AVR #05 – (Hosted by Jake Stellarwell) feat Peter Croce [Rocksteady Disco]

After a slight break, episode 5 of Advibe Radio is here… with special guest Peter Croce of Rocksteady Disco in Detroit.

Peter is a dedicated musician, DJ, producer, label owner and all-around nice dude. He’s kindly shared an 80 minute mix and an insightful Q&A session.

JS: To begin, how did you get into the music and DJ scene? Where did you get started? Tell us a little about your history please.

Peter Croce: I started playing electric bass at 10, guitar at 11. I got serious about it at 13 because I broke my leg and couldn’t play sports for 4 months. I would hop around my parents’ house ripping CDs to iTunes, which was probably my first experience ‘digging’. My parents had a lot of really good jazz-fusion, funk, and rock; they’re quite music ‘heady’ themselves. I then began trying to imitate the bass playing of Les Claypool, Stanley Clarke, John Myung, and Geddy Lee.

In 2012 I picked up a DJ controller and began playing house parties and occasional weeknights at a club in Lansing, Michigan. Shortly thereafter I got some Numark turntables, and then in 2013 I moved to Detroit. I’m not so sure how it happened but I pretty quickly jumped into the scene here and started playing out a lot. At one point it was at least 5 nights a week. In 2013 I went to some parties at Temple Bar and MotorCity Wine, and decided those were the places I wanted a residency. I managed to snag one at each spot, and that’s been so wonderful. Especially at MotorCity Wine– all the resident deejays and the owners (David and Melissa) have been to just about every Detroit party and have heard every Detroit deejay, so playing there every Friday really forced me to find my own sound. I’m really grateful for David A-P and MotorCity Wine.

JS: You are currently running a label and a few dance nights in Detroit… can you tell us about those projects? Any upcoming projects you’re excited about?

Peter Croce: Last May was the 5 year anniversary of Rocksteady Disco. Hard to believe it really– what started off as a humble weekly Happy Hour set at MotorCity Wine has blossomed into a label with 16 (and counting) vinyl releases + a couple digi only releases, and a variety of parties from your typical dance night, daytime balearic bliss-outs, and the occasional after hours. I have my second Friday monthly at Temple Bar called Sermon, and I have my fourth Sunday monthly at MotorCity Wine called Sunday Revival. They both have their own subtle identities and crowds, which is super fun. Sermon leans a little more disco and cheeky; Sunday Revival has more house dancers so I go a bit more deep/afro/jazz-funk. But of course the musical venn diagram for those parties overlap a lot.

July was fun, I took Rocksteady Disco on the road to Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Brooklyn.

The label has been going full tilt for the past bit too. I keep telling myself I’m only going to put out a couple records a year, but I just keep getting sent incredible demos so I gotta put ‘em out. So far 2019 has Jaco Matthews’s debut with a brilliant remix of my track “Revival”. We did a repress of our first 7” from Pontchartrain, which sold out in about 3 weeks. We did another split 7” of some summer flavors from Pontchartrain and Blair French, a killer 12” from JKriv that has probably some of the deepest sounds I’ve ever heard from him, and I’m finally back in the producer seat with a white label 12” of some of my most prized edits. We’ve got at least a couple more releases lined up for this year, plus a lineup of releases next year from Jaco Matthews, Kiko Navarro, Eddie Logix, Topher Horn, myself, and more.

JS: You are a producer as well and have had a bevy of well-received releases/remixes over the past few years. How did that all start for you? What is your approach to doing a proper edit or remix?

Peter Croce: I appreciate that, Jake. I used to write songs for my old bands so I basically had to get over the hump of learning a DAW. The first thing I put out was a few edits, first on In Any Case and secondly on my Mr. PC Versions side label. My favorite re-editors are Danny Krivit, Lafleur, Underdog– the people who don’t try to add too much to the song but instead re-interpret the song in a new light. I’ll re-edit anything but especially with a lot of older music– they need a little help in the arrangement or mixing department. It’s not even so much about straightening out tempo changes or anything, because you should be able to do that in the mix with your pitch fader. But there’s just some really great parts in some songs that need to be extended, and some cheesy parts that I would personally do without. So I try to take what the original artist has done and amplify their talent to create ecstatic dance floor experiences. I also try to take tracks that folks might not imagine in a dance setting, and re-edit them for that. My Jean-Luc Ponty edit is a good example of that I think.

As far as original production goes, I had some ideas floating around in my head for a while before I finally sat down to write “Revival”. When I heard Rev. Barber’s prophetic speech at the Democratic National Convention in 2016 I knew I had to put a track behind it. His message is so pertinent, yet so timeless. The way he speaks is with such rhythm and cadence– his voice quite literally is house music. I always try to inject a message into my deejay sets, and I thought it was only appropriate to make my first 12” a record with a message. I wasn’t really sure how well it would be received, but it got shockingly big worldwide, not just in The States. That was humbling.

I approach my remixes similar to how I approach my edits– I try to take my favorite part of a composition and think about how my dance floors might dig it. For example, the Dexter Story “Eastern Prayer” remix I did for Soundway– I always loved the original and I imagined it working in a house set. So I did the remix to try to take that sort of spiritual jazz balearic interlude into another context. Same thing with the Penya “Search It Out” remix. I wanted to beef them up to knock at the dance. Not that everything has to knock, but I wanted those particular cuts to!

JS: Regarding the mid-west scene, what are the differences, in your experience, between Chicago and Detroit?

Peter Croce: Having lived and been a working deejay in both places I feel like they couldn’t be more different. Detroit is much more open minded in terms of injecting house and techno into “job” gigs. But I’m really grateful for Chicago because it really got my Afro-Latin-Brazilian chops up– all those subgenres are really well received in Chicago and playing that music helped me hone in on my sound even more.

I find that Chicago is really suffering in terms of where a person can go dancing to a dope deejay any night of the week. I am still shocked by the lack of venues with a semi-proper dance floor, sound system, and working gear. There’s so many good jocks, and it’s a shame that they get overlooked for overseas talent at the few bigger venues, and that there’s no mid-tier dancehalls like what we have in Detroit (Temple Bar, Marble Bar, MotorCity Wine, Donovan’s) for people to have a monthly. In Detroit you can go hear quality dance music basically any night of the week, for minimal to no cover. It’s mind boggling.

JS: How does DJing overseas compare to the US in your opinion? Why do you think many US artists and DJs are so overlooked in the context of the global scene? Is it politics?

Peter Croce: I’ve played some really killer parties overseas full of A1 party people. I think nightlife and partying are much more woven into the fabric of their culture, especially in Europe but even in Asia. Maybe it’s because people aren’t as crushed by student loan debt and healthcare costs. Or maybe it’s because of the much more casual party drug usage. Or maybe it’s because what we do in the states is so underground. We don’t really have a Gilles Peterson over here pushing heady Jazz and electronic sounds to the masses, so our parties are a lot smaller.

That being said, there’s something that happens when a bunch of people who suffer the rave a bit more come together. Americans don’t take this stuff for granted as much. Some of the best parties I’ve ever played in my life were in cities that you wouldn’t expect– Cosmik Debris in Huntington, West Virginia; Ranchos Riviera in Buffalo, New York; and Bumpin’ in Louisville, Kentucky. When folks don’t have this kind of music and these kinds of parties all the time they *really* show out, and they bring this incredible positive energy with them. I count myself lucky that I’ve been able to be flown in to play overseas, and that I can play upstart parties in surprising places.

I am kind of shocked with how often US artists get overlooked in the EU/UK market though. So much of what’s happening overseas is derivative of what’s happening stateside, so why not go to the source? Yes, there’s the reality that bringing someone across The Atlantic can be expensive and it comes with its logistical challenges. But it does feel a bit odd that the same American deejays getting booked in Europe now are the same ones that were getting booked 15 years ago. Promoting is an extremely tough and thankless job, so I have no axe to grind. I just think a lot of cats are being overlooked.

JS: What has been the most memorable gig for you in the US? And, are memorable gigs hard to come by here, or are they frequent? Also, what is your favorite US city to play in?

Peter Croce: Detroit really is my favorite US city to play in. What we lack in numbers we make up for in energy. In particular we do a yearly party at MotorCity Wine called Viva La Resistance every Friday before Movement festival on Memorial Weekend. We do a special Detroit-exclusive white label vinyl and have the Rocksteady Disco family throw down without a headliner. People have told us that it’s their favorite party of the weekend, and that it has an energy unlike any party they’ve been to. It’s one of my favorite parties to play and I look forward to it every year. You can catch a bit of the energy from my set in 2018 here. Sunday Revival captures that energy, but with a less international/out-of-town crowd. Also there’s not really a dance floor in the world like Temple Bar’s too– the deejay booth is old school in that it’s situated in a room above the dance floor, and you look down through a window. There’s a door that locks so no-one bothers you. The dancers care less about what you’re doing because they can’t see what you’re doing, so they just bliss out and dance.

I’m really lucky in that I get at least one memorable gig a month, especially here in Detroit. As a working deejay who plays a lot of “background music” gigs it keeps me sane and pushing forward.

I’d be remiss if I don’t give an honorable mention to New York City. It’s without a doubt my second favorite city to play in the US.

JS: I am on your mailing list for the periodic newsletter, which I find thoughtful and enjoyable. I too send occasional emails, not at the level of effort you put into yours, but I find it a good practice, as social media fatigue is very real. Do you think a letter in the form of an email is a needed return to simplicity?

Peter Croce: I’m happy you find it enjoyable! I do put in a good amount of effort into it, because I find corporately-owned social media to be one of the worst parts of neoliberalism, and it’s worth resisting. In the words of Douglas Rushkoff, “Every time I use my phone it gets smarter and I get dumber.” I try to subvert that by just sending out a simple email that shares something inspiring and not necessarily music related, plus our upcoming gigs and releases. I really refuse to give Facebook money to have my stuff seen, so the email list has been really powerful in connecting on a bit more personal level with people. I get responses a lot, and I really appreciate it!

JS: Any upcoming tours, gigs, releases, remixes or whatever else you care to share with us? Also, can you give us some insight into the mix you’ve shared with us?

Peter Croce: Blair French and I have a summer patio residency at Como’s in Ferndale (Metro Detroit) under our Belle Isle Balearic moniker, playing exclusively global grooves / tons’o’drums / slomo / tropical / sleaze / beatdown / AOR. It’s a great change of pace from our usual dance floor madness.

You can also catch me worldwide every Thursday broadcasting from Detroit on Underground Sessions 1 PM – 3 PM Detroit time.

And by the time this article comes out my EDITS FROM DETROIT #2 should be available worldwide. Hand-stamped and stickered with love by yours truly, it’s sure to elevate your party. It’s already being supported by Jimpster, Frank Booker, Gigi Testa, Craig Smith, Soul Clap, Chrissy, Mr. Mendel, Souldynamic, MANIK, Mark Hume, Craig Charles, Dazzle Drums, and more, and I’m excited to get it in the hands of more people!

The mix is taken from a Rocksteady Disco after hours somewhere in Detroit, before Darshan Jesrani (of Metro Area fame) and the Ain’t No Disco boys hopped on the decks. It was recorded on a couple Technics 1200s, some XDJs I borrowed from EZ.Rowe, and my custom Condesa Carmen. It’s a pretty good snapshot into what my sets are like– Deep House, Disco, Afro-Brazilian, and some Jazz-Funk; hopefully more “cohesive” than “eclectic”. The energy in that room that night was ecstatic and how I hope every party to be. The dancers were communicating with their bodies and I was communicating with my records. It was a memorable one, and I’m stoked the world can hear how Rocksteady Disco gets down.