The Man Behind the Machine – Feature on Steve Rachmad aka STERAC

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Having been at the forefront of international dance music for the past 25-odd years, Steve Rachmad is a man who requires little introduction.

Credited with bringing Detroit to Amsterdam, and fostering the now burgeoning scene there, Rachmad is thoroughly deserving of his pioneer status. However, due to an incredible range of releases under a multitude of monikers – STERAC, Parallel 9 and Tons of Tones to name but a few – Rachmad has never lost his relevance.

The Amsterdam-based DJ and producer’s 1995 classic Secret Life of Machines LP is heralded as one of the defining techno records of the era, and its 2012 rerelease featured reworks by the likes of Ricardo Villalobos and Joris Voorn amongst others, highlighting Rachmad’s continuing influence.

2014 has seen Rachmad in as high demand as ever on the DJ circuit, and we caught up with him towards the end of his “inspiring, heavy, but happy summer.”

Hi Steve, how are you and what have you been up to today?

I am a little tired but content. I just returned from a month of Ibiza last Thursday, packed again and arrived in Berlin Friday, straight to support my friend Wouter de Moor at his Chalet show, and then Sunday morning I played myself a 5-hour STERAC set at the Klockworks showcase in Berghain… Today it’s a chillout day at Heiko Laux’s Kanzleramt headquarters, time for good food, proper red wine and quality time with close friends. I am still in a very good buzz from the inspiring, heavy, but happy summer behind me.

Sounds full on. You are credited with helping to bring Detroit techno to Amsterdam and really growing the scene there; what was it about the Detroit sound that captured your imagination?

Well, after growing up in the 80s with synth based disco and R&B, I kinda recognised the same vibe in Detroit techno. Sounds a bit strange perhaps, especially since a lot of people think of Detroit techno as being really fast and heavy music. For me, Detroit techno is the classic Derrick May stuff, Juan Atkins, Carl Craig back in the days, Kenny Larkin – it was techno with beautiful, deep strings. Just as I’d heard it in the 80s, when the strings in all these pop/funk/electro/R&B tracks became a fascination of mine. So, for me it felt completely normal to fall in love with Detroit techno as well.

Were there any particular artists or tracks that inspired you most in the early days?

Like I said, that first generation of Detroit artists really inspired me. ‘The Dance’ by Derrick May was important for me, or Kenny Larkin’s ‘Integration’. Before that, a producer like Francois K had already painted me a certain picture of how a track should be produced. He did so many cool things in the 80s, the way he gave every sound its place in a track, how it sounded altogether, I can really enjoy that. And then there were the first house tracks that caught my attention, ‘Can You Feel It’ by Mr Fingers, or ‘Jack Your Body’ by Steve Silk Hurley. Working in a record store I heard it all first hand, it made me move forward in the way I was producing stuff at home.

How would you rate the scene in the Netherlands at the moment? Who do you think are some of the best up and coming talents at the moment?

There’s so much going on in the Dutch scene at the moment. The music has exploded into lots of different styles and sounds, which resulted in almost just as many festivals. I think we have the most festivals in the world for such a small country, every music style has its own event. When it comes to artists there’s also a lot of people I respect and admire. I could mention some established names as Amsterdam guys like Tom Trago, San Proper and Boris Werner, but when it comes to upcoming artists I’m a big fan of Maarten Mittendorff and Jasper Wolff, and their label Indigo Aera.

You’ve released under a huge number of aliases in your time, why have you chosen to do this? Do the aliases give you freedom to explore different sounds and styles?

Yes, I’ve always enjoyed to play and produce all kinds of music. Like I said, synth based disco/italo/electro to house music to Detroit techno and everything in between, I never liked to limit myself to one genre. So, I made up these aliases to be able to produce everything I liked. I can go into the studio not knowing what will come out of it, in any case I’ll have a portal to get it out there.

Your DJ sets also blend an array of different styles; is this something you choose to do consciously, or does the variation come into the sets naturally?

Of course I check where I’ll be playing. There’s a big difference whether I’m playing the Berghain or Fusion Festival, for example. I feel just as happy doing a STERAC techno set at Time Warp NL (December 6th in Utrecht), as a more housey set at a Dutch open air festival, like I did a lot this summer. But there also moments I can combine sounds, that’s something I always liked to do. Because I’ve always kept focusing on different genres, and as the scene and minds have opened up to all of these sounds, I feel an incredible freedom these days to do what I want. So when I see a crowd is open for surprises anything can happen.

The Secret Life of Machines LP is widely regarded as a genuine classic, and has influenced many artists since its release; can you tell us a little bit about the making of that record and what you wanted to achieve on it?

There wasn’t a particular goal I had while making the album. It was in the day I was getting more confident as a producer. I always had a high standard of how I wanted my tracks to sound, something I’d learned from people like Francois K. And now I was getting on a level I was satisfied with. I remember being very proud of making Sitting On Clouds, realising this was proper techno that could be played by someone like Derrick May. So after a few EPs I started to focus on an album, what you hear is a producer getting his groove on, simple as that.

How do you feel about the album now almost 20 years later?

I’m still very proud of what I made back then, of course, although it’s hard for me to acknowledge it as a techno classic like other people do. To me the music mainly represents where I was at back then, musically and technically. And the excitement about these tracks is still here, it was the main reason for remaking the album two years ago. I wanted to undo the poor mastering, get the tempos a bit more decent and also get back to my roots, to the time I really entered a more professional level of producing.

How have you managed to sustain such regular, high quality output since then? What inspires you to continue creating?

I think it was just that, going back to my roots at certain times, not following every new trend in music. For a while I wasn’t in fashion because I didn’t go along with the whole minimal thing – for a lot of people I belonged to the older techno generation. But as classic house and techno have gotten back in the spotlight again, so have I. So, my best lesson as an artist has been to stay close to myself, from there I’ve discovered loads of new music and created deeper sounds I never made before.

Great advice. You’ve had a busy few months playing across Europe and also in the States; which have been some of your favourite shows this year and why?

One of the highlights this summer was Fusion Festival in Germany, where I got to play a set full of melodic and vocal house, not something I’m known for as much as for my techno output, but it works great there. I loved playing my 80s disco set at Shoeless at Ruigoord close to Amsterdam as well. Both of these shows were simply more than just gigs, they were a complete adventure with friends in some of the most colorful, beautiful settings that I know. These remain some of my all time favourites in general. But I also had really great, special time at Womb in Tokyo – a place that never disappoints; at Circo Loco in DC10 Ibiza, where I played twice this summer and get to return to for the closing of the season too; at the crazy and beautifully green Family Piknik in Montpellier, the Brooklyn hotspot Output where I did two sets in 1 night, and another nothing-compares-all-time-favorite: Berghain in Berlin… The entire summer has been quite a journey, and besides these shows, the list could go on. In general, it has been one of probably nicest summers of my entire career. I am grateful.

What do you have coming up in the near future in terms of releases and shows?

There are some STERAC releases coming up on Delsin Records, as well as a remix for Rebekah on CLR and a remix of a PVNV’s track on the French label Taapion. Besides that I’m working on a Steve Rachmad remix for Josh Wink’s Ovum label and I’m trying to finish some EPs in the Steve Rachmad style too. There are also other projects scheduled with some Dutch producers, more info on this as things progress. Show-wise, I have a Dublin show at District Eight, Circo Loco show at DC10 Ibiza, Vienna show at Auslage all in the coming 2 weeks. Further I play Vertigo at Pisa Italy, Avadon at Block Tel Aviv, Fabric London, Time Warp Holland, Panorama bar Berlin, as well as some cool Amsterdam Dance Event shows, such as Ricardo Villalobos & friends at Elementenstraat, AD Bookings showcase at Click Westerunie and Loveland Mediahaven. More exciting times ahead therefore.

For full details of Steve Rachmad’s upcoming releases and shows, head to www.steverachmad.com.

Written by Will Van de Pol.  Image by Kirin van Noordwijk.