Hailing from Australia’s techno capital Melbourne, Steve Ward is undoubtedly up there as one of the hardest working artists in the music game. As a DJ, producer, label owner, journalist and radio host, Steve has finely tuned his craft over many years amassing a legion of fans and supporters along the way. With a tireless commitment to his music and a creative flair that is backed by an encyclopaedic knowledge of tunes and technology, Steve Ward is pushing an exciting take on techno and the punters are voting with their feet.
Thanks for stopping by for a chat, can you tell us a little bit about how the Steve Ward story has led you to where you are today? How did your musical journey start and what has inspired you to dedicate much of your life to making and playing tunes?
Well it’s quite a long story… So ill give you the short version….
It all began when I was very young.
My parents bought me the ‘Hits of 88’ for a birthday present; it had KLF and S-Express on it which I LOVED. Then I found out a family friend (who I looked up to) was a rave Dj and when I told him that I love S-Express he started making me tapes of all kinds of techno music. Then I started buying records and mix cd compilations, the first compilation I bought was Carl Cox Fact 1 and that kind of became a musical benchmark for my future career that would begin many years later.
Then when I was around 14, my sister and I started going to illegal rave parties every weekend during the mid 90’s (many of which my mum would drive us to) and I began to meet many of the dj’s that were playing. The two most influential I became friends with were Will E Tell & Jason Midro. Jason then started a new club night called “Bass Station” and he invited me to come work for him as a promoter. This club would go on to be one of the most successful underground clubs in Australia at one point. After a while of promoting Jason found out that I had a pretty substantial collection of music so he finally offered me a gig, next minute I was one of their main residents and was djing all over the country.
You’ve been an influential part of the Australian scene for a long time, being involved through the evolution from a small underground scene to the large, internationally renowned scene of today. Is it true you took a break from music after becoming disenchanted with the scene a while back? What brought you back to the decks and the studio?
My whole adult life has been in the dance music industry and I kind of got sick of the arrogance of everyone involved in the scene not to mention the amount of drugs that everyone was taking. It was really getting out of hand and this actually ended many of the top dj’s careers not to mention several club brands. Also, it was around the time where the popularity of techno hit an all time low and everyone was playing really shit hardstyle and other ridiculous crap, so with all of that mixed together I decided that I no longer wanted to be a part of it. I quit all my residencies and told everyone to fuck off and I honestly was happy to never dj again!
This was the best thing I could have done actually, because I spent all my time alone in the studio working on a style of music that perfectly resonated with me as a person (not the music I that promoters were trying to force to play in the clubs).
At this point I was running the techno department for Capital Records and through that job I met Zac who used to go see me play years earlier. We became good friends and then decided to start the Chameleon project, which was aimed to support talented musicians who were making real underground dance music that we believe deserved help. We both really believed in this project and fortunately so did a huge amount of others. This success and support behind Chameleon and all the brand new music I had been producing were the key reasons I started performing again.
You have had a long working relationship and friendship with people like Eric Powell (Bush Records) and Carl Cox (Intec), collaborating with them on a number of projects. Such is your close bond that you recently had a studio session with Carl and Nile Rodgers. How did these close bonds form with some of the most influential names in techno? What brought yours and Carl’s ideas together in the first place and how did the session with Nile come about?
Eric and I go way back, I’ve always admired him for what he has done in his personal career and also with bush. He was the first credible industry cat to really support me in the early days. Through Eric I met Carl and we got along really well also. He really loved my music and was supporting every tune I made. After a while it was just a natural progression for us to hit the studio together. Everything we worked on came out brilliant and both of us really had a great chemistry in the studio, which I think is really important.
The Nile Rodgers collab was very special, I got a call from Eric & Carl when they got back from Miami and told me they wanted me to produce a couple of tracks with Carl & Nile. To be honest I actually thought it was bullshit and they were having a joke with me. But it actually happened and the sessions were incredible. Carl was on fire and Nile nailed so many great ideas we didn’t know which ones to choose. The three of us had a really great connection in the studio and we all had the same kind of ideas so the collab went down without a hitch not to mention we all had a really great time together. I have always been pretty doubtful of my music career becoming a success, however at that moment when everyone was super happy with the tracks we had done, I finally started to believe that I had made the right choice to follow my dream within the chess game that is the music industry.
In 2010 you launched your label Chameleon Records and have had a number of successful releases plus a series of boutique events. What inspired you to start your own label? What’s your vision for Chameleon?
We initially started the label in an effort to support the many solid producers that were active in Australia but didn’t have an outlet to release their music. These same artists weren’t being given a fair go by any of the local promoters also, so we decided to hold our own label events, which became a great success.
Zac and I are lovers of all different kinds of art forms, so we decided to try and incorporate as many as possible styles within the label. Therefore we began using David Lazar’s photography as our artwork, Robbie Byrne’s creative writing for the Ep names and press releases and Goldenhen / Ed Hale as our graphic designers.
The end result was something really special and everyone could really tell how much effort and love was put into every release not to mention the brand as a whole.
The Chameleon Ensemble Showcase was involved in the Kubik spectacular held as part of the Melbourne Music Festival in 2011. This certainly helped stamp Chameleon’s name on the local and global market. Pushing the boundaries with your music in conjunction with your label mates seems to be a prominent part of the label’s history e.g. your Steve Stevens productions and sets with Jamie Stevens. Do you enjoy this side of producing and performing? You seem to continually be looking for ways to expand your musical repertoire?
Well, I’m really lucky to be working with the best producers in the country (IMO) but to make it even more special, they are also my best friends. I have been working with Jamie, Brent & Scotty (Thankyou City), Uone & Ed Hale for many many years now and it has really developed into a family.
Every chance I get, I try and involve the rest of the chameleon guys in projects I’m working on because I really enjoy working with friends. That is the main reason Jamie & I had started our numerous performances and musical collabs, because we are best buddies and love working together.
As a whiz in the studio, several years ago you created a music production school called “Electronic Music Academy” in Melbourne. What inspired you to go down this path?
As I child I always wanted to start producing my own records but there were literally no one I could turn to for help or advice. It took me so long to work everything out myself that it became a passion of mine to help anyone that was as passionate as I was back in the day.
You’ve had the chance to remix some of the biggest tunes in techno with a series of remixes on Bush records plus massive remixes on Gem and Tronic. Do you like the process of adding your touches to tunes like these? Is there a tune you haven’t gotten your mits on yet that you’d love the chance to remix?
I’ve been really blessed to have the opportunity to remix all those great tunes and I cant begin to tell you how excited i was to be asked to be involved in each project. To be honest, even though I did my own version of those tunes, I still prefer the originals 😉
There are soooooo many tunes from back in the day that I would love to remix, however one of the top tracks on the list would be:: Dj Hmc – LSD
From pictures posted online, you appear to have a studio that would be the envy of most gear nuts. What are your favourite pieces of hardware? Are you a one eyed advocate for analogue or do you think digital is equally as important?
To be honest, if the end result sounds good then it doesn’t matter what a producer uses!
Allot of the time even the most seasoned producers cant tell whether you have used software or hardware.
My favourite pieces of hardware is my TB-303 and my virus Ti…. Maybe 😉
In the past few years you’ve done a number of overseas trips to play some of the biggest clubs and festivals in the world. Was it hard for you as an Australian artist to get noticed by the big guns overseas? Does the distance factor hinder your musical exploits at all? Do you have any highlights from past tours?
It is really tough! Ive been over for the Europe summer for 4 years now and I’m just lucky that the right people started noticing me at the time that they did. But im still no where in comparison to where I’d like to be.
Its really difficult living in Aus for most of the year as its impossible for my booking agent to organize gigs for me when im on the other side of the world involved in allot of projects down here.
Also I’ve faced a lot of issues with visas so basically if you aren’t from a country in the Eu and are trying to crack the scene….. its going to be tough!
There doesn’t seem to be much room in your schedule for down time, what do you do to unwind when taking a break from the studio/clubs?
Yeah it has been non stop over the past couple of years, but I’ve just finished up a couple of big commitments that were taking time away from the music, so think ill have more time to focus more on the music and also to meditation & yoga.
In terms of your DJing, what do you look for in great tunes? Who is hot right now in your opinion?
Well I always look for a tune that is really well made and has oldskool vibes. I’m stuck in the past man haha
I actually really love a berlin artist called shed and also some new producers from Utrecht in Netherlands called KAAP.
Tell us a bit about the mix you’ve put together for our listeners.
Well it was a set I played at Black Market in Melbourne just before I left for this years Eu tour. I started around 4:30 and the place was HEAVING, I really had a lot of fun during the set. Its got a bit of everything and really peaked at the end, finishing up with an oldskool classic!
What’s on the cards for you release wise and tour wise? What should people keep an eye out for and where can they go and see you play?
Well, im working on a couple of MASSIV tunes with Coxy, Secret Cinema, Alex Kowalski, Oliver Lieb, Jamie Stevens, Diego Hostelttler & Shin Nishimura at the moment. Not sure when they will all drop but they are all great tracks and I cant wait until they are all finished.
Re: Chameleon, we have some brilliant Eps ready to drop, the first from dutch producers – KAAP – with remixes by SQL & Escar, also Roger Martinez – with remixes by Wehbba & Eddie Hale and then a killer release by melbourne’s Eddie Hale & JPA not to mention a killer ep by frankfurt legend Oliver Lieb!
Re: Gigs, if you are in Europe keep an eye on my facebook facebook.com/stevewardofficial
I’m performing all over the continent for the next couple of months, then through north & south amercia then to asia just before the summer season in Australia hits.
Its all pretty exciting right now!
Thanks for taking the time to chat with us Steve Ward. We wish you all the best in your techno exploits!