Setting priorities straight: starting over with Stellar OM Source

Pictures by Tina Herbots

Share

After a promising career start at the beginning of the decade, life threw some curveballs at Stellar OM Source. With a first EP on Dekmantel in more than four years, the Antwerp-based electro-producer is back in full force.

Christelle Gualdi was destined to have a life filled with music. "I played the bass, and my father was a blues musician and enthusiastic vinyl collector, so music has been around me from an early age", she recalls. After growing up in the Parisian suburbs, she lived in cities like Rotterdam, Stuttgart, Lisbon, New York City and LA; before eventually taking residence in Belgium's diamond city in 2012. "Compared to other places, I like the chaos here. People also proudly do their own unique thing without worrying what others think". It's here, in the midst of a Christmas-crazy shopping crowd, that we meet for a cup of coffee.

She first studied music, then trained as an architect and quickly worked her way up in an elite international architecture firm. However, things didn't feel entirely right, and Gualdi quit her demanding job to focus on her music at age 27. As she was starting to make a name for herself in the alternative noise and electronica circuit, Antwerp had been a frequent stop in her international tour schedule. "I must have played Scheldapen (now 'Het Bos', on a different location, ed.) about six times, so I had many friends here. A lot of things were happening in Belgium during that time – and I was always making the trip down from Rotterdam, so I figured I just moved here".

In 2013, her rise in the underground electronica scene was crowned with the release of her critically-acclaimed debut album, 'Joy One Mile', on New York's renowned RVNG Intl. All signs pointed to the start of a promising music career. Unfortunately, things turned sour quickly after that. What was supposed to be a glorious time promoting the album across the world's best dancefloors, ended up being a nightmare.

Being able to express myself in music is essential to me, like a kind of spiritual mission.

In quick succession, Gualdi lost two people close to her. In the months that followed, it felt impossible to upkeep a demanding career as a performing electronic musician. She chose to set music aside when she found out she was going to be a mother. For the second time in her life, Gualdi took on a position in the architecture business. She sold almost all her studio equipment, and she barely listened to any music anymore – until her creative drive started itching again, two years later. "In the end, being able to express myself in music is essential to me, like a kind of spiritual mission. I can't give up on it", she explains.

As a single mother, she needed to go all in to make this work. "I'm taking a massive risk because things need to move forward constantly. Even though I've just released this new EP, I need to work towards bookings in September already. The moment I slack, my income dries up, whereas that isn't the case with a salary job. I need to seize every free moment to work on music – and playing shows in the weekend across the continent does not make it any easier”.

Gualdi's experiences with losing loved ones made her more confident in her current choices. "Until the very end, my father was going to music festivals. He wasn't that old, so I realized my time here is limited, so why would I not keep doing what I love. Giving up is not an option; fuck that! This is who I am, and I'm going for it". Some might think this ambitious workload may lead to burnout, but that's not what Gualdi thinks. "Everything I do, I do with love. Redesigning my studio, spending time with my son, preparing for a show, etc. All these things are natural extensions of myself".

I don't want to be pinned down in one category; I couldn't even if I wanted to.

Slowly but surely, all the pieces are falling together again. Two stellar live shows in 2019 (Listen! Festival and Dekmantel) kick-started Gualdi's motivation. She almost dropped an EP with new material but scrapped it in favour of four selected recordings of her updated live show. The result, 'I See Through You', dropped on Dekmantel in December, with cover art by her good friend and renowned photographer Pierre Debusschere. Although you hear echoes of her past work, the fairly new dancefloor-oriented approach seems entirely in line with today's eclectic music scene. It's a buffet of unforgiving kick-drums, nostalgic electro-Italo keys and slapping 303-basslines that can turn any listener into a seasoned raver.

"The bass is always important to me, which is why I have always been drawn to bass-heavy genres like UK Bass and New Wave bass melodies", Gualdi explains. But that can't be a reason to stop moving forward and hop on the nostalgia train. "When I see that music like jungle or gabber is popular again, I smile", she admits. "I lived in Rotterdam during the late 90's. I lived through that sound already, so why would I recreate it? It wouldn't be me; you know? Although I honour my influences, music is all about exploring."

If 'I See Through You' is an introduction to the new Stellar OM Source live set, we're confident that more heads will be turned this year. She revealed she’s currently developing more elaborate live sets with light and performance artists that will premiere in the near future, as well as playing more ambient and avant-garde sets she became known for years ago. "My current live set is constantly changing, so it's not like you're going to hear the same tracks twice. I don't want to be pinned down in one category; I couldn't even if I wanted to. Playing music has always been exploring new ground for me, so I don't have the faintest idea where that will take me and this is exciting". Wherever it is, we'll be following closely.