20 Questions With Salute: On Their Debut LP & Inclusion Riders Making Lineups ‘Less Tokenistic & More Like Promoters Give a F–k’

Last summer, salute spent two days in a Tokyo hotel room putting the finishing touches on their debut album. This may seem like a glamorous situation. It wasn’t.

“It sounds cool, finishing your album in Tokyo,” the Manchester-based producer says, “But the last thing I want to be doing in Tokyo is sitting at my desk. I wanted to be outside.”

Talking to Billboard over Zoom from London on a recent Friday afternoon, salute says these tedious finishing touches were the hardest part of making an album that emerged during writing sessions with friends at a massive house in the English countryside, where a No Social Media rule was put in place. After additional sessions in London, the project, True Magic, reaches its final stage of completion Friday (July 12) when it’s released via Ninja Tune.

A 14-track collection of shimmering, sometimes tough, occasionally sexy and always sleek music that fuses house, garage, synth and French touch, the album is the culmination of nine years worth of single and EP releases, a steadily growing profile and the connections the producer has made along the way.

“Most of the people on the album are just friends of mine,” they say of the set’s collaborators — a list that includes longtime pal Rina Sawayama (“one of my closest friends in music”), Disclosure, who initially got in touch by DM-ing an invite to their L.A. studio, and other friends including Sam Gellaitry, Empress Of, Karma Kid and Leilah.

Following 2024 U.S. sets that included salute’s Coachella debut in April and a performance at the Four Tet & Friends festival in New York this May, True Magic will bring them back to the States this fall for a nine-date run that ends at III Points in Miami.

Amid the release, salute talks about making True Magic, using an inclusion rider to ensure they play on more inclusive lineups and why they’re happy about not being an overnight success.

1. Where are you in the world right now, and what’s the setting like?

I’m in London at the moment for a show that I’m playing tonight. This is a very boring hotel lobby.

2. What is the first album or piece of music you bought for yourself, and what’s the medium?

This is so cringe: My parents are super Christian, so they wouldn’t let me buy any secular music. I wanted to buy hip-hop for example, and had to buy Christian hip-hop. I was nine or ten, and they took me to this Christian bookstore, and I bought this CD and had no idea who any of the artists were on it. But that’s not the album I recognize as being my first. The one I recognize as my first is Aaliyah’s [2001] self-titled.

3. What did your parents do for a living when you were a kid, and what do they think of what you do for a living now?

My dad was a cab driver, and my mom was a nurse. I think at first they were confused, because they hadn’t considered you could make a living with dance music. They were probably worried about me, so they weren’t super supportive at first. But further down the line when they understood that it made me happy, that I was able to sustain myself and there was an actual job, they supported it, which is great.

4. What is the first non-gear thing you bought for yourself when you started making money as an artist?

I bought these expensive New Balance shoes. I was 18, went into the shop in Vienna and did that thing where you buy something without looking at the price. I had all this cash in my hand, and I was like “I’m going to get those shoes, they look amazing.” They ended up costing me like, 250 Euros, which was so much money to me at the time. I was like, “F–k it.” I committed to them. I still own them, and I still wear them sometimes. When I put them on for the first time, I felt rich.

5. What is the last song that you listened to?

I was just listening to the new Kaytranada album — the last song was “Lover/Friend” by Kaytranada and Rochelle Jordan. The album is absolutely amazing.

6. If you had to recommend one album to someone looking to get into dance music, what album would you give them?

Settle by Disclosure, it is your best bet. That album perfectly combined house, garage and pop music, and I don’t think anyone has come close to doing that, in terms of U.K.-leaning dance music. The first Kaytranada album, 99.9%, was really important music for electronic music. But I think overall, in terms of cultural impact, it’s Settle.

7. Amid your rise and all of your success, what have been the most surreal moments?

I was in Colombia playing a festival and sightseeing, so I was in Medellín for a week. I was on the metro at like, 2:00 p.m. listening to music, and this guy calls out to me and says, “This is going to sound strange, but you’re not a DJ, are you?” I was like, “Yeah.” He shows me his phone, and he was listening to one of my songs. I was on the metro, in the backend of the city, thousands of miles away from home, and this guy is telling me how much he loves my music and how excited he is to see me perform.

That happening is bizarre and very humbling as well – people coming up to me and telling me how my music has helped them. Also going to places that are so far away, where I don’t speak the language and there’s a complete cultural disconnect, but you’re bonding over music you’ve made. That, to me, is so surreal.

8. You wrote that “writing this record nearly cost me my nerves.” Care to tell me more about that?

I love writing music and the creative part of it, having a few friends around and writing songs. But actually sequencing the album, finishing those songs and doing all the technical bits at the end, that probably takes up most of the time. None of the songs on the album took that long to write. It’s the last bit, doing all the technical stuff, re-recording elements, that is so tiring. I hate it. That’s when you’ve heard every song a few hundred times, and it’s like “I don’t even know if this sounds like music anymore.”

9. How did you know when it was done?

When is anything done? When there was nothing obvious that stood out to me, and I was able to listen through without cringing at anything. [Laughs.] That’s when I knew. For the most part, it was like, “Am I broadly happy with this? Am I going to regret putting this out? No? Then it’s done.”

10. What does success for the album look like to you?

I think of success less in streaming or units sold and more in cultural impact. If my album inspires a bunch of producers to move into being album artists, rather than just dance music producers who release three or four track EPs, breaking out of the DJ mold and working more on their artistry. That’s what I think Disclosure did with Settle. It influenced a whole generation of producers to realize that there was crossover into pop music. That’s what I want to do through True Magic, to have the level of confidence that Settle did. I know it’s a lofty goal, but that album inspired me so much.

11. It feels like a healthy moment for dance music, with new albums by Kaytranada, Peggy Gou, Justice, you, among others, all released this year. Does that track for you?

It definitely tracks for me. There’s so much happening in all corners of dance music, and I think we’re back in low-level golden era without realizing it. Historically, dance music has suffered from a lack of really good albums — and all of the sudden, all of these amazing projects are dropping. For all of these artists to be releasing music in the space of a year, and for most of it to be so good, that’s rare. It shows how healthy dance music is.

What underlines that for me: in America, it’s mainly tech house and dubstep, but there is such a huge appetite for stuff outside those genres. When I go [to the States] and see the tickets my friends are selling, and how many people show up to these pop-up shows we do, it’s really encouraging. America has always had that thing where people say, “Oh America is a few years behind everywhere else,” but I don’t think that’s the case anymore. When I go America, my crowds are really knowledgeable — they’re very open as well, which is super important. So I agree, dance music is in an amazing place.

12. Who have been your biggest supporters?

Within music, Hudson Mohawke is a big supporter of mine. He shows me so much love. DJ Seinfeld is a huge supporter of mine. Barry Can’t Swim has my back through and through. Mall Grab has shown me so much love over the years — he’s introduced me to his audience, and is part of the reason I’ve been able to tour Australia. Annie Mac from Radio 1, she’s obviously retired now, but she was a very vocal supporter of my music for like, eight years. She is responsible for showing my music to so many people. Without her, my career would not be anywhere near what it is right now.

13. I read in your DJ Mag profile that you have an inclusion rider. What prompted that decision?

I was playing a show in Newcastle in the north of England, and I got there and every DJ on the lineup was white and male. It wouldn’t have been an issue for me if they were good DJs, but pretty much everyone sucked. They were like, really bad. Basically, the promoter had just booked his best friends to play. I was there [thinking] like, “So many of my girl mates, so many of my queer mates, so many of my Black mates would have absolutely killed this night.” But it’s just kind of how it is, where a promoter will just book his mates rather than booking a good DJ.

I got back to my hotel and texted my agent like, “I want to make sure that I am performing among more people who look like me, and among more people who are nonbinary and trans, etc.” I found a template for an inclusion rider online, and it basically stipulates that 30% of the lineup of any stage I play on has to be from an underrepresented group, and has to be approved by me.

14. How has that worked out?

It’s been really great. It’s not the solution to a problem, because the problem is very much systemic. There is a reason why there is such a drought of non-white, non-male DJs at the top of the DJ sphere, and it goes further than just implementing an inclusion rider, but I think it’s better than nothing. It’s a good start.

I had this queer DJ that was supporting me in Belgium say “thank you so much, I’m so grateful that I’m able to play for a crowd this big.” That is, to me, what it’s about — because those opportunities are not usually given to people outside a very specific category of DJs. As a Black person myself, I’ve had to deal with being on lineups where I’m the token, and I just want it to feel less tokenistic and more like the promoter actually gives a f–k, and it makes a difference. I’ve had promoters who weren’t interested in it, so those are promoters I’m just not going to work with anymore.

15. What’s been the best business decision you’ve made so far in your career?

It’s realizing I don’t want A&Rs involved in my creative process. The label I’m releasing on now, at the start they said, “We can be as involved or not involved as you want us to be with A&R-ing the album.” I said, “Actually, I want you to back off completely and I will deliver it to you at the end.” I sent them a draft of the album halfway through the production process, and then again at the end — and they were like, “This is amazing.” I was like “Yes, because you let me do my thing.”

16. Has that now always been the case?

The previous label I was signed to — it’s not their fault, because I didn’t say anything, but the A&R was meddling quite a lot. That’s when I realized I wasn’t making music I was happy with; I was letting someone else dictate what I should be making. It wasn’t great for me. But I love A&R-ing, and I think I’m good at it. I love putting people in rooms and making great stuff. If I’m given space to do that, that‘s where I flourish.

17. What’s the most challenging aspect of your career right now?

Being away so much. Not seeing the people that matter to me. I was recently away for like, six weeks. I did Coachella, then went to Japan, and then randomly did more shows in the U.S. I’ve been touring at this level for two years now — and it’s amazing and I love it — but it does suck that I can’t just call my mate and say “do you want to go for a drink?” because I’m halfway around the world.

Obviously I appreciate meeting people on the road, and I’ve met so many amazing friends, but it’s just not the same as going to your best friend’s house to chill. It’s made me appreciate the time I do have when I’m at home. It’s made me a lot more present. I don’t take it for granted as much, when you might not see the person sitting opposite from you for a few months.

18. Maybe it’s also that you’re having these peak experiences, but you’re not with the people you’d like to share them with while they’re happening?

Right. I did this amazing show in America. I was playing Four Tet & Friends in New York [in May.] It was my birthday, and people were like, “This must be the best birthday you’ve ever had, right?” It was an amazing birthday, but I kind of wished my people were there with me.

19. Who’s been your greatest mentor, and what’s the best advice they’ve given you?

My greatest mentor is still my manager, Will. I’ve been with him for 10 years. He is probably the person who understands me the most, when it come to my career. Obviously it’s his job too, but he always just reminds me of the best version of myself.

It’s cliché, but when you really think of that, it translates into so many things. Everything I’ve done over any other project has reminded me to do what feels right for me and not try to please the label or [my manager]. In the past, when I’ve done what I thought someone else would want me to do, or what I thought I needed to do, it’s fallen flat. But Will is a constant reminder that people love me for me, and I shouldn’t forget that.

20. What’s one piece of advice you’d give to your younger self?

I used to worry so much and compare myself to other people so much. I’d see my friends’ careers blowing up, and I was like “I wish that was me.” It used to really mess with my self esteem. But when I see some of the careers where people have been really successful and it’s gone really quickly, it’s often happened that they’ve crashed afterwards. Maybe they didn’t have the support they needed, or things were moving too quickly and they didn’t find their feet properly.

I’m so grateful now that it wasn’t like that for me. My career has been such a slow burn. It happening like this has given me time to adjust. So I would tell my younger self not to worry, because it will all turn out just fine.