In Billboard’s monthly emerging dance artist spotlight we get to know salute, the Vienna-born, Manchester-based artist making colorful, comfy club tunes.
The Project: Shield EP, released earlier this month on Ninja Tune’s Technicolour imprint.
The Origin: salute, born Felix Nyajo, was raised in Vienna, Austria, in what they describe as a traditional working-class suburb. “Pretty chill, not too much happening,” they say. “Summers were super hot and the winds were super cold. It was good.”
Between their parents and older brother, the household playlist rotated American gospel, highlife, R&B, soul and hip-hop — but as far as their dance music influences go, video games were crucial. FIFA Street 2 and SSX brimmed with the exciting, frenetic sounds of jungle, grime and U.K. garage and inspired salute to learn production.
When they were old enough to get in the mix of Vienna’s small club scene, they quickly hit their ceiling. “I kind of felt a bit suffocated, because I knew nothing was gonna come of me staying there and trying to have a career in music,” they say. To get closer to the industry, they moved to the U.K. in 2014. Going to clubs every weekend served as a crash course in U.K. dance music, from breaks and bass music to house and techno.
Over the next five years they continued releasing music, including the My Heart mixtape and Condition trilogy, based on themes of mourning. Salute’s sonic shift across these early releases is evident, from syrupy post-dubstep instrumentals inspired by Hudson Mohawke and Mount Kimbie to an acutely more clubby vibe. In September of 2021, their track “Joy” launched Atlantic Records U.K.’s dance imprint Signal >> Supply. And in what must be a career milestone for any U.K. artist, “Joy” also appeared on an episode of Love Island U.K.
The Sound: Salute, 27, describes their style as “fast and soulful house music,” a catch-all term encompassing their many influences including U.K. garage, techno, classic house and French house. It’s also incredibly warm, inviting and cozy — it just feels good.
The Record: Shield is salute’s first EP on Ninja Tune’s Technicolour imprint. To some, the title connotes visions of protection and defense — literal armor. For salute, “It’s just comfort. Most of these songs just feel very comfortable to me… Obviously a lot of them are very, but at the same time they feel like a blanket.”
The EP’s opening track, “Run Away With You,” sets this tone with a soaring mix of synths, vocal snippets and accents that, like a sunrise, inspire a mood of promise and possibility. Over a brisk rhythm and ballooning bassline, vocalist No Rome sings, “I would run away with you if you would run away with me, too.” Meanwhile, buzzing lead single “Wait For It” anticipates the ecstasy of partying all night. Made around the same time as “Joy,” it sat in salute’s vault for years, just waiting for the right moment for release. Similarly, “Feels Like My Hands Are On Fire” has existed in several iterations over the past five years. Salute finally finished it with help from The 1975’s George Daniel, whose careful restructuring added a greater pop appeal.
“Peach” with Sammy Virji is the most recently produced of the bunch. A rolling bassline and crooning vocals coated in a silk finish, it rightfully caused a stir when salute debuted it at their Boiler Room set last December. The song is also a callback to 2012-2013, the years they call “one of the golden eras of dance music … I feel like music back then was just super fun, and I think that’s one thing that kind of got lost over the years, up until recently.”
Managed By: Will Frost and Luke James of London’s House Of Us
Management Strategy: “Broadly, the strategy is always adapting,” says Frost, “but when it comes to Felix’s records, it’s always been having a huge degree of trust which we’ve built up over the years of working so closely together, around ten years now. When they’re putting together a project, I have complete trust in their vision for the body of work whether that’s creatively in the visuals or the music itself, and they’ve always given me space to help them with the right people to either write a vocal or get the right mix engineer or feature on the record and it all shows in Shield, which is some of their best work to date.
“Now with the excellent Luke on the management team, the strategy has very much become building a fanbase who will come to watch Felix play. Felix’s sets are so incredible, and the reception and interaction with the crowd because of their skill and energy is unmatched, so we want to maximize that by putting on amazing shows, capturing the atmosphere of the night and building an audience that will buy tickets to experience it for themselves — we are seeing it grow rapidly over the last few months globally and have some really exciting plans as we also develop it in to a live show that still maintains that energy from their DJ sets.”
First Song That Made salute Love Dance Music: They cite Lethal Bizzle’s 2005 single “Kickback,” which appeared on the FIFA Street 2 soundtrack, as their introduction to grime. “I was completely blown away by it ’cause it was unlike anything I’ve ever heard,” they say. The moment led them down a YouTube rabbit hole where they discovered artists like Dizzee Rascal and Wiley on the way to dubstep, garage and the wider web of U.K. dance music.
Advice Every New Dance Artist Needs to Hear: “Just make as much music as possible. You can’t really skip that step. There’s no way to like, just overnight, become really good. If you’re starting out, what you’ll naturally tend to do is to imitate an artist that you really like, which is a good way to learn production. I actually encourage it.
“But after a while, you’re gonna have to make a decision about what it is you want to do in music. The only way you can do that is by thinking very intentionally about the space you want to take up. That requires asking yourself questions about what your taste is, what you want to achieve as a DJ or a producer, whether you want to DJ at all, what you want your place to be, why you enjoy making dance music, what it is about dance music that makes you happy. I feel like that allows you to develop a sense of identity, which is something that people who listen to music can latch onto… I think people can really sense when the music comes from somewhere special.”
Why They Make Music: “The most important thing when I make music is I’m having fun doing it, and that makes me really happy. Figuring out how to achieve that has been one of the biggest things for me… putting an idea from your brain into a computer is the funnest part of it all.”
Up Next: Salute is currently on the U.S. leg of their international spring/summer tour, with stops Thursday (May 18) in San Francisco, Friday (May 19) in Los Angeles and their first EDC Las Vegas set this Saturday (May 20.) “I’d hear about [EDC] on podcasts that I was listening to like, ten years ago,” they say. “When I got the offer to play it, I kind of laughed to myself ‘cause like, that’s actually quite crazy.”
After Vegas, it’s non-stop until September: salute is scheduled to play a full slate of festivals — Parklife, Glastonbury and Defected Croatia among them — while also touring Asia for the first time and later playing Ibiza’s lauded Circoloco.