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Like many Orange County kids, Andrew Steelman absorbed a lot of punk rock, and then got hooked on hip-hop in the mid-'90s by watching skate videos. In 1998, while many of his peers were squandering their time at the mall or the beach, the San Clemente resident started accumulating records and bought turntables. As he immersed himself in hip-hop culture, he began tracing the music's origins in soul, jazz and funk. Obsession took hold, and Steelman has been, as he says, "expanding on sound ever since."
Steelman's influences reflect a young man (he's only 25) who has put in serious research in order to develop impeccable aesthetics and hone his craft behind the decks: Fela Kuti, Kraftwerk, P-Funk, King Tubby, Herbie Hancock, Blue Note and CTI jazz, Golden Era hip-hop, Portishead, 4Hero, J Dilla, Dabrye, and many other seminal musical touchstones.
"I like all types of music," says the Abstract Workshop crew member. "I try to bring a variety [of records] that will get people moving and cater to a certain mood."
In Steelman's Friday-night gigs (called Versatile) at Costa Mesa's Memphis Café and Abstract Workshop at Detroit Bar, he mostly spins old and new backpacker-hip-hop gems with transitions smoother than Isaac Hayes' spoken-word interludes. Steelman says he tries to "make the next song sound better than the last and never play anything that I don't like." It's a remarkably simple and effective m.o. He also claims not to spend much time practicing, nor does he meticulously plan his sets, but instead goes by instinct, reading and feeding off the crowd. He admits, "I usually arrange my records from slowest to fastest"—as if it's the most logical thing in the world. Whatever the case, this method works well for him.
DJ Cocoe, who books both Versatile and Abstract Workshop, agrees. "I think he has a great ear and is open to all spectrums of sound. He can read the crowd, even on the worst nights. I am very proud of his progression in the last year. This kid has a lot of heart, and to me, that's the most important quality."
Steelman's own music possesses both a sensual glow and an ominous undertow; it's the sort of midnight-blue instrumental hip-hop that marked the talent-rich stables of tastemaker labels such as Mo' Wax and Ninja Tune. These pieces are darker and less party-centric than the cuts Steelman spins in his DJ sets, but one can imagine them going down well at after-hours gatherings where bong hits are as natural as breathing.
"Steelman has a lot of great influences around him and is a quick learner," notes Cocoe. "Making music, chopping sounds, looking for samples, trying to program a certain loop—it's not something you can pick up overnight. I have a feeling you are going to be hearing a lot of stuff coming out of his studio in the near future. I am proud to have him be a part of our legacy."