Steffi Talks Record Collecting and 'Panorama Bar 05' Album: Billboard Q&A

Steffi
Lisa Swarna Khanna

The Panorama Bar resident releases her first ever compilation album, showcasing her vast taste in music and her individuality.

Steffi’s first CD compilation has been a long time in the making. Although she's been a producer and DJ for over a decade, the Berlin-based Netherlands native has only just released her first official mix, “Panorama Bar 05,” named after the legendary Berlin techno club. It's an easygoing trek through dreamy synth pads, crisp claps, and jacking rhythms that speaks to her extensive experience as a master selector and discerning taste as a boss for the Klakson label and its Dolly imprint.

But het new work only shows a sliver of Steffi's broad taste and massive record collection. Since she first started collecting in the mid ‘90s, dance music has exploded, but Steffi has stuck to what she knows best while maintaining a somewhat elusive profile (she doesn’t even have a Twitter account!). We chatted with the longtime Panorama Bar resident about record collecting and DJing in an age where all a DJ needs is a laptop.

I want to know your music-buying habits. Do you build a collection with a certain sound in mind?

I take what I like. It could be anything. It could be house, it could be ambient, techno, dubstep, New Wave, disco. For me, it doesn’t matter. I’m completely open. [My collection] goes from pop to new wave to disco to cosmic Italo, old school electro, new school electro, techno, IDM, trip-hop, everything. It’s so wide. [You’ve got] house, and then you’ve got Chicago, all these different kinds of house. It’s very wide.

Have you found that the way your process of buying records has changed over the years? Maybe you feel you’ve gotten better at buying records?

Yeah, I suppose. It’s more like a photographic memory combined with the artist. You look at the label and recognize the label, or you know the artist. It’s just a slow process. You get into it, you recognize labels, and you know about artists and you have sections in the record shop that point out to you. It’s also curiosity. If something looks really interesting or really underground, you might go “I’ll check this out, maybe that’s something cool.” Then you automatically run into a new label, and you’re like, “that’s really good stuff, so that’s something I have to look at next time.” And then next time there’s another label that you have to look up. That’s the natural flow of it. These things develop.

On the Internet, it can be harder to randomly find a piece of music, because there are certain channels where you learn about music. Do you feel like it’s important for a DJ to find alternative channels?

I think you have to buy what fits you, and I think that will resonate in the way that you’re DJing. If you would just play what’s on the Beatport Top 10 or whatever, it doesn’t give you an identity as a DJ. Basically, I think what makes a good DJ are the records that they play, and how they play it, and in what kind of order they play it.

In the long run, if you listen to people for over four hours, then it really shows like, “Now I know what this person is about,” because they can actually build up a journey. It makes you listen to something more interesting than just playing what’s in the Top 10. A lot of people are depending on that kind of stuff, because these days, it’s much easier to become a DJ. You don’t have to practice at home, you don’t have to learn your records, you don’t have to know your vinyl; you can just get a computer and a Beatport account and you’re good to go. Basically, it’s easier for them, so of course there are a lot of trainspotters.

When you play overseas or in other countries, do you bring a lot of vinyl?

Yeah. I still have 20 kilos [45 lbs] with me, basically. [Some] people are really anal: “I can’t bring my records anymore because they got lost in London Heathrow twice and I can’t take the risk anymore.” For the amount of money people pay to see you and the amount of money that promoters pay you to do a gig, I find that so arrogant. If you had that mentality twenty years ago, you would never be able to DJ anywhere.

But then again, look at who’s into house music these days; there are so many more random people into electronic dance music than twenty years ago. When we were going to a party [back then], it seemed to be like, “oh my god, you’re into house music, that’s really weird.” Now, it’s a lot more random—and I don’t mean that in a bad way, just that the group of people that are listening to this music and going to parties has expanded brutally. David Guetta is popular because there’s a demand for this kind of music somehow. It gets into the normal lifestyle. It’s not a new genre anymore like it was 25 years ago.

Has that bigger, broader audience normalized the “weirdness” in Berlin techno?

In my opinion, I’m more accessible. But if I play somewhere accessible with a random lineup, I am so underground. That kind of amazes me. For me, [“Panorama Bar 05”] is the most accessible I’ve ever been. I came from a scene where the music is dark and difficult, because there was such an interesting vibe from that type of music going on.

Now, I’m much more into house, disco, and all that kind of stuff, because that scene kind of died off. There’s so much four-to-the-floor music out there that doesn’t even make any sense, but it’s so popular that I’m still underground no matter what I do. I love it, it’s not a bad thing, but it’s interesting how saturated this whole market has become.