|Playing favourites: Steve Rachmad
The Dutch producer walks us through some of the crucial tracks of his youth as well as his current DJ set fodder.
Trace the history of techno in the Netherlands, and you won't reach much further back than Steve Rachmad. The DJ/producer was one of the first to champion the sound in Amsterdam, and has made his name on pushing it around the world ever since. After flirtations with R&B and disco, Rachmad caught the bug early, buying the same gear he heard employed by Jam & Lewis and Arthur Baker and turning it around to make the sounds he later heard from Mr. Fingers and Derrick May.
We caught up with the Dutch heavyweight in advance of his Time Warp Holland appearance to talk about tracks new and old that have shaped his career. Chatting about mix tape mishaps and why he's never done a live show, Rachmad eventually revealed that he's currently reworking tracks from 1996's Secret Life of Machines in advance of a re-release in 2012. (Remixes will also be forthcoming from names like Ricardo Villalobos, Joris Voorn, 2000 and One, Marc Romboy as well.) Good news for Rachmad diehards.
Bad Times (I Can't Stand It)
Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis were actually a big part of me buying equipment and getting into music. They were quite a big influence. I have many more from the '80s, but those two were really touching me in the early days.
Can you pinpoint something in their production that appealed to you?
In the early '80s they produced "Bad Times." It had a sort of rapper, a singer, on top of some electronic music, which I think was a Roland CR-800 drum machine and a big heavy bass and I was like, "Whoa, what's this? What are all these instruments making these really cool sounds?" Since that moment, I have been trying to follow them.
It is interesting to me that you started following them as producers. Were you looking at the back of records to see who was responsible?
Yeah, I was. Even when I was really young. When I was 12 I already knew some of the '80s things—who produced them—and sometimes I knew drum machines even though I had never seen them before, but because I had heard them so many times on certain records. I knew a LinnDrum or an 808 just by the sound.
Afrika Bambaataa & The Soul Sonic Force
You mentioned that you picked this because of Arthur Baker. Was there a particular instrument that you associate with Aurthur Baker's productions?
Definitely the 808. "Planet Rock" and some other things is why I bought that as my first drum machine in 1985. I was still a paper boy, and it was around Christmas time. I had a Christmas bonus and was on my bike in town passing this secondhand store and there was one in the window—and so I ran in and paid them 100 guilders and then biked home to get the rest. It was so exciting to have a real 808.
Did you hold the 808 under your arm on your bike as you went home?
I probably was, or I was walking with the bike.
You weren't trusting yourself not to crash with it.
Exactly, because I was so excited. I know myself, and sometimes when I'm excited I do really weird stuff and it ends up really bad.
Rhythim Is Rhythim
What caught your attention about this track?
I think those basslines in the beginning. I was always a sound guy. I remember I was giving some music to a girlfriend at the time. I had made some a mixtape of music that I really liked, and later I found out that text-wise, the songs were really cheesy. Love this, love that. Then I realized that I forgot to tell her I was more into the music, not really into this cheesy vocal thing, and that I wished I had all of them as instrumentals. I'm not really into lyrics and singing—of course it is fun to work with it—but even in the '80s I was looking for the instrumentals, the dub mixes, and trying not to play the vocals.
So, she thought you loved her, but really you just loved the bass.
Yeah! I was like, "Oh, no! What does she think of me if I would give her all of these cheesy tracks?" I just chose them for the nice music.
Modus Vivendi (Fade In Mix)
The Modus Vivendi track seems very similar to "The Dance." It has this eerie melody that is really beautiful.
Yeah. Although it is from Paris, it's a very typical description of how I feel Detroit techno. It is so Detroit, and I love these guys that were influenced by Derrick [May]. You can hear it in this track, especially with the long fade in, which was a typical Derrick thing to do—start a track and make a really long intro.
Were you taking inspiration from these things as well, or were you actively saying "I don't want to sound like this, I want to try to build my own path"?
At that time I was trying to recreate those sounds with the machines I had, and, of course, build things my own way, while still referring to Mr. Fingers and Derrick because I was so inspired by them and this new way of producing. In the past I wanted to be a producer, but in R&B and disco. It was really hard though. I knew some people who did it, but you had to deal with major labels and a different way of thinking. That was a huge thing about house music for me: You could just produce it in your bedroom. That made it more approachable.
When I did my first record I made a demo before it got released. I didn't have equipment, and I didn't have a mixer, so when we went to the studio to mix the track I was like, "Fuck, this guy isn't mixing it how I have it in my head." That was the only record that someone else mixed for me, because after that I was like, "OK, I have to figure out another way to do this so I can do it how I want it." I was really young and didn't have much money, which meant I had to borrow a 16 or a 24 channel mixer which I took on the train and brought back in the morning. I remember doing it at night with headphones, mixing the tracks, recording them and in the morning on the train returning this big mixer.
You said you were mixing on headphones. Did you find that it didn't sound the same when you brought them into the club?
Sometimes when I heard the tracks back I think, "fuck." It was a shame, just because of the neighbors and all, but I'm happy because there weren't many that I had to do over headphones. An important one, which was "Fragile" on Derrick May's label, I had to do on headphones. It was really a shame because I made so many obvious mixing mistakes. I mean, I didn't even have good headphones, so it was very easy to make mistakes.
Don't Look Down Now (Roman Flügel Remix)
There is a part in this that I don't like—the longer break in the beginning, this stringing thing. But in the end, you are like "Wow," because I remember it sounded like techno in a Detroit-y way, but it also had this contemporary feel. Also the sound quality is really good. It's really well-mixed.
Do you find yourself mixing it in the middle of the track when you are DJing?
In the beginning my plan was to skip the beginning part, but in the end I always played the beginning part. I remember how I responded to it the first time I heard it, and in the beginning you are like, "Woah, what's this?" And then it's such a big surprise when it turns into something else. So when I play it, people from that point are really caught with the track. I was going to make an edit and clip that part out, but...
It is interesting that you find yourself playing this track with a part you don't like. So the payoff is so nice that you're sort of telling the audience to wait for it?
Alsace & Lorraine (Josh Wink Interpretation #1)
Have you known Josh for quite a long time?
Oh, yes. And over the last few years we have become really close. Sometimes he is in Amsterdam, and we were both in Philadelphia this year as well, and he played this to me in his studio.
What is it about this track that got you?
I have this thing for long intros that build, but still don't give it to you. It has a few moments that you think it will kick in, but it is just doing nothing and then building up again and at some points it kicks in again, but then it's something you don't really expect. It has a nice tension. It is not easy to play in the middle of the set, but I think it is a really great mix.
You say this would be difficult to play in the middle of the set. Through the years, have you seen audiences change?
Of course it depends where you have a gig, but I think nowadays there is too much leaning on breaks. I think that is a shame, because it seems like a lot of tracks have this break where the kick leaves for two minutes. In the past you didn't need that at all; you could just create something cool yourself. I think sometimes it's a shame that it went this direction. I had this instance with a friend who had a track that didn't have a break, and when he sent it to the label the label was like, "Yeah, but it doesn't break," and I was like, "Come on, this track is so charming as it is." But then he changed it for the label, and—to me—he totally fucked it up. He kind of cheesified it with the break, and I told him, "Yeah, this track was so charming and had such a cool thing and now it became just one of the others."
Heiko made this track years ago, and he gave me a snippet of it back then. These were in faster times. And then a couple of months ago—maybe a year ago—he gave me a new version, and when I played it out I thought, "Wow, this will be my special track—because no one has it." Heiko is starting up the label again. He had to sit out some years to get over some financial things with his label.
You mentioned "faster times." Do you find yourself DJing at a much slower BPM than you did five years ago?
Oh definitely. I was a bit of a speed freak in the past. I even crossed 140 BPM for a while.
Where are you now usually?
Sometimes I find myself not going faster than 126, sometimes it's 128 and if I do Fabric or Berghain it may get to 130 or something, but it is never 135. It is funny how times went. In the beginning I had some troubles with it. Now I have troubles with my own tracks that I did in the past. They're too fast. That's why I am working on my Secret Classic Machines album from '94, redoing some of the tracks and slowing them down. I don't want to have people play it at -7, or put it in Ableton and have this ugly sound where you hear it is downgrading.
Are you remixing them so you can re-release them, or for your own purposes so you can play them on your DJ sets?
It is going to be released, but not exactly how the album was. I am not going to do this for all the tracks, just a few that I want people to know. Then there will also be artists who remix the tracks.
ROD is a very good friend of mine, but he hasn't been producing very much. He is one of the DJs that you will see on their day off just on his own, in the middle of the dance floor listening to whomever. I have so much respect for this guy.
Do you find yourself going out and dancing to other DJs?
I go out and listen to them, but I'm always close to the DJ booth. [laughs]
Who was the last DJ that you went and saw when you weren't playing yourself?
It must have been at ADE a few weeks ago. Laurent Garnier?
What do you think of the Laurent Garnier LBS thing? Does that sort of ambitious live show idea rub off on you? Is that something you'd like to do in the future?
There is always the question, "When am I going to go live? Why am I not live?" My booker asks too. [laughs] I just think that I have the feeling that I can do something more than there already is. I have to say that I don't really like a lot of live sets. When I do a live set, I will want to bring equipment and not just have a computer with a screen, and it's of course a big pain in the ass to carry all of that equipment. Heiko Laux approached me to do something together, though, so I am going to think about it. I already like the idea better to do it with someone rather than just on my own. We're still in the talking stages though.
Published / Friday, 11 November 2011