Winning the Tommy Boy remix competition with their “Payoff Mix” of G.L.O.B.E & Whizkid’s Play That Beat Mr DJ in 1983, little did Steven Stein and Doug DiFranco realise they would become two of the most important names in hiphop, whose production techniques would span all genres of popular music. “I was fairly old… early 30s I guess maybe,” Stein begins. “We didn’t know if everybody made mixes like that, and we didn’t know if it was anything special. We just did it in a weekend, we liked it and said ‘OK, lets send it in’. It was a contest, and we hoped we would win, obviously,” he says humbly, “but we didn’t know. As it turns out they knew heard once they heard it!” In fact, the organisers left it for the judges to hear last, and they broke out in spontaneous applause once it was played. Steinski and Double Dee became an instant hit on urban radio.
The Payoff Mix was a mind numbing mix of hiphop, pop culture samples and sound effects, and soon became known as Lesson One. Lesson Two: The James Brown Mix featured the now infamous sample “Lesson Two” ripped from a dance instruction record was released in 1984. Lesson Three: The History of Hiphop features a whole heap of breaks that were common to hiphop, and strongly featured Herman Kelly & Life’s Dance to the Drummers Beat arrived shortly after, although none were released at the time due to copyright laws.
“Boy, are you asking the right person!” Stein laughs when I bring up the subject of copyright laws “I feel somewhat constrained by them,” he chortles. “But at the same time there are two sides to it. On the one hand, the idea that musicians should make money from their records is something that is close to my heart these days. What I don’t agree with is the sweeping nature of the laws and the enforcement as it is happening now. I feel constrained by copyright laws because I would not make something that was obviously illegal with intent to sell it… I wouldn’t not make it, I just wouldn’t sell it”, he smirks. “It’s kind of stupid; the whole attitude is so corporate. They don’t see it as art. It’s frustrating in that respect, but I can make a legal album,” he concedes. “The album I’m working on currently is all legal, and I feel much more confident about that than I did in the 80s.
In 1985, the pair split amicably. Stein went out on his own, and produced the chilling, evocative And the Motorcade Sped On. “Douglas and I had decided that we weren’t going to make records together for a while,” Stein begins, “and here I had this challenge – I wanted to make another record, because I liked making records it turns out, and I wanted to do something that had a very emotional impact. I took my own money, and it took me a while because I was working with a guy that was good, but who I had never worked with before, and it wasn’t a partnership, it was really just me steering the fire engine. At the time, 20 years ago, the Kennedy assassination really had a lot of impact; there were a lot of people around even younger than me that remembered it. In the same kind of way that September 11 was a shock, that had a big impact in the United States, and hearing those sounds gave people an electrical stimulus.”
“I did a 9/11 piece,” he begins when I ask if there’s any subjects or samples he wouldn’t use. “I used audio from one of the plane to ground communications that was released after the investigation, and it’s really intense. I wouldn’t be playing this out at a party for a variety of reasons – first of all there’s no beat in it, it’s a ballad essentially, and the other it’s REALLY depressing and slow moving, it’s not really something for a party. But there are lots of samples and issues I wouldn’t touch. If it turns my stomach or if it violates someone’s privacy, I wouldn’t touch it.”
Steinski is touring Australia in December with the Nextmen and DJ Signify, and promises to offer something new to all those who go to see him. “I’m learning a new software package for when I perform in Australia. I’m not going to be DJing records. I am a really lousy live DJ and this is going to turn me into a good one!” he chuckles. “I’ll have a lot of digital material that I can play and mix live, pre-recorded material, whole records of tracks, plus I’m going to be performing with DJ Signify on the turntables, and we’re going to be doing his material also. So it should be a gas. Right now it’s theoretically a wonderful idea,” he chuckles, “and we hope to see soon if it’s a good practical idea.”
I let him know that he’s playing at a rave, and he is stoked! “Really?! Oh no kidding!” he cracks up laughing, “What’s the date like man, that’s something I haven’t experienced!” I explain to him how Enchanted Forrest usually works, and he becomes as enthused as I am. “Oh boy, are they going to be surprised at my stuff! I’m kinda of new to playing out, this is all news to me. I’m really interested to see this!” He’s a little concerned that people may find him a little slow. “My stuff is very hiphopish, so if you’re listening to stuff which is hard house, or drum and bass which is 140 to 150 or more BPM, my stuff is going to sound like doped out reggae compared to that… That sounds interesting,” he muses, “that will be fun! Really? A rave an hour and a half outside Adelaide… Cool!” If Steinski’s set is as fun as this interview was, then it’s going to be a corker!