Peter Croce is part of the next generation of selectors carrying forth the melting pot of sounds that make up Detroit and Chicago’s diverse deejay and soundsystem culture. His sets combine a didactic blend of Disco, Deep House, Afrobeat, and Broken Beat dubplates and classics to affirm the souls of those fortunate enough to be in the discotheque. Emerging from the Detroit underground organically Peter stands firmly rooted in the old school, while having dustier fingers than your standard reissue deejay. A true selector, you'll generally find Mr. PC armed with bags of wax and USBs full of unreleased tracks to bring moods and sounds to elevate the discotheque.
Peter owns and operates Rocksteady Disco, a label that he describes as being “the vehicle for millennials to carry forward the great musical gift of Deep House and Disco in Detroit.” He has recently founded Mr. PC Versions to re-envision a curious blend of tracks for DJ use. So, you want to know what that sounds like? Peter let us share one of his secret weapons. Check it out (Grab it on his Bandcamp page)...
You started Rocksteady Disco as a party in 2014 and have been involved with music for most of your life, but how did you actually get interested in DJing?
DJing came about pretty organically-- I started deliberately collecting music around 2003 when I was laid up for 4 months with a broken leg. I'd hop around my parents house with my cast on and rip mine and my parents' CDs to this brand new program that just came out for PCs called iTunes. I played bass and guitar for a few years before that point, but I was also still a middle-school athlete. Breaking my leg was actually kind of divine intervention because it set my sites 100% on music, rather than 60% sports and 40% music. So I basically became a full-on music nerd from the end of middle-school until, well, still. I'd listen really intently to the music I was ripping, look up the personnel on the tracks, and really take curation quite seriously.
Fast forward to freshman year of college, my roommates and friends noticed that I had a ridiculous amount of music on my computer. So they asked me to start making playlists for parties, which I obliged. By my senior year I decided to actually start mixing tracks, and I bought my first controller. Finally in the winter of 2012 I got my first pair of turntables. That was really when things got serious.
Starting a vinyl focused record label seems like such a daunting task for one person, were there any people that gave you good advice or helped you at all along the way?
It is a daunting task, especially if you don't have a P&D. But when you combine 1 part naïveté with 1 part Detroit DIY stubbornness, you just do it!
Pretty much the only advice I got was from a very small white label outfit in Detroit who said, "Just bring a data disc of the music you want to Archer, wait 3-4 months, then have Crosstalk distribute your records." That actually worked very well on the first two Rocksteady Disco titles.
There's been a variety of setbacks along the way to RSD's 9th release (and the 11th release I've been behind) though, and I've really just been figuring it out on my own along the way. I'm really grateful to be working with Archer Record Pressing on the eastside of Detroit-- Mike Archer is a consummate professional and a man of his word. It's also REALLY nice to be able to go drive to your record pressing plant. Fortunately RSD finally has some legs, but who knows, a distributor that owes you money might just go out of business leave you high and dry, like what just happened to a whole bunch of us quite recently.
Even though I haven't had any sort of guide or mentor in this process, it's been wonderful to have the artists I have to work with for the releases. Most of them have been my friends, who are also building the plane as they're flying. RSD is not a worker owned co-op or anything, but I try to be as transparent and communicative as humanly possible with each release so that the artists feel like we're building this thing together. So far I'm happy to say that I think it's working. And of course there's some wonderful happenings with MotorCity Wine Recordings and another Mr. PC Versions in the pipeline as well.
Although you've said in the past that you want to keep the label as free from politics as possible, I know that you're very vocal about issues regarding social justice in your personal life. Is this a hard balance to keep? Or is it motivation to really focus on making the music speak for itself?
Ah yes-- the politics I was referring to was music industry politics. Like, the whole, "I'm gonna book this artist even though I don't believe in their artistry because they'll book me" sort of stuff. Or, "I'll put out this artist's music so that they'll put out mine." That sort of politics is whack, and it's certainly a contributing factor to dance music's current staleness. Then there's the spiritually devoid politics of trying to make things fit your narrative rather than letting people speak for themselves. We saw Boiler Room fall prey to this pretty recently in their Glasgow New Wave mini documentary.
That being said, I can't really separate the label, my productions, or my sets from the larger justice landscape. It's just not possible, especially in 2017. I'm of the mind that it's impossible to be apolitical, and that's not just because I have a Masters of Social Work. Of course no-one wants to go out dancing then get browbeat with a sermon or something like that. But the point of what we do is to lift people's' spirits. And in order to lift spirits you have to be spiritually in tune yourself. Without meandering too far from the original question, I'm really concerned with how much social justice folks intellectualize everything. We need to feel and experience more, and analyze less. As far as I can tell the goal of the artist is to reflect the times, set the narrative, and bring some joy into people's' hearts. And I hope I'm doing that. Ultimately this is why I deejay under my birth name-- musically I'm the same person as I am when I'm not behind the decks. That's also why my first 12" was REVIVAL. I had to amplify what Rev. Barber II was saying last summer. We need more protest music, but we need to be sure that we don't lose our minds as we do it.
Another topic I see you talk about more so than most DJs is cultural appropriation in music. In a world where everybody does not start on the same playing field due to reasons beyond their control, should DJs with relatively more privilege feel an obligation to help those with less? If so, what are some things that could be done to help 'level the playing field' more?
Man. This is a super complicated issue that I'm still sussing out every day of my white male life. It seems to be that the music industry reflects the larger white supremacist society we live in. So I'm of the mind that leveling the playing field requires some sweeping political actions, including reparations, healthcare for all, dismantling of the prison industrial complex, legalizing all illicit drugs, free college, and a complete reconstruction of the education and police systems.
This gets a bit more sticky on a personal level. On the one hand, I play a lot of black music (be it African American, Afro-Brazilian, or African). I sample, rework, and re-edit a lot of black music. So maybe I'm exhibit A for cultural appropriation? But I'm also concerned with the way The Left has over-intellectualized any sort of cross-racial or cross-cultural interactions; or developed a double-standard for a select few, presumably because of how those few will help their economic agenda.
In a lot of ways I think The Left has run out of creative or visionary ideas on bringing together people of different races/ages/ethnicities/genders/sexualities, so when many people see that sort of inter-mingling happening they immediately assume that there's some level of exploitation or domination being reinforced. This is called “cynicism”, and I understand that to an extent, but I'm really concerned with the ways that cynicism obfuscates grace, mercy, and love. Grace, mercy, and love are not abstract meaningless “kumbaya” words. They’re deliberate and strong political and spiritual forces. The internet allows us to shoot first (usually with our words and vitriol) and learn the facts later, and then pretend that our vitriol's damage was righteous and not worthy of reflecting on. It's a type of authoritarianism and groupthink that I don't think is being dismantled let alone talked about. And I think it's a truly new phenomenon. Nina Simone and Al Schackman viewed one another as brother and sister. Two straight people wrote Carl Bean's "I Was Born This Way". David Mancuso is one of the most beloved figures in dance music ever. But people have just gotten so cynical, usually because of a very tangible, real, and damaging hurt/trauma.
So, yes our scene is still sexist, racist, and classist, as is the culture in which our scene resides. My dream is that the left develops a vision and attempts to create these miniature beloved communities in unlikely spaces even if it's just for a night. I think we too often get caught up in the utopian. By definition utopia won't ever exist, but if we struggle through these dialectical conflicts I think we can create something beautiful. Furthermore, we need more "deconstructionists" to move into being "reconstructionists." Criticism is necessary, but it's also cheap and easy. We really need to reconstruct a new vision for what we want our society to look like. Our parties can be the testing grounds for these new visions, like what Mancuso did/is doing with The Loft.
As far as my role in this as a person of privilege, I have to be a mouthpiece for illuminating oppression, especially with people who look like me. I need to step aside when necessary. I need to be politically active and engaged. I need to educate, and be a lifelong learner. I think it goes back to the label-politics piece in the last question too. There's a lot of busters getting put on who haven't really paid their dues, and a lot of them are white men. We live in a patriarchy, and in every industry white men get put on who don't deserve it. Just look at our president. So that political quid pro quo stuff-- that's a major problem. I just want to put on people whose music I believe in, and who I know are people who care about making the world a better place. They don't need to be well-read in critical theory or radical feminist theory, they just need to have souls that shine light instead of darkness. And people like this-- their music always has soul.
Spirituality has historically been closely tied with dance music, Disco is certainly no exception. Your spirituality is also very important to you, how has this relationship with a power greater than yourself influenced your personal and musical life?
Without a spiritual backbone I would still be clinically depressed in bed like I was for a month straight back in 2013. I wouldn't be able to see the meta and the cosmic. I would over-intellectualize things rather than feel things, and I would certainly already be burnt out on being a deejay considering the low-points of humankind we often see. Without spirituality I would never have known my now-wife, who operates at a highly spiritual and mystical level.
I was raised in the conservative evangelical christian tradition, which is an unspiritual movement. In college I ditched that and flirted with a brand of leftism that can only be referred to as evangelical itself. I quickly realized how the so-called-enlightened left actually operated under the same unspiritual tactics of domination that evangelical christianity operated under. Around this time I started realizing that most of the leftist intellectuals who I held in high regard were miserable humans who effectively died alone, which really didn't make this particular form of radical leftism seem too appealing. I also started reading literature from left-leaning folks who were either overtly Christian or Christian-informed (Dorothy Day and some other Jesuits, Myles Horton, Shane Claiborne, Grace Lee Boggs, bell hooks, and later Richard Rohr and The Liturgists hosts), and realized, after 23 years on this earth, that it was not only possible to marry egalitarian politics with spirituality, but necessary.
Did you know Michelle Alexander recently left her tenured law-school professorship to to go to Seminary? Maybe it's a sign that the left is realizing that the spirit needs to be in our daily life and work.
Ultimately I think spirituality allows us to open up new neuro-pathways in our brain, that show us the meta and the mystical. It allows us to move from the cynicism I discussed in the previous paragraph to healing from the hurt and trauma that initially caused the cynicism. Spirituality is based on science yes, but it's also based on the experiential. Being spiritual allows us to see that which is often unseen. It gives us the ability to sit more comfortably in the reality that just about every thing in life is grey. It is really the only way that allows us to practice grace, mercy, and agape love.
Your soon to be released 'Agape' EP offers a listening experience I can only describe as an inter-continental funky journey through a Detroit inspired lens. Do you have any desire to collaborate on future productions? Maybe with some of the other Rocksteady Disco All-Stars?
Wow, thank you for the kind words! It certainly turned out as a musical statement for the sounds I've been playing and digging for. As far as collaborating goes-- Topher and I are beginning to work on some music together, and I'm continuing to lay down basslines and guitar parts for some other producers. Another Rocksteady Disco All-Stars is definitely in the works-- it's always nice having a compilation with different voices. I've been chatting with some people around the world regarding the next All-Stars release, and I'm really excited for it.
As a kid, I too always had my iPod close by, so I have to ask how you feel about the removal of the aux cord potentially becoming standard?
Oh jeez... you notice how Apple went to hell after Steve Jobs died? I'm all about pushing technology forward, and it's cool that we can transmit 24 bit audio through the lightning jack, but does Apple really need to browbeat consumers so prematurely? You can't even use the lightning headphones that come with the iPhone 7 in the new MacBook! Maybe if Bluetooth technology wasn't still complete garbage I'd probably be more on board with the removal of the aux jack. But either way, this is a neoliberal economy-turned-society we live in, and I'm not sure we have much control or ability to resist whatever Apple decides we should be doing.
Aside from your residencies in Detroit & Chicago, as well as our astral home of Decca in Louisville this Friday, do you have any gigs lined up?
Got a grip of fun ones lined up! You can see all the details on www.petercroce.com
- + 8/24 in Chicago for a party called Boogie Bash where I *actually* play just disco and boogie all night.
- + 8/25 LOUISVILLE!!!!!
- + 8/27 in Chicago with Joshua Adam for the AGAPE release party (dayslikethis.rocksteadydisco.com)
- + 9/1 in Chicago with Aroop Roy (residentadvisor.rocksteadydisco.com)
- + 9/15 in Detroit with Gigi Testa (marble.rocksteadydisco.com)
- + 9/17 in Chicago with Blair French
- + 9/23 in Chicago with Gigi Testa
Feature, Research, and Interview by Ben Alexander