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Sunday 04th Dec, 2016
Tom Stephan
From: USA
Tom Stephan

Tom Stephan's transatlantic, twisted sound is an inimitable, seamless blend of deep tribal and funky beats, a journey into the darker side of electronica. He became enamoured with music at a young age, both through his own interest, and through having it "rammed down his throat" by his father, a musician.

"He gave me a drum set for my first birthday, keyboards for my second, a guitar for my third, and so it went on. Last time I went home and listened to him he was playing AC/DC tracks in a rock band at a pub. "

Calling it a day after two weeks of forced piano lessons, Tom taught himself to produce and play what he wanted on his own terms through picking up whatever was lying around the house, especially his dad's synthesizers.

Growing up in Olean, upstate New York, he got into electronic music, listening to Nitzer Ebb and Depeche Mode.

"I never really liked the idea of house music. I thought it was all like Black Box - pianos and screaming divas."

Then a friend persuaded him to go to the Sound Factory, where he was seduced by the dirty sounds of Junior Vasquez playing X-Press 2 tracks. After doing courses in everything from electrical engineering to sound engineering, a friend started to rave to Tom about London, so that's where he decided to go. He started at the London International Film School, though he became more interested in making the music for the films than the actual pictures themselves. Going home regularly to visit the Sound Factory, Tom would bring another of his keyboards back every time, and before long he was knocking out productions for everybody else's films too.

Determined to pick up the art of mixing, he practised on a friend's decks before investing in his own. He started taking his mix tapes down to Substation where promoter Wayne Shires was putting on nights.

"I'd go there every Saturday, and probably every Tuesday too, because I loved the music, but Wayne didn't think my stuff was suitable for that crowd at the time. Then he started to put on parties at Ministry of Sound once a month. An American guy I hadn't really heard of called Tenaglia was coming over to play, so Wayne asked me to do the warm up set. I played 11 ‘til 1, but they don't open the main room at Ministry until the club's full. They finally opened it half an hour before Danny came on, and I tried to cram my entire set into 30 minutes, from my first record to the big finish..."

Danny was over with Rob Di Stefano, owner of the legendary Tribal and then Twisted Records, and so started an enduring friendship that saw Tom signed to the newly revived Twisted label in 2001, with Revolution as the first release.

On graduating from film school Tom wanted to stay and needed a work permit. An advance from his first production, Filthy Hetero, under the moniker Tracy & Sharon, lasted about two weeks. Tom jokes that he had few options, and could either be "a rent boy, a drug dealer or a DJ" - though as he says, "I had few options because I had to do cash in hand jobs, as opposed to few options in life generally..."

A five-year residency at Substation followed, giving Tom the experience and opportunity to build up a following. He released Get This, his debut single as Superchumbo. Indicative of his sense of humour, (drier than the Sahara), Tom dropped Tracy & Sharon in favour of Superchumbo, Portugese for “super- leaded”. His fans followed suit, calling themselves Leadheads.

Wayne Shires subsequently set up Crash, a gay club in Vauxhall reminiscent of the best New York's meat packing district had to offer, and took Tom with him as resident. Then Danny Newman, promoter of London's highly acclaimed club, Turnmills, was passed a copy of one of Tom's DJ mixes. Less than half way through the CDR Danny was convinced, and in August 2001, ChumboMundo was launched in Turnmills back room. For the first time in his life Tom had his own room. Packed to the rafters from the word go, ChumboMundo gave London's real househeads a home. It grew so big that Danny offered him his own night, and so hatched Roach, the infamous London night that ran every last Saturday of the month until Jan 2003, when Tom stopped the night to concentrate on his forthcoming artist album and his international gig commitments.

In keeping with his love of making music, Superchumbo's The Revolution (released to an international fanfare in 2001) brought Tom to the forefront of the dance scene. The scramble to champion it saw Pete Tong declare The Revolution the best tune of the year, before signing it to London Records. In the meantime, Tom remixed Missy Elliot's track 'Get Yr Freak On', saying "I just think the song is genius, and she's amazing, so I did it just to play for myself."

But Missy E loved it, and Tong played it back to back with The Revolution as number one and two in his Cool Cuts countdown. Further remixes for Kylie (Can't Get You Out Of My Head), Simon's 'Free At Last', and Basement Jaxx's 'Get Me Off' (cunningly entitled 'Supergetoff') followed. The latter remix impressed the Jaxx boys so much that they incorporated Tom's original into a reworked version for release as their next single. Add to this his Essential Mix for Radio One and suddenly everyone wanted a piece of the Superchumbo magic.

Despite the flood of remix offers, Tom's main priority is producing:

"I can see the appeal of remixing - people offer you loads of money - but it's important for me not to lose sight of my own production.”

The defining high of djing for Tom remains playing live. Weekends at Tribal Sessions with an up for it crowd plastered in war paint and feather head-dresses, or his own London nights (Roach at Turnmills and Tank at Crash) give him the opportunity to play up to five hours of twisted house, bringing a taste of his own experiences at the Sound Factory.

"If I'm really into a DJ I sometimes find I'm afraid to leave the dancefloor for fear of what I might miss! I try to create the same sense of unity within my set, I want it to be like a gripping film that you can't stop watching. A longer set allows you to develop the story."

The obvious extension of this was his highly acclaimed artist/mix album, ‘Leadhead – The Sound Of Superchumbo’, released on Twisted/Loaded, and his Kiss radio show that airs every Wednesday from 11pm-1am, on Kiss 100 FM.

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