“I feel the best is yet to come…” Steve Rachmad chats to 909originals
A musical chameleon with a passion for warm, melodic techno, Steve Rachmad has adopted a myriad of monikers over the years to encompass the breadth and diversity of his compositions, including Sterac, Black Scorpion, Tons of Tones, Rachmad Project, Scorp, Parallel 9, Ignacio, Dreg, and Sterac Electronics – each representing a distinct aspect of the Amsterdam native’s music.
Over a near 30-year career, Rachmad has continuiously reinvented himself, drawing inspiration from his love of techno, house, disco and electro, and continuing to forge new sounds for labels such as M-Plant, Tresor, Klockworks, Afterlife, Mote Evolver, Indigo Aera and Delsin – the latter of which is currently in the process of re-issuing some of his seminal 90s cuts in digital formats for the first time.
Among his most interesting new projects is a partnership with fellow Dutchman Jochem Paap, aka Speedy J, as Speedy & Steve – a live concept that was formed after a series of improvised jams at the latter’s studio, while his most recent release, the Midnight Magic EP (which came out on In The Future Records in March) is just one of a host of cuts set to drop over the coming months.
909originals caught up with him.
Hi Steve, thanks for talking to us. We understand that your most recent release, the Midnight Magic EP, took ten years to finally be released, for various reasons. What is the story behind that?
Hello! Thank you for inviting me for an interview with 909originals.
I make a lot of music and I often don’t know immediately where to offer the tracks for a release so I let them sit around – these particular tracks have indeed been made a while ago. I usually share them with some fellow artists – sometimes at their request, and sometimes they ask for the music once they hear me playing it in my sets.
This was one such situation – I gave the tracks to Michel de Hey years ago and he has been playing them in his sets. At some point he asked if the tracks were released, and if not, if he could release them. I am pleasantly surprised to see all the reactions that the release has been causing. The tracks are up to this date fresh and relevant, which is what I always strive for in my music – to make timeless tracks.
What additional elements did you incorporate into the tracks to bring them up to date – or did you need to?
No, they are released in their original shape. I have mixed most of my music live in an analog mixer, which means that I cannot pull them back on the mixer at a later point when I have other tracks on the table. You get what was made at that point.
The new EP came out on Delsin Records, which also recently released the fifth in the Sterac re-issue series (the Teknitron EP). What is it like to return to tracks that you produced 25 to 30 years ago – do you learn something from revisiting them?
Once again, I am pleased to hear that I managed to make timeless music which makes people dance up to this date. I have learned to always stay true to myself in my creative process – to release music that I am 100% standing behind.
I guess this is part of the reason why my musical career is still successful. Of course I try to learn as much as possible, and evolve; these days I produce somewhat differently, but my base has remained unchanged, which justifies the 25-30 year old music sounding as fresh in the current context. It’s about time to share those tracks with the new generation, too.
We spoke to Dave Angel recently – someone else who is releasing tracks from his (Rotation) back catalogue. He said that he was partly doing it to ensure the younger generation gets to experience music that was never released digitally. Is that similar to your approach?
Yes, it’s something like this, indeed. The older generation has my music on vinyl but the younger generation has no access to it unless we make it available again. I am revisiting my entire back catalogue these days, claiming the rights back when needed, and re-releasing the music all over again, mostly mastered again for the digital re-release and bringing some of it out again on vinyl.
You have adopted a variety of pseudonyms over the years – Sterac, Parallel 9, Dreg, V.C.P. and others. Do you always try to adopt a different musical persona with your various alter egos, or is there some crossover?
There is surely some crossover. Back in the day, labels were often asking to release music exclusively on their label. This was not handy for me, as I wished to spread my wings and show – or let hear – as much music that is in me to as wide of an audience as possible.
This is where many aliases originated from – they gave me freedom to release music on different labels and I tried to attach a different style to them, of course.
Throughout the years, the label climate has changed and producers received more freedom to release on various labels. This is when I decided to cut on the number of aliases and just kept those that are clearly different from each other: Steve Rachmad, Sterac, Sterac Electronics and Parallel 9. I also perform under all these aliases.
How has your approach to production changed over the years – is there a common thread with how you approached making tracks at the start of your career, compared to today?
I used to have a midi chain in my studio with everything connected and I just had to connect my laptop and was ready to go, basically. Over the years I pulled out a lot of stuff and there’s not really a chain anymore – I broke the chain, let’s say. But this is due to going much more hybrid these days.
Nowadays, many more desktop machines are released, and sometimes it’s much easier to just pick a machine and connect it directly to the soundcard and record it. After recording some machines, I can usually finish it off on the laptop in the box or organise it and put it on my mixing desk.
Now, I have several ways of doing things. Either purely out of the box, in the box or hybrid.
Fuse Brussels recently uploaded a set of yours to its REC podcast series. Fuse is going through a lot of difficulties at the moment – do you think more should be done to protect clubs like Fuse, due to their cultural significance?
Yes, of course. Local governments should get their cultural departments involved in the preservation. Fuse is an example of an important cultural entity that has a long history and it is beyond every doubt more than just a random club – it’s one of the Belgian cradles of electronic music where generations and generations got educated about electronic music.
It’s an institution with a huge international reach. If the governments don’t see this, it means they have been sleeping…
Your Speedy & Steve project is now up and running, and recently included a performance at Berghain. What does each of you bring to the project? Are you both learning from each other, and if so what?
The Speedy & Steve project has been launched with several releases and a series of ten shows. Each one of them was different, so far as each show is a fully improvised live jam – right now we have four more shows to go and then we will evaluate how to approach the project in the future.
This collaboration has brought me a lot. I always find myself more of a producer than a performer, even though I enjoy performing a lot as well. For the first time, I can bring my production ad hoc to the stage and I am grateful for the opportunity to do this with Jochem, who is one of the most dedicated and talented artists around.
We complement each other musically and technically – we both have our own style, and this you can hear blended in our live jams, so you cannot tell any more if it’s Speedy J or Sterac. It’s a mix, an organism that pin-pongs between the two poles.
I very much enjoy doing these live jam performances, even though they can be heavy—it takes a lot of focus to create a fully improvised dancefloor set on the spot, which sometimes lasts four hours. There’s no time to go to the toilet or talk – it’s about full on focus and finding the flow that has to be kept going for the entire set. I have learned a lot from all the shows so far; and I have come to conclusion that I have still much more to offer.
I’m looking forward to more live jam collaborations in the future, with artists as Colin Benders, ROD, Lady Starlight and more.
You announced the Speedy & Steve project last September after a ‘series of improvised live jams’ at Jochem’s studio. Tell us about the evolution of the project?
The pandemic was a game changer in so many ways. Jochem launched his amazing STOOR studios, label, and live jam sessions in Rotterdam, such a great, all-around project. He asked me at some point if I wanted to come over for a live jam, and I said yes.
A few days before the stream, I told him I never did a live set before, and he was like, ‘WHAT?’. So we discussed how to approach it – I brought some of my gear along and we just did it.
I remember it felt very rewarding – after all these years it seemed like I had overwon something big and new, and I wanted more of it. Once he invited me to take part in his STOOR show in Paradiso during ADE 2021, I experienced another dimension of it, with the public around. So I thought, this is fun! And luckily Jochem thought the same.
The idea of an act was born. We hooked up in his studio once again and there was a lot of chemistry in our music, so the decision was brought to cut some of the music from those sessions and release it and launch a new act – Speedy & Steve live. The first show took place beginning of February this year.
I asked around on social media for questions that people might want to ask you, and someone brought up your ‘Tir na Nog’ EP from around the year 2000. Was that, as the title suggests, inspired by Irish mythology?
I’m sorry if this might break the romance of it but I just suck at titles. I have been collecting lists of cool words and names that sound cool for years – once the tracks are made, the hardest part for me starts, figuring out a title! It’s totally not my thing.
Tir Na Nog came from that list – I believe I picked it up on one of my trips to a gig, so I wrote it down and used it later for a track.
To finish, what does the rest of the year have in store for you?
I’m finishing loads of music – I have several albums in the making, the result of a very productive pandemic. I just need to finish some tracks off, but it’s going faster now that I have yet another mixer.
I have a Sterac EP coming on Fjaak’s new label Crowd this summer. I have the honour of having the first release on the new label.
A Sterac release on Reclaim Your City is coming up this summer, too, with two of my tracks on the A side and two tracks by Kr!z on the B side; then another Sterac release is coming up end of the summer on Ignez’s label, Soomov. I have also donated a Sterac track to Rebuild, an earthquake fundraiser compilation album that was put together by my dear friends at RX Recordings in Istanbul (Read more about that here). Furthermore, some of my old work is being re-released.
In terms of gigs, there’s a range of solo shows as well as some Speedy & Steve live shows planned – also I’m very excited to hit the stage with a live jam with Colin Benders this summer.
Lastly, I’m also working with one of the great art prodigies of our time, the Dutch contemporary artist Samuel Dejong, on an art show where I make music to help create a full immersive experience in combination with his artworks. One taster can be seen in Berlin at Metropol, between May 11 and 14, as part of the residency show of another amazing contemporary artist, Boris Acket, who invited us as guests to his Duration 01 show along with Lumus Instruments and more.
It’s a big year. I feel the best is yet to come.
Thanks to Steve for talking to us. Main photo by Sven Scholten. You can catch up with his latest news at www.steverachmad.com.