There aren’t many DJs or producer who can claim such a globally respected reputation as Steve Rachmad. In almost 30 years behind the decks, in fact, it would probably be easier to name the things Steve hasn’t done!
Alongside his career as a DJ, Steve has had a mammoth amount of production success – with dozens of tracks under his belt – and isn’t showing any sign of stopping. Rachmad’s latest work under his Sterac moniker, sees him hitting a host of the world’s top clubs, touching down in London for secretsundaze’s Summer Opening Party at Oval Space Sunday May 3rd.
But how did this all come to be? What were the moments that mattered most in Steve’s journey? Well, we reckon there’s nobody who could tell the tale better than the man himself. So without further ado, may we present to you 5 Steps with the Godfather of Dutch techno himself, Steve Rachmad!
When I was 12 years old my dad gave me a DJ mixer as a present. It was a simple mixer with just faders, you couldn’t even connect headphones. It also didn’t have jacks but simple din plugs, the ones you would use to either din sync for example a 303 with an 808 or connect you synth through midi. As a 12 year old I thought I knew what a mixer did. I reckoned if you’d record something on a cassette tape, rewind the tape and record another time from the same spot that it would be mixed. I was wrong, it seemed, and very disappointed with that conclusion. Now what? And so the experimenting began, I learned the whole DJ thing, the tape editing thing and finding out about my passion for music by playing around with this mixer, one turntable without pitch, a cassette player and an open reel tape deck.
The Great Escape
As a young boy, I was often listening to pirate radio where they played lots of non-commercial stuff. Mixes and remixes were played from DMC, which stands for Disco Mix Club. You had to become a member to get the monthly package of megamixes and remixes by guys from all around the world, something I couldn’t afford being so young. Here in Holland we had Ben Liebrand making those mixes but also Rutger “Rutti” Kroese, who I heard when I went to the famous Amsterdam club Escape for the first time. I was 17 years old and a big fan, so when the club was closing and I saw him outside I approached him for a chat, complementing him for his mixes and telling him what I was doing. At some point he asked me if I’d like to join him going to work sometime. At that time he was the personal technician of Dutch producer duo Bolland & Bolland, so of course I was super excited, this guy worked in a real recording studio! Hanging out more often and visiting several studios and joining vocal sessions of Dutch group Lois Lane I got to learn a lot technically and met a lot of people. One time, I got involved with Dutch rapper Tony Scott and some other projects of Fabian Lenssen, the producer of Tony Scott, who was my age at the time and already scoring Top 40 hits. I was asked to use my tape editing skills on a few of their records.
In this period I got to see and touch a lot of machines for the first time. One time, I even sneaked into a studio because I noticed a LinnDrum, connected headphones and started tapping and turning. I immediately recognized drum sounds from tracks like Wham’s ‘Last Christmas’ and so on. I felt so fortunate.
A friend in need…
I was too young to buy equipment when I started, the pocket money I got from my parents together with the money I made as a paperboy was nowhere near enough to buy what were still very expensive machines. But friends like Fabian and Rutger had synths and stuff I could borrow. Fabian borrowed me his Roland TB 303 and I already had a TR 808. These could be hooked up together really easily. From Rutger I borrowed his Roland Alpha Juno, my first encounter with a synth. Awkward as it was to edit as he didn’t have the controller with it, I got to know it pretty well. I had to do everything with this annoying dial wheel.
At the shop where I bought my only piece of equipment that time, the TR 808, I got to know some of the guys and became sort of friends. And because I didn’t have money to buy a mixer but wanted to record something to put out I could borrow one from Jeroen Dronkers from the shop. Which was hell! Imagine you have to carry a 16-channel mixer on the tram because you cannot afford taxi money. And think of 16-channels in an 80s manner… So that means BIG!
Through another friend, Koosje Naberman, who was cleaning someone’s house to pay for her study and rent, I got to know Thor Kunkel. I think he was doing music for commercials and films. Koosje noticed Thor had some equipment and thought we should meet. Sweet as the guy was, he borrowed me his TR 909 everytime he didn’t need it for work. One time I could borrow it, but he needed it back 8.30 in the morning, so I had to finish everything in the night, listening over headphones because I lived with my dad. The result is actually ‘A Scorpion’s Dream release Aqua Dance / Graphics’ which I undertook for Derrick May’s Fragile back in 1993, which I had to mix over headphones, which I hated. I still think it sounds shitty because of that.
I never had to think but just DO, back in the day. I mean, I was just making my music during the week and DJing in the weekends with no worries. Until… the whole minimal thing showed up. I was in a way totally lost with what happened afterwards. I saw colleagues switching their styles into minimal. Techno DJs, friends losing work or getting much less work and paid less due to this new trend. My style of techno was disappearing. One thing I knew for sure was that I couldn’t continue in the way I did my thing before. The question I asked myself was: how can you just switch style? I was always considered a minimal techno DJ but all of a sudden it felt like I was denied. Putting minimal behind my name would give the wrong idea. I tried to blend things in a way that was acceptable without trying to lose myself. I know some people thought I was going too far with this. But I saw it as survival in the thing I love to do most… music. When this all happened I did lose something of myself without even realizing it. I was probably too busy with trying to survive instead of thinking about what I really wanted. A few days ago my girlfriend mentioned that, back then, Stefaan from Music Man Records said I had to go back to my roots. The fact I didn’t even remember he’d said that means it also didn’t make impact back then. This realization came to me quite a while later, when I had a little talk with my friend Benny Rodrigues. He told to me to stay close to myself and not think too much – something I of course know but just lost track of. Thanks for that Benny.
The next pivotal moment was finding myself again and overlooking what had happened with that minimal thing. I saw it was actually a positive thing—at least for me after a while. Since I also had love for not being only a peak-time DJ at peak-time places, it opened new doors for me. Back in the day I was one the residents at a club called Mazzo here in Amsterdam. I always loved to do the opening sets. With all that happened, it now opened new doors for me. I could do different styles at different places, instead of only doing peak-time or darker techno every week. I could now play a wider range of nice music. Great for a music lover like me. Maybe it sounds easier than it is but I couldn’t have done this on my own. My girlfriend, agent and manager Manuela is for a great part responsible for this: getting me back on track, keeping me focused, not just DOING, but getting me somewhere with a vision. She’s really worked hard to find work and guided me through this phase to get me back on track. Thank you for that my love Manuela.
Get all the latest from Steve via his website, Facebook, Twitter and Soundcloud pages, listen to his work as Sterac below, and catch him at secretsundaze’s Summer Opening Party at Oval Space Sunday May 3rd. Tickets are available here