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Miami 2022: Chris Stussy is ready to take on the Magic City

Dutch house DJ/producer Chris Stussy was about to break into the big-time when the pandemic struck. Now, he’s determined to make 2022 his year 

Chris Stussy is talking to us from a hotel room in Los Angeles. Almost exactly two years ago, on March 13th 2020, he had just arrived in the same city. It was his first US tour, the culmination of a patient few years, a breakout moment that would see him play nine shows in 11 days. But, moments after he landed, President Trump declared a national emergency. The statement decreed that all foreign nationals had to be out of the country within the next 48 hours. Stussy was left with no option but to book an immediate flight home. 

“You know what?” asks the thoughtful 27-year-old Dutchman. “I never made so much music as I did then. I was in the studio every day, and even when I got home I was on the couch, at the table, talking music. It flowed like crazy. I think I made 10 tracks in two weeks, so looking back on it now, it turned out to be a good thing.”

Up until that fateful day, Stussy — real name: Niels Steenbergen — was quietly building up a nice head of steam. He had been making music since he was a teenager, but for the first five or so years he mostly kept it to himself. A wise head on young shoulders, he knew not to rush things, to foment his own signature sound and emerge “when the timing was right, because to become a professional you need to do 10,000 hours of work,” he muses. “After five years, I had maybe done half of that and I knew Fruity Loops inside out, so I was making stuff I was really proud of.”

His first records came in 2015, and he remains proud of them to this day. Within a year, he had landed on respected labels like Large Music, PIV Records and Nite Grooves, and only seven years later he has put out an impressive 28 EPs in all. He describes his own sound simply as “house music”, but to date it has been often deep and trippy, slick and electronic. It is united by its colourful and bouncy synths, bubbly bass and snappy drum programming which, to our ears, is rather at odds with the heavy techno, emotive trance and rough electro his homeland is more known for. 

“Yeah, well I liked the classic US sounds like Kerri Chandler early on, but then got into the more obscure and trippy stuff,” he says. “It's a mixture of that. I just open the laptop, create sounds, and if it doesn't work I close it up and do something else. I don't try to force myself to make music, but when it works out it is the best feeling there is.”

His route into dance music is a classic one that started when he heard his father playing Tiësto sets and mix CDs from fellow Dutch heavyweight Ben Liebrand. Initially, he got into hip-hop and “more commercial stuff”, but then with school friends he started listening to hard techno. For some reason it never quite resonated, but then he discovered the music of DJs like Samuel Deep. “It just did something to me,” explains Stussy. “And from then on, I wanted to go to hear stuff like that every week.”

As early as age 16, young Stussy was emailing clubs and asking for residencies. He locked a couple in at under-age nights and often ended up playing a couple of times a week. He was still in school, and, as a promising centre midfielder, was also part of a professional football team and playing regularly. “I always remember my mom said to me that I had to choose,” he smiles. “You play soccer at 3pm, then a DJ gig, then back to school. You cannot bet on two horses at once!” Stussy was 19, and decided at that moment to concentrate on music. “I would be DJing from 11pm until 5 in the morning, then had to be in class at 8:30. It was mad.”

He finished college per his mum's wishes — had he not completed it, he says, a tough system in the Netherlands makes you repay tens of thousands in fees — and then immersed himself more in the music scene. He soon met Dutch DJ Prunk, they started making music together and was then offered a job as A&R for Prunk's PIV Records label. In the following five years, he learnt everything he needed to know about running a label, singing talent, putting out music. 

 

"I always say to people who send in music, 'Hey, just wait a while, spend a few more hours in the studio’. I would rather take 10 minutes to give feedback than never play it. I missed someone being that honest with me in my time"

Then, 18 months ago as his and Prunk's tastes began to diverge, he decided to go it alone with his own Up The Stuss label. It has already put out eight releases from the likes of Fabe, East End Dubs and DJOKO, as well as a full length from his old friend Locklead, which he describes as “an amazing journey”. “I am very picky,” he jokes. “I like to work with people I can sit next to and give advice to.”

It's rare for an artist so young and still in the early stages of their own career to have so much time to help other people coming up, but Stussy is keen to offer some of the guidance he feels he missed. “I always say to the guys and girls that send in music, 'Hey, just wait a while, spend a few more hours in the studio’. I would rather take 10 minutes to give feedback than say, 'Hey, this is nice’, then never play it. I missed someone being that honest with me in my time.” But no matter, because these days, every time he posts a snippet of one of his tunes or sets on Instagram, Stussy has the A-list likes of Seth Troxler dropping fire emojis, so he knows he's doing something right. 

Stussy gives the impression of a deep thinker. He's keen to soak up and share knowledge. He talks of playing across four CDJs in order to give his sets “a little bit more energy” by layering in a beat loop or an acapella. DJ Mag brings up the seminal mix Joris Voorn did for the Balance series, which is about as multi-layered as any DJ set ever. “I don't know it,” he says, “but I will go and listen to it when we're finished.”

When we then bring up Stussy's forthcoming appearance at our annual pool party during Miami Music Week, he has already done his research. “I think they have been going 20 years, right? So it's amazing that I can be a part of that. I think I'll play a lot of cool new stuff to showcase the material I have coming up for the rest of the year.”

As studious as he might be about his work, he is never afraid to cut loose in the club himself. “I can be serious, but I can also be a party guy,” he says. “I only drink, but like last week playing six hours with Archie Hamilton, I just forgot everything. After 10 minutes playing any set, I get right into the flow and nothing else maters.”

Kristan J Caryl is a freelance writer. Follow him on Twitter @kristanjcaryl

Read more about the DJ Mag Miami Pool Party here