Former model-turned-DJ, Billy Steele, isn't apt to talk about his prior career in the fashion industry. Instead, he prefers to focus on his passion for music. The talented 29-year-old turntable artist is well known in the Manhattan club scene, and makes his first appearance in Chicago at Circuit Nightclub, 3641 N. Halsted, on Saturday, July 28.
Determined to learn more about Steele, ChicagoPride.com was quickly taken by his charisma and dedication to his craft, not to mention his knowledge of Chicago’s “house” history. A straight man who met his wife on the dance floor--sexuality is a non-issue to Steele, who demands that his dance floor be welcoming to everyone. We learned Billy is always eager to turn people on when it comes to the dance floor.
CP: You’re appearance at Circuit will be your first DJ opportunity in Chicago. What are your expectations?
BS: (Billy Steele) I have great respect for the Chicago-born artform of “house music” and am looking forward to playing in the city where it all started.
CP: Is this your first time visiting the Windy City?
BS: Yes, and I can’t wait.
CP: You’re a straight married man, do you find it difficult playing to a gay audience?
BS: I’m a what?! I’m a deejay and have amassed a huge record collection and worked hard to earn the respect of every dance floor for which I play. Gay clubs are incredible because the guys usually are more musically knowledgeable, and that makes me work extra hard.
CP: Is there a big difference in the kind of music that you play for the straight crowd and the kind of music you play for gay men?
BS: I didn’t know there was a difference between “gay” and “straight” music. I basically play “house” music of all flavors, and to me house music was about erasing those lines.
CP: Well said. And you’re also known for attracting a very mixed crowd - you're music translates across the board.
BS: Yeah, I do a lot of mixing when I play. I love to layer acapellas on pumping tracks and keep things twisted and interesting all night long. I get bored playing song after song, so using every bit of gear in the booth to turn songs inside out and wow the crowd is the way I do it.
CP: How would you characterize your style of mixing? Do you think that a DJ is more distinguishable by the type of music that he or she plays or more by a style?
BS: I resist categorizing music. House is a feeling.
CP: When you’re playing at a club, how much of your mixing is affected by the crowd itself, and the energy and vibes that you get from them?
BS: The energy from the dance floor winds me up and gets me off.
CP: How do you know when a party's a huge hit?
BS: I usually get so caught up in what I’m doing that I might come across as rude to people who try to talk to me while I’m playing, but no matter how many people are on the floor, I do what it takes to connect with them. I’ve played for small crowds and huge rooms, and it’s hard for me to judge whether the party’s a “huge hit”. My job is to make sure that the music is pumping.
CP: What DJs are mentors for you?
BS: My heroes are Jonathan Peters, David Morales, Ralphi Rosario, Roger Sanchez...and of course Junior.
CP: I found it interesting to learn that you were previously a model.
How did that come about?
BS: Pure boredom before I earned my stripes as a DJ.
CP: How did you transition from successful career as a model to DJ?
BS: I’ve been playing music since I was 9. This was my destiny.
CP: We’re excited to welcome you to the Windy City, but what prompted your decision to spin Chicago?
BS: It was always my dream. I have so much respect for this city. I’m just pleased that I’m getting the chance to do what I love more than anything.
CP: I understand that while modeling photographer Tony Duran convinced you to pose nude.
Where are those pictures?
BS: [ laughs ] If I was invited to play at Circuit because they’re expecting me to pose in the booth, then I’m afraid I’m going to be a huge disappointment. I’ve seriously done my homework — listened to everything I could get my hands on by the Chicago pioneers: Adonis, Frankie Knuckles, Ron Hardy, Pierre, Felix, Ralphi... I’ve never spent so much time crafting a set for a certain city. So expect me to be working it to the bone, not posing like a lot of deejays who just want to be on stage and pretend that they’re celebrities.
CP: The Chicago crowd will appreciate your efforts.
So what has been the highlight DJing moment of your career?
BS: Opening for Junior on Gay Pride last month. I was nervous but it was incredible, and I think I earned the respect of his crowd, and the Junior heads are hard to win over.
CP: Where are you DJing now?
BS: NYC is home, and I have dates coming up in Miami, Vegas, LA and we’re working on a European tour for next year.
CP: What’s coming up next for you?
BS: I can’t wait to play at Cielo in NYC. It’s a boutique club that has won practically every “best club” award in the world, the sound is incredible, and their residents are legends like Junior, Francois K and Louie Vega.
CP: Any final comments before we wrap this up and you fly to Chicago?
BS: I’m honored that Mike Macharello invited me to play at Circuit. I’ve heard great things about the club, its sound and the crowd knows great music.