DJ Step, From Sideline to Mastermind
Chicago Fire's official master of sound.
Sometimes achieving your ultimate goals requires doing whatever it takes. That’s how it was for Ben Stepnowski, aka DJ Step, on the way to his dream of becoming a professional DJ. “At one point in my career, I was not even eating in order to save up to get a real DJ set. I was starving myself to be able to practice Djing.” That dedication pushes him to this day, as he is determined to continue to make an impact on Chicago’s music scene.
His love of Djing began in his hometown of Glastonbury, Connecticut, where he grew up a huge fan of DJ’s like DJ Jazzy Jeff, A-Trak and DJ AM. Step’s introduction to the Djing world began in high school, creating warm-up mixes for his high school soccer team. Growing up in the 2000’s, LimeWire and Napster had a huge impact on Step, exposing him to more music than ever before. “Living in the LimeWire era helped me find a lot of hidden gems. It made me constantly obsessed with finding new music all the time for mixes.” It was also at this time, that he became a fan of the Chicago hip-hop scene, leading him to making the move to Chicago by enrolling in DePaul University. “Chicago artists played a huge part in my move to Chicago. I loved each artist’s sound and the way they rapped. I loved it so much it led me to move to Chicago when I’d never even been to the Midwest prior, but the musical soul of the city convinced me to make the move.”
Step immediately began diving into Chicago’s local DJ scene, using his older brother’s ID to sneak into bars and watch local sets. “When I came to Chicago I would go to bars just to observe DJ’s perform and after I would ask them specific questions about their performance. A lot of times they would tell me to 'buzz off,' but I kept on being persistent in order to learn.” His persistence paid off, as a local DJ company Crossfader King decided to take him under their wing. “The guys at Crossfader saw my interest in Djing so they reached out and offered to let me shadow their DJ sets. Then shortly after they had me come into their studio to practice and take lessons from them.” As lessons at their studio started, DJ Step saw his opportunity growing and began working towards his first official set of equipment.
Step started performing live at private parties and other small events. As his experiences rolled on, college did too. Step graduated from DePaul, deciding to juggle a full-time job and DJing full time to maintain his work. “After college, I realized DJ’s don’t have health insurance, so I decided to take a full-time marketing job and DJ at the same time. At one point I was working 40 hours a week and Djing 4 times a week at night with Crossfader”. The grind wore him down to the point of pursuing DJing full time with Crossfader and exploring his next move.
Ironically, it was at this exact time his brother decided to gift him Chicago Fire season tickets where he became an avid fan. As his fandom grew, DJ Step thought up an idea that completely transformed the trajectory of his career. “After I got Chicago Fire season tickets I thought up this idea to make a Chicago Fire soccer mix. It was a celebration of the Fire and I used every song that incorporated fire like Snoop’s ‘Drop it like its Hot’ or Johnny Cash’s ‘Ring Of Fire.’ While also adding in a ton of Spanish commentators yelling ‘goal!’ with a super-cut of Chicago Fire goals. I put it all together and put it on the internet for fun and also sent it to MLS blogs.”
To his surprise, DJ Step’s out of the box idea went viral in the local soccer communities, circulating around so many outlets that he ended up receiving a call that changed his life. “I heard rumors that the Chicago Fire had seen the mix and then shortly after I got a call from the Senior Vice President of Chicago Fire ticket sales saying the owner had heard my mix and wanted me to do that type of mix for every home game. I was shocked and extremely excited for the opportunity.” Up to that point the Fire had only used iTunes for their music, but by Spring 2015 that changed, as Step brought in his turntables revolutionizing their on field music experience as their official DJ. “In the beginning they had me do mixes for select games in 2015 and its grown every year since to the point where I now do every weekend home game.”
Fast-forward to now, DJ Step is in his third straight year as DJ of the Fire, with creative control over the playlist selection. “I start my mix about a week before the game and customize each playlist depending on each game. For example, I sometimes play the famous music of the visiting teams City, or when the Fire signed German Superstar Bastian Schweinsteiger I played exclusively German music for his debut and a German magazine mentioned it in their story about his game.” Along with this, Step is now in charge of Djing during pregame, halftime, and running the goal siren during the game. As his responsibilities have increased over the year so have his opportunities, DJing a special MLS All Star game event that featured World Famous team Real Madrid. Even cooler, the USA National Men’s soccer Team contacted him to DJ during their events across the country. “It’s been very cool to be apart of USA men’s soccer. They found me through the Fire and had me do the music soundtrack for them. In the past few years, they’ve even flown me out to help DJ in Columbus, California, and other places to assist with their events outside their World Cup Qualifying matches. It’s been an amazing experience.”
With his career on the rise, DJ Step still continues to practice his craft performing at various venues across the city and private events. “I love Djing and how you can interact with people during a set. You can see someone’s instant reaction to a track and how it affects their mood. That immediate gratification is why I am hooked to doing this.” DJ Step not only hopes to continue to perform but also use his set to help others and the art of Djing overall. “I want to grow as someone who is championing for Djs and helps give awareness to Chicago artists as a whole. We DJ’s get sometimes caught up in mainstream music that we forget how talented people locally are. I want to be someone who shows that I love this city, the music, and helps put shine on a lot of artists here.” In an era where everybody believes they’re some form of a DJ, DJ Step shines through with his energetic set, and quick mixes that will never leave a soul bored. Next time you get a chance to see him live, clear your calendar, it’s a must see event. For now, make sure to listen to his new mix Chicago Style to get a sample of what his live set truly feels like.