(Original Photo By: Jessica Pelphrey)
As we grow up, our childhood dreams seem to become smaller and less realistic. Time has its way of changing our direction and attention to more stable and reliable paths, and some only remember those dreams with a bit of nostalgia before returning to their day-to-day. Others are called back to it with a greater sense of purpose— ready to take on the struggles and hardships in tow if it means achieving what they have always wanted.
For producer/DJ/vocalist, Matthew Steeper, a life devoted to music was always the dream. With most of his childhood spent in Albania as his parents did refugee work with the UN, his interests were peaked by one of the few toys he had on hand.
“When I was about 12, I received a little Casio keyboard with some recording capabilities. I lived in a 3rd world country where we didn’t have a lot of electricity. I had the battery-powered keyboard and that was my toy. So I learned how to use all of its functions.
One day I asked my guitar teacher,“what’s the kind of music that goes like this? ‘untz untz untz’” in Eastern Europe that was what everyone was playing and I was like wait what is that? He told me it was called “disco” and the next thing I said was “can you get me some disco music?” [laughs]
He gave me this red cassette tape from a weekly mix that came out on an Albanian radio station. He would give it to me every week, and sooner or later I figured out how to make it on my own little Casio and I was making my own tapes at about 13.”
Only a year or two later, Matthew relocated to Hungary, where he discovered the genre of trance. He started making his own, burning it onto CDs, and secretly selling them to his classmates at school.
But when his family had to relocate once again to Canada, where he was originally from, Matthew wasn’t met with the same musical enthusiasm from his peers. As many tend to do when faced with social differences in their adolescent years, Matthew withdrew inward.
“When I moved to Canada in high school everyone was listening to Sean Paul and no one knew what trance was or anything. No one who was into dance music. I kind of retreated into my own world. I remember in 2004, I was telling people that it was going to be on the radio soon and they were like “noooo Eminem said techno is dead!” [laughing]. But I remember back then I felt so ashamed and embarrassed to share the music I was making because everyone would hate it. So when I found someone else that loved it, it was like a secret club. At the time it was a very underground thing in North America. That sort of pressure gave me a different desire to do something real with it. Had I stayed in Europe, I may not have experienced the same pressure to really push through and accomplish something. I had a lot to prove and a lot of people telling me that it wasn’t real music.”
As teenagers, we catch our first glimpses of adulthood. The dreams and fairy tails that have been swirling in our heads since our earliest years may start to crumble as our expression is met with more and more opposition. Most people allow that crumbling to continue, in fear of not fitting in or succeeding.
For a short time, Matthew let his pursuit of music take a backseat as he began a completely different path in medicine. Looking back on that choice and considering what sort of advice he would give to his younger self, he tells us that the child version had it all figured out— it was his older self that needed a bit more direction.
“My younger self was focused on the music until it was done. I didn’t have a CD burner when I was younger so I had to sneak into my friend’s dad’s office while he was on break to burn CDs. But then when I got older I ended up studying biology and thinking “oh I have to do a real career now.” I ended up going into pre-med. When you’re in that role, all of your childhood dreams seem very unrealistic and kind of foolish honestly. If I could, I would tell my younger self, “good job, but you have to keep going and not give up on your dream just because it seemed unrealistic when you got into the real world.’”
Although its result was positive in the long run, Matthew’s real-world realization about his career path was unfortunately not the most pleasant of experiences. A potentially life-threatening moment changed everything for him, as if to hit a reset button in his life that redirected him to his original passion.
“My real-world self ended up in Peru on a medical trip in the Andes Mountains, which lead to a near death situation where we got ambushed on the road by an organized crime gang. They stole everything with guns to my chest. After that crazy experience, my life had a new sense of meaning. I had the mindset of “I want to do what I love” and went back to the thing that I first loved to do when I was 14. If it wasn’t for that experience, maybe I wouldn’t have gone back, but that’s something that’s really important to me…the dedication to do what you love. It’s going to take your whole life to accomplish that, it’s not going to happen in just a few years.”
Thankfully, Matthew’s encounter allowed him to create something so positive. He had never quite given up music as he pursued medicine; DJing college parties, etc., but it was not until that defining moment that he knew what was most important to him as both a career path and what truly generated happiness.
Since then, Matthew had sought to show the world the power of music and the good that it can do for so many people across the world regardless of culture. Just as he did when he was a small boy recording stories over cassette tapes, Matthew uses his craft to tell a story that brings us all together because, after all, we are searching for happiness.
“Since I grew up in multiple cultures and never identified with one country or place, I’m kind of a citizen of earth really, and that ties into my music. Music is a universal language. The whole album that I did with Ferry Corsten (Blueprint) tells a story, which is something I’ve been very passionate about doing since the beginning. It ends with music being a unifier for the world and solving a lot of its problems. That’s what I love most about music. That’s what I would love to see happen — to see people gain perspective, whether it’s through music or through some sort of program to understand someone else’s culture/language — to be more aware of the difference in each other’s worldview.
It’s important to be open and willing to listen and have meaningful discussions with people. We get caught up in such tiny little things that cause our rifts and divisions, but music is one of those things where people from all over the world can experience a unity that exists beyond all of the labels we live under as people. I want to see that continue and expand into all arenas because it really is powerful and has the ability to prevent a lot of the bad things that we see in the world.”