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Test Pressing
INTERVIEWS / READ

STEVE LEE / THE PROJECT CLUB / ABOVE MACHINE

Test Pressing, Interview, 20 Questions, Dr Rob, Steve Lee, The Project Club, Above Machine, Is It Balearic?, Balearica, London Fields

Where are you based?Clapton Pond, East London.

Is this your hometown?Yes, I was born in North London.

What is your first musical memory?Sitting on a dancefloor watching my Nan & Grandad ballroom dance whilst totally engrossed by the big band playing Glen Miller.

What was the first record you bought?12″: Chaka Khan “I Feel For You”, 7″: Falco “Rock Me Amadeus”, LP: Animal Quackers

Test Pressing, Interview, 20 Questions, Dr Rob, Steve Lee, The Project Club, Above Machine, Is It Balearic?, Balearica, London Fields, Chaka Khan, I Feel For You

What was the last record you bought?Lone / Airglow Fires

What inspired you to start DJing / making music / the label?My inspiration to DJ came from attending a B-Boy/Breakdancing event in North London. I was fascinated that the DJ cut, juggled and scratched two of the same records to create this cyclic / looping break. This DJ was Cutmaster Swift. I was probably around 9 years of age and had to be escorted by my babysitter’s super cool boyfriend who always had a mint pair of gazelles and super fly tracksuit.My inspiration to make music came in 2008 after a successful career in TV, Film and media production. However, I just wanted to go back to my roots as I was burnt out by the hustle and bustle of Soho and it was time to write some music.

Would you like to talk more about what you worked on before music? It sounds interesting?Sure, I left school to do a sound & lighting engineer apprenticeship for a leisure company that had multiple clubs across East Anglia. During the day I would assist the head engineer on maintenance tasks, attend college part time and by night I would operate the lights, lasers and video walls. I also used to do a bit of warm up DJing in the main room, and DJ in the backroom on a Friday night. A bit of extra money, like. I was so skint. I think I was earning 32 quid a week. So, I used to try and DJ to make up my apprenticeship money.

At this time, I used to work with all kinds of DJs, live acts and bands. We also used to do video shoots in the clubs. Furthermore, many producers used to pop into our main club on a weekday and check out their test pressings or demos on DAT. So, we would fire up our huge 20k flighted turbosound rig, sit on a mop bucket on the dancefloor and listen to their latest offerings. After my apprenticeship, I did another apprenticeship in a Mastering House whereby I was editing on Sound/Pro Tools and assisting my head engineer, Peter Reynolds, who is still my mastering engineer for Above Machine now, with classical editing from scores, mastering, restoration and full scale hand finishing & re-mastering. We worked with most of the major record labels, a number of independent record labels and over the years I successfully cut my teeth in both digital & analogue mastering techniques. I also learnt to make a good cup of tea and a shit load about engineering having worked with loads and loads of legends.

After 4 or 5 years, there were lots of big recording studios and mastering studios going bust. Computer Technology was screwing us over. So, I needed a change and decided to jump ship on to a new format, so I joined Universal Pictures International and produced many theatrical and back catalogue DVD’s for both Universal & Dreamworks at the very start of the format. From there I was headhunted by BBC Worldwide and appointed head of DVD & Online operations for EMEIA. It was at the end of my time at BBC Worldwide that I starting to get tired of the industry as I was just constantly out to lunch and being a full-time media whore. I was doing nothing creative or hands-on at all. Just constant lunches and partying in Soho. So, I jumped back into a few production houses again for a few years to see if I could find my creative output once more. All the time I was looking for a musical escape route, but with no real plan.

I then managed to get a girlfriend. Ha Ha!! What do you call a DJ with no girlfriend? Homeless. And literally on our second date I quit my producers job and told Sarah “I’m gonna go back to my roots and make some music!” She’s been with me ever since and six years later, I’ve made some music. I couldn’t have done it without the support and love from her. She’s been incredible and I utterly love her dearly for her patience and belief in me. I just want to make better music, and now hopefully I will as the studio is finished. Well, they’re never ever finished, but I’m in a good place to deliver.

Test Pressing, Interview, 20 Questions, Dr Rob, Steve Lee, The Project Club, Above Machine, Is It Balearic?, Balearica, London Fields

How long have you been DJing / making music / running the label?I’ve been DJ’ing since I was a teenager and professionally for a club since I was 17. I’ve been making music since I was 4 years of age, with a tape machine and early casio synthesisers, and professionally since 2008. The record label ABOVE MACHINE was set up in 2011.

Somebody told me you are a classically trained musician, is this true. The Project Club releases are very “musical”.Yes, I was trained classically from 4 onwards via Trinity College of Music, but rebelled in a very big way when I reached about 8 or 9. This was all because of my hatred for Classical Music. I basically wanted to play the Blues because I was quite an emotional child, having to deal with parental divorce and looking after my mum at a young age etc.. Classical to me was just idiotic music run by a load of Nazis in the examining room. I did get honours and have to play at end of year recitals, but hated it, the music and the people. The worst kind of music people in my opinion. “Golden ears” as we call them in the studio world. Idiots.So, I basically caused my teachers to all have a series of mental breakdowns. Nothing to be proud of, but I really hated the fact you HAVE to play Classical to progress academically. For my teachers, I wasn’t an easy child to manipulate or mould and I clearly wasn’t going to be the prodigy my teacher thought I was at 4 years of age. Finally at around 11 years of age my mum sacked it all and then I just taught myself the rest over the years. I did have some really big gaps whereby I didn’t play for ages, but, I try to play as much as I can these days to keep the fingers loose.

I guess The Project Club releases can be very musical depending on the way we write. Sometimes we jam and sometimes we bounce back and forward. Both Andy & I write music, so I guess it just flows this way. And yes, I think we’re a bit old fashioned when it comes to songwriting. I think a lot of credit goes to Andy as he finds the space in between my writing and perhaps that`s why it’s so musical.

Were you DJing Hop Hop at 17? Do you still listen to Hip Hop? Did you have an Acid House / Balearic epiphany?I was indeed spinning Hip Hop all through my teenage years and can still cut, juggle and scratch to this day. I was a huge fan of all the Native Tongue vibe; Tribe, De La, Jungle Brothers, etc.. And messin’ with funk breaks etc.. Everyone would crash in my bedroom and listen to tapes I’d done and spin records. If you spoke to any of my school friends, they would all say I permanently had a Walkman on, in class at school and at home. Music is my whole life.

As like many people, we holidayed in the Balearics a whole load whilst growing up so I had grown up on crazy European Pop music, so I guess it kind of stuck in me. I was also lucky to have a young mum, she had me when she was 18, and she listened to really good music when we grew up. She would also take me to every single concert in the 80’s. I’ve pretty much seen everyone in the top 100 of great 80’s concerts. Truly magic years for me. But yeah, I’ve always been into soft/lush/epic productions whatever genre and have been collecting these records along the way.

It doesn`t sound like you were old enough to go, and it was South of the river, so why “The Project Club”?Ha! No, I never went to The Project Club, but I did hear Trevor Fung spin during the early years in Ibiza. The band name was really just a chance thing. Sarah and I were saving money to get our own place and we lived in this musical townhouse in East London with my basic studio downstairs and Andy’s recording studio in the loft. Jim Gipson, who toured with Richard Hawley, was putting an album together for Island records and we’d all hang out and make music, get fucked and just be music bums. Really great times and great parties. So all of Andy’s studio jobs were like projects. So, when we started making music I just called it “The Project Club” and then subsequently realised it had a Club / Balearic meaning too… Kinda weird, really.

How would you describe your sound / the label`s sound?Warm, melancholy, emotional and full of love.

Which production / release / remix are you most proud of?I don’t think I’ve delivered it yet. I’d rather answer this question at the end of my career. But, if I go on what I play the most to myself.. It has to be The Project Club`s “Beginnings”.

Which production / release / remix would you most like to have done?Pretty much every piece of vinyl I have bought. Impossible to answer. I would however, love to have the master tapes for Tears For Fears.

What`s special about Tears For Fears?Again, just lush arrangement, dreamy guitars and tapes running backwards. For me it was an era of magic and they were my band of choice along with The Blue Nile. I just close my eyes and I can hear those guitars immediately. I wish they had done so much more.

What are your favourite places to play / hang out in?I tend to hang locally in Clapton Pond and the area itself has just gone boom in the last year. It’s also home to all my music friends and we hang out on a regular basis, if not daily. So, now we’re spoilt by the choice of really good pubs that have all opened in the last 12 months, The Clapton Hart, Star Of Hackney Downs, The Windsor Castle, The Crooked Billet and The Princess Of Wales on the River Lea. Out of all of these.. I’m really looked after at The Clapton Hart and you’ll often find me there for a pint after I’ve walked the dog on the marshes. I also spend a lot of time in the local parks in the summer, skating, smoking dope and generally being a hippy-ass-bum.

My favourite place to play is a hard one as I’ve quit a lot of residential DJing in London and now only run my night Balearica at London Fields with a few guest gigs in-between. I love playing outdoors in London, perhaps because I can smoke whilst DJing. Anyway, I did a wonderful 6 hour balearic set at the opening of the Strata building in Elephant & Castle which was a very cool urban setting along with beautiful music all night long. And, I recently played The Book Club for Big In Japan, which is always a nice gig with a full-on basement vibe. But, I will have to say The London Fields is my favourite place to play as it’s home to Balearica and we’ve had some truly magic nights over the years. Albeit a little bit wasted and euphoric.

Test Pressing, Interview, 20 Questions, Dr Rob, Steve Lee, The Project Club, Above Machine, Is It Balearic?, Balearica, London Fields

How long has Balearica been running, and who have you had as guests? Is it a big space?Balearica has been running for about five years or more. I can’t remember? It started at Road Trip as a Sunday garden hang out, but quickly moved to The London Fields when the sun disappeared. We’ve had the Idjut Boys, Balearic Mike, Paul Murphy, Phil Mison, Justin Robertson, Jason Boardman, Richard Norris, Seahawks, Nick Acid Tree & Folk, Ray Mang, Tirk, Matty & Ben, Soft Rocks, Coyote, Felix Dickenson, Jonny Nash, Kelvin Andrews… The list is endless and sorry to forget anyone else. It’s a pub rave. A real lively pub with part hipster crowd and the Balearic socialites. We don’t have any rules, there are no rules. We just go with the flow without any pretentious nonsense. Music and vibe is key and it’s a great little gathering and social meeting. Coming up we have Coyote on the Bank Holiday weekend, Horton Jupiter in October and we’re doing a special on my Birthday in November.

What is your favourite place outside of a bar / club / record shop?I love all the London street markets and holding hands with my girlfriend. Call me old fashioned, but it’s rare we get to spend any quality time together. Plus I get to dig for records and eat lovely food. And as mentioned, I love London parklife in the summer. I find my inner peace down by the river Lea and on Hackney Marshes. I also love getting out of London and hanging in the Constable district of Suffolk with my mum and my son.

As for clubs, I feel too old for them these days unless playing. However, if I do venture out I will attend Disco Bloodbath, Bad Passion, Horse Meat Disco and the wonderful boutique that is LN-CC. Anything else is a bonus with a smile.

As for record shops… I really love walking from Clapton to Dalston always making time to pop into Kristina records. I’m a real supporter of local independent shops. Kristina are good guys with a relaxed and friendly vibe. But, wherever I go… There’s always a record shop to which I’ll happily spend some pennies. When I worked in Soho the choice was endless as I had an office on Poland St.

Do you see yourself as part of any scene?I feel a part of many scenes. I’m on the dog walking scene on the marshes. I’m part of the Clapton dad’s scene on Clapton Pond along with the Millfield MILF’s. I’m part of a skating scene at various skate parks. I’m part of the independent label scene whereby we support each others nights and gigs. So, yeah… I’m a bit of a scenester (Eurrgh!), I guess? I do however really embrace the whole music scene that we’re all a part of, which includes Test Pressing, and I like to think that I bring some energy to a party. It’s one big family full of love, discovery and passion, and when we party, we really party. I like to dance, as most people will tell you.

Test Pressing, Interview, 20 Questions, Dr Rob, Steve Lee, The Project Club, Above Machine, Is It Balearic?, Balearica, London Fields

Who does the label`s artwork?Mark Limb (The Electric Disco) does my inner label artwork. He’s supported The Project Club from the very start and it was only natural to get him on board for the label. I probably owe him copious amounts of beer and kebabs for the work he has done for us. Mark is a great soul, fantastic record collector and friend. Without his help I’d be drawing pink cocks in Microsoft Paint. Going forward we’re working with Mark Warrington for a one off 10″ for Almunia. Again, it’s about keeping it in the family… And having seen Mark’s work for Claremont 56, I feel truly honoured that he’s helping us out too.

In other related music art I’m working with Julie Vaccalluzzo who has done the artwork for my new band S L O. Furthermore, she has also done the new BALEARICA logo. A very talented lady and again, another supporter of my music output.

How did you meet Mark and Julie?Errrm… I think Mark contacted me for an interview and mix, which I did and then we hooked up at a Claremont Sunday gig in Holloway, London. Then he offered his services for Above Machine. We’ve also DJ’d a bit since then too…Julie saw an ironic flyer on Facebook whereby I had just written “Steve is playing records” in four year old writing over a pretty picture.

Test Pressing, Interview, 20 Questions, Dr Rob, Steve Lee, The Project Club, Above Machine, Is It Balearic?, Balearica, London Fields

Is a visual identity important?Yes, I think so and something I’ve learnt along the way. I’m a huge fan of logos, wordplay and the like… Thus, I wanted a logo that represented ABOVE MACHINE to which Mark delivered in the form of patch leads. We’ve never mentioned ABOVE MACHINE on the label apart from the small print. I hope now, after a few releases it’s recognisable and you know who’s behind it. I hope in the future the logo will take on other ventures and meanings.

What does “Above Machine” mean?Ha! I knew this would come up. Simply it means we, as in humans are better than machines. We are Above Machine. As in, play instruments musicians and not rely on machines to do this for us. I also spend a lot of time above machines i.e. Synths, Drums etc.. I guess it’s a bit pretentious, but true. I’m trying to use machines instead of computers, which is a slow process, but more rewarding.

Which visual artists would you cite as a source of inspiration / influence?I think Claremont 56 inspired me from the start. I had little money to do lush artwork, but we could do a minimal logo inner label art. So we did. It was actually Paul who told me to start a label and do it myself. Obviously, this installed some confidence and I’ve pushed on from there. So, I guess credit goes to Mr Murphy and my talented friends and designers around me. I should also mention the fact that my Grandad was a major influence as well. He’s the most talented man I’ve ever known and a wonderful with a paintbrush and visual/ film kinda guy. All his cine films from the early 50’s had his logo JMD at the start of each feature. A simply amazing man and a huge huge inspiration to my creative life. You can see one of his hand drawn logos here:

How did you meet Mr Murphy, and Timm and Richard from Is It Balearic?I asked Paul to DJ at one of the first Balearica Sundays, if not the first. I can’t remember. We may have met shortly before this at a gig, but I cannot recall. I party quite a lot, so I don’t remember much at the best of times. Timm and Ampo both came down to DJ for me at The Horse & Groom. They had just signed The Project Club` s “Intro”. All lovely, lovely guys and I’m utterly thankful to all of them for installing confidence in myself from the start.

Which artists are you currently working with?On the label we have Seconds, Markus Enochson & Co, Vendetta Suite, Almunia and recently we’ve just picked up Maricopa with a couple of lovely vocal tracks. Going forward, there’ll be some new stuff from S L O and The Project Club if I get my arse in gear.

In the studio I’m working with Jo Lee (Singer) and Dave Jay (Acid Jazz / Maverick), Spanish David from the London Fields, for the which the production name is yet to be called, U-Ka and my band S L O, which includes Paul Mortimore (Drums & Percussion) and young Dominic on guitars.

How does S L O differ musically from The Project Club? S L O is completely analogue, and more live. More Kraut / Cosmic. More serious, to be honest. We’re just about to start recording the album from lots of sketches I have made in the studio. Hopefully this will be ready next year. Paul Mortimore, son and heir to Malcolm Mortimore, is a fantastic dude and drummer, and young Dominic is really keen and determined to deliver something great. I’m taking my time on this one as I think it’ll be the only LP I’ll ever deliver and I want it to sound BIG!!! To get a feel, there is an unmastered remix we’ve just done for U-Ka

On The remix side: Max Essa, Lusty Zanzibar, Idjut Boys, Gonno, Seahawks, Ray Mang, 9dw, Damon Martin and my young cousin Tom who is getting his first chance to remix something for his oldest cousin, me. Sorry if I’ve forgotten anyone else. I’m in the middle of a field in Suffolk with no paperwork in front of me.

Who would you most like to work with?Too many.. but in the real world, I’d like to form a supergroup with all the great musicians on the “Balearic Spirit” side of things to do a big live jam, Improv and only live. No physical recordings, just fun on stage with loads of gear. Gear meaning musical kit not drugs. Although, that would be fun too.

Does playing and making music pay the rent?Yes, but it’s tough. Really tough. I would eat beans on toast for a month to pay for a production.

What sites, if any, do you regularly check on-line?Instagram, Twitter, Discogs, Soundcloud, Tumblr, Test Pressing, of course, Resident Advisor for features and interviews, tons of tech/studio sites, Fantasy Football and all the independent record shop stores. And for funny shit, The B3ta.com newsletter.

What was the last book you read?The Bible. I’ve just been asked to be a God Father. I mean, who the fuck would do that?

What is your favourite book?The A to Z. I’m an old fashioned guy.

What was the last film you saw?“The Guilt Trip”, and it was fun, easy and funny. It’s basically a road movie with Barbara Streisand & Seth Rogan. An easy Sunday night film.

What is your favourite film?Any Hitchcock film. I was lucky enough to be the producer for the Universal Studios Boxset, and thus, I fell in love with his whole catalogue. Plus, he’s from just around the corner from me.

I thought Hitchcock`s ashes were scattered over the Pacific?I have no idea, but he did live in Leytonstone, right? I think he’s films are marvellous. I also love the London shots, being a Londoner, of course.

Test Pressing, Interview, 20 Questions, Dr Rob, Steve Lee, The Project Club, Above Machine, Is It Balearic?, Balearica, London Fields, Alfred Hitchcock

What is your favourite piece of music? If that`s too difficult, what`s your current favourite piece of music?Yes, far too difficult. Favourite piece of music at the moment is Maylee Todd`s “I can’t stand it” Just a simple soulful tune with lush strings and a sexy groove.

Can you name 3 records for sunset / sunrise?

Sub Sub / Past

GiGi Masin / Call Me

Commodity Place / Chenini

Can you name 3 records to start a party?

A Guy Called Gerald / Voodoo Ray (Paradise Ballroom Mix)

ESP / It’s You

Soft House Company / A Little Piano

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