Work Redux #010: Roberto S

June 2, 2022
Photographer: Nathan Legiehn
Photographer: Nathan Legiehn

Producer, musician, audio engineer and disc jockey based in Toronto, Canada. Roberto specializes in rhythmic, atmospheric, and melodic electronic compositions.

Robert Steenkamer, known best for his work on the record labels Good Timin', Superior Elevation, Rush Hour, Noire et Blanche, and No Bad Days. As a DJ, his sound glides between eras and styles, embracing a freeform selection of soulful, heart-on-sleeve party music.

Let’s start with the basics: where do you live now, and where did you grow up?

I live in Toronto which has been my home since the mid-90s. I grew up in several small towns around Ontario.

Do you remember some of your earliest musical experiences? The kind that let you know the power of sound and music?

I remember feeling compelled to ride my tricycle in circles around the living room while Steve Miller Band played on the turntable.

What were the music or sounds of your adolescence and childhood? What would be on your mixtape from that period?

What can I say, I grew up in small towns - I was a little metalhead in my adolescence! But before long I found out about punk, industrial and alternative rock. I was very into not being into what everyone else was.

Did you grow up in a musical family?

As much as any normal family I guess. They all enjoy music and we had a little stack of LPs but there were no real musicians and frankly everyone was working too hard just to get by. Music is a luxury.

Roberto and his Cat.
Roberto and his Cat.
Stranger Together, Credits- Co-written, co-produced, mixed by Ciel & Roberto S.
Stranger Together, Credits- Co-written, co-produced, mixed by Ciel & Roberto S.

What was your first instrument or piece of gear?

I got an acoustic guitar when I was 8.

When did you start exploring sound and music production?

I think I always messed around with sound - making drones with the sustain pedal on the piano, that kinda thing. But later in high school I had access to the school’s MIDI lab, that’s when it really took off.

Did you study music, engineering, or production in school, or did you teach yourself?

Both! I did attend a private college for audio engineering right out of high school which gave me some fundamentals, but most of what I know has come from reading, trying, doing.

Looking back, what were some pivotal musical/sonic influences that informed how you create music now?

My entire aesthetic can be traced back to Phil Collins’ In The Air Tonight.

Let’s talk a bit about your East Room Work Redux. It starts with ambient noises of birds amidst atmospheric soundscapes. When did you start to bring the outside world in? Do you capture your own field recordings?

I do dabble in field recording, yes, but that first piece is by Philip Perkins. I wouldn’t say there was a specific moment I started using those types of sounds, it’s just another sonic texture that sometimes augments a recording or a mix.

Roberto and Titonton Duvante from Beats In Space Radio.
Roberto and Titonton Duvante from Beats In Space Radio.

It then gets heavier with grooves and gliding basslines, eventually blossoming into infectious spaced-out soul and funk, before concluding with warm synths and pulsing beats. How important are dynamics and contrasts when you are putting together a mix?

I think dynamics are huge in a mix! No one wants to hear the exact same thing for hours. Or maybe they do, I dunno haha. But I like a bit of variety and to move through some tempos and moods. Even in just an hour it's possible to stitch together a few different sounds.

When you create a mix, does it involve collecting and researching, or is it more intuitive and instinctual?

A bit of both I guess. Music heads tend to be constantly researching and collecting, and as a DJ if you’re in form then you should absolutely follow your intuition and instinct. Usually the best sets and mixes come from that off-the-cuff energy, but it is possible to program a good mix through trial and error as well. It just tends to be more of a chore and maybe that comes through? Like it might be more tight technically but also can sound a bit flat or overcooked, you know? It’s a balance I guess.

What would you say, overall, was the inspiration or mood for your Work Redux?

I knew I wanted to start with that Perkins ambient work and build from there. I was originally thinking like a ‘start of the workday’ kinda theme, some low-stress stuff while you have coffee at your desk then slowly move into some rhythms to keep things moving. This mix was totally off the cuff and I just went with where it took me, which ended up a little on the moody side but still pretty nice I think.

Work Redux is a collection of mixes made to be listened to while working. We work closely with local and international DJs to assemble thoughtful music that will carry members throughout their day and introduce them to new sounds. East Room is a shared workspace company providing design-forward office solutions, authentic programming and a diverse community to established companies and enterprising freelancers. We explore art, design, music, and entrepreneurship, visit our news & stories page to read more.