Get familiar with Steppin’ Into Tomorrow

Newly found music platform Steppin’ Into Tomorrow shines a light on the jazz orientated Dutch music industry. We did a Q&A with creators Lucas Benjamin (Wicked Wax) and Mo Wrights to learn more about the ins and outs of running a platform.

Interview & photography by Brendan Reterink

What is Steppin’ Into Tomorrow?

Lucas: A multi-layered platform dedicated to music and the culture around it.

Mo: To be a little more specific, Steppin’ Into Tomorrow is a unifying link in the Dutch music industry. We serve as a connector, showing the coherence in the local scene and present this to a wider international audience.

“Jazz has become a sub culture, unfortunately. But it’s a very lively sub culture, with new dope and meaningful music being released every day. It crosses our paths and gives us the joy, inspiration and motivation in our private lives. I think other people deserve to hear this as well.” – Mo Wrights

Why did you feel the need to start Steppin’ Into Tomorrow?

M: Lucas and I would often have discussions about how music scenes are presented on a global scale. The UK jazz scene revolves around Gilles Peterson, you have Toshio Matsuura, Shuya Okino and the Kyoto Jazz Massive in Japan, a lot of small jazz scenes in the US, all the dope stuff coming from Australia, and the list goes on (please ask Lucas, as he’s the real encyclopedia musica). European bands keep popping up out of nowhere. Same goes for the Netherlands. This inspired us to create a platform under which we can unite these great bands, producers and DJs who share the ethos of forward thinking music within a jazz framework. We just felt that was missing.

L: In a world where algorithms have become the dominant force for people’s discoveries we started missing human curation more and more. As DJs & selectors educating people has always been an important factor and keeping the tradition of human curation alive feels necessary right now. With our platform we create a space not just for us and our fellow writers but consistently invite guest selectors to take us into their musical world with the Mixed Feelings-series for example.

Why the name?

L: The legendary musician Donald Byrd released an album in 1974 named ‘Stepping Into Tomorrow’.

M: Yeah, Byrd’s electric years showed his ability to flow with the times, just like Prince, Michael and Miles, just to name a few. Not only did he do so musically, but also conceptually and contextually. His open minded way of approaching contemporary music led him to work on the album, collaborating with the jazz funk pioneering Mizell Brothers.

L: Honestly I remember so many moments where that phrase just popped up in my head and I started humming it. When the brainstorm sessions started for our new concept it came back to me and I threw it in. The rest is (becoming) history.

M: Our platform is a nod to an album we both adore, but also to Byrd’s forward thinking ethos. Lastly, in a linguistic sense, we thought the name of the album fit what we were trying to achieve: invite people to listen to the sound of tomorrow.

L: Yeah, I’ve always loved those words together. With the on-going pandemic we’re in right now the name made even more sense as we will go into a new world that won’t be the same as it was before. Our goal is to contribute with it becoming a better one, culturally at least.

What are the motives behind the platform?

L: We feel that the countless talents in Holland, and our neighbouring countries, have been under-appreciated & unheard not just internationally but even nationally as well. This is mainly due to lack of support, lack of a connected community and no (virtual) spot where everything comes together so people can discover and follow what’s going on. That became a big conversation topic we kept on coming back to. If you feel something is missing it’s easy to complain, but the real solution lies in being the change.

M: Plans for a digital platform are always on the mind of creative concepts like these, nothing innovative about that. But finding the time to do so is always tricky. Throughout 2020 we tried to create the platform in a physical sense by hosting (limited capacity) events where we curate the line-up. Unfortunately (but maybe not unsurprisingly), it didn’t plan out the way we envisioned it. But new possibilities arose: “Why not try to do so digitally?” A digital platform gave us the affordance of providing multiple people a stage to present their work, and at a faster pace. Also, music culture was kind of in a rut, and we’re both eager for new music trivia. So why not create it ourselves? ha-ha.

Why do you want to make a difference?

L: In observing several scenes and movements throughout history there have always been key people and platforms that were vital in the shaping of it all. We have the artists and the people but it was still missing the logistics in the form of a platform connecting it all. Hopefully we can make that difference with our endeavours and will become an integral part of shaping & improving our collective futures.

M: Jazz has become a sub culture, unfortunately. But it’s a very lively sub culture, with new dope and meaningful music being released every day. It crosses our paths and gives us the joy, inspiration and motivation in our private lives. I think other people deserve to hear this as well. So by curating this firstly (we’re obviously not the only gatekeepers) and presenting this to (hopefully increasingly) wider audience secondly, we aim to establish jazz and its diasporic genres as a form of music that can bring much (if not more) joy to people. If you think I’m biased, then you are correct. To take it even further: If jazz would be a dominant style of music in contemporary society, I’d argue that we would be a lot further as a species. Wait, this really sounds like that meme, no? It has various captions, but the one that gets me the most is the one where the caption reads If Bobby Shmurda never went to jail. Yeah, it’s something like that.

“While artists are developing the sound of tomorrows days we always keep a close ear without limiting them in their explorations. Also, we provide a way of submitting your music to our radar on the website.” – Lucas Benjamin

What are the challenges you faced when beginning?

L: Mostly just beginning was the biggest challenge with the previously busy DJ schedules and all. But when COVID arrived it was clear that it was time to start this adventure right away.

M: The platform really is in its infant stage still. We’re both quite all-round, so that means setting things up DIY is possible, but some technicalities will arise. But yeah, I think conceptualising what you’re not doing or going to do defines what you are. So crossing things off or phasing it out a little was necessary in order to get Steppin’ Into Tomorrow off the ground. Otherwise we’d still be in the web building stage, contemplating whether or not we should add the video essays on tomorrow’s sound to the header.

What qualities do you need to have to be on your radar?

M: I think Lucas’ radar is FAR better calibrated than mine is. I’m just here to do free labour by writing. But if I had to answer, I’d say the artists who feature on a tune or album often get my attention. Having a track record doesn’t really matter, that wouldn’t be fair either. It’s about catching a vibe, and feeling the honesty the track emits. But I think Lucas can answer this better, as he’s the A&R master brain behind Steppin’ Into Tomorrow. Also, everything I show him, he’s already familiar with, so…

L: I’m pretty straight-forward on this. It has to move us in a way, I guess that’s the most honest criteria. It’s the same for the selection process for future releases on the Wicked Wax label. While artists are developing the sound of tomorrows days we always keep a close ear without limiting them in their explorations. Also, we provide a way of submitting your music to our radar on the website.

We’re currently at Obsidian, a new sound bar in Amsterdam, is this the psychical platform of Steppin’?

M: As we’re trying to unite people and show that there are connections that just need to be unearthed, we thought Obsidian would be a great location. The head honcho, Vincent Helbers– an unsung hero of the Netherlands really– also shares our vision and was keen on collaborating.

L: Yes, we tried to set up a few COVID-proof events here with national acts, such as Beau Zwart & Sykes and Floatmonki. Unfortunately the pandemic didn’t allow for it to flourish yet (the official opening was supposed to be in March last year), but the connection with Obsidian still stands. Just look around and you instantly feel the Japanese sound bar vibes (look up “Japan’s Hidden Listening Bars” by Resident Advisor on YouTube). We had an instant click as soon as we set foot in this place because we feel the energy surrounding this spot is similar to ours.

M: More on them soon, though!

What are your future goals?

L: Expanding the blog into a solid platform, organise frequent returning nights with live acts, have a

location where we can provide multiple opportunities for current and future generations. We’re still in an early phase so I’m sure some of these will reshape in the process.

M: The first month(s) went well, I think we’re both very satisfied. We expanded the roster and are now collaborating with friends who have a specialised field of which they’ll write about. DTM Funk (Sankofa Rhythm Records) covers the Belgian scene, Jelee is destined to uncover all the dope stuff from Dutch beat makers, Quanza will dive deeper into which artists are the new generation of music and more specifically why so, DJ Tracksuit expands the Western perspective with insights from musicians who fall outside of this scope, but are equally influential or important to mention and Shady Lady provides recommendations on music-related documentaries, films and series. So yeah, future goals are establishing these fields and show that Steppin’ Into Tomorrow is a joint effort, here to stay.

…and for 2021?

L: Build a vibrant platform for the rising Dutch music scene, connect all levels of the industry and bridge them, instigate collaborations and obviously share a lot of incredible music, mixes, radio shows and stories with you all!

M: Yeah, we aim the platform to be an established name for the sound of tomorrow, starting in the Netherlands so that we can expand beyond!

If you’d like to know more about Steppin’ Into Tomorrow, you can visit their website here.