DJs today are confronted with an astonishing number of choices, from vinyl to digital media, controllers, mixers, and the unending stream of more music being released for consumption than at any time in history.
It’s all a bit overwhelming. We thought we’d create a new space, called How I Play, in which we talk to DJs about the one thing that isn’t a matter of “choice”: the culture of DJing itself.
This month we talk to Emphasis Recordings’ Steven Tang. You might know Steven’s productions under the name Obsolete Music Technology, a name which will be increasingly showing up on event flyers (like this one April 19th in Paris) as well, reflecting his new emphasis on live performance.
Originally from Hong Kong, Steven cut his teeth in Chicago, but we reached him in Berlin for this piece.
You’ve been a DJ for 25 years now. After that long, do you still look at yourself as a “DJ that produces”, or a “producer that DJs” or a “musician that DJs”? Or is it all part of a broader identity? How do you see yourself?
I am a DJ first, so I would say I see myself as a “DJ that produces”. Everything I’ve produced is with a DJ’s mentality. I am a poor musician, so I spend all of my time on production. I’d say I made this crossfade – from DJ to producer – around the mid-’90s.
This year, in 2014, I will make another transition, from DJing to live performance. My debut live performance in Europe will take place this April in Paris, France.
Was there someone you emulated and looked up to when you started out?
When I started out, there was no one really that I tried to emulate. It was not that serious. I was just left to my own devices. At the time, DJing was a hobby, something I did at home for enjoyment because I like the music and I had a small collection of records. I learned the technical aspects of DJing on my own. I tried to be proficient enough so that I can make tapes for myself and close friends.
Over the years I gradually developed my own voice – my own style. That goes the same for my productions. Having said that, of course the House Music scene of Chicago and the Techno music scene of Detroit during the ’80s and ’90s has had a huge influence on me during my development. I won’t go into a list of who’s who, since these DJs, artists and producers are well documented.
If I like it, I buy it. I don’t really follow the recommendations other people offer, and I most certainly don’t follow the hype of certain artists or new, hip music trends. I pay just enough attention to know what’s going on, but not enough to let it affect how I select music.
What about now – is there anyone you admire as a DJ, for their consistency or their selection or skills?
I am proud to say that all hail from Chicago! Specter of Tetrode Music/Sound Signature/Downbeat, Jamal Moss a.k.a. Hieroglyphic Being of Mathematics Recordings, Damon Lamar of Tetrode Music, Chicago Skyway of MOS Deep/Eargasmic/Episodes, Ike Release and Hakim Murphy of Innerspace Halflife, plus up and comers Chicagodeep and Talue of Perpetual Rhythms.
I really respect these people, as people first; the music thing is just a plus. I enjoy the camaraderie we have through music and they inspire me to be better at what I do.
Others who I also admire currently, but are not from Chicago: Keith Worthy of Aesthetic Audio, Patrice Scott of Sistrum Recordings, Fred P of Soul People Music, Aybee of Deep Black Music, XDB of Metrolux Music, Basic Soul Unit of Lab.our Music, John Heckle of Mathematics/Tabernacle Records, Smallpeople of Smallville Records and Lawrence of Dial Records.
How many tracks would you say you’ve listened to for the first time in the last month? This is new music, older music, everything — just stuff you haven’t heard before.
I would say I’ve listened to about 20 to 30 tracks in the last month, either on the web or at a record shop auditioning vinyl. Most of the stuff is music I’ve never heard before; unreleased or recently released material.
But while on this current tour of mine, I’ve been seeking out certain records that I already have in my collection in Chicago because I couldn’t bring them with me, or other older, second hand records, that I may have missed over the years.
I’m sure your email address has found its way onto a bunch of promo lists. How many would you say you get per month? and how many of those do you listen to?
I don’t get that many promos via email, but it fluctuates. Maybe no more than 10 promos a month. I get a lot more promo action on Soundcloud. But overall, I only listen to about 3 or 4 of them per month, because I know the rest is going to be EDM promos. I tend to look at how creative the artists are with their artist name and track titles to determine whether to listen to the demo or not. The artist names and track titles gives me insight into whether something I think would be EDM or something that may actually fit with my label or into my DJ sets. If it’s got a cheesy name or title, I delete it.
How much do record stores and that kind of face-to-face interaction fuel how you select music?
While I do partake in that experience of vinyl culture, I ultimately select music by listening to the music first. If I like it, I buy it. I don’t really follow the recommendations other people offer, and I most certainly don’t follow the hype of certain artists or new, hip music trends you see on music blogs and magazines. I pay just enough attention to know what’s going on currently, but not enough to let it affect how I select music.
Do you have a latest “discovery” – I mean any music of any era, it doesn’t have to be new – and how did you “discover” it?
I’m starting to discover a lot of nice House and Techno I missed from the mid- to late-’90s. During that period, I had stopped buying records because I started to get into production. I am discovering it by using websites like YouTube and Discogs. Also, since being in Berlin the last 5 months, I’ve been digging in the used bins at local shops!
What headphones do you use for DJing? and what about for listening (on an ipod/home stereo, when traveling, etc.)
I don’t know if you have a rider for clubs you play at, but if you did, what would be your absolute ideal/dream gear set-up at an out of town club?
I do have a rider for the clubs and promoters I play for, but I usually ask for the basics (2 Technics 1200, 2 Pioneer CDJ 2000, and Allen & Heath X:One 92 mixer or equivalent. Ideally, that’s all I need and hope that everything is in working order when I get there. What else would you need? Ah yes, background dancers!