The video remix king talks about how he left the underground and is now contemplating a return.
LeBron James may have won his second NBA championship last night, but DJ Steve Porter was guaranteed a victory no matter who scored the most points. His video remixes (like the one you can see here) air during SportsCenter on ESPN and typically earn a few hundred thousand YouTube views in a matter of days. The one-time protégé of Sasha, whose own tracks were played by everyone from Carl Cox to Paul Van Dyk to Mark Farina, Porter has been focused almost exclusively on remix videos for the last four years.
In that time, he’s won two Webby Awards and recently earned an Emmy nomination for a promo spot he did for “Good Morning America.” The unprecedented transition from nightclubs to television as ESPN’s go-to video remixer began in 2009 at the height of his career as an underground progressive house DJ.
“I was touring too much,” says Porter of his pre-television days. “I wasn’t giving enough time to myself to recover and get that creative inhale exhale. I was losing my inspiration for the same things I had been doing. Much of that was my own fault for not having a balance in my own life, but I reached a point where it was a personal rock bottom.”
Rather than walk away from music completely, Porter decided to entertain himself with what was then a new medium – the video remix – on a then-underutilized function of Ableton Live.
“I was looking for something that was different and fun that I could apply my creativity and skill set too,” Porter explains. “It started very innocently with a couple early remix videos, but they trended upward in how elaborate they were.”
He uploaded a video to YouTube that remixed the infamous late night infomercials for a product called Slap Chop that went viral. To date, it has been viewed over 14 million times.
“Remixing that commercial used the same techniques that I was using for underground a capella tracks but was also keeping a marketing component front and center,” Porter explains.
That marketing component caught the attention of brand managers who wanted to capitalize on the phenomenon. A remix video that featured their product could vault them into a cultural conversation that was fresh, cool, and crossed media platforms. Porter was the guy who could make it for them. A few months after the viral success of the “Slap Chop” remix, Porter produced “Press Hop,” a video that remixed soundbytes from NBA press conferences with players like Allen Iverson.
“Things moved very fast from that point,” he recalls. “Within six months from releasing those videos I was producing thirty-second commercials for the NBA. It was the quickest transition to something else that I had ever experienced. It was a lot different for me because in the dance music scene things took a lot longer – at least in the era that I was in full swing. It took a while to get your tracks pressed on vinyl and get them all to the right DJs.”
Through his PorterHouse Media company, based in western Massachusetts, Porter produces videos for virtually every major television network along with brands like Puma, Hyundai, and General Mills. ESPN commissions his work for their flagship show, “SportsCenter,” at least one a month in addition to content during football season tailored for their show “NFL Countdown.”
“They’re extremely easygoing from a creative standpoint,” Porter says of working with the network. “But the biggest change from working as an underground DJ and producer and this new chapter is working with clients. When you do a remix for an underground label, they might have you make a few tweaks but nothing too major. There are a lot more cooks in the kitchen in the media world.”
Picky agency creative directors haven’t been the only obstacle in Porter’s path. Naturally, the transition from the underground to America’s living rooms hasn’t come without some backlash from the DJ’s original audience.
“My favorite line that kept popping up was ‘What happened to you, Steve Porter,’” Porter says, bemused. “People were coming on to my Facebook page saying ‘You used to have releases on Bedrock and you used to tour with Sasha and now, what happened to you?’ Almost like a disappointed parent would talk to you.”
While Porter says the video work is still creatively challenging, he’s looking to re-enter the world of dance music as soon as this year. The “itch,” as he puts it, has returned, even though he’ll find the club world a very different market than the one he left behind.
“I feel kind of silly in a sense that I ducked out of the scene right when it went full blown,” Porter admits. “But you just follow your heart. It was time to try something else and try something different.”
Still, don’t expect Porter to attempt to follow any trends either.
“I imagine my entry back into the music scene will be pretty much on my own terms,” he says. “When I was burning out in 2008 and 2009 there was a lot of pressure to evolve and become the next A-Trak or whatever. I won’t feel the pressure to wear skinny jeans and play dubstep. I’ll just see how it evolves organically."