MP3 : Steinki - Nothing to Fear Mix,
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
MF : You're very disparaging about your turntable
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
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
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
MF : Whereas now it's Cubase SX & Logic
SS: Or, in my and Douglas's case, ProTools /
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
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