Spotlight On: Peter Croce
Peter Croce is the people’s DJ. With an education in community organizing and a deep-seeded passion for all things dance music, Peter Croce knows how to bring people together. His DJ sets and by extension his parties always attract a wide range of people, from the old school cats and dedicated house heads to those who wouldn’t know what house music was if it was playing in their face. The essence of his dance floor magic comes from his eagerness to educate himself on the history of dance music and capture what has made it a sanctuary for so many people throughout the years.
His effortless mix of disco, deep house, afrobeat, broken beat, and classics lifts spirits up and brings people together. Even the most jaded scenesters have to give the guy props because he reminds them why they fell in love with dance music in the first place. It doesn’t hurt that he’s one of the most genuine and friendliest DJs you’ll ever meet, either.
Recently moving from Detroit to Chicago, Peter is poised to level up in 2017 with the release of his debut song, Revival, as well as gearing up for forthcoming releases on his record label, Rocksteady Disco. We caught up with Mr. PC to talk about his influences, his passion for vinyl, the transition of Rocksteady Disco from a party to a label, and what’s on tap for 2017.
You’ve been playing electric bass since age 10. How did you get into music at such a young age?
My dad was a professional drummer – he played in a wedding band – back in the 70s or 80s that was steady work and he was making just as much as my mom. He was also a vocalist and I found some of his cassettes they recorded and they’re so entertaining. I won’t say they’re bad but they’re definitely party rock. My dad’s singing “Super Freak” while he was playing the drums. (laughs)
My dad got out of the scene because he wanted to be a family man and he was tripped out about all the drugs and stuff, so he left music and started doing engineering but he was always into jazz. My mom was always into funk. I remember her playing GAP Band in the car. So I have memories listening to “Party Train” sitting in a car seat in the back of a minivan. My dad was more into Jean-Luc Ponty and Michael Franks – very good jazzy stuff, but my mom was the funk person. I’m very grateful for them and they’ve been really supportive about my career choice.
Tell us about your relationship with vinyl –when did that start?
I bought an iPod with money I received from my confirmation (grew up Lutheran) and I was like one of the only kids with one in school. I ended up breaking my leg skiing so I couldn’t play any sports and I think that’s when my music collection began because I was laid up at home and my dad had all these amazing CDs— like Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin and jazz— so I just ripped all these CDs to iTunes and put them on my iPod. I quickly amassed way too much music by the time I had graduated high school by the time I went off to college, I had a ton of music and it didn’t feel very personal. It was around the time I started realizing I wanted something more tangible and real.
I remember thinking, “Wow this is actually art,” when I picked up a record and I wanted to look at the liner notes and have this physical thing. I didn’t want to pirate it, I wanted to own it.
There’s a store in East Lansing called Flat Black and Circular and that’s where I got my first turntable (which I still use as my listening turntable) and picked up “The Message” by Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, A Tribe Called Quest record and an MIA record.
Tell us about the name Rocksteady Disco
I came up with the name Rocksteady Disco because I was seeing a lot of “genre tribalism” and I’m definitely a deep house/ disco DJ but what does that even mean, you know? So I decided to choose two of the most important DJ culture genres that existed – which is Rocksteady Reggae and Disco. What really inspired it is my favorite producer (to this day) is King Tubby. He’s credited as inventing the remix and he was making music for sound systems.
If you read about David Mancuso and The Loft, he was playing “disco” but he was also playing Babatunde Olatunji, he was playing WAR and Fly Robin Fly which is one of the most classic disco tracks. So disco in 1973 is not what we look at disco now, so I was kind of aiming more for “if you can dance to it, it’s disco.” So that’s where the name came from and whenever I was playing at MotorCity Wine it was from 6-9 pm which is a patio happy hour slot so I wasn’t pounding anyone with minimal techno, I got to jump around from reggae to disco and house.
What made you transition Rocksteady Disco from a party to a record label?
I was in grad school when I decided Rocksteady Disco should be more than a party. I got my Masters in Social Work and Community Organizing. I could have gotten a good job, working 40+ hours doing really good work, but I thought, “What if I approach it from a different angle and try and make people smile, sweat and hug each other?” Things are not very good in the world right now, so if I can make people have a great time and forget about what’s going on, then it’s worth it.
The label was started because I was DJing so much and I realized I had a grip of unreleased tracks that people had sent me. LaFleur was the first guy I approached about the label. I asked him, “What are you doing with these tracks? I’d like to put them out,” and he was surprised.
So many producers and even some DJs are not the most social beings. I have some production under my belt but I’m more of a social person so I’m much happier DJing multiple nights a week, running a label, selling records to stores and working with distributors. The producers make really great tracks and they approach me and say, “I think you’ll like this.” I have some friends who will send me several different versions of the same song and I’ll tell them to take certain parts of each song and put those together, so I’ve done some executive production, too.
Is Rocksteady Disco a vinyl only label?
So some releases are vinyl only and it’s kind of at request of the artist. We’re not trying to create hype per say, but there are just some things that we don’t want to press a lot of copies.
Vinyl is really special so we want to reward people who buy the vinyl even if they don’t have a record player. So I put download codes in all the vinyl and if you do the download code, you get a bonus track (almost all of the releases have one) and an extended version or a different version of the track. We really want to reward people for supporting physical art.
Tell us about your debut release – Revival. What’s the concept behind the track?
Ya know, I’ve been working on a ton of re-edits for a while now, and felt a bit less inspired on the full production front. But then I heard Dr. Rev. William J. Barber II speak at the DNC back in July, and decided that my first formal release had to center around that speech. His analysis of what’s happening in the world and in the USA in particular is just so astute, caring and loving. I feel like he was saying what’s been on my heart and mind for a while: “We are being called to be the moral defibrillators of our time, is there a heart in this house?” I studied sociology and social work, and I’ve come to realize we need fewer intellectuals and more lovers/dancers. This track is meant to be a call to arms. And there’s a reason it’s coming out on Inauguration Day (1/20/17).
I did launch my own label that will be my own edits- Mr. PC Versions. I’m sitting on a lot but I don’t want to flood. A lot of labels are putting out edits for better or for worse and in a lot of ways it’s for better, but in a lot of ways it’s sort of pimping out artists. The reason I went ahead with Mr. PC Versions #1 is that there are two tracks that very few people my age in the scene are aware that the original versions exists. The first is a Stanley Clarke track and the second is a Weather Report track. I’m a bass player so I code named the tracks after the bass players- Stanley Dancer and Jaco Disco (Jaco Pastorius) – I figured I did enough to the tracks – I extended them and rearranged them in ways that were different enough that I was giving credence to the original and driving traffic to the original. I’m really proud of those because they are unique and anytime I play those people put on this unexpected face like, “Why am I dancing to this – it’s weird and sweet!” I learned a lot of that from Lafleur and my biggest influences have been Danny Krivit – who also goes by Mr. K, Gay Marvine who used to live in Detroit and the classics like Tom Moulten, Walter Gibbons – especially him because he’d extend the drums for so long. So when you listen to my edits the goal is to not realize that they’re edited. Tom Molten was the first guy to do the extended 12 inch and the tracks that I edit I do it because there’s incredibly cheesy sections that need to be removed or these tracks didn’t get the club love that they deserve. So I try to show the shoulders I stand on as a DJ.
Any upcoming gigs you can tell our readers about?
January is pretty wild for me. I’m launching a new Sunday evening DIY party at a dance studio here in Chicago called Sunday Soiree on 1/8 then I’ll be heading back to Detroit for Sunday Revival at MotorCity Wine with LadyMonix on the 22nd. I’ll be heading to LA to play Bronson Bar, a DIY party, and a radio show with DJ Shark 1/26 through 1/28 (check my website for more info). I’ll be playing in Ann Arbor in February, too.
What can readers expect from Rocksteady Disco in 2017?
I’m really excited about building a new community here in Chicago while still loving the community back in Detroit. I’ll be continuing to throw and play parties in Detroit and Chicago, and hopefully playing some more gigs across the nation and maybe even Europe.
Our release schedule may be slightly more infrequent, but they’re going to be strong, deep, and a bit more peak hour. VERY excited for these records. A couple original records, a couple remixed, and maybe even a white label.