DJ Tom Stephan aka SuperChumbo

  • by Gregg Shapiro
  • Tuesday September 19, 2023
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DJ Tom Stephan<br>(photo: Alegria)
DJ Tom Stephan
(photo: Alegria)

What is it about a DJ that allows them to have a lengthy and successful career? Aside from being a turntable master, knowing how to read and work a room and keep people dancing from sunset to sunrise, or being a top-notch remixer. It helps if they're as friendly and warm as Tom Stephan. Having a sense of humor, which Stephan has in abundance, also goes a long way.

Also known as Superchumbo, Stephan has DJed countless clubs, festivals and parties, he is one of the hardest-working DJs behind the decks. Tom was kind enough to make time for an interview in advance of his gig at Matinee Pervert at The Midway on September 23.

DJ Tom Stephan  

Gregg Shapiro: For those not in the know, how did you come up with your DJ name Superchumbo?
Tom Stephan: The name Superchumbo came from the mid-to-late'90s. I was at a rave outside of Lisbon, Portugal where Danny Tenaglia was playing. I was there with Rob Di Stefano from Twisted (Records). We were there, dancing all night and enjoying ourselves, let's say. On our way back, driving back to Lisbon, we stopped at a gas station. I got out (to fill the tank), and I look at the pumps and they say "Chumbo" and "Super" or "S/Chumbo," something like that. I said, "Do you want Chumbo or Super Chumbo." For the rest of the day, I was known as Superchumbo. That's where the name came from. Then I found out later Schumbo, which is actually pronounced "shoombo" in Portuguese, doesn't mean "super," but "without." As in without lead (chumbo is a metal).

You recently had a DJ gig in Chicago. As a progressive house DJ, what does it mean to you when you get to spin in Chicago, the birthplace of house music?
It's amazing! And so many people from the UK (where Stephan is based) are so jealous. I think I often play something that I feel like is a Chicago thing. Cajmere, or something. In the same way that when I play in New York I always play something that's very New York to me. I'm always aware of being there and what that means, I guess.

Did you have any opportunities to meet and work with Chicago's very own house music godfather Frankie Knuckles?
No. I can't say that we even ever met, although I saw him DJ many times, and the last time was possibly one of the last DJ sets that he played in London. I believe it was just a few months before he passed. But I do work regularly with someone that I consider to be a Chicago legend, and that's Celeda. In fact, I'm working on something new with her right now.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Yoko Ono in 2007 before she performed at the Pitchfork Music Festival, in support of the "Open Your Box" album on which the SuperChumbo remix of "Kiss Kiss Kiss" appears. What did having the chance to remix Yoko mean to you?
This is really funny because I'm also speaking to someone today who's writing a book about Yoko. He just reached out to me yesterday. It's David Sheff, the guy that wrote "Beautiful Boy," the book about his son's drug addiction. I was completely blown away when he contacted me. I've been emailing back and forth with him with my Yoko stories.

It was amazing because when I was a kid, my dad and my uncle had a music store and I used to work there on the weekends. Well, work; I was like 10 years old, I was just allowed to hang out there, basically. I used to dust, or something. I would hang out there on Saturday afternoon, and then I would get maybe paid five bucks or else I could take home a seven-inch single. I took home "(Just Like) Starting Over" by John Lennon, which just came out, and the B-side was "Kiss Kiss Kiss." I discovered it on there. That, at the time when I was 10 years old, was the craziest song I'd ever heard.

We had a show and tell thing at school and I brought it in to play it. [Laughs] the teacher was not happy about it at all. She took it off and wouldn't let me finish playing it, which made me love it even more. That was a really important thing for me.

After Orange Factory did (the remix of ) "Open Your Box," they decided to go through Yoko's back catalog and do some remixes. I was approached and they asked, "What would you like to remix?" I didn't even have to think about it; "Kiss Kiss Kiss." The song has been with me since I was a kid.

The crazy thing about that story for me is I've been DJing in Tokyo for about 20 years now. The promoter that brought me over there most times, Mr. Yoshida, who's done loads for the gay scene in Tokyo, brought me there for maybe the tenth time, and we were celebrating because of that. He asked me, "Do you know why I first brought you here?" I said, "No." He said it was because he loved the remix I did of Yoko Ono's "Kiss Kiss Kiss." It's so bizarre. This record has made its way through my life.

In addition to Yoko, you have worked with some of music's most legendary divas including Beyoncé, Kylie Minogue, Shakira, Missy Elliott, and the late Tina Turner. Are there a few others with whom you haven't yet worked that you would love to work with in the near future?
Madonna. [Laughs] I was asked to do a remix of "Medellín," which I can't say was one of my favorite songs, but I wasn't going to turn down the opportunity anyway. But she rejected it. Madonna doesn't like me, I guess. But that's okay. I never get to anybody that I remix, or very rarely. Except for Kylie Minogue. For her, I remixed "Can't Get You Out of My Head."

We did a photo shoot together. It was funny because [laughs]...she's a pro and she's giving looks and I'm kind of standing there just basically nervous because I've got my hands on Kylie Minogue. She said, "Oh, come on, Tom! I know you're gay, but just grab me!" That's my memory of that photo shoot, and the picture is just awful.

Do you have any dream collaborations?
Somebody that I feel like I would like to do... I'm just a huge fan of Depeche Mode. I even had a chance to remix Nitzer Ebb, probably one of my favorite bands ever. So, Depeche Mode comes up as something I would love to do because I love them so much. This new album, I think, is one of their strongest in a long time. I think it's really great.

I'm glad you mentioned Nitzer Ebb and Depeche Mode because I was wondering if there's a genre of music that you listen to for personal enjoyment that might surprise your legion of fans?
I listen to a lot of rock, actually. I don't even know where it came from, but I suddenly realized that I was obsessed with Queens of the Stone Age. I listen to them a lot when I go to the gym. I've also been listening to Arctic Monkeys. That's what I listen to a lot.

My nephew's got a band called Blankstate, and I listen to them a lot. When I'm not working or working on music, I don't tend to listen to the music I DJ, unless I'm checking something.
I just posted a recording of my set from Alegria, and I wanted to listen to it to make sure I was happy with everything before I stuck it up online. Then, on a Sunday, coming back from DJing or whatever, some of the new Arctic Monkeys is pretty mellow and I love listening to that or Steely Dan or something like that.

I live in Fort Lauderdale, and while this interview is taking place, you are visiting Florida. Do you have any thoughts you'd like to share about Florida's homophobic governor, Ron DeSantis?
[Sighs and laughs] I mean, I think he's an asshole. I think it's just a cheap way of trying to polarize people and win votes. I don't know, maybe he is as homophobic as he acts. I think it's just a manipulative thing. It's a shame because my mother lives there, near Saint Petersburg. I go to Miami often to DJ. I like coming to Florida. I think it's really sad, what he's doing. It's really upsetting.

Just recently, hearing about the Supreme Court thing the other day, it really bothered me. I feel hurt about this. I like to think I'm okay with who I am, and I'm not affected by this kind of thing. But it occurred to me that I am affected by it. What's wrong with people? It seems totally bizarre to me that it's being done under the excuse of Christianity, which means that I don't understand anything about Christianity. I thought you weren't supposed to go around judging everyone else.

Matinee Pervert at The Midway, 900 Marin St., Saturday, Sept. 23, 9pm-8am. $115 and up.

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