Today's music business is renowned for being a hard and unforgiving place. New artists come and go at a higher pace than the London underground at rush hour, and yesterday's craze is easily forgotten. It's the more remarkable that in such an environment, certain people manage to stay put for years, evolving with the business, moving in and out of the limelight, but never leaving. Steve Rachmad is one of those people.
Pioneering the techno scene in mainland Europe since the early nineties, Rachmad has become a household name like Hawtin, Cox or Villalobos. With releases under different aliases on 100% Pure, Delsin, Klockworks, M-Plant and Get Digital, and literally hundreds of remixes to his name, he has witnessed the scene and sound evolve to what it is today. We got together with Steve to talk about the music, his hometown of Amsterdam, and his upcoming performance at Time Warp Mannheim.
Hey Steve. You've obviously been in the scene for quite a while now, being one of the 'founding fathers' of techno in the lowlands and mainland Europe, your first album already goes back to 1995. Just like other legends of that era, (Carl Cox, Richie Hawtin, just to name a few) you are still going strong 20 years later. How do you think you’ve managed to last so long in an industry renowned for being so fickle? That’s always a tricky question, for answering it might suggest there’s some sort of trick or plan behind it. I started making music because the emerging electronic sounds and the whole production technology behind them fascinated me. Once I found my own sound I was lucky enough to get picked up by a rapidly increasing audience, as techno music was getting more and more popular. What kept me going through the years was that same fascination; to see how techno evolved into several genres, how electro and house music developed themselves. Meanwhile, I stuck to the music I believed in. I’m not in it for money or fame, so I’ve never really followed trends too much. Which means that sometimes you’re in, sometimes you’re out, but in the long run it’s the best and most rewarding thing to simply stick to your guns.
During this period, you have seen countless numbers of artists and subgenres come and go. Some stick around and become regulars in the scene, others have a brief stint of popularity and then disappear as sudden as they emerged. What is it like to be one of the 'nesters' in the world of electronic music today? Do you see a big difference between the older guys and the young guns? What's your view on that generation gap? It feels like a real compliment to still be around and have people call you a ‘nester’ of electronic music! But it’s something I’ve worked long and hard for, endless days in the studio, pitching demos to record labels, which is perhaps the difference with younger artists. The whole process has become more convenient, whether it’s the production side (even without any talent you can come a long way with current software), getting your music released or playing live. I guess the guys who’ve been around since the early days know how much effort everything used to take and will be thankful for every new development, while younger artists might expect some things to just happen by themselves. But I’m generalizing now, it is a fact though the profession of being a DJ has become more comfortable.
How about the change in popularity of electronic music as a whole? What's your take on that? Is it a good thing? Well, as the profession has changed, so has the music. If you listen to popular dance music these days it’s mostly about working the crowd from one climax to another. The groove has disappeared making way for DJs that are more about building a big show than music. Nothing wrong with that, it’s just not my thing. And as long as some of the people who are dancing to these popular EDM sounds now look a bit further down the road and discover techno or house music, it hasn't been for nothing. It’s a cliché, but underground and mainstream feed each other. I’d say the popularity of electronic music is sort of a blessing in disguise.
You are living in Amsterdam, a city that in recent years has definitely come to the forefront when it comes to everything house and techno (ADE, Trouw, etc.) Was that something you had anticipated? Since techno arrived it’s always been part of the scene in Amsterdam. It got picked up quickly by DJs like Orlando Voorn and Dimitri, who got to be good friends with guys like Derrick May and Carl Craig. So yeah, it hasn’t surprised me the city has always remained close to the fire.
As a local, was the change very apparent or was it more just a matter of time before the music scene in Amsterdam reached this level? For me, it felt natural. I was visiting club RoXY, heard the DJs there play all those new records coming from Detroit and Chicago, which was a major breakthrough in my life but also felt like it made complete sense at the moment. The Netherlands and Amsterdam in particular have always been right in the center of dance music, incorporating sounds coming from Britain, Belgium and Germany, as well as imported records from the US. So when this new music took over, the city was part of that process, and started nurturing its own artists and sounds not long after. From that point on it has always kept on contributing new things to electronic music.
Back to your music -- it feels like all of your tracks gradually engulf the listener. No big drops, no sudden peaks, no instant gratification. It's definitely not 'put your hands up'-music. Is that your signature approach? It’s how I perceive dance music. It’s all about the groove, about catchy bass lines and strong chords, preferably stringy sounds. You could say it’s a trademark sound for many artists, but I've certainly done my part. It’s what I love – long winding pieces of music with a strong connection to the dance floor. Like I said earlier, it’s not about doing a show, it’s all down to the floor when I DJ. With that in mind, it’s nicer to play deep records made to blend into each other than short, jumpy tracks.
Are you more of an artist than entertainer, letting the music speak for itself? Yes, I see myself as more of an artist than entertainer. It’s never been an option for me to suddenly start showing off behind the decks, waving my hands or grab the mic. It works great for other DJs, I have no problem with that, but it’s not something that would ever cross my mind. I’m simply the guy who plays music, I’m not a stage performer. Luckily there are still loads of people who like it that way, who are just there to dance instead of staring at a guy jumping behind his record players.
Over the years, you have created a number of different alter egos to be able to express your wide-ranging musical creativity. Do you feel it was necessary to really make a clear distinction? As I discovered electronic music in the ‘80s, I never fixated on one particular genre. So when I started producing music I had to spread my work over different guises in order to be able to get everything out. One day I would be in a techno mood, the other day I would like to make an Italo record. That’s also how I’ve kept things interesting for myself throughout the years. I still work like this, but now it’s easier to just release everything under the same name. Back in the day, especially in the ‘90s, the scene was still so fresh you couldn’t release all your music under one title. So to avoid confusion, producers would come up with loads of alter egos. It was a very common thing to do. So, necessary, yes, but it mostly felt like second nature.
One of your most well known aliases is obviously STERAC. What's the difference in approach to when you're playing or producing as Steve Rachmad? Under my birth name I feel free to do anything I feel like, whether it’s playing deep house and wacky electro or disco and dubby techno, but on the whole more melodic stuff. As STERAC I really dive deep into techno, playing Detroit sounds as well as the heavy ‘90s things. It’s mostly new music but with a classic techno feel. You hear a lot of that coming out again these days, solid techno is really back in fresh, new forms, making the STERAC gigs the more interesting for me and the audience.
After the releases of the remastered and remixed 'Secret Life Of Machines', there were rumours about plans for a new album as well. Any news on that? Initially there was not a concrete plan for anything in the short term. I’ve been really busy touring and doing lots of remixes, so I haven’t had a lot of time to work on original material. Making an album is quite the project to undertake and with all kinds of other projects, including my private life, demanding attention, it needs some preparation. However, I have recently come across some of my unreleased but finished work and I am slowly playing with the idea of giving those tracks more of an album shape. I'm not making any promises, but as it seems now, a new album is not so much of a distant future project anymore.
As you've mentioned, you are somewhat of a remixing machine if we may say so. How many do you think you have done throughout your career? I guess it’s safe to say I’ve done a couple of hundred remixes. That’s a lot I realize now, but once you become known for it, the requests start pouring in. In the end it’s simply part of the job.
What is it about remixing that you find so appealing? And what does a track have to have in order for you to want to put your take on it? I like to find the most grooving part of a record and enhance it to the fullest. As if you would hear your favorite piece of music over and over again, without getting bored with it. To do this, I slightly reshape the sounds and groove, adding a vibe I feel fits the atmosphere of the track. What usually inspires me the most is really strong drum patterns and nicely arranged melodic chords. You’ll have high quality productions at your disposal but also still room enough to add something of your own. Remixing can be difficult, but the right records usually provide their own inspiration though.
You will be playing at Time Warp Mannheim this year, alongside many industry greats. It must be nice to after all these years still get that amount of recognition from fans and promoters alike. Have you always enjoyed playing the festivals? I’ve grown into it. It all started in clubs for me, that’s where I felt at home. When the big raves and festivals emerged it also resulted in different kinds of performances. Especially festivals tend to be about highlighting your skills and records, there’s not much room for any depth, although I do try to pick out the exceptions when it comes to my own gigs. The indoor raves do have room for that, as these give you the opportunity to play longer sets. Time Warp, which is definitely one of the most renowned raves in the world, especially takes care of this. DJs are given time to do their thing, it’s like the experience of multiple club vibes packed in one, very long night! So yeah, I’m really looking forward to playing there, I will be preparing something special.
And finally, what’s the rest of your 2015 looking like? Well, like I said, it’s mostly remixes I’m working on right now. I have some upcoming stuff for Rebekah on CLR, on Indigo Aera, Italoboyz and Ovum to name a few. I'm remixing Christian Smith's album on Tronic, Nitin on the new label by Art Department and Nitin, Ilario Alicante on Cocoon, and Heiko Laux's album on Kanzleramt. Besides that, there’s an original STERAC release coming up on Luke Slater's Mote Evolver. When it comes to performing, I’ll be doing loads of festivals like Movement in Detroit, La Nuit Rouge and Family Piknik in France, Circoloco at Makuhari Beach festival in Japan, Time Warp and MELT! Germany of course, as well as some Dutch festivals like Welcome to the Future, Mystery Land, DGTL and Free Your Mind. I’ve also got several Ibiza gigs scheduled, including six Circoloco at DC 10 shows that I am very excited about, as well as one of the all-time highlights, Carl Cox at Space. My next kis. residency date is coming up on April 25; we just a had a great edition with The Mole last weekend and I am looking forward to the next edition. So 2015 is looking good I might say! Thanks!
Steve Rachmad will be performing at Time Warp Mannheim on April 5th, 2015.