Sten Hallström is more commonly known as his alter-ego, StoneBridge, the super-DJ who's been mixing, remixing and creating his own audio brilliance for almost three decades. He's bringing his talents back to Motown once again, and we were able to catch him for a few minutes to wax poetic about his gear, creativity and how the EDM landscape in Detroit compares to its brethren overseas.
Are you primarily a self-taught DJ? What did your learning curve look like over the past 30 years?
I started 1983 with two belt-driven decks and the worst mixer ever, but quickly got on the SL-1200s and started to become a bit more technical. I would say the first 20 years were about reading the room, getting the crowd rocking without any tricks. The most advanced thing I did was buying two copies of the same track and play one a quarter beat late so I could do stutter effects here and there. As the Pioneer 500 mixer came, the flanger was king, and with the 600 and onwards, it has been the echo that is my favorite along with a long reverb that I side chain manually. I switched to CD in 2005 and am still on CDs, as I prefer the showmanship with these.
What do you see as the primary difference in the audiences you play for overseas versus the United States?
There used to be a huge difference, mainly because Europe and Asia have had dance music on radio for 25 years or so, and the US was fed with R&B and hip-hop for the longest time. We joke and call it the dark ages, but there's some truth to it. Then the US decided that dance, or EDM as it's called now, was the big sound and crowds all across the country are going to clubs like never before. As I never have been a very underground or niche kind of producer or DJ, I actually love this development and have my best gigs here now.
What does your creative process look like? Do you tinker with tracks and sounds constantly, or do you just sit down and bang it all out at once?
I usually start with nothing and play around with chords on beats to get the vibe of the song. If I start a new track, it's usually a bass line. Once I have something that carries, I move on to detail work and pretty soon I would want to arrange it roughly so I get a feel for the final result. As all studio work is done in computers these days, you have total recall so it's easy to go back and change things forever, but I'm usually quite good at deciding when it's done.
Tell me the differences, in terms of creation, between writing a track from scratch versus remixing a song. Which do you find to be more challenging? Is there one that's more fulfilling?
There is no better feeling than creating a song from scratch and it works out quickly. On the other hand, the worst feeling ever is getting stuck on one part and slowly realizing it's not going anywhere. A remix is easier as you have the song and can fall back on original ideas. Doing a remix like Sia, The Girl You Lost To Cocaine, was extremely fulfilling as it was an indie band live recording that I had no idea where to go with. Same with Robin S., Show Me Love–that was a full blown, orchestrated disco record before I got onto it.
What's next for you professionally? Are there collaborations or production work for artists you would like to do that you haven't gotten to yet? Places you'd like to play that you haven't been to yet?
I have been busier writing and producing these last two years than anytime before. I suppose I finally realized that you have to create your own songs and/or produce new music to get really creative and put your stamp on something that can last for a long time. Right now I'm working closely with two other producers, Chris Kaeser from France and Matt Joko from Sweden. We do mixes together or produce from scratch, mostly using FaceTime or Skype, but I sometimes go to France to work with Chris in his studio. I also work with a singer called Krista Richards and her brother Nathan Petersen, with whom I write songs from scratch, usually in San Diego. It's a good thing to leave your comfort zone if you want real greatness, I find. I would love to work with Polina from New York. I wouldn't mind writing a song with Sia either.
What does playing Detroit mean to you, especially considering the rich history of EDM here?
I have played a lot in Detroit the last four years and have many friends that come to the shows. I love the family vibe and the multicultural communities here. You can feel the rich EDM history if you drop a crazy old-school techno track, for instance. In Asia, it would be game over, but in Detroit, half the crowd will know it and the other half will get excited because of the other half. I would say you have a rich music history, period, lot of soul in Detroit. | RDW
StoneBridge • 6/16, 10 p.m. • Bleu Detroit • 1540 Woodward Ave., Detroit • 313.974.7799 • bleudetroit.com