Serge Santiago’s prolific music career has been through a number of twists and turns. The DJ/producer has been one-half of significant duos Radio Slave, Retro/Grade and Waze & Odyssey, and carved his own niche as a solo artist in the Italo and underground house worlds. From big hits to major collabs to touring the world and back, it’s been a life well travelled and richly lived.

When Serge was a kid, his dad was into rock music like Whitesnake and Jimi Hendrix. His first encounter with electronic music was when he saw a video of the Chemical Brothers and The Prodigy at Glastonbury that his dad had taped off the telly. “I loved the hectic nature of electronic music, the energy,” he says. “I only worked out after watching about 50 times that there’s a guy (Liam Howlett) in the middle surrounded by keyboards and samplers.”

There were guitars and amps at home but he didn’t try to play himself. His dad did have a drum machine, though. “When he was at work one day I plugged the drum machine into his amps and tried to recreate the drum pattern The Prodigy had done at Glastonbury,” he recalls. “I failed miserably. In my naiveté, I didn’t know what samples were or anything like that. I tried to write drum beats constantly on this thing, then got bored and forgot about it.”

Living just outside Brighton, he started going out to clubs, quickly meeting people with decks and rudimentary studio equipment. He learned how to DJ at after-parties, and when his pals David Parr & Anthony Prior were starting a new club night they asked Serge if he wanted to do flyering for it. “It was called Stompa Phunk, it used to be at The Richmond down on Marine Parade. David came up with the name, and it’s still the same logo today — the first-ever logo that got designed.”

Brighton was full of handbag house nights for stag and hen parties at the time, but Stompa Phunk offered underground house music, “and an amazing selection of friends that knew people who knew people and so on. The night was a bit more edgy. The ceiling down stairs in the pub bit used to bow in The Richmond, due to the amount of people dancing upstairs.”

The night was a runaway success, and the Stompa Phunk crew soon got offered a permanent home. “We got offered the Funky Buddha Lounge on the seafront, and from day dot it was rammed every single Friday for the next four years before we moved into The Escape, which became Audio and is now Patterns,” he recalls. “It was so frigging good.” As a resident DJ at Stompa, he started having ideas for tunes of his own, and soon teamed up with his pal Ben Burns who had a studio. He did a remix, wrote his own tune which was released on Stompa Phunk vinyl, and got the music production bug. “I purchased a shitty little PC computer and was making music off the first ever version of Fruity Loops, and Rebirth — a synth version of an 808, 909 and two 303s,” he says.

A guy called Matt Edwards had also become a resident at Stompa, and he asked Serge if he wanted to do a track with him. “We did an edit of ‘Can’t Get You Out Of My Head’ by Kylie Minogue,” Serge says. “He brought lots of samples in, we cut them all up and started to put them in, and it was seamless what we did — really quick and easy. We got on, and had a really good laugh. He was a bit older than me and had contacts in the industry. He knew Dave Dorrell, who knew Pete Tong. We finished the tune within a day, got it sent to Dave Dorrell, and it was on Pete Tong’s radio show that evening — it was mental. That completely blew me away. That was the start of Radio Slave.”

Radio Slave was initially about editing and remixing choice pop tunes to turn them into underground dance records: “Everyone loved the fact that they could play a version of a popular track — people lapped them up.” They pressed some of their edits up onto vinyl, and they sold like hot cakes. This led to them being offered remixes by major labels. “It was constant, it didn’t stop. I was very young and wet behind the ears, didn’t really know anyone in the industry, and me and Matt in the end — due to musical differences — just parted ways. He carried on doing Radio Slave with his vision, which was to write more minimal and more techno. I had no experience in that.”

Serge started concentrating on his solo artist name, and on a genre of music that Matt had introduced him to — Italo. “Italian dance, I absolutely loved it. It was hardly known in the UK at the time, and I was absolutely in awe of it — this weird synthesised disco, from that break between the end of disco and the beginning of house.” He started to re-edit some long-lost Italo records for contemporary play. “Some would have an insanely good intro, then drop a key and go terrible, so I’d chop those bits out, glue the track back together and make all these edits.”

In the mid-noughties Serge moved to East London, specifically Hackney, where alternative nightlife was buzzing. Nights like Disco Bloodbath, Trailer Trash and Horsemeat Disco had sprung up in Shoreditch, coalescing into a vibrant post-electroclash scene, where his Italo-disco re-edits — which he’d started releasing in a vinyl colour series (‘Pink EP’, ‘Green EP’ and so on) — became DJ staples. He started another label, Arcobaleno (meaning ‘rainbow’ in Italian), and his Italo missive ‘Atto D’Amore’ became a big tune in this scene.

A DJ called Tom Neville used to play at Stompa Phunk and live in Brighton, but moved to London as well around this time — a few streets away from Serge. Together they did a new version of ‘It’s A War’ by Italo band Kano — a squelchy disco missive. “We got rid of the vocal, but from then onwards pretty much every DJ I’d run into would say, ‘I remember ‘It’s A War’, it’s still in my DJ box today.’ That amazed me, that happened for years.”

Tom and Serge started making more tracks together under the name Retro/Grade, and one day they wrote a strange synthesised track called ‘Moda’. “The lead line wraps around in five-and-a-half bars, the bassline wraps around in three-and-a-half bars, it’s this weird entity,” Serge says. They soon had people like Simian Mobile Disco dropping this strange experimental track at Space in Ibiza, and other electro fiends like Boys Noize and Erol Alkan playing it out in their sets too.

They signed the Retro/Grade project to the DeConstruction label helmed by Mike Pickering, but the project fizzled out. “I ended up kicking around for a year, tried to do a few more edits, and then my ex-girlfriend said, ‘Firas wants to have a chat with you’. Serge knew Firas Waez from Snowbombing, and they started writing tunes together. “It was just at the point when the ‘90s house revival had started up in London,” he recalls. “Bicep were there, and we started tapping into that edited ‘90s house vibe with M1 keyboards being used again. One day I did a version of ‘Bump N’ Grind’ by R. Kelly and sent it through to Firas. He played it at Matter, and said he’d never seen a crowd reaction like it. Sophie Lloyd had a similar reaction when she played it out.”

The track purloined the bassline from ‘Push The Feeling On’ by house don MK, and also contained a drum sample from garage outfit Dem 2, and the guys thought there was no way they’d ever get the samples cleared. “It took two years, but it eventually got a legit release and went on to go top three in the UK — higher than the original in 1994.”

The Waze & Odyssey project started to take off; they released on quality labels such as Southern Fried, Madtech, Tsuba, Dirt Crew, Edible, Relief and Nothing Else Matters, and were being booked on the biggest line-ups, constantly touring around the world for the whole of the 2010s. They made a bootleg of George Michael & Mary J Blige’s cover of Stevie Wonder’s ‘Always’ that got picked up by Ministry Of Sound — and then Covid happened. “It fucked everything for us. The pressure of lockdown, and again musical differences, ended up splitting us,” Serge says.

Now carving his own solo path once more, Serge is bubbling with new ideas and positivity. “I was almost glad that lockdown destroyed Waze & Odyssey, so I could start afresh,” he says. “I had to unlearn everything I’d learned over ten years, chill my mind out — as if DJs didn’t exist anymore. I did some edits again to try to break my mould, and over the course of the lockdown I decided to get a body of music together — an album. It took time to unlearn writing in a formulaic way.”

“That album’s title is super interesting,” he continues. “I don’t believe in this stuff at all, I don’t believe in the mystical side of numbers or numerology or anything like that, but every time I was writing any part of these tracks and maybe got stuck, I’d look down at my phone and it would always say ’11:11’ at that particular point. My missus would always say, ‘Watch out for 11:11’. It’s a cosmic number, it means you’re doing something right. If you look it up, it means you’re doing something right — you’re along the right tracks.

“Every single track on that album has one of those moments in it. When you’re writing and put a sound in, every single time you go, ‘Does that work?’ You start to doubt yourself. I’d look down at my phone and it’d say ’11:11’, so I’d go with it. I just had that mentality for the whole thing. If you keep following 11:11, it always makes sense. It’s cosmic, but I’m not even cosmic. It’s a directional thing.”

Serge Santiago - Limit

Serge Santiago – Limit

Serge Santiago - High

Serge Santiago – High

Serge Santiago - Take Me Away

Serge Santiago – Take Me Away

Serge Santiago - Love Is A Feeling

Serge Santiago – Love Is A Feeling

Serge Santiago - Transition

Serge Santiago – Transition (Nolan Remix)

Serge Santiago - Transition

Serge Santiago – Transition

Serge Santiago - Deception

Serge Santiago – Rave Dance (Steve Mac Remix)

Serge Santiago - Deception

Serge Santiago – Deception (ITHURTZ Remix)

Serge Santiago - Deception

Serge Santiago – Deception

Serge Santiago - 11:11

Serge Santiago – Rain

Serge Santiago - 11:11

Serge Santiago – Nobody

Serge Santiago - 11:11

Serge Santiago – Feeling Alright

Serge Santiago - Rave Dance (feat. Irvine Welsh)

Serge Santiago – Rave Dance (feat. Irvine Welsh)

Serge Santiago - You Got Me

Serge Santiago – You Got Me

Serge Santiago - Ear Racer

Serge Santiago – Ear Racer

Serge Santiago

Serge Santiago has been half of some memorable duos in his time – Radio Slave, Retro/Grade, Waze & Odyssey – but his new solo material signals a fresh chapter for the Brighton-based DJ/producer.