Steve Shakewell - New Mix and Interview
by Herb Essntls
A year ago
This week it's an honor to present Steve Shakewell as our Musical Host. Steve is a native New Yorker and has been a staple in the NYC nightlife for a long time. Steve hosts Air a Danser, a summer party filled with amazing tunes and maybe the best kept secret in NYC.
Thank you for being our Musical Host this week! Tell us about how you went about the curation and the mood you set for NYC?
Thanks for having me, was fun making it. I wanted this mix to touch upon certain moods in a natural way - Uk jazz, percussive folk, an equally smooth but intense Brazilian emoo belter, a brand new edit by Patrick Billard/DJ Duckcomb & Dino Soccio and ends with some whimsy of sweet soul. Many of these songs I’ve been wanting to put on a mix for some time now but just didn’t work before, others, such as the opening tune are nods to close friends.
And what about finding new music. We read in an interview you’ve said: “ I think I’ll always dig for records, it's a never ending search for music. I’m obsessed.” - Do you have any long term plan for your music collection? Could it be turned into something Museum-like or exhibition-like for example?
That statement is still true. My collection could be thinned out a bit, getting rid of tunes I don’t listen to anymore or perhaps my tastes have changed a bit and developed as well. But letting go is hard, they are markers for memories sometimes; perhaps on a previous mix, played at a special moment of a party or maybe just a fond memory of when I bought it or who I was with or a certain time in my life.
As for its long term future, I do hope my two young daughters will get something out of it, in some way. An appreciation of some of it, but more importantly to be open-minded and realize that there’s something special about a physical record, a piece of art. Currently, they do love looking at cover & sleeve art, pressing play on the turntable, ha!
I don’t see it as a museum or exhibition, to me that implies it’s not in use, similar to a collection of trophies. I play my rares!
You usually host Air A Danser, a Brooklyn summer party. Which might be New York’s best kept secret - the music is always incredible. What was the intention behind creating it?
I’d been sitting on the idea and name for a very long time. The name is taken from a song by The Penguin Cafe Orchestra which I first heard when Phil South played it at an outdoor No Ordinary Monkey party many moons ago. Those parties were pretty special and inspirational. The concept was to have a fairly open format for a vibe that is often described as Balearic, with a focus on non-dancefloor music and an emphasis on not mixing (too much at least); so pure programming and selections were the key. I co founded it with my friend Matt Brownell and we joked in the beginning that “it’s all filler, no killer”.
We wanted to showcase our new agey, smooth operators, hazy midtempo and hard-to-classify (insert sub-genre that only djs care about but people will dig, lol) music. It was a very loose yet focused paradigm for a party, and at the time filled a void because there was not anybody doing this kind of thing, at least on a weekly basis. Afterwork, summer,Thursday, doesn’t end too late, kick off your weekend - checks a lot of boxes. It’s cool seeing your friends with good music in the early evening light!
DJ Teams is a thing that keeps coming up in these interviews. Air A Danser usually features you together with a different guest DJ every week. What makes playing with someone else special, or interesting?
The first season was me and Matt building the party up and we had a handful of guests that year. He moved to LA , and since season 2, there's been a guest every week. The concept behind AaD can be interpreted in many different ways, so each week the guest brings their lens to it; I really love that aspect of it. Many of guests do not have the outlet for this kind of vibe, so people are excited to do so, usually bringing too many records (*ahem, Takaya Nagase :-) ) It’s about learning about other great music, creating new bonds, hanging out, laughs, and creating a night of moments.
Also, since technical skills are a low-priority, and taste and timing is high, I like giving opportunities for more novice djs as people who don’t play out as often. There’s a bit of pragmatism as well with the reality of a weekly, having fresh faces involved means reaching a wider audience. Plus, it gives me a break and a chance to socialize with friends and meet new people, (quite hard to do that when you're behind the decks). After the guest’s main set , I usually go back on , and then try to create some magic by tag-teaming, there can be great energy in that mode.
Air A Danser has moved to SoundCloud during the lockdown. Do you think you will host a “winter version” of Air A Danser when/if the lockdown ends after the summer? Or will we be forced to wait until Summer 2021?
Funny you should ask, the timing of this mix and interview coincides with a special one-off at the same location of last season, now renovated and called Rebel Cafe & Garden; If you read this in time, come by and wear a mask, space is limited for Covid safety. Others might follow, so follow me/Air A Danser on fb/ig.
I’d be open to a winter version (maybe heated rooftop or something), but Danser just works better outside in the summer, that’s part of its charm. It’s just not the same in colder weather.
Many of our Musical Hosts have sort of landed in Disco and House (together with adjacent genres and subgenres) after starting out in completely different genres like Heavy Metal, Grunge or Techno or Jazz - what do you think is so compelling with the Disco/House leaning genres that makes so many DJs “end up there”.
I can only answer for myself. For me, it was a 4/4 pounding force to be reckoned with. I had been listening to lots of reggae, soul, funk, afrobeat and Latin boogaloo when I heard Candido’s “Jingo”. That song and “Body Music” by The Strikers were what got me hooked quick. To my ears disco was a natural extension (and quite chronological and linear) of all that. I think many people (myself included) are also drawn to its sense of joy and its ideals of inclusivity, community with distinction and escape from mainstream (and respective oppression and/or daily struggle). However these things are not obvious to many people, disco is often misunderstood and cast aside (due to variety of reasons, homophobia & racism among them, at least in the past) , and there’s a subtle sophistication and a certain kind of patience to “getting it” which might make it overlooked until people “end up there”.
You’re a Native New Yorker, and an influence to “NYC’s disco DJ scene.” as a past interview reported. As New York lives through this slow reopening phase, what are your thoughts on how music culture might change with the new version of New York where we might see more empty venues - which usually means more space for culture? Can we hope for a music renaissance like we saw in the 70s and 80s?
If clubs are able to hang on financially, I hope there are more opportunities for local djs to be highlighted and not just as openers (this was already starting to trend before lockdown)
I don’t foresee rent and other systematic factors of NYC getting to a level where artists can thrive cheaply like they did in the 70s/80s (Of course that’d be amazing) What needs to happen is widespread government funding/support/tax rent relief for nightlife, the arts in general (and restaurants, etc) where profit margins are so thin.
You’ve played many Brooklyn venues for a long time. Which one is your favorite? Or favorite party to play at?
It’s hard to pick a favorite, but I’ve had killer times playing Black Flamingo for Sharegroove parties. Milagrosa can be something else as well.
In its heyday, the backroom at Tandem was a perfect sweatbox and the crowd was always up for anything. It might not have had the best sound system and setup (which is now commonplace, that’s a relief!) but it had so much character in its simplicity.
What are some of your recent discoveries in your music digging that you can recommend? And/Or how have the impact of the lockdown of record shops impacted the music archeology for you?
There’s really nothing like finding a great record that’s new to you. You can’t beat that in-real life thrill. It’s hard to replicate with online discovery. Nevertheless, during lockdown searching on Discogs, eBay, getting tips from friends, following interesting music-based social media accounts, is now just that much more a part of my routine.
One of the best finds before lockdown that I found at Academy BK, was Passion In Fashion “Body To Body”(Loft mix) on Bottom Line records It’s an amazing journey-style deep house to lose yourself in. Another one is Seven Roots “Senegal” 12” which is featured on this mix.
And finally - what do you hope the New York dance music scene will have more of (or less off) post Covid-19 when we can dance again?
I hope we’ll have more nights of just one or two DJs. I hope people truly put away their phones, actually dance and stop pretending it’s a Boiler Room video. Remembering the beauty of togetherness and how healing or joyful a great party can be. Perhaps, they’ll be more room to dance and spin as well!