The DJ and the neverending smile

RICHARD BRIAN/STAFF PHOTO.Up-and-coming DJ Steve Christmas of Las Vegas performs in the lobby of the Miami Beach Resort and Spa on March 27, 2009.
Photo: Richard Brian

Steve Christmas always wears a big smile. Maybe his last name rubbed off on his personality.

At first I thought it was because we were eating breakfast at the Waffle House in Ft. Lauderdale on the first day of a week’s vacation. The only restaurant near our discount hotel in downtown Ft. Lauderdale, Christmas was overjoyed to be dining at Waffle House and talked about how it brought back childhood memories.

Despite the floaties in his water and the flies on the window, his enthusiasm never waned. He went on and on about how delicious his simple eggs and toast were and then started cracking me up with an idea to open a restaurant called “The Waffle Horse,” its sign a picture of a Clydesdale stallion busting through some waffles.

Winter Music Conference 2009

At nights—we shared a hotel room for a couple days—he would stay up until 4 a.m., working on his playlist. “This set is going to be killer!” he would exclaim over and over, with variations, endearingly enthused about playing the lobby of the Miami Resort and Spa, the official Winter Music Conference headquarters, on Friday.

Christmas, who is originally from Detroit and has been living in Vegas four years, works as a bar back at The Foundation Room at Mandalay Bay. With the help of a lawyer/friend/fellow techno fan, he applied to spin at WMC, filling out paperwork and sending out demos. He was accepted, but Christmas, whose DJ name is X-Maschine, had to pay his own way.

He spent weeks (and several late, late nights) preparing for his Friday afternoon set. When it arrived, only a small crowd besides me, a photographer and his lawyer friend were waiting in the to hear him spin. Fedde Le Grand was in a Q&A session in a conference room next door and the legendary DJ Keoki was spinning out back at the hotel pool. Conference attendees wearing lanyards wandered obliviously through the lobby while he spun his heart out.

Many stopped to listen, shake Christmas’ hand and drop a card. Despite the fact that he wasn’t playing for a crowded club, Christmas put everything he had into spinning his tracks and he sounded, to my untrained ear, as good as any famous DJ.

And there were plenty of those, too. Ultra Music Festival, the weekend-long outdoor electronic festival, featured Tiesto, Deadmau5, Bob Sinclair, Black Eyed Peas, Moby, David Guetta, Armin van Burren, The Ting Tings, Rabbit in the Moon, The Prodigy and hundreds of others.

Christmas bounced from set to set - Carl Cox was his favorite, because of his “positive energy,” while Rabbit in the Moon lost points for his “dark, satanic energy” and his use of “neurolinguistics to subconsciously hypnotize the audience” —and then from club to party to after party, sleeping just a few hours out of 72.

On Sunday night, when we were heading to yet another pool party at The National hotel, he still hadn’t lost that mindboggling smile. “What are you on?” I asked.

“The music!” was his ebullient answer. At the Beatport-sponsored WMC closing party, where Sebastian Ingrosso and Steve Angello spun sexy wild techno mash-ups to a sexy wild crowd, Christmas danced nonstop, getting so soaked in sweat I thought he had jumped in the pool.

Finally, on Monday, an exhausted but happy Christmas headed home to his apartment, job and daily routine. He dreams of spinning in Eastern Europe and Ibiza, but for now, he plays intermittently at smallish local venues.

Still, Christmas doesn’t get discouraged. He believes that if he stays true to himself and his music and maintains his positive energy, things will happen for him and turn out for the best, eventually.

As it will, he claims, for all aspiring DJs and musicians—and anyone else trying to succeed in an implacable world.

Here’s hoping.

Steve is spinning at The Red Room on Friday April 10th with M!ke Attack.

Read Weekly’s Q&A with Steve Christmas from WMC 2009.

What got you turned onto electronic music?

My old boss took me and a couple other guys out to a Detroit to a Paul Oakenfold show, and I wound up spending most of the night in a back room listening to Stacey Pullen, one of the eclectic Detroit DJs. He was one of the DJs who got me really turned on to the Detroit techno sound and from that into electronic music in general.

Where do you like to listen to DJs in Vegas?

Tuesdays at Satellite Bar inside Moon happens to be one of the great underground house and techno nights in town.

Who are your favorite local DJs?

I have a lot of respect for Jordan Stevens in terms of his ability to spin for people who are, I don’t want to say snobby, but people who are really passionate about techno while also being able to please a crowd who are a majority of tourists who just want to dance and have a good time.

M!ke Attack is someone I’ve had mad respect for since the first time I heard him spin. He has so much positive energy and an insane bass line and has a good ear for the banging sound that keeps a crowd going for hours.

Steele and Godfrey, their sound is amazing. They have so much passion about what they’re doing and so much energy. They can bring a lot to the stage as a presence and then play great, great music on top of that.

Who are your favorite internationally known DJs?

More of a live performance act that produces a similar sound [to DJs] is Underworld. They are the first electronic music that I heard on the radio in New Jersey. They’ve been doing it for years and years and they’ve got nothing but better. They can do something down tempo and paint a beautiful soundscape for you and at the same time they can drop a track and get it bangin’ and have everyone on the dance floor.

Maetrik has a really futuristic, kind of dark but still positive vibe, and his sounds just draw you in and make you dance. I can’t even describe it; it’s incredible.

What did you think of WMC 2009?

I thought it was amazing! It was the best collection of positive energy and people who really were passionate about the music that they were playing. There was an opportunity to meet new people who they can work with and the chance to get out there and enjoy music for what it is and the way that it brings people together.

How easy is it to make it as a DJ?

It seems like in this day a lot of people get a Macbook for Christmas and then get digital mixing programs and then get out there and say, ‘Hey, I’m a DJ!’ In the past, DJs were the people who used to spend the weekends flipping through records and spend half their paycheck on vinyls. There is an ease of entry into the field of DJing—it’s easier to become, or at least have the equipment needed to be a DJ.

To differentiate yourself from that crowd, you have to do something more proactive to create an overall performance. If you stand there staring at a computer screen and it’s that easy to mix, you might as well be checking you’re email. You have to be using other elements, like mixing in vinyl, or three tracks at once, using mini-controllers to change the sound of the song that you are playing. It’s important for the DJ to manipulate the music as much as possible and engage with the crowd

What are the obstacles for underground electronic DJs trying to make it in Vegas?

The biggest problem--if you want to call it that--with Vegas is that we have to realize we are a tourist town, so if you move a up the corporate ladder you have to please as many tourists as possible. It’s not necessarily structured in the most favorable way for the underground scene. There will always be locals and certain tourists who want to hear the underground electronic sound, but we have to realize that mainly we have to please the masses

That’s why I’ve taken the mindset that I have. If I get booked to where I can play the music as I want, great, but if it doesn’t happen, I’m not going to get down. I’m going to realize I’m not dealing with an audience who wants to hear that kind of music.

What advice do you have for new DJs trying to make it?

Figure out what style of music they are really passionate about and then focus on doing what they love. Getting out there and meeting people is an important part of that definitely. When you love what you’re doing, it will never be difficult. It will give you the energy to get out there and network and do what you need to do.

The single most important thing for any DJ starting out is to really ask themselves why they’re doing it. The best answer is that they are really passionate about the music that they are playing and creating. They need to have a level of positive energy and as long as they stay focused on that, the right thing will happen.


Jennifer Grafiada

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