Interview: Steinski

From the DJ History archives: Bill Brewster and Frank Broughton quiz the cut-and-paste hero on his hip-hop history and pioneering studio mash-ups

Steve Stein never seemed like the most likely candidate to become a hip-hop legend. By the time he discovered the early New York rap scene at the turn of the 1980s, he was almost 30 years old. He was also white, Jewish and in steady employment as an advertising executive. Yet during the mid-to-late 1980s, Stein would pioneer hip-hop’s cut-and-paste culture, first alongside friend (and fellow advertising worker) Douglas DiFranco and then later as a solo artist. As Double Dee and Steinski, the pair produced a series of seminal – and highly illegal – mash-ups, known as “Lessons,” which included breakbeats, scratches and vocal samples from a dizzying array of records. Famously, the pair was initially inspired to create their cut-and-paste masterpieces by seeing a Tommy Boy remix contest advertised in US music industry bible Billboard.

Back in 1999, and again in 2001, Stein sat down with DJ History’s Bill Brewster and Frank Broughton to tell his story. In the two in-depth interviews, which have been combined here for the first time, Stein discusses how he fell in love with hip-hop culture and early rap music, his working partnership with DiFranco and his largely-forgotten stint as a solo producer on Island offshoot 4th & Broadway.

Steinski at Red Bull Music Academy Cape Town, 2003 Red Bull Music Academy

Let’s start with your upbringing and how you discovered records for the first time.

I had a middle class, real pleasant childhood. I started getting into music in the middle of the ’60s, first through what I heard on the radio. Radio then was a lot more liberal than it is now, so everyone was a lot more acquainted with different kinds of music. Top 40 radio covered a whole range: Frank Sinatra, Booker T... all sorts.

My parents had a record player and that fascinated me. Eventually I worked out how to use it and on it went. I actually still have the first record I ever played. I know it by heart: it’s a 78 by a comedian named Buddy Hackett. It’s a horribly racist and still, to me, extremely funny routine called “The Chinese Waiter.” It wasn’t done live, it was done in the studio, him alone, which is really kind of odd, a very sterile setting for comedy. But he could do voices quite well.

As a kid, I used to take out show tune records a lot from the library and listen to them. After that, I never really bought records much until, jeez, I’d say about the time I was 27 or 28, in the late 1970s. It had even got to the point where I was avoiding going into record stores, because I’d practically wanna cry because I couldn’t buy the stuff I really wanted. I had already been through various phases. I’d been through loving country music and then jazz, because I was living in Philadelphia in my mid-20s, which is a huge jazz town. I also really enjoyed discovering what we used to call black rock music, which was P-Funk and Sly Stone.

What triggered you to turn buying records into more of an obsession?

I always liked dancing and music, but I’d say after travelling around a lot in the late ’70s, moving up and down the East Coast and living in Philadelphia. There, radio was colossally fabulous – much better than in New York. In Philadelphia in the middle and late ’70s, you would hear Funkadelic on the radio all the time. They also had a major jazz station out of Temple University called WRTI, which was incredible. I mean, it was an education living there.

Then I came to NYC and it was dead, in terms of radio. It always has been. The exception for me was WPIX, which was on the air for two years. It was a great station, honest-to-goodness freeform in what it played. It would play old rock & roll, old soul and more modern stuff like Iggy Pop’s “Lust for Life.” I started buying records at that point.

I had a job working in advertising and for the first time in my life I had disposable income. That disposable income went right to records. At first, when I bought an LP I’d listen to it for two or three weeks, then go out and buy another one. That was really great, but then I started to get an LP every week. At some point I just sort of went nuts and started buying 10 LPs every week. I also started carrying around a list of singles that I’d always wanted and going to speciality stories. The dam broke at that point and I was starting to become a collector. I was buying a lot of old R&B. That was the first thing I started collecting seriously.

I felt it was like a religious revelation. I’d been waiting all my life to hear this music, I just didn’t know it.

What were you doing in advertising?

I was a copywriter for six years at a very major advertising agency, Doyle Dane Bernbach. I still do work in advertising – it’s the main part of my income. Producing radio commercials, sound for TV commercials, things like that. But I’d much rather not be in it steadily employed by an agency. This is fine.

So you were living in New York, buying loads of records and working in advertising. How did you discover hip-hop culture and rap music?

It was through WPIX, which was really a rock station even though they played all different kinds of stuff. I was working round the house one night and as I had just got a cassette recorder, I threw in a tape and recorded whatever was on WPIX. I then went to bed. When I got up the next morning, I discovered that what I had taped was Deborah Harry and Chris Stein of Blondie as guest DJs on somebody’s show.

Instead of playing new wave music, they said, “Well, we were at this party in the South Bronx last night and we borrowed a bunch of records from the DJ. We’re just going to play what he had.”

This stuff came on and I was like, “What is this? This shit’s great!” It was old rap, early rap music. It was stuff on Enjoy, it was stuff on the Sound of New York and I listened to this and it was electrifying. It was great, man! It was everything I ever wanted to hear in music and nothing I didn’t want to hear. It was all rhythm section. I felt like it was a religious revelation. I’d been waiting all my life to hear this music, I just didn’t know it.

I just listened to the tape over and over again until I got to the point where it was like, “This song is... this guy keeps referring to him and this other guy as the family.” A couple of days later I was banging around in record stores saying, “Have you ever heard of a record called, I think, “Family Rap?” And they were like “No, what are you talking about?”

Family - Family Rap

I finally wound up at Downstairs Records when it really was downstairs, in a landing in the subway. I went in and they had a turntable you could listen to records on, and they a little section of 12" rap records. Tiny. But in this section I found the record – I couldn’t believe it! I took it up to the counter and the woman who was working there, Yvonne Turner, who subsequently became the manager of Francois Kevorkian’s studio, looked at the record and looked at me. She said, “This is a rap record.” I said, “That’s OK, I know what I’m doing.” She said, “If you don’t like it, you can bring it back.” I bought it, took it home, and it was like, “Boom!” I started playing it to all my friends. “Dig this, this is so great!” Unanimously, 100%, they were like, “What is that crap?”


Oh yes, totally. It was all middle class white people. They were like, “I don’t understand that, fuck you.” So I didn’t play it for them anymore, but it didn’t stop me. Over the course of the next few weeks I bought a copy of every rap record they had in there. I just kept going back: “Gimme the records!”

I didn’t realise what was happening or how the records were made, until one day I was in Downstairs. I was standing around and you know, that was an education, man. I’d go for an hour and a half at lunchtime. One day, I saw a bunch of kids come in and they looked like stick-up kids from Times Square. They had on fur coats and they were obviously packing. Guns were clanking around in their pants.

They said, “Let us see those records.” And this box came out from under the counter full of 45s. These guys put them on the turntable and dropped the needle – it was really irritating listening to them do it – looking for the break. “OK, fine. We’ll take two of those.”

So I went over and said to the person behind the counter, “What’s with those records?” They said, “Those are break records. You know, they buy two of them and mix them back and forth and they get a beat.” The light goes on. So I started buying those, too. I started buying these boots.

Just backtracking a little bit, why do you think you “got it” and your friends didn’t?

I was just lucky. It was the finger of God. I wasn’t listening to anything that anybody else wasn’t listening to. I was groovin’ to exactly the same stuff. If I look back on it I can say that from the time I was seven I always liked spoken word records. I always had a feel for people talking and rhythms of speech, which of course is a big part of rap music.

When I first heard rap music it just kind of focused everything. That’s when I started thinking, “I’ve found a direction.”

I remember going to the Roxy, one of the first times I went, after it opened up. I had already been going to Negril and some of the other parties, and I was sitting up in the bleachers drinking some cheap liquor and smoking pot. I’m looking and it’s Jazzy Jay with Bambaataa as the selector, and it’s funky and it’s loud. I’m just going, “Oh man, this is too much.”

Bambaataa kind of sneaks two 45s over Jazzy Jay’s shoulder. Jazzy gives him a suspicious look and then cues up one copy. The record comes on and it’s the opening of Shirley Ellis’s “The Clapping Song” – “Three, six, nine, the goose drank wine, the monkey chewed tobacco on the street car line.” I hadn’t heard that record since I was ten and I’m sitting there thinking, “This is an incredible break with somebody rapping over it.”

He just mixed it back and forth and the song never started. He’d scratch the one opening over the other. I thought, “Shit man, I liked it when I was ten and I love it now!”

Shirley Elis – The Clapping Song (Clap-Pat-Clap-Slap)

This was a Friday night, so I went out on the Saturday morning looking for copies of this 45. I wound up at this totally rapacious record store where the guy said, “Yeah, I got two copies of that, $15 a piece.” So I gave him the 30 bucks. When I brought them home, the openings of the records were burnt, so they were like Bambaataa and Jazzy Jay’s rejects that they’d sold. I’d just got there a little late.

I started buying records when I first heard old New Orleans R&B, which led me to branch out into other types of music. When I first heard rap music it just kind of focused everything. That’s when I started going to all the parties, buying all the records and thinking, “I’ve found a direction.”

When did you first hear someone DJing hip-hop live?

The Negril. It was on 2nd Avenue in the city and they took a tiny ad out in the Village Voice. I was going out with a woman at the time who didn’t understand this, but she was like, “Fine, sure.” When we got to the door of the club, it was kind of a blacked-out storefront. You walked a couple of feet and there was a window where you paid the bread, and then there were stairs heading down to the basement club.

I remember I could hear it as we were paying the money, so I grabbed her and we went down the stairs. She was flying out behind me like a cartoon, saying, “What are you doing?” I was all, like, “Holy shit, holy shit, holy shit!” When we got down there it was exactly what you’d expect to see. There was a guy on stage with two turntables DJing on a table and like, eight Japanese tourists, who were already into it – they knew about it already! There were also a lot of people from uptown and then us. The woman I was with was terrified. I said, “Don’t worry about it” and she replied, “Well, I’m gonna need a couple of drinks.” So I said, “How many do you want?” Oh God, it was fabulous.

Who was spinning?

I haven’t the faintest clue. I totally don’t remember. It was some crew from uptown, maybe, because there were rappers, too. It wasn’t Bambaataa, but it may have been Zulu Nation. It kinda strikes me that it was not. It’s a blur now. I actually think it may have been the Cold Crush Brothers.

I didn’t have the balls to go to the Bronx. Unfortunately my enthusiasm had a brawl with my middle-class upbringing, and middle class won two-thirds of the time.

Were they spinning breaks?

Yeah, and it was swinging. Seeing them mixing between these breaks was great. It was a combination of the skill and hearing those fucking breaks and those funky beats, man. That was it. It was like discovering a religion. It’s always been about funky shit for me.

Around this time, when you were really getting into the early hip-hop and rap culture, did you ever go to the Bronx?

I didn’t have the balls, to tell you the truth. I mean, unfortunately my enthusiasm kind of had a brawl with my middle-class upbringing, and middle class kind of won about two-thirds of the time. But the fact that Blue was putting on these parties downtown meant I could hear the music and see the DJs in action. I went to Negril a couple of times and then she moved it to another club.


I missed it at Danceteria. There were a couple of evenings when it was at neither of those. Then when the Roxy opened, I was there three Fridays out of four as soon as I saw that was happening. It was just incredible. They had this beautiful canvas background that was pulled all of the way up to the front so it wouldn’t seem like such a big space. And, as the months went by, they kept moving it back and it was like, “Oh, this is cool, it’s getting popular. That’s neat.”

What else do you remember about the Roxy?

It was the best fucking party that ever was. Absolutely! For one thing, from the very start there was no VIP, there was no velvet rope, none of that bullshit. Everybody waited in line, everybody got in. What was absolutely thrilling of course was that there was a full body frisk, which was the first time I’d ever had that going into a club. And I remember as time went on there, you really saw stuff being found. At the Zulu Nation birthday parties you would see guys from uptown coming in and the guy doing the frisk would find a bottle of liquor and a gun. And he’d go, “OK man, here’s a claim check, you can have these back on the way out.” And he’d tag them and put them in a box.

You’d go up this big ramp. They had lockers for you to put your clothes in. Sometimes they sold custom T-shirts. There would be guys who had the most beautiful airbrushed shirts, and I of course did not buy any of those gorgeous shirts. They had tables where you could just hang, where it was quiet. Then you went into this main area, which was an old bus garage that had been turned into a roller rink. That meant that it had nice, wooden floors.

The sound was really big. In the beginning the turntables were on a table on the floor. All the people who wanted to dance were dancing, but you also had all the record weasel guys standing around looking at D.ST behind the decks, thinking, “How the fuck is he doing that?” It was great.

The other nice thing was that I was socially awkward, but hip-hop culture was such that guys could dance alone. No problem. It wasn’t like you stood out, like a stag line. There were lots of guys dancing and there were some couples. I may be socially awkward, but I am not self-conscious. I will dance alone. So I had a great time. You’d listen to all these records, dance, they had lights and you could smoke pot. Fabulous.

Were you one of the record weasels?

I already was a record weasel, man. I didn’t really want to become a scratchy guy, like a turntablist. But I did end up going out and buying two Technics 1200s and a Numark mixer, which I set up in my apartment. At that time I belonged to an enormous organization of hippies in Brooklyn called the Park Slope Food Coop, which was a food-buying cooperative. You’d go in and it was a warehouse owned by this group of people, and you could get organic foods and all kind of other shit, but you had to work there three or four hours a month.

They would have parties. I went to one party and they had a home stereo and poeple would bring tapes of good dance music. Now in a group like that, good dance music is like polka music for some people, ballads from the Caribbean for others, all different kinds of shit. There was this one guy standing there and he would just take whatever tape off the top of the thing and put it in the cassette player. If he didn’t like it, he’d take it out and play the next one. It was really disjointed crap. So I went up to him afterwards once and said, “Have you ever thought of having a DJ, with record players and stuff?”

He said, “We talked about it once but nobody wanted to do it.” They were halfway into buying a soundsystem. They got two column speakers and an amplifier, and the first time I DJed there I rented a mixer and turntables. I stood on top of some display case, and people loved it. The first one must have been 1980 or ’81. They were good dances full of old hippies who were completely liberal.

They would dance to 15 minutes of anything. It didn’t matter. I’d put on rap music. They’d never heard rap music, but it didn’t matter. 15 minutes after that, they were bored and wanted to hear something else, so I’d play 15 minutes of country music. After that, 15 minutes of old rock & roll, 15 minutes of old R&B and then we could maybe go back to the hip-hop.

Double Dee was much more technical than me. I was just a writer at an advertising agency who collected records and played them at parties.

How come you didn’t want to scratch DJ like the hip-hop kids you saw?

It obviously took a lot of time to learn how to do, and I had a job. I was really into buying records. I kind of branched off into the more scholarly aspect of it, which was listening and getting the records. I’d hear something and I’d rush out and buy it the next day. In any case I was buying all the new rap singles: everything that came out. I was going to every store downtown that had them, all the time. I would buy white label shit as soon as it came in. I would tape the Mr. Magic show, which was on between two and four or something. And Supreme Team. Islam’s show. Stuff like that I would tape and listen to.

Which station was Islam on?

I think he was on the same pay-for-play station where you would rent an hour of time.

The same as the Supreme Team?

And Mr. Magic. I think it was on AM. Irene Trudel, who is the engineer at FMU now, was the engineer for a lot of these shows. I think it was out of Newark. It wasn’t WNWK, which was another station.

When did you figure that you actually wanted to make music?

I never did. That just kinda snuck up on me. What happened was this. Through advertising I met Doug DiFranco. At the time he was an engineer in a studio that was doing all advertising work for record companies. At that time record companies took out a lot of radio ads. They were generally very sparse 60-second commercials, “The new album by the Eagles featuring “Hotel California,” their latest effort.” Voice-over and song clips. Doug did those and other advertising stuff to get people to buy beer, or whatever.

I met Doug because I had a freelance client that needed some stuff doing. This guy owned a nightclub and wanted to be the voice of the commercials himself. So I called the studio, because I knew them and I had worked up there, and said, “I have to come in with this guy who’s kind of odd, so I need somebody who can handle this.” They said, “Fine,” and hooked me up with Douglas.

While I was up there doing these jobs I noticed that Doug had all these records lying around. He had Talking Heads and Brian Eno. I said, “Hey man, that’s pretty cool,” and we got talking. I said, “Have you ever been to the Roxy?” He said, “No, but I heard somebody talking about it, though.”

So we went to the Roxy. It opened at 11 or something like that. We both lived in Brooklyn. He must have come by and picked me up in his car because we drove down and parked over on the lot on 18th Street. We went in and he really liked it. Doug had a good sense of what was going on, so we started going a lot. And hanging out a lot, listening to records and becoming a little bit more analytical about them – like hearing “Planet Rock” and trying to work out the technical aspects of sampling, which was just coming in. He was much more technical than me. I was just a writer at an advertising agency who collected records and played them at parties. That was pretty much it.

How did the friendship develop into studio collaboration?

A friend of Doug’s was a producer of music business radio commercials for CBS. One day he was reading Billboard and spotted an advert saying that they were sponsoring a contest to remix a particular record at home. It was the Tommy Boy contest for “Play That Beat Mr. D.J” by G.L.O.B.E and Whiz Kid. He gave the ad to Douglas and said, “You guys should enter this.”

G.L.O.B.E. & Whiz Kid ‎- Play That Beat Mr. D.J.

So we looked at it and thought, “OK.” It had to be five minutes long, but you could use anything you wanted to. I already had the record as I’d bought it when it came out. So we listened to it and thought, “We can do this.” Don’t forget that we’d been going to the Roxy, so we sort of understood the mixing of elements, what rap music sounded like, where it came from and things like that.

So one Saturday evening we got started. I put six crates of records together. Douglas already had a couple of crates up in the studio. He picked me up, brought everything up and we just locked the door until two in the morning.

We were like, “Wow, we could do this, could put this down here...” We were working on an eight-track and Douglas’s skills for mixing these little things for record companies was really coming into play. He was going, “Oh right, this should hit the beat before, we’ll put this on this track and cover the transition with this.” And I was sitting there going, “Yeah right, then we’ll go into this record.” I didn’t know anything about BPMs really. I wasn’t sitting there going, “This is 85 beats per minute,” it was just, “I bet this will work.” Everything was kind of in the neighbourhood.

We finished up at two and the next day we went back into the studio. We finished at midnight on Sunday and that was that. We made the tape and sent it in.

Double Dee & Steinski – The Payoff Mix (Mastermix of G.L.O.B.E. & Whiz Kid –Play That Beat, Mr. D.J.)

Six weeks later, after some meeting at the agency my secretary says, “Tommy Boy just called, Tommy Boy himself. You won that contest, you gotta call him back.” So I called Tommy Silverman back and he said, “Who are you?” He was surprised I had a secretary. I said, “Yeah, I work in an advertising agency.” He said, “I can’t wait to meet you guys.”

So we went down [to the Tommy Boy office], got given t-shirts and a couple of records and they took our picture. We got a hundred bucks, which we split between us. But the best part of the prize was that they said, “Your mix will get played on eight radio stations that have agreed to play the winning mix.”

They said it was obvious that our mix was the best entry. They played it to the judges last and when they did, the mix got a standing ovation.

Did they press it up?

Not immediately. It was wonderful because we had won over judges that we really respected. I mean, Bambaataa and Shep Pettibone were like serious heavies. We were like, “Goddam!”

The biggest thrill was the first night after we won that contest, when we went down to the Roxy. We went right up to the DJ booth and were introduced to Bambaataa. “Here’s those guys that did that mix!” Bambaataa goes, “Hey, how you doing, man? Nice record!” We felt like we’d died and gone to heaven. That’s a huge memory.

Were they surprised at the fact you were white?

Tommy [Silverman] couldn’t get over it. It was a big kick to them at that time, because I was in my early 30s and Douglas was in his late 20s. The only other people who had submitted anything were 17 years old and black. The best thing about it was that they said it was so obvious that ours was the best competition entry. They said they knew they had to play it to the judges last, and when they did the mix got a standing ovation. That was beyond our wildest dreams.

At that point it became like a wonderful dream. They sent out the tapes to all the radio stations and it became a number one call-in item in every market it was being played in. We found out two weeks later that people were selling air checks on the corner in Philadelphia for 25 dollars. Cassettes of the mix recorded off the radio. A friend of mine paid eight pounds for a cassette recording in Britain while he was DJing over there. We were like, “Fuck that’s great!”

We were just celebs for a couple of months and it was wonderful. Not that we craved celebrity – I mean, we weren’t sitting around saying, “How are we gonna make money being DJs,” because we both had jobs. But it was great being in that world that we really liked, meeting every body. We met all the rappers and DJs. It was dynamite!

Then you started making proper records…

We wanted to do a follow-up so we did the James Brown record, “Lesson Two.” That was also very well-received. Tommy Boy put it out as a promo-only thing. Then someone approached us to say that they were writing a book on the history of hip-hop. They asked if we’d be interested in doing a mix to go with it. Yeah, sure! That was what became the “History of Hip-Hop Mix.”

Double Dee & Steinski – Lesson 3 (History Of Hip-Hop Mix)

At that point we’d both moved out of our apartments and moved into an enormous apartment out in Brooklyn. We put a studio up in the front room, which had both of our record collections in. I was no longer working full-time and Douglas was freelancing as an engineer.

How come you went your separate ways after “Lesson 3”?

Douglas just decided after a while that he didn’t want to pursue it, because it wasn’t like we had a stage act. We weren’t turntablists. Hip-hop was so young as a phenomenon that we didn’t see our futures in it. So he went back on staff as an engineer and kind of gave up doing records.

I was freelancing at a cable TV station and learning how to produce video as well as audio. I said, “There is still a record I want to make.” I wanted to make a very dramatic record, so that’s when I made “The Motorcade Sped On.”

Steinski & Mass Media – The Motorcade Sped On

It took me a long time to make, because I wasn’t working with Douglas. I booked some time in the downtown rap studio, INS. It stood for Ian North Sound. Ian North and his wife lived in the front and they had a 24-track studio in the back, with a lot of outboard stuff that mostly worked. They had a lot of overworked engineers that tended to fall asleep because they were working almost 24 hours a day. I started working with Craig Bevan, who I’m sure in the beginning thought I was absolutely crazy.

We worked on it for a couple of sessions and I couldn’t figure out what to do any more, so I said, “Stash the tape and I’ll come back.” I left it a couple of months, worked out what I wanted to do and then we finished it off. At that point Tommy Boy owed me some money for some work I had done, so I asked the label to put the record out instead of paying me.

What was the reaction like when the record eventually dropped?

Over here in the US, not good. It was a little intellectual for some people. For the people who didn’t think it was too intellectual, it was in hideously bad taste. But I got a call from the NME in the UK who said they would like to press up a quarter of a million copies as flexi-discs and put them on the front of the paper. I was like, “Don’t let nothing stop you!”

Right after that, a guy who had been associated with the NME, name of Joel Webber, became an A&R guy at Island. He called me up and said, “I’m working at Island now. Do you have any idea for records that are legal, that could actually be issued for money?”

Everything I had done up until that point was extremely... Well, they wouldn’t have got past the lawyers. The first three records I did with Douglas: forget it. The one I did with the Kennedy assassination samples: forget it. That was all CBS air checks by Walter Kronkite, the most famous news guy in America. No way was that ever gonna get cleared.

The label was concerned. “If we take you under our wing, we want none of this bullshit.” There was no sample clearance at the time. So I said, “Yeah, sure.” I wasn’t smart enough to say, “Let me use some stuff out of your catalogue.” That’s what I’m pitching now to everyone and their brother, “Let me muck about with your catalogue because you already have the rights.”

The first thing I did for them was, “We’ll Be Right Back.” The voices on there were announcers I was working with all the time. I wrote up three or four pages of script and had these people come in and read them. The guy I co-produced them with was David Origin. He said, “Right now we’ll break them down so that they sound like they came off the TV.” We recorded air conditioner noise, mixed it in, really compressed them and then re-recorded it all coming out of a set of headphones. Everybody thought we’d actually taken it off the TV.

That was nice. We produced a little video of 1950s-looking stuff that you didn’t need clearance for – you just paid for one-time use only. Ovaltine in the UK picked it up for two cycles of 26 weeks as their theme song. Actual commercials.

Steinski & Mass Media – We'll Be Right Back (Club Edit)

I made another record for them that was interesting but not so good, called “Let’s Play it Cool.” 4th & Broadway then dropped my option, though I stayed friendly with them. I then drifted off into the world of independent labels and didn’t make records a whole lot, just a couple now and then.

Steinski & Mass Media Featuring D.J. Sugar Kane ‎– Let's Play It Cool

Did the production techniques that you were using evolve or was it always the same way?

They definitely evolved. A lot of that was to do with the equipment I was using. It was pretty much the same up through the stuff for 4th & Broadway, though “Motorcade” did have a little bit of actual sampling in it.

I met a guy named Alan Friedman, who was a studio engineer for Francois Kevorkian. He’d been working with Francois, listening to him doing remixes and helping him do some programming. Alan eventually went freelance and started working with Shep Pettibone. Later he worked full time with Clivillés and Cole, doing drum programming for all of their shit. He worked with Shep on that hit he wrote for Madonna, “Vogue.” He programmed a lot of it.

Alan’s totally into weird music. Screwy shit. So I was friendly with him and we kinda felt each other out, because I was older than he was. He had a studio in a second bedroom in his mom’s house out in Brooklyn, and I turned him onto a lot of music. In turn he turned me onto sequencers and the idea of working more with samplers. We started working together and it became a regular thing. Every week I’d haul my sampler out to his place and set it up alongside his. That was really when I started doing it all electronically. No tape involved.

When was the sampler cheap enough for you to go out and buy one?

Shit, I dunno. I got an AKAI S900.

When did they become common currency?

1986 or ’87 maybe? I still don’t see myself as a musician. Alan, though, he quit high school and used all the money his parents had saved up for college to buy a studio so he could start working. He knew, “I’m a musician, that’s what I want to do, I don’t want to go to college.” Jesus, I never felt anything that strongly in my life. He was lucky, but I didn’t know, so I was like, “OK, I’ll get a sampler.”

How did you perceive what you were doing if you weren’t a musician?

Kind of as a producer, I suppose. Until recently, when I set myself up with Pro Tools and really got self-contained, I saw myself as the guy who sits in the back saying, “Why don’t we try this,” and, “Take it to the left a bit more.” Basically it was like being a director. It was like being an old style producer.

Were you trying to emulate what people were doing with turntables?

No, not really. I’d say that became part of the vocabulary very quickly, and it was something that I’d been acquainted with very early on, watching people do it in Negril and the Roxy, and I kind of absorbed that. I used scratching a little bit, but it never occurred to me, “Oh yes, we’ll make it LIKE scratching.” I mean, now if I use it as an element in stuff I do, I’ll get in a DJ or, and I hate to say it, use some of my discs of sampled scratching. I go through them and I’m like, “Oh, that’ll work. Right here, man!” What I do is make records based on the stuff that I’m interested in, and what I’m interested in is funky music and people talking. That’s basically it.

This piece is based on two interviews. The first was conducted in January 1999, with the second following in March 2001. © DJ History

By Frank Broughton and Bill Brewster on August 18, 2017

On a different note