When one looks at Steve Rachmad‘s biography, it becomes extremely difficult to know where to begin in describing his dedication and work in the world of electronic music.
Both the list of clubs and festivals he has left an indelible mark on and his seemingly never-ending discography offer but a glimpse of his artistry. As a producer, he has been churning out timeless classics and dance floor gems under several monikers, including his own name, STERAC, Sterac Electronics, Parallel 9 and Ignacio, while as a DJ he has been constantly reinventing himself through his own signature interpretation of house and techno.
Whether you’ve been graced with the funk and soul of Steve Rachmad, the darker soundscapes of STERAC, or one of the more experimental and abstract sides of his musical mind, there is no doubt that you’ve witnessed a one-of-a-kind artist at work. It is perhaps Richie Hawtin’s words that put it best when describing the versatility of Steve Rachmad and STERAC’s music:
“Melodic and funky like Holland, rhythmic and beautiful like Detroit. The perfect combination” – Richie Hawtin on Steve Rachmad/STERAC
Steve’s 2019 is ending in Los Angeles on December 31st where he is scheduled to perform as STERAC at NYE Techno by COMPOUND alongside REKA, drumcell and JIA.
With STERAC’s highly-anticipated return to LA looming, we took the chance to speak with him to dig deeper into his musical vision, life in Amsterdam and his take on some hot industry topics.
Hi Steve! It’s been a while since we had a proper chat, perhaps a couple of ADE editions ago in Amsterdam. How have you been?
I am doing very well, thank you. I am on tour in Australia and Asia right now.
Oh nice! You live in Amsterdam, which makes this next Q an interesting one to ask, as the answers when I ask it to Amsterdam-based DJs are always so varied. How was ADE this year and generally, how is ADE for you as an artist who lives there?
Well, ADE changed as much as the whole scene. It started small and then grew over the years into probably the most relevant conference for electronic music and all of its genres. In those beginning years techno was almost non-existent, while nowadays there’s quite a lot of techno – and not just techno of course – all over the city. Amsterdam turns into the capital of electronic music for those few days, it’s really exciting. I usually have several DJ shows, few meetings, panels…
It’s an excellent opportunity to party and chat with lots of fellow DJs and producers, meet some old friends and new people, share and expand your knowledge. This year was no different, a hectic but nice week in the year.
Oftentimes I am told by Dutch DJs that they have a difficult time getting play-time in Amsterdam or The Netherlands and that when they do it’s often opening/early slots. Is this an issue you’ve faced too in your decades of career?
I believe it’s the same almost everywhere (except maybe Spain and Italy – where they idolize their own artists), it’s always a bit harder at home, but it’s still home. Amsterdam was and still is the only place I’ve ever wanted to live in. You just have to believe in yourself and keep doing your thing. Sure, we have gone through good and bad times, and we are at a totally different place than 10 or 20 years ago. I think it’s a bit easier to get your name on the map these days, but in the end, it has come to survival of the fittest, like anywhere else… clubs, events, artists, they all come and go.
Trends, generations and public’s taste changes over time. It’s important to adapt to this principle but stay true to yourself at the same time. Coming back to your question – I do mostly get prime time slots at home too – unless I wish to do an opening set, which can also be nice as it allows me to do something else musically. Other than that, I choose to play in The Netherlands less than in the past. I like the variety of crowds, so a good mix of domestic and international shows has my preference. Also, I notice, when I play less at home, people get more hungry to hear me—which is only natural.
You’re somewhat of a chameleon when it comes to this industry, and I mean that as a compliment. Steve Rachmad translated into music has given us many projects, sounds and musical avenues through the years, but let’s talk about 2019. What sounds, genres, styles and direction do you find yourself preferring and going with right now, as things stand today?
I am still as varied as you can imagine—probably even beyond that; I like the heavy bass and darkness, but also the funk, the melody and the 80s. I am eager to awaken my Parallel 9 alias very soon too. I take trips into some totally different musical realms—more abstract and meditational. Also, some new projects have come my way but I am not at liberty to say much about this yet—besides that it’s going to be a challenge. Production-wise, I am at a good spot; I am full of ideas and inspiration; I am struggling still a bit with getting used to the space in which my studio is now, but other than that, I am bursting from productivity!
Recently our friend Truncate posted an interesting status calling out someone who claimed he had “crossed over” when in fact, not unlike you, he has been producing and playing a diverse range of music for years. Is this an issue you’ve faced also in times when it seems people keep wanting “faster, stronger, harder”?
Ah, this is a pointless and everlasting discussion in my opinion. You cannot make everyone happy, and that should also not be the goal. I reject to pay attention to anyone who tries to push me in a specific corner, or in one genre–as I am simply not that guy! I play music, and by this I mean music in a wide sense of the word. Hence there’s nothing to cross over.
Your versatility has seen you release on many great labels throughout your career. Are there any that right now, today in 2019, feel more like home to you in particular?
Labels as Delsin and Indigo Aera feel like home for me for sure; but I enjoy releasing for quite some labels; I am happy these days it’s accepted to release on as many labels as you wish. Back in the days this was a very different story.
While on the subject, what is your take on the current state of flux in the techno scene and do you feel it has in any way influenced your output in the studio and while touring?
I don’t really look at the trends, what’s hot and what other artists do. On the other hand, I do keep my mind open, learn all the time and draw my inspiration from different sources. From time to time I discover artists that blow my mind and make me think outside the box, like for example Floating Points. In the studio it’s important to stick to your guns, as it’s the most rewarding approach. I try to remain true to my own standards and make sure the music is timeless and not trend-bound.
Oh yes touring… I hear you’re coming back to Los Angeles at the end of the month to play as STERAC, excited?
Yes, very much excited. One of my favorite crews to play for, too!
What are you looking forward to from the gig and visit to the city?
To be honest, it looks like it will be a short trip, in and out. I will be coming over with my girlfriend. This will be my first ever NYE overseas. Not coincidentally; I actually never wanted to be far from home on NYE. But I couldn’t say no to this one: entering 2020 in such a good company!
We can’t wait to have you! Are you playing anywhere else in the States while you’re here?
Not this time.
You said you’re in Australia right now. How is it like touring and playing down under?
I have been to Australia quite some times; some shows are better than the others, like anywhere else in the World. The scene Down Under has gone through different phases in the last so many years. It always kind of feels like there’s a serious gap between Europe and Australia at stake, though; geographically, this is for sure the case; but sometimes it feels like the PR doesn’t reach far enough; or the message arrives, but with a delay; or that certain artists are disproportionally popular down there – while in Europe it’s all quite a bit more tamed.
So every trip to Oz can bring new surprises: what are they now up to? But it’s good to go back; I have many dear friends and a good following in Australia. I love the people, the food, the nature. But I am bummed to see how the continent is suffering in such a big way from the climate change.
By the way what are some of your secrets to staying young and healthy while on tour? You’ve been doing this for so long and you seem to never age and to always have a massive smile on your face?
Over the years you just realize you have to listen to your body and take care of yourself as best you can. That’s why I make sure I rest, get enough sleep and eat as healthy as possible. That’s not always possible, especially while you’re travelling, but I try my best. Also, I always take January off from touring. I am not playing for the entire month, just having time for myself, relaxing and some studio time.
Let’s set aside your work for a bit. Do you go clubbing yourself in Amsterdam when you have a weekend that you’re not playing out? What are your favorite spots in your city to hit up?
Weekends when I’m not playing anywhere are rare and honestly, if I’m off, I tend not to go clubbing. I’d rather hit my studio or go out for a dinner with friends. But recently I went to a semi-illegal party on a Sunday afternoon, and that was such a great fun! Such a cool atmosphere, and so much good music. It felt like I found a portal that took me back in time to one of those illegal raves.
What does Steve Rachmad get up to when he isn’t recording or playing music?
Since I am travelling quite a lot, if I’m not in the studio, I’m happy when I get to be at home simply relaxing, watching a movie or having a walk in the city. Maybe checking out some of my favorite and new restaurants in Amsterdam. I’m a foodie and I like to explore different gastronomies, specially Asian ones.
What are your favorite food spots to hit up back at home?
My favourite spot would probably be Yamazato, a Michelin star Japanese restaurant at Okura hotel. You can also check out Sora in De Pijp or Ramenya at the outskirts of the Red Light District, they offer really good Japanese authentic ramen soup. I hear great things about Ramen Kingdom too—which I am going to check out as soon as I’m back from the tour. If you like pasta, I’d recommend Spaghetteria West. For a bit more upclass Italian meal, go to Toscanini, but make sure to book in time. And for fully vegan and organic, I recommend Spirit!
Tell us about a hidden gem in Amsterdam! It doesn’t have to be a food spot, it can be a store or just a nice place to relax, or enjoy a view.
There’s plenty of lovely authentic parts of the city like Jordaan, Oud West, Oud Zuid. Jordaan is filled with small galleries, bars, boutiques and restaurants, as well as the neighbouring Haarlemmerdijk and Haarlemmerstraat. Check out De Hallen, an old tram park that was renovated into a very popular complex with a cinema, beautiful hotel, restaurants, a few cute shops and a food court.
Take a free pond to the North part of the city and enjoy the beautiful vistas of the city center across the water or if you have some extra time for a bike ride, follow the river Amstel southwards till you leave the city and end up in the beautiful woods oasis at the outskirts of the city, Amsterdamse Bos.
Another little hidden treasure to reach by bike at the outskirts of the city is Durgerdam, a small village by the water at the North side of the city, filled with charming wooden houses and views over the expanding Amsterdam at the other side of the IJ-meer.
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Cover photo of STERAC by Noam Ofir