangement quickly made him a very well respected composer of electronic and sampled music.
“With regards to the lyrics, Norman Cook celebrates and ‘praises’ his idols. with the vocal repeating ‘I have to praise you’ several times in the second part of the track.”
6. The Prodigy - Firestarter
“The Prodigy were one of the pioneers of big beat music. Often called ‘The Godfathers of Rave’, the group dominated the underground rave scene. Their sound fused breakbeats, techno, rock, electronica and punk vocals. Much like with punk artists, The Prodigy were not attracted to the mainstream market. They tried to avoid Firestarter emerging into the mainstream by rejecting interviews.
“The primary element in the track is the bass. It’s a synthesized saw bass, EQed with a low-pass so that it lies at the bottom of the mix. This creates the perfect antithesis to the harsh guitars and vocals. The guitar is a sample from S.O.S by Breeder and is looped throughout the track.
“Firestarter is probably my favourite Prodigy track of all time, and to this day I can listen to it and always feel the same adrenaline rush I felt the very first time I heard it.”
7. Jean-Michel Jarre - Oxygene part 4
“Jean-Michel Jarre was a huge part of the electronic and synthesizer revolution in the ‘70s. His album Oxygene became a global sensation. The album was comprised of tracks titled Oxygene 1 to 6, each creating a musical journey and experience through the use of electronic sounds.
“To this day, Oxygene 4 still sounds fresh and futuristic. With mindblowing sounds and space-like elements, the track is still studied by academics and musicians worldwide. The track also contains one of the catchiest synth riffs to have ever been created.
“What is captivating about the track is that it is almost like a classical piece played by synthesizers. The sound is warm and almost organic, which is what is so incredible about this piece of work. Jarre managed to make synthesizers sound like organic and ‘real’ instruments. Oxygene parts 1-6 were created with legendary synths such as the Arp 2600, Moog Minimoog, EMS VCS 3 and a Korg MiniPops drum Machine.”
8. Portishead - Wandering Star
“I have always been a fan of trip-hop and Portishead are one of the reasons. Wandering Star is a track that I listened to almost every day throughout my years in college. The track has only three chords which are rhythmically simple. The bass and percussion create the perfect match to the vocals. The track also has a sample from Magic Mountain by Eric Burdon and War.
“The lyrics in Wandering Star are beautiful and extremely well written. There have been many interpretations of the lyrics. A few include wandering in the dark and the pain and the acceptance of darkness. Regardless, the track and the vocal are incredibly passionate and emotional. I doubt you can listen to it without feeling something very intense.”
9. Moby - God Moving Over The Face Of The Waters
“God Moving Over Face of Waters is a cinematic, piano-driven instrumental track created by Moby in the mid ‘90s. The track was used in Michael Mann’s movie Heat, while the piece reflects both the good and bad in Moby. Moby has also been quoted insinuating that the track was created as a type of homage to the Old Testament.
“The use of shifting movements is one of the main characteristics in this track, as the piano moves from eerie to beautiful to passionate (with the synth playing the hook with the piano at that point). In addition, there is something that, in most cases to me, is a pet peeve in modern music: a key change. Moby manages to do this beautifully.
“The track unfolds into a work of art as you can hear what Moby was trying to depict… God Moving Over The Water.”
10. Afrika Bambaataa & the Soulsonic Force - Planet Rock
“Afrika Bambaataa is often called the father of electro funk, while he is also credited as being one of the main reasons for the birth of hip-hop.
“His sound involved the fusion of German electronica with funky elements, which resulted in electro funk. Planet Rock is a masterpiece and way ahead of its time. It features synth stabs and vocoder-type MC vocals.
“Afrika Bambaataa used a Roland TR-808 to create the beat in the track; this later became the world’s most popular hip-hop drum machine. The sound of the track also influenced genres such as electro, R&B, Miami bass and Detroit techno, amongst many others.
“In my opinion, Planet Rock is probably the most influential hip-hop track (as it was considered at that time) that has ever been made.”