The Cuauhté Collaboration with Talisman Caps

Cuauhté Cap Collaboration with Talisman
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This summer I collaborated with Talisman Caps, a midwestern-based soccer apparel company to bring a fresh new way for Chicagoans to wear their pride on the daily.  This past month we introduced the “Cuauhté Cap” - Saluting one of Chicago’s legendary sports icons and giving fans the chance to wear their pride on or off the pitch. 


As part of a limited quantity release we still have a few of the caps left in inventory, and you can purchase them below for $35 (plus S & H).

Lastly as part of the release, we held a event that combined Chicago Sports & philanthropy, raising $150 dollars to help keep families together during a divisive time at our nations border.  Thank you to The Young Center for all the incredible work you do! 

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The Cuauhté Cap
Talisman Caps x DJ Step Collaboration
Adjustable - $35 (plus S & H)
Alternative payment Could be Processed via Venmo
Photos by @SessionswithJP

The Pilsen Predators: A Crosstown Collaboration

This past year has been a time of fresh starts and opening new chapters of my life (both personally & professionally).  I moved neighborhoods, and dumped a bunch of toxic parts of my life out the window to start over. A big focus with these new moves was to realign myself with the passions and projects that have guided my life up until this point.  I needed to stay close to things  that kept me happy and progressing forward.

Often times, when you are passionate about something creative like djing or music, the lines between work or “away time” are never clearly defined.  

You’re always “on the job” or  “always working” and your passion permeates everything you come in contact with - whether it be social connections, what you consume, or what you wear.

There’s a million artists, musicians, and djs - so when approaching projects, I always look to what makes me an outlier or individual, rather than falling in line with other creators in the world.  One of those things for me is my involvement as DJ & Music Director for the Chicago Fire.

Anticipating to be signed on for another season as the Chicago Fire’s DJ (Edit: I got the job guys woo!) - I wanted to incorporate my new home Pilsen into the matchday experience, not only sonically, but also in how I present myself on the decks.  

Enter DeJesus Customs - A Chicago-Based shoe designer that I came across through my friend Drew Connor, who plays professionally on the Fire and made some pretty tight kicks himself with their team.  DeJesus has come correct on projects for atheletes in ever league from MLS to NFL, so I approached them with a lot of anticipation to create something special.

This was the result.

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The base palette was the David Beckham limited edition Predator Accelerator, a consortium-only release of Adidas iconic soccer silhouette translated into the street-style platform.  Having been a huge fan of Becks as a kid, this seemed like the perfect canvas to start with for this shoe.

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As far as Pilsen Influence on the shoe - it becomes a “dicey” subject.  While I’ve been exploring neighborhoods like the near-south community in Chicago for the eight years I’ve called this city home, I’m a relatively new resident to this location.  I am not gonna avoid the fact that as a white guy, whose appearance is super eurocentric, living in a community going through a lot of issues preserving it’s identity against gentrification, my involvement here is problematic.

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Pilsen, since its inception has been a space for immigrant communities, and while the ethnicity and cultural makeup has changed, that spirit still exists here today.  The ambitious, persistent, and hard-working attitude is one of the major characteristics I’ve take from my relatives before me, and it’s a feeling I continue to seek in the support group I surround myself with overall.  The artist and cultural network here in Pilsen is a place where I feel that same energy, and its one of the few places in Chicago you can go to still regularly speak Spanish, which was a big thing for me overall.

I started taking Spanish when I was in Kindergarten, as part of a community initiative in my school district to teach kids a new language.  While my academic journey afforded me a chance to take French, Russian, or Chinese, I stuck with Spanish throughout school until I graduated with a double major in 2013 from DePaul here in Chicago.

The language itself has been one of the most consistent aspects of my life, through different experiences and opportunities, always offering an alternative way to communicate and better understand others.

Part of moving to Pilsen, and living in a historically relevant art gallery space, was to represent and uphold the culture of a community even if it’s an identity that is not innately my own.  As a creative representative for a community like the Fire, I felt like it was important to show and pay homage to the multiple influences and identities that help shape my perspective on the daily.

With the help of my friend Caleb Zahm, we connected with Chitown Futbol, a local soccer facility in Pilsen that’s had their doors open to players since the 90’s.  Gravitating towards the brightly colored murals and street-style aesthetic - we shot a range of photos highlighting the unique silhouette and the brand new 2018 Fire kit.  

A big thank you to Jose from Chitown, for giving us access to the facility, and Dillon from DeJesus for snapping on the overall finished product.  As weather conditions start to brighten up here in the Windy City, expect more content like this for the future.

Away Days - (D.C. & New York)

Duel in the District

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As part of a continued commitment to experience the game in different places across the country this season, I hit the road on May 18th with my brother and Chicago Fire’s supporter groups Sector Latino / Section 8 to experience the “wonders” of R.F.K Stadium in our nations' Capitol.

Formerly the home of the Washington Redskins (problematic name) R.F.K. is now a deteriorating cathedral of the beautiful game.  D.C. United has since green-lit plans to create a brand new stadium, and with the development now in full swing, the opportunity to experience MLS within these confines are now numbered.  This trip was meant to check D.C. off the bucket list for soccer stadiums.

It’s always special when you get to experience the game with close family, and being able to take the trip with my big brother was a meaningful moment.  He’s contributed so much to my growth and progress as a DJ, and it was particularly memorable to be able to get him one of our brand new gray away kits, and then hit the stadium for the match. 

D.C. United, who historically has fielded very strong sides in MLS, have struggled for most of this season, and on this day, the Fire took advantage, sealing a 1-0 victory off a David Accam breakaway goal.

In what many would describe as a physical match-up (36 fouls given throughout), there were also glimmers of skill during the 90 minutes of competition. Bastian Schweinsteiger, who I will admit looked really fatigued for the vast majority of the match – produced a bit of magic facing multiple DC defenders.

We capped the successful trip off with a celebration in Arlington, Virginia at Don Tito, where I DJ’d a special set for our DMV area friends.  Super shout to their entire crew for having me out and giving me the keys to the dancefloor for the evening.  I came back to Chicago feeling excited about the team’s performance and re-energized for the rest of May.

No Good News in New York

The following month, I got the chance to venture east for another away match in the big apple vs. NYCFC.  Being originally from the East Coast, it’s always a pleasant feeling to return close to home, and away days in New York are no different.  Unfortunately that pleasant feeling didn’t necessarily apply to the matchday experience, however the trip itself was an incredible few days in New York.

Growing up in Southern New England, my first big sports experience was going to Yankee games with my Dad.  A fan of the super-duo Mantle & Maris in the 60’s, my dad transferred his love of the Bronx Bombers to my brother and me at a young age.  We would take day trips south to see games, and now that I was returning to see a soccer team play in Yankee Stadium, it felt a bit like a time machine back to my childhood. 

So for this trip, I was joined by my dad, brother, sister-in-law, and 3 family friends, all excited to see a competitive match between two eastern division contenders.  We got a bit different story than we expected.

Chicago got a big break, when NYCFC were forced to 10 men after Herrera’s ejection, however they failed to capitalize on the advantage.  New York showed a lot of fight, and led by David Villa – they put up two goals that the Fire could not recover from.  The final score was 2-1 in New York City.

While everyone would argue this was a huge missed opportunity for the men in red, I really believe that playing in baseball stadium outfield presents a huge advantage for NYCFC no matter whom they play.  The Fire struggled to find the final ball into the attacking third, and at times seemed lost on the peculiar dimensions of Yankee Stadium.

Even though it may seem like a disappointing result, I was still really thankful to get out east and have my family experience an away game with me.  It’s moments like these that you remember during an away trip for soccer, not necessarily the final score. 

Away Days - (St. Pete & Columbus)

Southern Heat in St. Pete

There's an old saying that floated through my social media timeline's that paraphrased went something like this, "Traveling is the only thing you can pay for that actually makes you richer."

Ok, for all the literalists and the politically correct police roving the internet, we know this isn't the case, but from a spiritual perspective and recharging a tired or belabored mind, I think this statement rings pretty damn true. 

I don't really do resolutions in a new year or at any time for that matter, but as a personal promise I've been trying to do a bit more self-reflection and travel in 2017.  So to keep the commitment going, I decided to start it off by following the Chicago Fire on their pre-season and eventual MLS kick-off! 

Much like my previous pre-season trip to Portland in 2016, I headed out to St. Pete / Tampa Bay to check out Chicago vs. Montreal in a prep match before the Suncoast Invitational began and the team was on full-tilt toward their 2017 season.

Big advantage of travel in any context is being able to have friends or family on the road to your destinations and luckily my family in St. Pete were willing to host us - Shout out my Uncle Richard! (Squad, Squad, Gang, Gang).

We got a local feel for the area by taking a few trips around the surrounding area, checking out the archaeological site - Indian Mound Park & Bananas Records Shop.

Of Course, it wouldn't be a Florida trip if I didn't try and get some color on the beach (and by color I mean red, because all I do is burn.. : (

 

But for the finale, we got behind the scenes access to the Fire vs. Montreal Impact, the team's first Major League opposition in St. Pete having beaten Philadelphia in Bradenton at IMG Academy.  The club even gave me the keys to their Snapchat for the day, giving me a chance to add my personal commentary to an eventual 4-1 win.  Check out my snapchat takeover on the club account and some select photos from the match!

Kick-Off in Columbus - MLS 2017

I got to be 100 here. I don't have a whole lot of footage and feedback besides the fact that this trip we rode in the historic Fire Fanbulance with our good friend Raul, which is pictured below.  It was exciting to kick-off the season away, in a atmosphere that's pretty hostile for Chicago fans in general.  Thankfully this time around it was a manageable day-trip thought it did require me heading straight from a 2am finish time on a DJ set to rendezvous with the rest of the team headed to Ohio. We tied 1-1 and received a vital away point against a tough team.

 

 

 

 

 

Home of the Brave: Making Tough Decisions in the Year's End

This past November will be one as an artist and more importantly as a citizen of the United States, I will never forget.  Here's a quick post, highlighting some things I've learned and want to share with my friends, family, and followers. 

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Twenty sixteen won't be a year I write home about, there's been a lot of changes (some good & bad) since arriving in Chicago. This last year has included some of the more trying times of my albeit short adult life. Major job switches, personal relationship issues, and just serious questions of fulfillment and place in the world have all come up in the last year, and all of that I think has been accented by this recent election. 

I've wrote about it at length in the below Instagram post, but other than the crazy disappointment it's led me to re-analyze the effects and ripples of what we put into the world. The same week all this stuff happened, I was on a flight to DJ my first match with US Soccer, the infamous "Dos a Cero" bout in Columbus that as you would guess.... did not go US Soccer's way.

Tomorrow I am playing quite frankly the biggest DJ set of my career. It's a journey that in 7 years of doing this, if you asked me at the beginning If tomorrow was possible, I would have laughed at you. But here I am... DJing the biggest game of the year for USMNT. I'd be untrue to the way I was brought up if while packing to represent our country, I didn't feel an utter sense of embarrassment, and of disgust at what primarily white citizens of this country have decided in the elections as our course of action. After Tuesday, I was initially wishing the set wouldn't happen at all. Nothing I say ever will equal the fear my African American, Latino, Asian, Female, or LGBQT friends are feeling right now, and in coming months I hope despite the absolute disappointment this is, the love we show for one another only grows to trump the hate that's reared its head this week. What I've realized now, is that this trip isn't really about representing the country, it's about representing all of you. You are the people who've made me who I am, and literally carried me to this point in my life. I wouldn't be here without you. The diverse cultures and friends who have opened their doors to me and I to you, sharing equal love, respect, and understanding. Tomorrow for me is about that love, as well as your beauty, your humility, your kindness, and respect. I hope I can even do justice to half of the wonderful people and experiences you have given me during my lifetime. We are family. Thank you. This one is for you.

A photo posted by STEP (@callme_step) on

As I echoed in that Instagram post, I'm not going to pretend to personify or even understand the multi-layered disappointment and fear the election has evoked in my friends of color - but I did start to think about how could I best be an advocate and support others.

Like most DJ's do, I thought about this in song form.  

While watching the national anthem go on in Columbus for the soccer match, I couldn't help but look up into the November sky and wonder if we were (or have ever) lived up to that "Land of the Free" title we emblazon ourselves with on the regular.  Surely we do get a lot of political freedoms to protest and speak our minds, but when decisions like the past election occur, it appears hate crimes and discrimination are on the rise. During these moments, lyrics like this seem more hollow than ever. 

But as in most difficult moments, you can find some sliver lining of hope in the same song that makes you question your current positions.

"Home of the Brave" (the next line in our anthem) - Is an idea that will stick with me in these long winter months. As we turn over this new year and face potentially some of the darker moments in recent memory "making the brave decision" is going to be harder than ever.

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Bravery comes in many forms.  It could be as simple as donating to a worthwhile cause, or as difficult as having tough conversations about life with friends, significant others, and family. Whatever you decide is your brave moment I'd encourage you to take it head on this December and connect with a friend to help you conquer that issue.  Like most dangerous things in life (from scuba to sky diving) it's better to be brave in pairs then battling alone.  You have the power to make change and you are what you need at this very moment.

This isn't to say self-reflection (like the song exercise I just mentioned) isn't valuable or not another way to progress to a better place, but I know despite the rough times - the spirit of connection and collaboration won't be decided on an app or digital screen - it will be sealed over a cup of coffee and genuine in-person connection with others. 

Wishing everyone good luck this December and a happy new year! 

-Step

 

 

 

Why Requests are Here to Stay

It’s Sunday, the alarm went off and you have a horrible hangover. You went out with your friends last night downtown, but that’s about all you remember.

Don’t worry. I got you.  Let me fill in the missing links.  Also here’s some Advil and water (you definitely don’t look like a morning person).  

My name is Ben Stepnowski, I live in Chicago, Illinois and for about four years now I’ve been studying the art form of vinyl record manipulation and turntablism. In layman’s terms, I am a professional DJ.  On a given weekend if you take a trip downtown in Chicago and step into a relatively popular club, chances are good that you’re on my dance floor.

People head to mainstream clubs and popular venues to try and escape their normal sense of reality and forget many of the stresses or anxieties that bother them during a traditional day.  The dark room, blazing light shows, loud music, and alcohol prominence is undoubtedly a window of opportunity for escaping any issues or frustrations in hopes for one evening of temporary amnesia.  

American Institute of Stress recently released a statistical analysis that highlighted nearly 80% of employees feel stress on the job and almost half would say they could use someone to help get through the anxiety.   This pent up negativity energy to me is a catalyst for a particularly rowdy evening with friends at your favorite dance club or venue.

To some degree I feel that the mainstream venues I play seem to go hand in hand with the pop music that makes these places so inviting. However,  just like there are multiple ways to plan a road trip and arrive at a destination, you can also curate popular or familiar music in several different ways other than just fielding requests from patrons like… “DJ - Play Bon Jovi now before me and my friends leave to the next venues”

It’s a frustrating issue because most often, my ability as a DJ and performer is hinged on the way I curate and mix tunes, my own take on the popular palette of selections.  When venues and promoters put more emphasis on patrons requests as oppose to the DJ's expertise… Everyone loses. 

It’s like me walking into a finance office and taking lead on the next pitch your team does to a client.  I have no idea what I am talking about in those cases and no one benefits from me voicing compulsory thoughts or concerns. I don’t have a degree in finance and many of my suggestions would be completely off base.  The same can be said on the dance floor.  The traditional party goers’ lack of knowledge and understanding of dance floor chemistry makes it difficult for them to give worthwhile feedback.

In this day and age, DJing has become a really romanticized occupation, a cross between confetti cannons, flashing laser lights, and worldwide adoration, however the reality is way less glamorous.  In fact, your average friend or local weekend warrior probably has never experienced any of those as a “working DJ”.   The reality is a cross-fade between late nights, hard work, little sleep, and the occasional special human interaction that makes it all worthwhile.

That being said, one piece of human interaction that is often referred to as a big pitfall of any working DJ is the dreaded “song request”. 

If you ask a guy (or gal) that mixes songs together and gets paid to do it, chances are they have a horror story of a patron insisting they play some sort of tune during their night on the job.

Oh. EM. GEE (oh my God) Ben, your life is so tough, people ask you to play music you didn’t even make… what’s your problem, my job is 10x harder than that.”

That’s normally the response I think of in my head when I share little stories of someone who needed to hear Bon Jovi in the middle of the all disco set I was playing or that Katy Perry was an absolute MUST in my old school hip hop repertoire.  The biggest disconnect here is that most working DJ’s are often paid on their ability to warm a room up for a headliner or control a dance floor in a manner that reflects the venue they are playing at.  When folks make demands on DJ’s in the forms of requests, they tamper with the ingredients at the DJ’s disposal to craft a proper energy level and rhythm to the dance floor.

I liken this song demand to forcing a baker to put almonds in his cookie mix even though the dessert is meant for someone with a nut allergy, if you demand things that don’t directly jive with what is prescribed for a night or a moment, you risk an uncomfortable or even catastrophic result.

So why do requests continue to survive?  I’m not writing this article as a hater believe it or not.  There have been moments where I run out of things to play and a request jogs my memory in a different direction, or starts a special bond with a patron that turns out to be a memorable friendship.

After a few years playing parties in Chicago I’ve come up with a flow chart and idea that to me, illuminates some reasoning behind the phenomena.

To me the cycle stems from cyclical range of emotions that the common party-goer goes through when they decide to hit the dancefloor with their friends on a given weekend.  The circle starts with STRESS (aka your normal job).

 

So how does the flow chart end? Where does it go from here?  The demand for familiar, exhaustive pop music is to me an attempt by party goers to anchor themselves in a reality that appears to be trickling away from them with every sip of the double long island ice tea they have in their hand.  As the dark room, strong drinks, and blistering light show begin to inhibit dancegoer’s sense of security and reality, they search for something to ground themselves in familiarity and maintain a hollow sense of comfort in a space where they are quickly losing their inhibitions.  They return to their workweek on Monday, with an empty sense of satisfaction that for one day, they “lived on the wild side” requesting things that are painstakingly familiar to everyone. 

As long as this work cycle remains, requests and the pressure/demands of this interaction will remain stronger than ever.  I write this article as a student of social interaction and not someone that is wishing to chastise or ridicule the system at work Moreover this is an attempt to portray a struggle felt by a lot of working DJ’s that wish to maintain a hard fought creative identity in a world where demands and interactions attempt to sculpt that identity into an entirely different form. 

My call to action is to demand better of yourself and think more closely about your daily social interactions. As a dj and artist I am willing to play song suggestions and be as warm and welcoming to patrons as humanely possible, but there are cut off points when respecting human beings as individuals take precedent.  If people disrespect your existence and position at your job you have every right to quickly and politely make the party aware of this negative sentiment. Then.. just as they made a request, you can also suggest the best way for them to remedy their behavior.  Not all moments in life will end as harmoniously as you expected, but bringing focus and importance to situations like this can help foster a higher awareness for a party – attendees and artists included.  I also challenge people to actually go out and listen to your favorite working artists and DJs as a more educational experience than just simply treating folks as a human juke box with arms. 

What songs are they playing? How long have they been in a particular genre? Do they scratch?  What year was that record from? Why is this song my favorite?  Does it fit the mood the artist is creating currently?  What time is it at night and would this song requests popularity be too much to play at an early hour.

 

Photo Credit from Friend + DJ contemporary - DJ Lani Love

All these questions and hopefully a few answers can help create more aware fan bases that genuinely understand music better.  It’s my challenge to you as readers to take these ideas along with you the next time you go out.  I am 100% sure it will change your outlook on the world around you. 

Till next time, yours truly on the dancefloor.

-Step