At home with: Cristoph
Progressive house champion Cristoph shows us round his Newcastle haunts, and tells us how his friends and family, and the patronage of Eric Prydz, have kept him focused
Cristoph is leaning on a railing overlooking Tynemouth Bay as the sun beats down. He often comes here to walk. At 25C and rising, though, it’s uncharacteristically warm for this part of the world. An azure sky stretches out above us, eventually meeting the calm North Sea miles off on the horizon.
Sixty-odd feet below us is a golden sand beach that is protected by a rocky outcrop; Tynemouth Priory and Castle sits atop. A fish shack has just opened on the beach and is already bustling. On days like these, it’s easy to see why the big Geordie has so far knocked back invites from Eric Prydz to go and live with him in Los Angeles.
Just as he’s laughing about that one time Prydz and crew came to the North East on a typically grey, drizzling, and chilly day, Cristoph breaks off to flick the middle finger at a figure who is making his way up hundreds of steps from the beach below. “That’s me best mate. He’s a fucking idiot.” When said mate reaches us, they shake hands and details of the fresh fish he’s just eaten, then arrange for Cristoph to give him a lift to the airport later.
This is the real reason the man born CJ Costigan won’t leave the city he grew up in: his friends and family. He mentions them every few sentences during our morning in Newcastle upon Tyne. They keep him grounded. They offer him some normality after a month on the road, and they don’t always want to talk about music, which can be a real relief.
Back at the new house he bought in June, 10 minutes outside the city centre, we’re shown round the integrated garage. It’s in the middle of being converted into a cinema room with mood lighting, a huge projector screen, and comfy sofas, which are currently in boxes in the hallway. It’s a brand-new build on a vast estate. He hasn’t yet settled in, so his studio has a few of his own records in frames, as well as canvasses of him that his friends and family have blown up, but on the floor rather than the wall.
“My mam didn’t want us to convert the garage,” he laughs. “She was like, ‘Where will you store stuff? Where will you keep your lawnmower?’ I’m getting artificial turf, mam, so it doesn’t matter.”
When he’s not with friends playing UFC, FIFA, or NFL games on the Playstation, or watching thrillers (“not horrors, I’m too scared”) like the Dark Knight trilogy, Cristoph spends a lot of time at his sister’s house. She has four kids, so he’ll play football in the garden with them for hours, or get mocked by their mates when they play multiplayer Fortnite, “’cause I’m rubbish at it”.
Cristoph goes on to say that his sister would be mad if he left. His gran is ill, so he likes to help out there, and having lost his father a few years ago, he feels he always needs to be close to his mother to “keep an eye on her”. She lives round the corner in Gosforth, where Cristoph grew up. His parents ran various family pubs (he later says outside one that his only real memory of them is racing round a mound of mud on a peddle go-kart before going to school), and a club on the quayside, while his father was also a working DJ, playing Motown and Northern Soul at weddings and parties round the North East.
He only let Cristoph play once — “Phats & Small and stuff like that for about 20 minutes” — but by that time, Cristoph had already played to a crowd and got the bug. As young as 12 and 13-years-old, he was hiring the local social club or church hall, a soundsystem, and some lights, and charging his mates anywhere between £2 and £5 to get in. They were making hundreds of pounds in profit. “We did it all the way to sixth form and it was amazing,” he remembers, “but older kids started coming in, so you can imagine what they were getting up to.”
At that point, he started sneaking into the legendary Shindig parties in town with his older siblings. His brother was mad into house and techno, particularly Chicago stuff and the more melodic New York guys. His brother had decks, but never let Cristoph touch them — not that that stopped him, even though his brother would always know, because he was obsessive over how his records were arranged. He works on oil rigs now, but still plays the decks till 4am or 5am, and even makes mixtapes for Cristoph when he’s off touring.
Before he was old enough, and with his parents waiting outside, Cristoph started playing round town. At that time, there was a chance he might have gone on to play football professionally. There were a few teams sniffing around, but he felt the pressure was too great, so DJing become his main focus.
“I was the only real house DJ back then,” he says as we head down some steps into RPM Music. He used to come here with his pocket money (or to HMV, or Air Records) and seek out the tunes he’d heard that weekend at Shindig, or before that, “shit, awful stuff like Eiffel 65”.
While playing those bars, Cristoph said he often got sacked because he wouldn’t play the cheesy R&B that the owners wanted. He became obsessed with Sasha, Digweed, and progressive house, but it was too underground. However, everything changed when he made his first big tune, ‘Guffaz’.
He had worked hard at teaching himself how to produce, knowing it would help him break out of the local scene. He’d done so after he lost a friend, who unwittingly took too many painkillers to deal with a toothache. He realised we can disappear from this earth at any moment and set out in pursuit of his dreams in earnest.
Some years ago, he’d finished a degree after first starting one in Leeds then dropping out, and then getting caught out for plagiarism on a Criminology course at Northumberland. “I just didn’t go, mate,” he says. “I cannot park for shit, even in the little Citroën I had then, so if I couldn’t find an easy space I’d just go home and play computer games with the lads.”
Despite being caught out, he was allowed to finish the degree with the help of his sister who he says, “basically wrote my dissertation for me”. Soon after, he was taking a wage from the family business. He was supposed to be out collecting monies owed, but often didn’t. The family understood and allowed it to carry on, which he views as invaluable in allowing him to get where he is today.
‘Guffaz’, which like all his tunes is named after one of his mates, had a sample in it that needed to be cleared. When Cristoph sent off the tune — and the sample clearance request — Defected loved it. They asked if they could release it and wanted any other music that he had. It was the moment that broke his name, releasing music on Last Night On Earth, Bedrock, and other key labels.
Later, we visit a cosy local gym. Cristoph works out here two or three times a day in order to “stay focused” and later says that pretty much every day he eats the same to help stay in shape: a peanut protein shake, a half chicken from Asda, microwave rice, five eggs, an avocado, tuna pasta, and a second shake. The small, independent gym has a range of weights, rowing and running machines, and a huge chandelier on the ceiling.
All the staff are pleased to see him, which is unsurprising: despite being a big, muscular bloke who stands at least 6’3” tall, he’s down to earth and chatty. After passing us some water from the gym’s fridge, he’s shouting out his friends again.
“They were really supportive of me coming up,” he says. “They would understand when I said I didn’t want to go out partying.” He’d stay at home, teaching himself how to make music while they lay about drinking vodka and watching him. “They’re as surprised and amazed by my success as I am,” he says. “They’re on a few Facebook fan pages dedicated to me and are always messaging about how crazy it is that these people follow me so closely.”
He says they can’t be trusted to come on tour with him, as they get too excited by the free drink, and every time he makes a new tune they tell him it’s his best yet, so he tends to rely on Prydz’s opinion more on that front.
In the gym, we talk about his father’s death a few years ago. Despite having terminal cancer, it still came quicker than expected. Cristoph had also lost an uncle the year before, as well as two friends, so it knocked him sideways. They were best friends who would often go away together on holiday, just the two of them. “If he was alive now he’d probably be my tour manager,” he says.
Taking just a week off after losing his dad, he threw himself into music and produced his 8-track mini-album for Knee Deep In Sound. Music making was, as is often the case, therapy for him and a way to get out some of his feelings. “If he was alive now he’d probably be my tour manager,” he says.
A Cristoph track or set is unashamedly proggy. It has studious melodies and chords, and phrasing that builds in rich, lush layers, with driving drums and deep bass skiing you into the epic grooves. He thinks that’s inspired by long flights and train journeys, gazing out to sea at Tynemouth and seeing ships passing, as well as his own love of going on a real musical journey.
“I guess just gazing out the window watching the world pass me by does something for me,” he says, “and I seem to drift away and imagine myself on a dancefloor somewhere and what I would enjoy to hear at that moment in time.”
He also cites a love of the Stranger Things soundtracks, as well as certain things in his personal life and day-to-day feelings as catalysts to making music. Sometimes he’ll start with lyrics, sometimes making a groove, or sometimes just messing about until he finds a melody he likes. He does all this in the box, “’cause the software these days is just so good”.
“If I’m a little down, I can end up writing something darker, and if I’m feeling really good, it normally leads to something more driving or euphoric,” he says. When he’s DJing, he’ll get to certain points and realise he hasn’t got the record he wants to hear at that exact moment, so will get his phone out and make a few notes to look back on when on his laptop in the hotel or back home in the studio.
Despite regularly playing to tens of thousands of people, Cristoph still gets nervous before his sets. “I’ll start coughing when I step up, even though I haven’t had a cough for five years. My hands will be shaking so much I can barely get the USB into the deck, but it usually goes after the first half an hour or so.”
One trick he keeps up his sleeve is inspired by Sasha and even Paul Oakenfold, who are both famous for playing tracks in their sets that they don’t release or give to anyone else for months, so the only place you can hear them is if you go and see them. “I always thought that was an amazingly clever idea, so I try to make special edits, intros or outros I have no intention of releasing.“
Before we leave the gym, Cristoph tells us that his work ethic comes from being hell-bent on fulfilling the promises he made to his parents, when they stood by him in the early years. “I want to get to the very top,” he says. “I’m very close to my mam and want to make her proud. I want to do it for my dad. I have to pay them back for being so supportive.” Also fighting his corner is Eric Prydz, “one of my best friends,” says Cristoph.
The Swede is a private person with an amazing studio and speakers, which he is banned from touching. He visits often, and they have worked on music together in the past. “I just sit in awe,” he says, as we roll in his luxurious black Range Rover Sport. It has a private plate and is his only real frivolity. He bought it after selling an Audi QRS, partly because he likes a large, comfortable car to help with his lower back pain, and partly because the Audi was dangerously fast. “I found myself cruising on the motorway at 110 without even realising.”
Cristoph’s first brush with Prydz was in December 2016. He was offered the opportunity to open for him at Sound in Los Angeles and jumped at the chance, even though he had to cancel a flight home to the UK from Chicago, pay to fly and stay in LA, and book a new flight home to Newcastle. “I thought to myself, I may never get the chance to play alongside my musical idol again,” he says, “so it would be an experience I could keep with me forever.”
Prydz had been supporting his track ‘Catsy’ on his EPIC radio show, so Cristoph decided to play it as his last record. Prydz’s tour manager said he was annoyed — he wanted to play it in his own set. “He didn’t know it was me who made it.” Before the night was over, his team had asked Cristoph to join them at EPIC 5 and numerous other shows to play alongside Prydz. The relationship soon went to the next level: texting for music to play out, and then signing tracks for Pryda Presents, before his manager signed Cristoph to be part of the team.
He now plays all over the world and has just got back from a month in the States. He’s got used to looking after himself now, but at first the lack of sleep was taking its toll. One particular sleep deprived night he found himself in Asda at 4am, trying different types of hair gel and leaving with a broccoli. He also started obsessively buying “all sorts of shite” after watching late night QVC.
“Packages were literally turning up every day,” he says. “When I moved recently, I found a stand for a selfie stick — I’ve never taken a selfie in my life! The lads used to be in stitches.” A trip to the doctors, some sleepers, and anti-depressants eventually sorted him out.
As we roll back to his with the temperature still rising, we ask about his piercings. His first one in his lip came out of boredom while flying back from Dubai, and now he’s added various studs to his ears. His tattoos, too, are striking. They cover both arms, and his neck, legs, and back. He got his first one to test the waters with his mum when he was 18-years-old.
“My brother has some, but they’re stupid, proper hooligan tattoos,” he jokes. “I’m religious, so I got both sleeves done on that theme.” The Last Supper, crucifixes, and angels are just some of the pieces. He and all of his friends have the image tattooed on them, of an angel holding a scroll in tribute to a late pal. On his leg he has two black bands with ‘The broken are the more evolved’, a quote from the film Split.
“I’d seen Italian footballers with the bands, and looked into it and found out it was a sign of respect to the dead.”
Cristoph went to a Catholic school and attended church as a youth. His grandparents are religious but his immediate family are less so. His own belief comes from being “freaked out” by the unknown. “No one knows what happens when you die, so I’d like to think there is more to life than this. I also pray before every flight because if you come down, you’re fucked.” We point out that you’re still fucked, prayers or not, and he laughs. “Well yeah, but it’s kind of a ritual thing.”
We arrive back home to a drive with tonnes of sand on it. The gardener is laying the AstroTurf for the lawn. Two men arrive to carpet the cinema room and Cristoph is off to take his mate to the airport, before heading round to see his sister, nieces, and nephews for a BBQ. It’s a normal afternoon that juxtaposes the scenes at Creamfields two days later, when it is his turn to play God: in a field, with thousands worshipping at his altar.
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