DJ advice from Steve Bug: “Learn how to beat match, no matter what equipment you’re using”
Steve Bug has spent his life in dance music, beginning with discovering disco music via his parent’s record collection and then getting into electro and breakdancing in the early 80s. House music first caught his attention in the late 80s and he quickly decided to devote his life to 4/4 culture. Beginning as a DJ in Germany, his first Ibiza residency was in 1991 and he’s since travelled to clubs and festivals worldwide, making his name as a quality DJ and influential producer.
Bug started his first label, Raw Elements, in 1996 – and then launched Poker Flat Recordings in 1998. Together with various sub-labels, Bug has been trailblazing house, techno and tech house ever since. Over the years, Poker Flat have put out quality electronic music from artists like Hannes Bieger, John Tejada, Trentemoller, Tim Engelhardt, Vince Watson, Alex Niggemann and many more.
Who Is Steve Bug? He’s an influential German label boss, DJ and producer. He has been running his label Poker Flat Recordings for over twenty years, has released six full length artist albums and also recorded for labels like Bedrock, Knee Deep In Sound, Cocoon and Defected.
We spoke to Steve about his journey in dance music and the details of his DJing technique.
Turn this mix on and keep reading.
How and when did you first discover dance music?
When you say dance music, you probably mean house & techno, right? Because originally I first discovered disco music through my parents, when I was a kid. Then later I discovered electro and breakdance. And before getting into house & techno, I went to discotheques where they played, funk & soul, late disco and 80’s pop stuff.
My first visit to a house club was in ´87/´88. Friends took me to the Front Club in Hamburg, and it was the first time I heard a DJ mix records instead of just putting on the next song. The vibe was incredible, the light setting, and the never-ending beat got me infected with the house virus right away. After that night, I started buying records and kept coming back to that club whenever I could.
What made you decide to be a DJ?
At first, I bought a second turntable for my home and a cheap mixer. Only one turntable had an adjustable pitch wheel – nothing compared to what a Technics 1210 pitch is. For the second turntable, I had to use my hands to speed it up or slow it down during the mix phase. I think that helped to learn DJing from scratch. A bit later I bought a pair of 1210s and started making tapes for friends and played at small private parties. In ´91 I stayed the whole summer season in Ibiza and that was the year I decided to start throwing parties at the club I used to bartend in my hometown. And that’s when I finally started to DJ out in public. I soon became the resident of that club and the rest is history as they say.
Tell us a bit about your DJing – what format/kit do you usually use? What style do you play?
First of all, a message to all young DJs out there: don’t just play one style of music – that’s so boring. You’re also missing out on a lot of great music when you’re digging only in the same section all the time. If you’re open to various styles your sets will be more eclectic and interesting. Mixing different genres in one set is not always easy, but it can make the difference.
I play everything from deep house to Detroit techno, depending on the situation. I love to take people on a journey, rather than just banging the shit out of them. I still play with 1210s, but I switched to Traktor with vinyl control many years ago. I love the extra features available and having almost a whole collection at hand.
In terms of equipment, what do you bring with you to gigs?
A laptop, a sound card, a controller, cables, and control vinyl.
What’s the worst technical hitch you’ve ever had DJing? How did you deal with it?
I don’t measure in best or worst – many situations are good or bad, and you have to deal with them. I remember the first years with Final Scratch were a bit shaky. I had a computer crashing in the middle of the set and had to restart the whole system. I simply played a record in the meantime and switched back to Final Scratch after the computer was back.
I also remember arriving by aeroplane for a gig, back in the days, when I still played vinyl only, basically because that’s what we were doing (only a few played with the first CDJs) back then. The records never arrived, so I had to play with the records of the local DJ. We went to his place before the gig and I picked a few records that I knew in addition to what was in his bag already. In the end, everything went fine. People really enjoyed it, but for me it was rather challenging.
What’s the one piece of advice you’d give to a new DJ?
Learn how to beat match, no matter what equipment you’re using. You should be able to take over from whatever the DJ before is using, without having to make a break because you can’t adjust your tempo to the final track of the DJ before. Even just with a laptop it’s possible!
What is it that makes a record work on the dance floor?
There are endless reasons why a record works on the dancefloor. It could be simply because it’s a hit, and everybody knows the tune already. It could be because it’s very functional. Or it could be the way you’re mixing it in, and what track you played before, that makes even a rather odd record work. Also keep in mind that tunes that work at a big festival may not work at a small club. I personally think it’s all about the situation, and being able to read the crowd and play the right track at the right time.
How do you feel about DJs using FX in their sets? Do you have any little tricks on using FX that you can share with us?
There is nothing wrong with using FX if you don’t overdo it. I do use a reverb and a delay from my Traktor seTup. But I only use it when I feel there is a need for it.
Regarding EQ and/or filters then – tell us a bit about the role they play in your DJing style.
EQing is the most important thing when mixing. You can use a filter instead, but on most mixers (apart from the Model One) for example, you can only cut the highs or the lows at the same time. I do use filters, but only as an addition to the EQs. I do like the hi-cut better than the low cut. It works great when you’re trying to fade out a tune that has a lot of highs. Lo-cut is more to create extra drop-downs. But nowadays most tracks have plenty of those already built in.
For a normal transition from one track to the other, I use the EQ, slowly bringing in the volume, then partly highs, lower mids and kick at the end, while taking out these frequencies on the track that I am mixing out of.
On very few occasions I use the EQ to boost a frequency, but only to match a track that has less highs, because it’s a classic for example. I don’t understand why DJs tend to set the EQ to ten past in general. The sound system is adjusted to a flat EQ, and most records already have too much high end these days anyway. And boosting all frequencies only makes the track louder, but makes it sounding worst. So please keep your EQs flat and save people’s ears – ha!
Do you do much live looping or re-editing? Any tips for using loops while Djing?
I do use looping. Even before Traktor, I used to bring a Cycloops. I love being able to extend parts. But I mostly use it for smoother transitions at the end of a track to keep the hats going longer for example. Occasionally I use beat-jumps to shorten certain parts. But in general, I play tracks the way they are, or loop them and bring in the next tune earlier. I do like smooth transitions and for that, you don’t need many extras.
Do you change your DJing style depending on the size of the room?
Maybe not the style of DJing itself, but I’d definitely play different records in a big room compared to what I would play in a small room. But again, it’s all about the situation. Connecting with the crowd is important, and sometimes you end up playing a banging set in a rather small room, and another time playing rather deep in a big room.
Obviously, a vital aspect of DJing is crate-digging, either in the real world or virtually. How do you source your music?
Nowadays I buy stuff digitally and I check promos as often as possible. I still don’t like it 100% because you have to go through so many records that aren’t for you before you finally get to the ones you feel – but since so many labels don’t produce vinyl anymore, it’s also hard to find good stuff at the record shops.
But back to digital: unfortunately, none of the algorithms have yet been able to actually showcase tracks that I like. So crate-digging is more time consuming than ever – but it’s usually worth it when you find a few pearls.
Do you compile playlists?
I do compile playlists, but mostly I use it as an actual record box with the stuff that I really want to play. In addition, I have a box with classics, one with my all-time faves, and one with tunes for bigger floors.
Can you tell us one of your best DJ moments?
I could rave about exciting moments on huge festival floors, as well as special moments during a warm-up set, or the special feeling during a sunrise set at cool beach parties. But I do love to DJ in general, and when there is a crowd that is into what I am doing, a good sound system with a tight, warm bass, and a DJ setup that is working flawlessly, I have everything I need, every time.
Tell us your favourite place to DJ:
A DJ booth with good monitors, enough bass, two turntables and mixer on a steady table. It would be great to have a crowd to connect with in front of me – as well as a good sound system.
And finally, what does DJing mean to you?
More than most people could imagine.
Steve Bug’s latest single, ‘Montefon’, is available to buy and stream at Bandcamp.