Standing under neon and streetlights outside Club Volume in Seattle, Stephen Burke (known to most by his musical identity SirensCeol) is visibly happy, and with good reason. “I was in my hotel room, and I got a call from one of the guys at Insomniac saying, ‘You’ve won the Discovery Project, you’re going to play at EDC’. I was so happy I think I punched the mattress.” Judging by the line wrapping around the club, you can see that energy is building. At the young age of 20, SirensCeol has been releasing track after track of crunchy electronic goodness, leaving show-goers breathless with songs built on tireless effort and a classical music background.
Like many of EDMs current superstars, Stephen didn’t start in electronic music. “I’ve been playing guitar and piano for almost ten years now, so I’ve always been into music. I started with singing and songwriting, a lot of rock and pop, and then eventually I had a lot of people in my life who strongly influenced me toward electronic music. I just went to Guitar Center one day, bought a MIDI keyboard & a workstation and taught myself from there.” Humble and talkative about his craft, Stephen credits his music’s complexity and high production quality mostly to his background in the study of music itself. “It’s kind of bold to say, but I really don’t think you can reach 100% potential unless you know music theory. Just because it’s made with a computer doesn’t mean it’s not written like real music, there’s still so much theory involved. A lot of the top producers have a huge musical background, and I just think it’s essential to reaching 100 percent.”
No one can argue with the results. A mix of electro, progressive, dubstep and drum-and-bass, each SirensCeol release is a small journey through genres, complete with lush soundscapes and tons of resampled ear candy. When you listen you can hear the momentum, and the industry is starting to take notice in a big way. “I signed my EP to Play Me Records, so that’s about six new songs coming out. I actually made an orchestral track for it, to kind of spread my wings a little bit and do something out of the ordinary.” Along with an upcoming remix on Spinnin’ Records and a few hush-hush projects, the tipping point is definitely close. “I feel like I’m really on the fence right now, that’s what I feel like. I want to be realistic and not get my hopes up too high, but as of now I have a really positive outlook for the future.”
Owing much of the SirensCeol success and publicity to the rise of self-marketing, Stephen is understandably passionate about the internet as a tool for artists. “Push your music as hard as you can to every single blog. Learn to really use the resources that you have outside of real-world connections, that’s how I got to where I am. I didn’t know anybody, but I had a YouTube and a Soundcloud and eventually people started to recognize it because I was pushing my music everywhere I could. It’s a lot of hard work and effort, but once you break those little stones, you eventually hit a milestone and everything just blows up really fast.” He makes a point to share how important his parents and close friends have been to his rise. “They’re the ones who would listen to my music when I was only getting like 100 plays on a track. I have to give a lot of credit to my dad for helping support me financially, and my parents for raising me in a good place so I have this opportunity.”
Transitioning into electronic music wasn’t simple for someone used to “playing live with real instruments and real people”, and Stephen seems to know that there are others out there sharing that experience. “It’s almost like taking a new language, it just takes time. You can learn, you can have someone professional teach it to you, you’ll know exactly what to do, but you’re still not going to have good production unless you work your ass off, practice every day, just like anything else in life.”
That work is paying off.
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