In Australia, there’s a phrase commonly used to describe people who “cut down” the overachievers in their midst due to their own insecurities. Those who commit such an act are said to suffer from “tall poppy syndrome”.
“There’s almost an anti-success mindset over there,” says Cassian Stewart-Kasimba, better known as just Cassian. “Especially with music, it’s like ambition is a little frowned upon. You’re told you shouldn’t shoot too high or try too hard. It’s funny, because usually there’s the perception of a person who is successful and a separate notion of a person who is full of themselves, but in Australia it’s just the same. And we don’t like it.” He flashes a smile that suggests this mentality has had a direct impact on his slow and steady rise where he is today.
Cassian is no short poppy. Aside from standing at a physical 6’2”, the guy’s got a shelf full of ARIA Awards. He’s an accomplished multi-instrumentalist, producer, and DJ, and a GRAMMY nominated artist, too. But full of himself, Cassian is not.
“The hardest part of making music, for me, is just finding the confidence in what I’m doing,” he tells DJ Mag candidly. “It took maybe 10 albums of working as the mixer or producer for other artists before I was like, ‘Okay, I can do this.’”
Though some may not be familiar with Cassian at first mention, they’ve almost certainly been exposed to his atmospheric soundprint by association while listening to projects such as fellow Aussie pop outfits Lastlings, Set Mo, and perhaps most notably, RÜFÜS DU SOL. Cassian locked his first GRAMMY nomination in 2020 for his role mixing the trio’s pop-centric dancefloor melter ‘Underwater’, and is up for another award this year in the Best Dance/Electronic Recording Category for similar work on ‘Alive’, the lead single off their hit 2021 LP ‘Surrender’.
The accolades he received while working with the chart-topping act came in addition to the success he’s reaped as an established solo performer. Last year, he released his debut concept album ‘LAPS’ to rave reviews. He accompanied Nora En Pure on her Purified Tour last summer and appeared on a number of 2021’s most anticipated festival come-back lineups, including that of HARD Summer in San Bernardino, CA, Deep Tropics in Nashville, TN, and CityFox’s annual Halloween Festival in New York City.
When we sit down with Cassian, it’s over a video call with a WiFi connection that’s doing its best to hold itself together. He’s casually dressed in a loose T-shirt, sipping coffee, and collecting his bearings in a sparsely decorated hotel room in Guadalajara. It’s still a few hours before he’ll take the stage at one of Jalisco’s popular clubs later that night. “It’s like a real Mexican city,” he explains of his current stop, noting it’s not his first time in town. “It’s big, but the people here are really just working and living their lives. It’s not like Cancun where it feels like a place that was made for tourists to come and have a good time.”
Cassian’s brand of dark and dreamy melodic house has come far, and shows like the one he will play tonight prove that. But even with these telltale signs that the Australian transport is an in-demand act, he still needs the occasional reassurance. Thankfully, he’s found a place where flexing isn’t only expected… it’s downright celebrated. Nowadays, Cassian resides in Los Angeles, where he says “tall poppy syndrome” is flipped on its head. “That’s probably the best part of being in LA for me, because I have to constantly ask myself, ‘what do you need to be more confident in? What is it you need to do?’”