We are talking to Christian Legno, owner of Steyoyoke Recordings and successful producer under his moniker ‚Soul Button’, about music, life, inspiration, Berlin and much more.
Hello Chris, it is a great pleasure to finally welcome you in Dub, I follow your label since the very beginning in 2012 with great interest and can say it is of the most-played labels in my radio shows.
Tell us first about yourself, how did you come to music in the first place?
Hi, pleasure to be interviewed for Dub Magazine. I started producing music when I was 18 and was lucky enough to be released on vinyl when I was 20, under a different artist name. I began my career producing hard techno, with the moniker “Leg-No”. I jumped from Tekno (with a K) to Drum-n-Bass, then had a long period producing Hip Hop beats for American rappers. I moved from London to Berlin and was inspired and influenced by the city that I started producing dance music. From that point on is when my music evolved to what it is currently, which is the Soul Button sound.
You run a successful label and produce as ‘Soul Button’, sounds like a dream combination, no?
It definitely is. Although, I didn’t realize how difficult it was and still is to properly run a label, produce and perform at the same time. But, I’m still young enough and have a lot more energy to give :) The beautiful thing is that I saw results in my career as a musician and label owner when I stopped wanting to be successful. When I realized that the goal was not to be popular and famous, but instead, develop quality projects, I started seeing things come to fruition. This is the advice that I always give to new producers who are in a hurry to become someone.
Why the name, ‘Soul Button’?
It’s a long story but I’ll try to condense it. I get asked this question quite a lot. So, I started my label Steyoyoke and also wanted to start a new personal project which I needed a new name for. I’ve always wanted to use the word “Soul” in my future projects but I knew that it was an overused word. One day, before going to sleep, I put on a movie called Coraline. It’s an animated movie where a parallel family kidnaps kids, lure them with candy, then lock them in a room and sew buttons on their eyes. That night I dreamt of so many buttons, actually a waterfall of buttons. When I woke up, I searched for the meaning of buttons in poetry and philosophy and I found out that the button is a symbol of communication. A buttoned button means that you close yourself from the world and an unbuttoned button means that you are open to the universe. I loved the idea so much that before I could even get up, I thought, well maybe that’s my new name – Soul Button :)
What is your music about? I noticed that you seem to get softer over the years, is there a reason for it or is it just me changing perspective?
I love melodies and I like music that bring out emotions. When I play live, I like to play banger tracks, but what moves me are the melodies. I wanted to make music that really touched me, which could be the reason why it sounds a bit softer than before. I’m tired of the excessively frantic music that everyone is producing right now. My ears are exhausted. I do like techno, but I like techno with emotions.
You just released your very first album called ‘Phantom Existence’, a breathtaking selection of sensual electronic tracks that really touched me, tell us more about the concept and why the name, do you live a phantom existence yourself? And what about the track, ‘Imagine to be free’, which has emotive words in it – are you free?
The album has a strong concept behind it. Everything started from a text which I personally wrote when I was 20, and used as lyrics for the track, “Imagine To Be Free”. It’s an awakening and awareness piece, where I wanted people to think about what real Freedom is. We are unaware of our lack of freedom and we are completely limited and controlled by society. Even in the music business, if you don’t produce the hype or what the main labels want, you’re out. So, since I am lucky enough to have my own label, I wanted to make something that is out of the norm. The album, which you just listened to, is the product of this idea. I don’t live a phantom existence because I don’t believe in what people, society, politicians and trendy fashion imposes on me. I’m against anything and anyone who tries to dictate how I should behave, answer and express my own thoughts. In my own way, I think I build my own freedom. But, talking about freedom in a world full of suppression is almost impossible. I think it’s important to keep our freedom to think – to be able to say and express what we think and believe. The problem is that most people don’t even know that they live a phantom existence. Maybe when they listen to “Imagine To Be Free”, they’ll think about it, even if it’s only a couple of minutes.
Talking about your label, what is Steyoyoke about, and where does the name come from?
Steyoyoke is a very simple art concept. My idea is to focus not only on music, but art in general. It’s a combination of art, which you see in every single cover, and music. All of this is quality based. I spend a lot of time picking out talented illustrators and musicians, which I think has been key to our success. All our followers know that every single release is a piece of art. Even if you don’t like a track, you can’t say that it was poorly produced. Steyoyoke is a made up word. I wanted a name that didn’t exist and has no meaning. My friends and I thought of writing down different syllables on pieces of paper and put them all together. With that, came STEIOIOKE, which later became STEYOYOKE.
What is the secret to survive as a credible label like yours in times of digital piracy and miserable streaming payments?
I would say that I’m lucky to have started 8 years ago. I would never have the same opportunities if the label was created today. I wouldn’t even think of starting a label right now. The dance music industry is saturated and the chance of standing out with a new label in 2019 are very low, unless you have a big name. As far as digital piracy, and like you said, the miserable streaming payments, once you have a label with a big catalogue, you make money from the amount of the tracks you release and have released in the past. That’s why the labels who are still in business are forced to release every week. I know it’s sad, I wish I could release once a month, but this is the only way we can survive at the moment.
The artists included are deeply connected to the label, how is your relationship?
Steyoyoke is not just a label, it’s a project that originated with the idea of creating a solid group of artists. The artists who have the same ideals, believe in music and not fame are still next to me and we have built a solid relationship. Others who came into the label for the benefits are struggling to search for labels, releasing here and there, but not finding a home. Trust me, nowadays, having a home in the music industry is so important.
You also run a sub label called ‘Inner Symphony’ – tell us more about it.
Inner Symphony is my babe :) It started as a podcast series and almost became a music genre after a couple of years. People kept telling me, “we want more music like Inner Symphony”. As if I didn’t have enough on my plate, I decided to transform the podcast into a label.
Why did you choose Berlin, are you a native or is it because all great labels seem to find their way to Berlin sooner or later?
No, I am Italian. I was living in London but got tired of it. I wanted to move out but didn’t know where to go. A friend who had been living in Berlin for years told me to come and check it out. I went to visit him on September 2009. It was sunny, vibrant and full of young people. I moved after a week and this was the best motivating push I needed in my life. But, once again, I’m getting tired of this city and It’s way too cold for me. I will always be grateful for what Berlin and Germany has given me.
Steyoyoke in 20 years?
Will definitely still be here but I’m sure the music will be completely different. If you know what we produced 8 years ago and what we’re producing now, for sure it will be something completely new and hard to imagine. Anyway, I see a big office with a team of people, a big network of followers, no more digital shops, but real followers connected straight to the label with music sent directly to them by a monthly or yearly subscription. We’ve actually already started with the subscription idea with “Steyoyoke Edge”. Everyone should check it out.
Soul Button in 20 years?
Living seaside with a beautiful studio and a lovely view of the beach. Still producing melodic and healing music for the beautiful souls in this Universe. Traveling around the world, playing live for the love of giving people joy and not for filling pockets of bookers and managers. Fair enough?
More than fair! Chris, thanks so much for your time and your musical spirit, it was, is and always will be a pleasure to follow your story – for many more years to come.
Thank you so much!