Ibiza DJ Steve Altman talks to Brigit Grant about his new disco album and why mixing chopped liver with music can be a winning combination…
When Steve Altman was a teenager standing in front of turntables at a Banana Split disco, Ibiza wasn’t even on the map. At least not his map.
The Balearic island may have been in full swing for the first nightclub disciples, but Edgware-born Altman was busy learning to be a DJ within the safe confines of a Jewish function.
Turns out this was a smart move, as the records he was playing at barmitzvahs taught him much about different music genres and paved the way to his becoming one of Ibiza’s most popular DJs who “drops” the tunes (that’s official lingo) at the legendary Carwash, Europe’s longest-running disco and funk night at Pikes Hotel.
If you don’t know your Rose Royce from your Mini Clubman and have never set foot in Ibiza, this won’t mean a lot, but as the island remains the club capital of the world, making waves there requires talent and an encyclopaedic knowledge of music.
Altman has both, which is why he and Carwash founder Nigel Atkin caught the attention of Sony Music and they were signed up to produce an album. The advert for Carwash Disco Classics is now on TV, much to Altman’s delight and anyone who fancies an impromptu boogie while making the tea.
“There are 60 tracks and a bonus CD of a mix,” says Altman, who got very excited when he saw the ad for the first time. “It’s the sort of album you put on at a family party and tune after tune will have everyone up and dancing. There are tracks you haven’t heard for ages, such as Phyllis Hyman’s You Know How To Love Me and the Jackson Sisters’ I Believe in Miracles.
“Sony allowed us to pick the less obvious classics. So it was out with Boney M, and in with George Benson’s Give Me The Night, and instead of having Kool and The Gang’s Celebration, it’s Ladies’ Night.
“The songs are not the ones that have gone out on every other disco compilation.” For Altman, the songs will always be a trip down memory lane.
“At Jewish events in the 1980s, the music harked back to the 1970s and every time I was at a wedding or barmitzvah, they wanted me to play Donna Summer and Chic. “It was the main part of my set and they would even demand rock ‘n’ roll. “Of course, I was only 17 and when people in their 40s would ask me for Bill Haley, or something by Hendrix or Dylan, I didn’t know what they were going on about, and I hated it.”
So Altman started cramming, to learn about the music his taxi driver father Stanley and mother Gina danced to back in the day. Then he bought the tunes – on vinyl, obviously, as downloads weren’t even on the horizon, let alone on an iCloud.
“Doing Jewish events taught me about commercial disco, but I was also very in touch with the club scene, because I was hopping on the Tube from Edgware at night to go to Philip Sallon’s Mud Club as well as the Wag Club, Planets and the Dirt Box.
“Lots of the music I play now derives from that period. Doing Jewish and corporate events taught me about the core, but the clubs taught me about the cool.” Altman peppers his conversation with song titles in place of punctuation, which is tricky to follow, but when he tells you that Slippery People by the Staple Singers is better than the Talking Heads version and Gloria Gaynor’s I Will Survive should be pushed aside for Let No Man Put Asunder by First Choice, it’s worth remembering.
Twenty-first century DJs who have learnt to get a room moving by simply pressing buttons will never understand the labour that once went into becoming a DJ, but Altman knows, as he had mixing lessons from a DJ in Clapham when the fade-out of tracks went out of fashion, and put stickers on his records, which told him the beats per minute of the song.
“Now I only have vinyl as memorabilia,” he sighs. “I know there is a record resurgence, but it will never be like it was.
“I worked at HMV and shopped for records (white labels and promos) at Black Market in Soho, where I would see DJs such as Brandon Block stocking up. “Music shopping was great then, but they’ve made digital too easy to ignore.”
Altman moved to Ibiza four years ago and he and his wife Sara, who has done all the branding for the album, get to see the island after the tourists go home. “It’s beautiful and warm through the winter and we do loads of winter parties at Ibiza Rocks, so it’s never dull,” says Altman, who is always happy to see his old muckers from Edgware any time of year.
“I do come back to the UK though, and I’ve got bookings already for 2017.” Should his friends miss him cueing up a track, they can always tune into either of his radio shows on Wednesday (www.thecastleclub.com/shows) or Saturday (www.meattransmission.com).
“I’m live for two hours on a Wednesday, talking about music and get hundreds of tweets about songs,” says Altman. “I’ve got a huge following on Twitter, because I like to hunt down music that hasn’t been heard.”
As the unofficial Indiana Jones of dance music radio, Altman is optimistic the Carwash album will rise up the dance music charts, as Sony has really got behind it on social media. Nice Jewish boy that he is, Altman wants to thank them and everyone for their support.
“You must mention Tony and Andy at WWEG, Phil Loraine, Nigel Atkin, Neil Sansom and ….” he says, before his phone rings – although, interestingly, he doesn’t have a disco ring tone.
Warm climate, beautiful people and doing the after-show parties for the likes of Oasis, Spandau Ballet and the Kaiser Chiefs doesn’t give Altman much incentive to leave Ibiza and, as his mum brought a caseful of matzo meal on her last visit, he doesn’t even have to travel home for kneidels.
“Salt beef and latkes, now those I do miss,” he says, before adding that he’s considering opening a Jewish deli in the future. Chopped liver and disco – now that’s what you call a hit.
• The three-disc Carwash Disco Classics is available now at iTunes http://smarturl.it/CDC or Amazon