This past carnival week with so many fetes occuring, there has been a bit of discussion regarding soca djs; who is good, who is not, who do Djs play for, who is lazy, who talks too much on the mic, who is too quiet and so on. Asking around locally and internationally, DJ Stephen is described as one of the best Soca DJs without shadow of a doubt. I was reminded why at Soca Lockdown on Carnival Thursday. He played music from many of the Caribbean islands; Barbados, Trinidad, Grenada, St. Lucia, Dominica, St. Vincent and more. He spoke to the crowd, took risks by introducing new music, knowing the crowd may not react initially. DJ Stephen had the crowd jumping, waving and singing acapella, like a maestro conducting his very own private orchestra.
Here are just some of DJ Stephen’s most outstanding achievements that I found out in my research prior to speaking with him. Dj Stephen (Born in Trinidad and Tobago) has won the Annual Atlanta Soca DJ Rama Competition three years in a row. He has won best Road DJ in Houston Caribfest for three years. He has won International DJ of the year three times. DJ Stephen accompanied Bunji Garlin on BET’s 106 and & Park Show in May 2014. This was a significant historical step for soca music. He is also the Official Tour DJ for Machel Montano. Besides Machel Montano and Bunji Garlin, DJ Stephen has worked alongside Kes the Band, Alison Hinds, Kerwin Du Bois, Gyptian, Sean Paul, Nicki Minaj, Don Omar, Fuse ODG and many more. This DJ is in demand worldwide; Europe, the Caribbean, North America. He has launched his own mobile app and has his own merchandised brand entitled ‘I am Soca’ for clothing and other items.
During this busy carnival season with our conflicting schedules, finding the time for an interview was not easy. In the end it was impromptu on the carnival route on Notting Hill Carnival Sunday. We crossed paths and he said, ‘Why not do it now?’ So there we were, on the route, on Carnival Sunday waiting for the music trucks to go by so we could hear each other.
How did you get into soca? Well first of all I was kinda born into it. My dad is an old school DJ or was. He’s retired now. My mum is a big music lover so as a kid growing up being bored, they always used to shove music my way and of course growing up music in the household, that was something that was normal. As far as me taking it seriously, I just have a passion for it, I love it. I love soca and I feel that we have a space that we haven’t claimed yet.
But how did you get to your level of success? Believing in yourself and taking chances. You gotta take risks. I took myself a lot of places for the first time including London. I came on my own for the first time a couple of years ago, got stranded in the airport… all of that. I went through all of that, made connections, did my networking, built relationships and you know continue to market myself and tried to make something that would make me different in terms of my performance. I’m one of the few Djs that can play, MC and perform like an artist style you know. That kind of separated me a bit.
What in your opinion makes a good DJ? Play for your crowd, don’t play for yourself. It’s simple.
Is soca your only genre or do you play other genres too? Well to be honest with you I don’t mind experimenting. I love other types of music. I listen to everything from country to gospel to hip hop and rnb. I listen to it. But in terms of playing on my job I take soca very seriously. I feel like soca is…let me put it this way in a nutshell. Soca is happy music and who wouldn’t want to buy happiness? I think for soca it is just the packaging now and I believe that we can take this music and this culture into all corners of the world. It’s a growing thing and soca is growing very very quickly right now. I feel like a lot of people in the world are catching on. For example Drake is starting to include it in his major festivals so it is just a matter of time.
How do you get music? At your stage in your career you probably get sent music from artists and promoters? Yes but before that it was YouTube. There are a couple of major email blast lists for soca. Like Julianspromos, Lee. These guys are reachable, just look them up online, reach out to them. It is a business obviously, you have to pay for your blast but when they send it out there, their email list is 100 000 plus DJS around the world. So that’s a great way to get your music out.
You have been so many places and achieved so much. Is there any one place or time when you thought, ‘Yes I’ve reached’? Umm I wouldn’t say that. I’ve had some moments when I have thought, ‘Ok I’m making some headway, I’m getting ahead’. For example working with Bunji Garlin on BET, Cochella with Machel Montano, just touring with Machel on the whole, we’ve done some major shows, we’ve done some parties with Will Smith. I’ve DJed a Niki Minaj private party. So some of these celebrity appearances gives you the chance to work along side major people in the world, in the global industry. I feel like it is a step for me and a step for the industry as well.
Is there a particular country that gives you the most love? Recently I have been getting a lot of love in the French islands which is pretty good. But that’s because it is new for me so I won’t take it away from anywhere else. I get love everywhere I go and I am very grateful for that.
What keeps you motivated? The music, I love soca. I’m passionate about the music. I love playing soca and seeing people’s responses to the music. That keeps me going.
What do you make of the British soca? I think that there is a lot of talent here. Triniboi Joocie and some of the other guys and the young ladies. I’m actually impressed with a lot of work that they have been doing. But I feel like they are trying to establish their own brand of things and nothing is wrong with that but to be accepted outside of the UK, they probably will have try to a little merging or working with some of the producers on the outside, to try and get that sound down pat. It might be an easier way. I think it might just be a matter of time and maybe some marketing too. Outside of the UK, we don’t, I don’t know about the music unless I hit up someone or someone calls me direct. I don’t get the stuff unless it is sent to me directly so I feel that they need to use some of the marketing tools from outside. That might help them to get their music out there.
I ask everyone this as I get varied responses. What do you feel about the fusion of soca? Nothing is wrong with it. We haven’t made it yet in terms of establishing what soca actually is. There is still a lot of speculation about what is soca. Justin Bieber ‘s ‘Sorry’. That is soca. We consider that soca but do others consider that soca? So I feel like nothing is wrong with experimenting. I just feel like we need to hold on to our own though. We have to hold on to what is ours and identify it when we hear it. A lot of people will say ‘Lean On’ is not soca. It’s soca. It has a little bit of dancehall element mixed into it but it is soca. You have to be able to differentiate. Afrobeats is soca but it is called Afrobeats cause it is from Africa. But it is the same drumline, same drum patterns, same melodies but it is soca. And of course that is where we come from but we just have to identify. We can only learn and gain from the mixing.
What does carnival mean to you? Carnival is where we actually get to express ourselves. Carnival is joy. It is that one day or two days that you can be free. I do 70% of the carnivals in the world and I see the same looks on people’s faces everywhere during carnival. And it comes with soca as well. Soca is happiness.
What would be your advice to aspiring DJs? Do it for love don’t do it for money. Be serious about it. Don’t do it just when you feel like doing it. There are guys out there who are trying to make a living off it so if you are going to dabble into it take it seriously. And please your crowd, don’t play for yourself. Don’t play your favourite songs all the time. Play the crowd’s favourite songs, play what makes them react.
What’s next for DJ Stephen? Just going to work on the industry, try to open doors. I will be dabbling on the production side of things and some project management for some of the artists. You never know. I’m not going to sing but I’m not going to say I’m not going to sing. Who knows? I might try something. But I think production will be my next thing.
In this location with no decks, music playing and carnival in full swing it still remains very evident that DJ Stephen is very passionate and serious about soca and the art of playing for and pleasing his crowd. He is a risk taker. Here is someone who is not afraid to give it his all for the love of the genre and what he does. With DJ Stephen fighting for and pushing soca forward on the international platform, I’d say soca has every chance of becoming more widely recognised. DJ Stephen? Most DEFINITELY Team Soca!!!!!
For more information on DJ Stephen please visit www.djstephenmusic.com; djstephenmusic on instagram and podmatic.com; DJ Stephen 1 on facebook, DJ Stephen music on You Tube, DJ Steven on Soundcloud and DJsteven1 on twitter. All images were used with the authorisation of DJ Stephen.