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Sam Gellaitry views the world through palettes of vivid colour. A C minor scale becomes purple, plum and grape. C-sharp minor is cool and blue. Night time is best evoked in dark F minor reds and D-sharp minor induces rich forest green. His music is a journey through experience, circumstance and surroundings, told through his impressive, synesthesia-informed knowledge of different musical tones.
Songwriting and producing has always connected Sam to a process of pairing and contrasting different tones – “using the notes to create different sensations – like tension or relief in your head.” In practice, this technique has seen him experiment with high definition club music, crisp hip hop production, dabs of orchestral instrumentation and more, with last year’s release ‘IV’ cementing him as one of the most varied and visually strong producers of his generation.
Born far away from key electronic music hubs like LA, Glasgow and London, Sam, now 25, grew up in Stirling – an old town in central Scotland that’s rich in medieval history and visually stunning views. Living here lead Sam’s older brother to happy hardcore – a kind of hard dance music born from the UK and Europe’s breakbeat and rave scenes – which in turn lead to Sam learning to produce.
YouTube granted unfettered access to the world’s electronic scenes, with the array of sounds pushing Sam to pick up production in his early teens. He dove into Daft Punk’s robotic space realm where looped up disco samples reigned supreme and LA producers Samiyam and Flying Lotus were early inspirations. But no matter the genre, one thing remained constant: the idea that music can take your imagination on a voyage through colour, place and sound.
His first breakthrough song – 2014 single “powder” – bridged the gap between hip-hop and electronica, treading delicately as it glitched between maxi-and-minimalism. The track took off and sent Sam’s music on a journey, taking him from an unknown beatmaker to a Soulection – and later, XL Recordings – signee. Then came his ‘Escapism’ trilogy, culminating in the release of the companion four-track package ‘IV’ last year. It’s a record that brought luscious soundscapes, electro disco, LA funk, open air ambience all under one roof, across one day.
Following on from ‘IV’ comes this year’s mixtape release for ‘VF Vol 2’ – the follow-up to 2019 release ‘Viewfinder Vol. 1: PHOSPHENE’. “You know when you push your eyes and see the colours and shapes? That’s what phosphene is”, he explains. “The name resembled where I was at, at the time: putting pressure on what I put out, and being caught up in my head. This second one isn’t as out of control. It’s more concise. It’s the most fun I’ve had making a project.”
Euphoria baby. That’s what happens when the hyper-toned songs on ‘Vol 2’ burst into explosive action. Phenomenal, iridescent synths warp atop sweet production. Beats float down from the clouds. It’s music so vivid and drenched in color that not listening along feels like a life in greyscale. Making it all the more amazing some tracks were created in lockdown in Stirling, with the earliest track “Euphoria”, an ode to nights out in Scotland, dating back to 2019, with more recent tracks, like “Star Of The Moment”, finished within months of the mixtape’s release.
Perhaps you’ve heard the extremely replayable teaser track “Picture in my mind” with musician-of-the-moment PinkPantheress. “She came up to Scotland and we were at it for days looking at songs,” he says. “She really transformed that tune. So I wanted to put out the one that was untouched to show she transformed the record.” On the mixtape itself you’ll hear the track’s demo version, throwing things back to the bootleg MySpace demos and rarities era.
Sonically the tape resonates from within the electronic music world with Sam stretching his sound across genres. “The artwork has all the colours I see,” he says. “‘Name To A Face’ is an Ibiza track.‘Gullible’ is an 80s love song. ‘Serotonin’ is a guitar track. The hook on “The One” is almost Playboi Carti-esque, with chanting, but the melodies are indie. So never expect anything. It’s a cycle of things existing.”
Much like on ‘IV”, Sam leans further into singing on Vol 2. “It’s very bright. It’s more personal too. More human,” he says. As the tape moves past the euphoria, things start to mellow out, beginning with pop-punk-ish single “Seretonin”. “It’s the least like anything I’ve put out,” says Sam. “I had a lockdown relationship. I didn’t end up meeting the girl. It was all online.”
Following on from “Serotonin” comes the incredibly warm earwormer “Intertwine”. “I wrote that song jet lagged as shit as six in the morning. It’s also the only track with a sample. It’s a sample of an Irish folk band.” Crucially the key of the song is in c-minor, the same key as the bagpipes.
Around the time of last year’s IV release, Sam began to embrace his Scottish heritage. He had a tartan made featuring the prominent colours he sees in music – the blues, the greens, and everything between. The idea is to feature the tartan on kilts and capes and clothes released via his Viewfinder label, which is where the VF portion of the ‘Vol 2’ name comes from.
Ultimately, this next phase of Sam’s career comes back to why he does it all in the first place. He loves creating and playing around with different colours. It’s like a form of magic: a source of respite, release and happiness. “I want all my work to paint a joyful image of the process of creation,” he explains. Vol 2 is the next step on that colourful journey.