The career trajectory of Dan Stein makes a convincing argument for the virtues of a long, slow burn. The 35-year-old Oxford, U.K.-based electronic-music evangelist—better known by his nom de decks, DJ Fresh—has been crafting drum-and-bass bangers long enough to see the entire genre grow from an underground curiosity into a very mainstream phenomenon. However, his more recent work—collected on his third album, Next Levelism, which is due out this month—has already made British music history. “Louder,” a rolling rush of optimism featuring Welsh singer Sian Evans, became the first dubstep song to hit No. 1 on the U.K. charts in July 2011, while “Hot Right Now,” a reggae-tinged club anthem with Britpop phenomenon Rita Ora, became the first drum-and-bass recording to do the same, in February 2012. On the strength of those songs (plus a third, “The Power,” featuring erstwhile grime superstar Dizzee Rascal), Stein recently signed a deal with Columbia—a feat in these days of shrinking label budgets for DJs who don’t shave half their heads or wear maus helmets on stage.
After some early acclaim in the late ’90s with a troupe called Bad Company (not to be confused with the “Feel Like Makin’ Love” dudes), Stein co-founded the dance label Breakbeat Kaos with fellow electro enthusiast Adam F, producing records by the likes of Australian drum-and-bass act Pendulum and, eventually, Stein’s own critically lauded albums Escape from Planet Monday (2006) and Kryptonite (2010). Nevertheless, Stein grew weary of falling too far behind the scenes. “I’d been sidelining my own music to help other people and it started to become frustrating,” Stein says. “I was in a strange place . . . I was on the verge of packing the whole thing in.” But despite the fact that it took nearly two decades for him to enjoy wider recognition, his appetite for breakbeats never waned. “It became my mission to spread my passion for this kind of music,” he says. “It was electronic music that sounded futuristic. It was on the cutting edge of technology, and it could be made by one person. That one guy could sit there and imprint what was in his mind into a piece of music without having to rely on anyone else . . . I got completely hooked on it.”
PHOTO: DJ FRESH IN LONDON, MARCH 2012. JACKET AND T-SHIRT: BOSS. STYLING: KAREN CLARKSON. GROOMING: MARTINA LUISETTI/THE BOOK AGENCY.
Listen to music from DJ Fresh here