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alternatetextMP3 : Steinki - Nothing to Fear Mix, Excerpt 1

Steve Stein was working with a large advertising agency in the early 80's. Between briefs, he and fellow music-nut Doug DiFranco (Double Dee), spent many hours languishing around legendary NY hiphop club the Roxy, and buckling the counters of every record store with vast hauls.

When Tommy Boy launched an open-door remix contest in 1983, to promote G.L.O.B.E & Whizz Kid's "Play that Beat (Mr.DJ)", Stein & DiFranco hunkered down over a weekend, armed with little else but the song, a turntable, an eight track deck...and a fuck-off record collection, and an already huge, gleaned and lifted library of quotes, out-takes and samples.
The result, "Lessons 1 : The Payoff Mix" won the prize, and cut-ups were born. The record went crazy on the radio, and to this day has inspired kids to start plugging their parents VCR's into a tape deck to lift choice dialogue and soundgrabs. Brainfreeze ? Ninjatune ? Skratch Piklz ? The Lessons series, and Steve's subsequent work including "The Motorcade Sped On", "it's Up To You" and the Nothing to Fear" mix continue to cast a long shadow...

MF : How are you ?
SS : I'm good man, very good.

MF : What are you up to ?
SS : Right now, subject to the visit to London last week, I'm really concentrating on DJ'ing, which is not something I've been thinking about for awhile. I have an advantage over most 54 year old DJ's in that I have a certain amount of name recognition. I thought, well, OK, I don't want to take advantage of people, which is why I haven't been out DJ'ing, because to see me DJ'ing with records was like, OK, we saw him in the flesh, I'll never see him again - it was terrible ! I wanted to be someone more than that, you know, like well, he may be old, but it was a hot set, I wonder what he'll do next time. If you want you can work the legend angle in a very self-destructive way, you know. I don't want to turn into Chubby Checker, doing The Twist forever !

MF : Lessons 37...
SS : Exactly, that's the thing. I don't mind doing the Lessons, you know, they're a fun thing to do, goodness gracious they're fun to do, and I think there's more Lessons to be done. But Jesus...if that's all I do ? Ah, screw it man, I'll turn into a plumber or something rather than doing that.

I basically had my sights set on an album, which will happen, but of course since nothing is easy, I'm going to be DJ'ing out of a laptop. I think I can do it in an interesting enough fashion, so that nobody is going to be too disappointed.

MF : You're very disparaging about your turntable skills.
SS : Ahahhahahhahha..You have to understand, this disparagement - and while I have as high an opinion of myself as it's possible to have - I also have to be realistic. All the time that I was parping around making commercials and buying music, I was out of the loop for a long time, and while i was gone, DJ'ing turned into an art, so the standards were raised hugely for what a live performance was. It went way away from being a selector occasionally rubbing the record back and forth under the needle in time, to this sort of intense artform. There's no way I could keep up with ! Jesus, what am I going to do - I'm up against a bunch of guys who spent their entire formative years buying records and playing them in their bedrooms, and figuring out crazy ways to cut 'em up. They're out of my league, I can't do that.

MF : So the live shows will be...
SS :...Completely out of a laptop, no vinyl, no turntables, no mixer, no nothing. I'm talking about doing it in such a way to have access to the gimmickry and outboard equipment that I would normally have in the studio.It means a lot to me to do a good show and right now, having done a laptop show in Australia, I wasn't as happy as I could have been, as I didn't think it had a lot of character to it.

MF : The early electronica acts took their shows on the road, and then found that they had to take a live band out after all..
SS : Right - To a certain extent, there's not much I can do to not be some jerk crouching over a laptop. That is what I'm going to end up being, no matter how hard I try. I don't think I'm going to even have visuals, unless the venues are generous enough to show movies. My point being is that I have enough fabulous material that I can play in an interesting enough way that I couldn't even get near with CD's or with vinyl. I can take choice bits of songs and manipulate them and morph them into other songs in ways that I could only do in the studio.If I can do that, I hope that people will cut me a little slack and say well OK, it was a good show, even though he didn't do anything too startling in the way of physical exertion !

Even though I may be working very hard it's still some geek moving their hands over a laptop, it doesn't have the same dramatic component that comes with vinyl.If you're doing a laptop show then people can't really deconstruct what you're doing.If you're doing it with records, they can see. you know, Kid Koala goes through a stack of records and people can see what's going on, they understand if he screws up, what will happen. Whereas in a laptop, how will they know ? My head starts to sweat up, that's the best they can do ! Mistakes happen.And the greater the chance that you'll make a mistake, the greater the element of excitement in the show.

MF : So do you follow the Burroughs school of random with your work - cut it up, throw it in the bag, and take it in whatever order it comes ?
SS: I mean I want to be good, as well as random. You have to eliminate some of the random element, you don't want it be unlistenable, you don't want to be looking so far up your own behind. You don't want to be standing there going gee, I'm playing this in 11/16 time, while everyone's going Wow, I wonder if there's time to go get another beer before we have to leave. You've got to keep the crowd.

MF : Did you always have the crowd in mind when you did the Lessons ?
SS: No, to tell you the truth. That was a pleasant surprise. We didn't have the crowd in mind - we were basically pleasing ourselves with those records. We were hanging around the Roxy as much as we could when we made those records, and so a lot of that rubbed off on us, but I would have to say that we weren't deliberately saying this will work for the crowd. From watching other guys working the crowd, we just kinda knew, or at least sensed what wwould work in terms of segues, and of course Douglas' ability was such that I could say well, can we get from point A to point L. And he'd say, I think we can try this, and then we would outline how, and I'd start getting elements, and he'd start getting elements, and we'd stitch them together. What would happen is they would work rhythmically. I don't think those records ever held together totally on the dancefloor, I mean parts of them did, I'm not sure they ever worked completely. But what happened was - they were great radio records. A club is like a different thing, it's like putting a record under a microscope.

MF : Do you still have the Tommy Boy T-shirt you won for winning the Play That Beat competion with Lessons 1 ?
SS: Inexpensive polo shirts, actually, with the Tommy Boy logo. They were a bit on the scratchy side, so I didn't hold on to mine. It's since vanished.

MF : Was it all assembled on spliced tape, a la walter gibbons ? Can you elaborate on how you and Doug worked ?
SS: Douglas worked. I hung around, watched, listened, and made suggestions. Douglas made it all happen on an 8 track deck (4 stereo pairs), a turntable, 2 stereo tape decks, and a lot of editing and skill. Mixed without automation, too.

MF : Whereas now it's Cubase SX & Logic
SS: Or, in my and Douglas's case, ProTools / Live

MF : What were you listening to when you were growing up ?
SS: Top 40 from the radio, show tune albums from the public library. As I got older and my social circle expanded in high school, I was introduced to folk and bluegrass music, and psychedelic rock. My big period of re-discovery was in the late 70's, early 80's. I had discretionary income for the first time in my adult life, which Iproceeded to pour into vinyl, a cheap commodity at the time. As I started going to clubs (The Mudd Club, years before the Roxy), they played all sorts of good dance music - rock, funk, disco, soul, new wave - and many of the great old records I liked as a kid. For years, I spent Saturdays hitting record stores in Manhattan with a want list several pages long, covering every record I ever remembered liking. Too many to list; when I get them all digitized, I'll pack up my laptop and have a Steinki's Attic night somewhere.

MF : Did you used to splice or fiddle with sound when you were a kid ?
SS: No, I didn't even own a tape recorder until I got to college.

MF : You moved into more agit, political subject matter wth "The Motorcade Sped On", released over here on NME flexidisc. Was it ever released in the US ? What was the reaction over there to it ?
SS: Released in the US as promo only vinyl 12" from Tommy Boy. Older people -people my age, that is - were often repulsed by it, because the emotional connection with the actual event overshadowed any cleverness I brought to it. Some understood it. Younger people (those that had heard of Kennedy and the assassination; you'd be surprised how many were unaware of it) seemed to think it was okay.

MF : Did it come before or after John Oswald's Plunderphonics ?
SS: I met him after the Kennedy record, but yeah, I remember listening to his records. He has a coupla trick turntables that go seamlessly from 16rpm to 78, and I remember when I heard that, I was envious all over . I heard his stuff and was very intrigued.

Do understand that people like John, Negativland, they tread the other side of the line - they tend not to be so rhythmically based. Ours came first out of making rap records, then spoken word - and then, how can we twist that. Their stuff comes out of the idea that they're artists, and they do arty things. I'm very flattered to be included in comparisons with them, but we came to it from a slightly different viewpoint.

MF : But I think you both share a healthy suspicion of the media, and satirise it for that very effect..
SS: Oh yeah. You're absolutely right, I agree.

MF : ...coupled with an immediacy, an accessability.
SS: I always try and keep in mind that I want to connect with people. Because my training in the form of mass communication - there were a lot of bald men with cigars that I had to show or play work to, who would very dispassionately look at it and go "it doesn't work". And their standard was - are people going to understand what you're throwing at them. And it's very important, for me at least - I want my stuff to be easily apprehended by people who have never heard it before. I want people to understand it. The Kennedy record was like that - I was able to take a content and graft it onto a musical structure, so that people understand what was happening even though it wasn't exactly something that had happened that way before. That was a Golden Mean for me, even though it's unlikely you'll hear the Kennedy record in a club any time soon ! The beat didn't age that well, it's very much a mechanical sound of it's time, a mechanical 80's record

Continues in Part 2