The Saltburn Effect: Princess Superstar and Mason on the conception and rebirth of Perfect (Exceeder)

Mason and Princess Superstar are often asked for permission to use their 2007 hit Perfect (Exceeder) in film, TV and adverts. When a request came through for it to be used in Emerald Fennell’s Saltburn, neither of them realised it would be such a big deal…

(L-R) Princess Superstar and Mason, photos by Joseph Cultice and Mason

(L-R) Princess Superstar and Mason. Images: Joseph Cultice and Mason

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The Saltburn Effect — this is the phenomenon that caused Mason and Princess Superstar to have their careers flipped upside down, all over again.

When Perfect (Exceeder) landed in 2007, it climbed all the way to number three in the UK Singles chart, and number one in UK Dance, but neither of them have found themselves faced with an unexpected resurgence quite like this one.

Nearly 20 years on from its release, its streaming figures are reaching roughly one million plays per day, according to Mason, and it’s all thanks to the twisted tale of wealth, desperation and lust of Saltburn by British filmmaker Emerald Fennell, with its immense soundtrack of early noughties bangers.

Featuring Arcade Fire, The Cheeky Girls, MGMT, and Sophie Ellis-Bextor (whose track Murder On The Dancefloor has also rocketed back into the charts), Saltburn encapsulates a nostalgia that’s infatuated new listeners and reminded older ones of the magic of 00s electro, indie and pop. It also provides some nice dance break opportunities between a few, er, awkward scenes, let’s say.

American rapper Princess Superstar, real name Concetta Kirschner, is pretty exhausted by the madness. But she’s riding the high as she joins us for a video call. She appears on camera, coffee in hand, having been awake since 1:30 am for a previous media engagement. “I mean, I got my career handed back to me on a silver platter, so I’m not complaining,” she says. “It was like a low fee [I was paid for the track’s use in the movie]. So I was like, ‘Okay, sure you can use it’ – little did I know! I don’t think [the film’s production team] knew what was about to hit them either.”

DJ and producer Mason (Iason Chronis), calls in from his home city of Amsterdam: “For half of the people it’s like a revival record — like, ‘hey, we used to dance to this 17 years ago!’ — and for the other half, it’s a younger generation who just discovered it for the first time.

“For them, it’s new music — that’s really cool. And I realise they’re a fan of that actual song, so it’s a bit of an entity on its own. I’m super grateful for whatever one or two per cent clicks onwards and starts following me.”

Mason’s original 2006 instrumental version of Exceeder was one of the first tracks he released. The explosive electro house track starts with a French house-style interpolation of Let It All Blow by Dazz Band before dropping into a rolling synth bass that tantalises you to the dancefloor.

At the time, Mason DJ’d regularly for Electronation – an electro music event hosted regularly by a collective of European DJs. “Sometimes we were doing two or three a week in different cities, Netherlands, Belgium, England. From the pool of DJs, I was more on the bright or happy side of electro, so this tune kind of represented the feeling of those parties.”

The production process for Exceeder was simpler than you might imagine. At the time, he was between two studios so he didn’t have a proper space to create: “For two months or so, my setup was at home in my kitchen. So it was really nothing. I made it on a Mac and the main lead sound was made with Minimonsta by GForce. And well, that’s it! It was all in the box, and I was really at the start of my production [career], so I don’t think there’s any sidechain compression or anything like that in it.

“It’s super basic and you can hear all the chunky beats. It’s glued together and just stacked on each other — and I think that’s also maybe sometimes a bit of a lesson. We can go super nitty-gritty with plugins and make everything ideal sonically, but sometimes something has character even if it’s not ideally mixed.”

Mason photographed in a black and white striped T-shirt against a blue background, photo by Mason
Mason. Credit: Mason

Princess Superstar’s original version of Perfect sat on her fifth album, My Machine, and took more of a classic hip-hop approach. Produced with DJ Mighty Mi, the track was a satirical jab at fame, poking fun at being imperfect.

Though Superstar has dabbled in music production – if you dig around on Soundcloud, you may just find some demos she produced for a certain Lana Del Rey with Ableton Live circa 2008 – she says she decided she “wasn’t very good at it…Which is fine! I think it’s good to know what you’re good at and what other people should do for you. I couldn’t mix for shit,” she confesses.

My Machine was my favourite album that I did, and it was a really big endeavour for me back then. I wanted to do a concept record. I was brought up on The Who’s Tommy, my parents loved that stuff. Pink Floyd, all that amazing English music.” She adds, “As far as the lyrics go, I borrowed from my favourite hip-hop songs. [The lyrics] ‘Push it, push it’ came from Salt-N-Pepa, and ‘work it’ is Missy Elliot. So it was an homage to other female rappers.”

The remix launched both artists into a new league in their careers, yet neither Mason nor Princess Superstar can remember the exact details of how they actually put together the mash-up of their two tracks. But they do recall bootlegs of it making their rounds online. “It’s so funny, somebody else put them together and we both don’t really know who,” chuckles Princess Superstar. “I really wanna give this guy a cake!”

Both of them admit they’d perhaps have done things a little differently with hindsight. One thing they’re certain of is that staying grounded and being faithful to your craft is vital. “Try to follow too much what other people are doing,” says Mason. “Try not to repeat yourself too much. Maybe I went a little bit too much the other way. Straight away, I released all kinds of obscure records and focused on an album instead of follow-up singles.”

Princess Superstar knows all too well that the words “tough” and “music industry” go hand in hand. The music video for Perfect (Exceeder), pulled together by Ministry Of Sound, did not include her. She says that, contractually, she should’ve had creative control. “As an artist that’s really fucking important,” she stresses. “They made a video with three models in it lip-syncing and even sent those models out on tour as Princess Superstar to some UK club dates.”

Though she managed to send a cease and desist to stop the touring, she says she wasn’t in a position to sue the company over the music video. “Many people love that video and I don’t want to take away the joy either… It’s iconic in the sense of capturing a certain era in dance music. Like Eric Prydz’s Call On Me and Benny Benassi’s Satisfaction – that’s a certain look and aesthetic.” MusicTech has contacted Ministry Of Sound for further comment.

Holding grudges gives you wrinkles, she says, and today Superstar feels she’s “getting a second chance.”

“I went through a lot of pain as an artist. People used to say I was ‘so underrated’ and I felt like that was such a weird compliment because you’re like, ‘well, thanks, I guess!’ I had to do a lot of work on that. I feel like that might have cleared the energy for this to happen, for sure.”

Mason DJing, photo by Mason
Mason DJing. Credit: Mason

While Princess Superstar was labelled as ahead of the curve, Mason strayed away from the curve entirely. As a producer who produces across various genres, he recognises it’s important to put out music that feeds the soul, not the system. “It’s not always been the easy route, it means people can’t pigeonhole you. It’s easier if you know your subgenre and its promoters, gatekeepers, labels and festivals you need to focus on. For me, that’s sometimes a bit more difficult. I’m generally a bit on the side of house music, but that’s about it. I like to keep my freedom there.

“As long as I can live from it and do that, I’m happy. I don’t need the biggest jet-set lifestyle, it’s cool what it is now,” he says. “I also realise track 10 or 11 on my album is not going to [reach] the biggest streaming [figures] ever. But for me, it’s important to release it and I know my fans appreciate it. Luckily there have been records, Exceeder and a few others, that make it all possible.”

A testament to Mason’s curve-straying tactics is his latest album, Chroma Panorama, released last November. He spent around two years on it in total, and it hosts a plethora of collaborations. “I’ve been songwriting much more on this album than previously… I’ve been much more involved myself now in that process. I’ve worked with maybe 12 or 15 instrumentalists on the album as well,” he says. “It’s mixed on a Rupert Neve on 32 channels. I enjoyed mixing it analogue much more, and I do realise people might not hear a difference, but for me it’s about the process.”

Princess Superstar at URB Magazine’s 15-year anniversary party, photo by Jemal Countess/WireImage via Getty Images
Princess Superstar at URB Magazine’s 15-year anniversary party. Image: Jemal Countess/WireImage via Getty Images

Princess Superstar also has a new project in the pipeline. “I was planning a new release and a music video even before Saltburn,” she says. Her upcoming project – titled New Renegades – lands at the end of February and, though she can’t give too much away, she hints that it touches on the blessing and curse of being ahead of your time.

“There’s remixes coming now from all these big names for Excedeer [one is namely David Guetta], so that’s all coming in the next couple of months,” reveals Mason. “Every few weeks, [there will be] a different remix coming, and I’m working on new singles and I’ll be touring a lot more.”

It’s easy to overlook the impact of TikTok or the importance of licensing your track as an artist, but you never know what can lie around the corner. “It came super unexpectedly and maybe that’s a message of hope for people,” he says. “You never know what will happen with your catalogue. Your catalogue is your pension. It has value.”

You can stream or buy Chroma Panorama now. Princess Superstar’s New Renegades will land this February. Saltburn is streaming on Amazon Prime.

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