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Tracing the Detroit-Amsterdam Techno Connection With Steve Rachmad

Rachmad's latest, a remix of Nitin's "Dubbed Out," exemplifies the Dutch producer's masterful manipulation of the 808.

Ashley Zlatopolsky

Krijn van Noordwijk

Next month, Steve Rachmad will release Different Strokes, a four-track EP under his alter-ego STERAC. Here, we trace how the legendary producer wove the burgeoning sounds of the Motor City into the Dutch electronic music scene, and remains one of the genre's biggest champions. (Plus, listen to an exclusive stream of Rachmad's remix of Nitin's "Dubbed Out.")

Surrounded by music and working in a record store early on, Steve Rachmad developed a deep interest in production techniques and sounds. When the first techno tracks emerged from Detroit, his attention was immediately sparked. "This was exactly my thing: dark technical stuff with beautiful string chords dropped over it," Rachmad tells THUMP. "That's what made Detroit techno so special. A lot of people think of it as heavy, fast techno, but listen to old Derrick May, Carl Craig, and Kenny Larkin tracks—it's all about those deep, beautiful strings."

Photo by Kristijan Vuckovic

Inspired by early Juan Atkins' material like Cybotron's "Clear," Rachmad took his production techniques in a direction that mirrored those of Detroit techno and put his own spin on them. Derrick May, who once lived around the corner from Amsterdam's Outland Records, also became a key figure in Rachmad's budding career. Rachmad would hand him cassette tapes in hopes of landing a release on May's Transmat label. Since the 80s, Dutch record stores like Outland supported Detroit techno and carried the music, and Dutch DJs such as Speedy J and Orlando Voorn released on Detroit techno labels, furthering the connection between the two scenes. "Myself and many artists and labels dedicated their of music to the Detroit techno of music," Rachmad says.

He purchased a Roland TR-808 in 1985 after falling in love with the organ rhythm box-based drum machine. For Rachmad, the 808 represented 80s electro like SOS Band and Afrika Bambaataa's Planet Rock. When the 909 came out, it was designed to sound more realistic than the 808 and became a distinct part of Rachmad's style. "Put an 808 kick drum next to a 909 kick drum and you will notice that the 909 is more powerful than the 808," he describes. "The 808 sound is more soft and friendly. House and techno music gave those machines a second life and put those machines on the map."

Rachmad's minimalistic, uncomplicated approach to his drum machine experiments can be heard on his next release, a four-track EP called Different Strokes on Luke Slater's Mote-Evolver imprint. Each track is simply titled "Stroke 1" to "Stroke 4." It's no coincidence that Rachmad's events at Studio 80 are called Kis.—"keep it simple." Rachmad's latest, a remix of Nitin's "Dubbed Out," further exemplifies his masterful manipulation of the 808:

While Detroit's industrialized, grassroots sound can be heard in the deep recesses of Amsterdam's underground, Rachmad is skeptical that it's left a lasting impression. "To be honest, I'm not sure how many people [now] know what Detroit techno really is," Rachmad notes. "If I would play an old stringy Derrick [May] or Carl [Craig] track, many would call it trance or progressive."

When asked about his thoughts on today's EDM culture, which is dominated by Dutch superstars like Hardwell and Tiesto, Rachmad says he hopes that dance music will return to being a faceless music, rather than image-based. "Back in the day, it was purely about the music," he recalls. "The DJ was hidden away on a dark balcony where you couldn't see him or her. Nowadays, we're in the middle of the stage for all the people to see. Some will put their hands in the air or grab the mic to get the people going. For me, it's not important at all. I'm a DJ who plays music, not a stage performer."

Despite his misgivings about its emphasis on spectacle, Rachmad believes EDM is warming people up to techno in its original, purer forms. "If we can win a soul or two afterwards, that's a good thing for us. We already are Electronic Dance Music—we just have to win back the name," he says.

Ultimately, Rachmad stays true to himself and the music he's passionate about by remaining open to new sounds. While his preferences define his style, he still listens to music outside of the techno realm. "I play Detroit techno but I do not like all Detroit techno records," he notes. "This goes for all other styles as well. I just filter what I like and what fits my idea of my sets."

Different Strokes, Steve Rachmad's EP under his STERAC alias, is out May 18 on Mote-Evolver

Steve Rachmad is here and on Facebook

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