As a crowd of neon covered bodies moved on the forest floor – that for five days became one of electronic music’s most popular venues – the DJ in the booth was experiencing what can best be described as life coming full circle.
At 25, Steve Robertson, better known as Neon Steve, has shared the stage with some of the best names in the genre, but last year as he took the stage at Shambhala Music Festival’s Fractal Forest in Salmo, B.C. for the first time, he was back where his journey as a DJ started.
“It was crazy,” said Robertson. “It was this weird feeling of coming back around. If you had told me five years ago that I would be there, I would have just laughed.”
Robertson had never touched a set of turntables until he went to Shambhala – which focuses on electronic music – after he graduated from high school.
Not only had he never DJd before that point, he also hadn’t really been exposed to the genre at all.
“I grew up listening to rock and classic rock mostly,” said the Victoria-based DJ. “My dad was in a band, and is a rock and roller. I tried to play instruments but I’m the only one in the entire family of cousins and everybody that doesn’t play an instrument.”
Within a few months of returning from Shambhala, Robertson bought turntables and secured himself a residency at a club in Courtenay, where he grew up.
As demand was building for Robertson’s music in Victoria and after driving back and forth to Courtenay after too many shows, he decided to relocate.
“I was working construction and just hating it,” he said. “I finally took the leap of faith two years ago and quit my job,” he said. “I saved up enough money so I could just coast and I thought that I was only going to last about three months without working, but I haven’t been back since.”
Instead, Robertson has been building a career which includes supporting DJs like U.K.’s Nero, who won a 2012 Grammy for a collaborative remix with Skrillex, and A Skillz, who was named Best DJ in 2012 by the Breakspoll International Breakbeat Awards.
He toured across Canada and last May toured the U.K. and Europe.
“Everytime I head out on the road the crowds get a bit bigger,” he said. “It’s just like any job, you have to put your time in. I’ve been to a lot of the cities before, which helps, and Shambhala helps too. As soon as they put that on the flyer people are interested, which is a lucky break.”
In addition to the increasing recognition of his music, Robertson also believes the change in the electronic music genre, which is seeing more DJs working in mainstream music, is creating more fans.
“Electronic music and DJing wasn’t very accepted before, but now the general public doesn’t really frown on it anymore,” he said. “I know back in the day, parents thought kids were crazy going to raves, now it’s becoming the norm.
“Even though it’s cool, the market is getting flooded too. Everybody and their dog is a DJ now which makes it harder to stand out.”
As crowds continue to flock to venues in Victoria and across the country to hear Robertson’s distinct blend of ‘80s, ‘90s and current tracks, it’s clear he is doing something to stand out.
“I’m just trying to stay true,” he said. “I don’t know if I do stand out, I hope I do. If I do it’s just luck,” he said.
Though Robertson is on a Canada-wide tour for March and April, he’ll be in Victoria on March 31 opening for Subvert at Club 9one9.