One of the scene’s best-known and most professional DJs, this entertainer has a long reputation of loving his audiences as much as he loves his work. And “work” is something he does constantly, and takes seriously. And despite his high profile, he remains unusually accessible to his fans: he even happily takes requests, which makes him basically the Unicorn of club DJs. Spinning since the last days of the megaclubs when he was just a teen, Steve Sidewalk is now a nice slice of the nightlife history pie. Enjoy!
Thotyssey: Hi Steve! You’re one of the busiest DJs in the city… are you going to have a chance to actually enjoy the holidays this year?
Steve Sidewalk: Yes, absolutely. I am seeing Mariah’s Christmas show next week–which is an annual tradition–and I’ll also check out the Tree. Even though I am DJng Christmas Eve and Christmas, I’ll still find time for my family. I also really love to spend it with my fellow New Yorkers. I actually asked to work the holidays [laughs]!
True dedication! Which is a good segue to congratulate you on your Best DJ GLAM nomination this year! I was shocked when you posted that you hadn’t won one before, because you’re so well-known in the scene. Awards are nice to have though, right?
I’ve been nominated for GLAMs previous years, but never won. However, I am very fortunate to have won Get Out Magazine and Odyssey (Rushbox) Club DJ of the Year. And I’ve also won awards for parties I’ve promoted / produced from HX Magazine (RIP), and recently Get Out Magazine’s weekly Party of the Year for College Tuesdays at Ritz.
So, I am very thankful for what I have won. A GLAM would be a nice award to add to my collection, but honestly–as cheesy as it sounds–the true award and honor is being able to DJ night after night in the greatest city NYC!
And you certainly get to do a lot of that, which we love! So, where’s your hometown?
I’ve lived all my life in North New Jersey, and have always had NYC in my skyline. I really consider Bergen County, NJ a part of NYC; I live near Met Life Stadium, which even Beyonce calls NYC when she performs there [laughs]. I really pride myself for always having the Big Apple as a part of my life.
As far as the nightlife biz goes, were you always a DJ?
I actually started DJ’ing at around 18, at night clubs. Before that, I used to organize and promote gay youth dances and hire DJs. Music was always important to me, and I’d tell the DJ what to play. I quickly realized they didn’t like it, so I became one [laughs]. I used go out to clubs like Tunnel, Limelight and Stonewall before i started working at them.
Those must’ve been the last years of the Limelight and the Tunnel, and the big clubs in general. What was that environment like?
I was very lucky to have experienced the end of such an amazing era. Tunnel and Limelight were both clubs you could easily get lost in, with so many different rooms and a “gay only” section where I spun. It was really an amazing time to be a part of. This was the late 90s, to 2001.
I was always curious: in those big clubs, did the nightlife entertainers–the queens and the club kids, etc.–used to interact with you as a DJ a lot during the night, or were your worlds separate?
I definitely interacted with everyone. I worked with a lot of great talent in those early years, like Johnny McGovern, Cazwell, Lady Bunny and Peppermint to just name a few.
I also have always had a strict “REQUESTS ARE WELCOME” policy. In other words, anyone at the club could come up and talk to me. So I met a lot of interesting people, needless to say
I was gonna ask you about requests. Most DJs hate taking them! Is that still your policy?
Yes, it always has been, always will be. I can’t play every request, but I do listen to my customers, and am usually able to play songs they ask for. I really value their business and support. Depending on the party I’ll also use the mic to shout-out birthdays, anniversaries and engagements. My dance floors are important to me, and I want them to know I am there for them.
What’s the origin of your DJ name, by the way?
Good question. When I was about 15, I started promoting local area punk concerts at VFW Halls, Elks Lodges, American Legions. There was this local punk and ska music scene. So I would book bands to play, and make flyers on an old school copier, and I would give them out at other shows outside on the sidewalk. And soon I became Steve Sidewalk.
I kind of felt this scene was homophobic, with everyone saying “faggot” or “that’s so gay.” So at 16, I thought I could form a gay youth scene like the punk scene. I did it by going on America Online, starting a chat room called NJGTS (New Jersey Gay Teen Scene). And before you knew it, we were having public area diner meets–and soon youth dances sponsored by GALY of NJ for gay youth 21 and under, where we had 200 kids show up. And once I turned 18, the next step of party promoting was in a nightclub.
Wow, so the social and community aspect of being a DJ was always there. And it also sounds like you have a pretty diverse musical lexicon. What sort of music inspires you, as a DJ and as a music fan in general?
I’ve always been very diverse in my musical tastes. I’ve been inspired from Madonna and Cyndi Lauper, to Lady Gaga, to even Green Day. All of those artists have been big advocates of the LGBT community.
DJ-wise, I’ve been influenced by DJs like Shep Pettibone, Hex Hector and Barry Harris. There are artists and DJs that continue to inspire me; new artists like Alessia Cara. I’ve always embraced older and new talent.
What programs/tech do you prefer to use when you DJ/mix?
My preferred method of DJing is with 2 256 gig USB sticks, 2 Pioneer CDJ 2000 Nexus and a Pioneer 900 Mixer. I prefer not to use a laptop: Serato, Trakor or VDJ. I don’t fault any DJ who does. Just my preference… although I have spun with a laptop before, and always bring it as a backup.
Do you ever get a chance to spin vinyl?
I would like to get more versed in spinning vinyl, but its a lot to carry around and pretty costly. But vinyl has a unique sound and feel when DJing. Once I tried spinning on an old dual cassette player made for DJing before the club opened, and that didn’t go over well. [Laughs] definitely a challenge.
In a field where sometimes all you need in order to call yourself a DJ is a six pack and iTunes, is it frustrating sometimes for someone like you, who puts so much care and professionalism into the work?
I honestly try not to worry about what the other DJ is doing. I focus on me and my crowd, and that has always benefited me.
I don’t like to be negative, but more and more DJs have brought DJ pay rates down, and that’s difficult. It’s not as easy as people think, being a full-time DJ six nights a week, working until 4am. But again, I focus on the positive, and work hard at my craft. And 18 years of DJ’ing later, so far so good!
What’s new, song-wise, that’s been killing it these days?
I have a great remix of Kanye Wests song “Faded”. I am not particularly a big fan of his personally, but its a great song to dance to. And of course Ariana Grande and Nicki Minaj’s “Side to Side” is probably the most requested right now.
Okay, let’s talk gigs! This is exciting: Gay College Tuesdays at the Ritz is turning 4 Years Old on December 13th!
Honey Davenport hosts that, and you DJ. What do you attribute the success and longevity of that party to?
It’s a really fun party. College guys, pop music and a hot body contest. And Honey does a really great job hosting, and DJ Mikey Mo spins with me, and we have a great team of gogo dancers. It’s a bunch of great talent coming together. We went from Splash, to XL, to our current home the Ritz. And the crowd followed, and I am very thankful for that. Our loyal following, really, is why we get to do this.
Plus, I have to say those little dancers are cute, and make me feel like a gross horny old man. But on a good way!
Then the following night, we can find you spinning WTF Wednesdays at Feathers in NJ. I can’t believe I still haven’t made it out there, I know it’s really close to the city.
Feathers is a great place. It’s really just minutes over the GW Bridge. Its a great scene and atmosphere. There is even a gigantic rotating high heel in the corner of the dance floor! I have been spinning WTF Wednesday for over 14 years (you’re not the only old man here)! It’s a great place for dancing, and we have $3 drinks all night long!
Here’s to another 14! And I rarely get to interview anyone who does stuff at Boxers, but you regularly spin Game Night at the Hell’s Kitchen location on Thursdays. Is it tough to get a good floor going with all that distraction there (bar games, TV sports, hot bartenders)?
Boxers has probably the best happy hour in all of NYC, with 2 for 1 drinks until 9pm. So, Boxers is always busy very early on, which is why I DJ from 8 until 1am. It depends on the night, but I usually get a good party crowd. I love spinning at Boxers, because I have a lot more freedom to play a wide range of songs since its such a laid-back, sports bar environment.
And you have lots of rotating gigs on Fridays.
Yes, once a month I promote & DJ Freshmen, the ONLY 18+ LGBT party in NYC at the West End. the next one is Friday, December 23rd. And yes, I do spin at either Atlas Social Club or the Ritz. Or, I travel to Boston monthly to spin at Club Cafe, which is a great spot in that city.
And Saturdays, we can find you in any number of rotating gigs as well.
Yes, I love being able to rotate spinning in Hell’s Kitchen (the Ritz), Chelsea (GLOW at G Lounge) and the West Village (Manster at Monster). All great areas in the city.
And I’ve been doing DC once a month [on Saturdays] for over a year now. It’s been amazing. It’s about as far as Boston is, about four hours away by car. Cobalt is a really great place to work for.
And: Look Queen Sunday nights at Monster!
Terra Hyman and Dusty Ray Bottoms host that weekly competition that you spin for, and it gets more fierce every week. We’re getting closer to the finale that Bob the Drag Queen will host, are you excited?
Look Queen has be such a great experience and party to be involved with. I have already met so much new and upcoming talent. I can’t wait for the finale, not only because Bob The Drag Queen returns o the party he started, but because there are so many good finalists!
And also, Mitch Ferrino and Bob–the producers of this party–have so many other good events planned. We just had Alyssa Edwards last night, and we are doing the GLAM afterparty. So expect many more top level drag hosts and performers in the future!
Amazing! Anything else coming up that we should be looking out for in the Realm of Sidewalk?
In April, I am kicking off a big party weekend in a city outside of New York. I can’t say what yet, since the official lineup hasn’t been revealed… but stay tuned to my social media and website for more info. And in 2017, I am looking to DJ more cities I haven’t DJ’ed yet… and of course, the ones I already do!
Nice. Okay, lastly: what’s one thing that the world may not know about Steve Sidewalk, but should?
I really do care about my fans (although I feel that term seems arrogant to say), my customers, and the people who come out to party with me week after week. I try to make myself approachable, and I always listen to requests, and shout-out birthdays when I can.
I know what it’s like to want an escape from daily life, stress, and b.s. with music, and I am honored to provide that for a living. Without my loyal customers, I would not have a job. I owe this all to them. Bottom line to my party people of nighlife: I am here for you!
And we’re grateful! Thank you Steve!
Check here for DJ Steve Sidewalk’s current scheduled gigs. Steve can be followed on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter & YouTube, and listen to his mixes on Mixcloud.