Stephen Hale remembers exactly where he was the moment he realised he wanted to be a DJ.
‘It was 2002, I was at Homelands dance music festival near Winchester. I stood back and thought, “this is amazing. I’m having the best time of my life. If we’re all feeling like this, then what’s that DJ feeling?”’
Stephen arrived home at 10am the next morning and by 3pm that afternoon he had bought a set of decks and begun teaching himself how to mix.
Now, 10 years later, the father-of-three from Landport in Portsmouth is a well-respected hardcore club DJ who plays all over the country and around the world.
He’s also studying for a degree in sound engineering at Southampton Solent University.
But Stephen says his life could have turned out very differently if he hadn’t followed his DJing dream.
‘I wasn’t doing much with my life until I became a DJ,’ he explains.
‘I was always going round in circles in jobs I didn’t enjoy. But I never dread going to a club on Friday nights.
‘I’ve got a friend in rehab, a friend in prison. If I hadn’t become a DJ, I don’t know where I’d be.’
Stephen is grateful for the chain of events that led to him carving out a successful career as a hardcore DJ, producer and promoter.
It all started in May 2006, a week after Stephen’s birthday, when his dad, Chris Hale, got him a regular gig at The Town House on Portland Road.
‘He spoke to the landlady,’ remembers Stephen, who is 30 today.
‘She said “your dad tells me you’re a DJ.” Then she turned me around, showed me the DJ booth and told me it was mine on a Monday night if I wanted it.’
Soon, his Monday night club night (HardNature) was being featured by The News in The Guide weekly entertainment supplement and became a popular local event.
Then around the time of his birthday in 2008, Stephen asked one of his DJs, Dan Castellano, to play a back-to-back set with him.
‘It was a good contrast because he plays cheesy hardcore and I play much darker hardcore,’ explains Stephen.
Stephen’s longtime MC, Billy Povey aka MC Deverstate, completed the trio, and they named themselves the Rusty Records Crew after Dan’s childhood nickname ‘Rusty’.
Now they have their own label and have organised local club nights including Secret Society.
They have also played at some of the biggest events in the hardcore community, gracing the decks at Hardcore Evolution, Raver Baby (at Gatecrasher’s superclub Air) and Kore in Bournemouth.
Last year they won best DJ and best MC at Hardcore ‘Til I Die In The Sun, a hardcore summer festival in Lloret de Mar, Spain.
‘It was brilliant,’ says Stephen.
‘The best week of my life. It was everything I expected and a bit more. The Water Park party was out of this world.
‘They take Europe’s biggest water park and they turn it into a rave with a stage at the front of this huge swimming pool.’
After coming top in last year’s competition, the trio will appear on the main stage at this year’s HTID In the Sun event.
The festival has won them fans the world over and even produced international bookings such as their appearance at Heart of Gold in Toronto, Canada, in March.
But as well as live DJing success, Stephen’s also getting kudos as a producer. His track Falling From The Sky appears on Clubland X-treme Hardcore 8 – a compilation CD that reached the No 1 spot in the UK compilation album chart.
The trio are also working on collaborations with Squad-E, Hixxy and Ramos.
Stephen says the best reward is getting approached on the street by fans who love his music.
‘I was in Birmingham on Saturday night and someone said, “my mum even likes that CD”. That’s more rewarding than any payslip,’ Stephen explains.
‘Our success has given me so much confidence,’ he continues.
‘I never thought I’d be able to do any of the things I’m doing. I never imagined I’d go to university, now I’m achieving well above my targets,’
But what Stephen’s most happy about is the fact that he’s made his mum, Carole Sims, proud.
He says he’s also doing it for his children – Alisha, nine, and twins Ronnie and Reggie, five.
‘I’ve done my best, but I have not always been a good role model,’ he admits.
‘But since I went to uni, my little girl has started talking about what university she could go to.’
Above all, Stephen says he DJs for pure enjoyment.
‘I get so much pleasure out of seeing people’s faces,’ he says.
‘I know what I felt in 2002, standing in front of that DJ booth, and now I know what that DJ felt, giving me that feeling.’
The Secret Society
Stephen’s Secret Society club night is a novel idea where people buy a ticket to an event without knowing the venue until the last minute.
It’s all the rage now, with national events like the Secret Garden Party and Secret Supper Club, but Stephen was one of the first to exploit the idea based on illegal rave culture.
To keep the police away, illegal ravers would only announce their venue at the last minute.
‘We would take the sound system down to the beach or a field and then text and e-mail everyone,’ he explains.
‘We got warnings from the police, so we decided it wasn’t the best thing for us to be doing.
‘But people liked it. They like to be in the know, so we started hiring clubs.’
It would work the same way, with Stephen collecting ticket money and phone numbers and then announcing the venue at the last minute.
But he wanted something more stable.
‘I liked the idea of having a place that we could call home,’ he explains. So, from January, The Secret Society has been based at The Barn at The Milton Arms in Portsmouth.
‘It’s not about being secret any more,’ says Stephen, ‘but it’s still a society.’
Tomorrow, for Stephen’s 30th birthday, The Secret Society is holding its biggest event to date on South Parade Pier, Southsea.
The night runs from 8pm to 3am and features DJ Hixxy, MC Whizzkid, DJ Squad-E, DJ Ramos, MC Skatty and MC Mayhem, alongside Secret Society residents Fat Steve, Dave Castellano, MC Deverstate, DJ Hades and Nato. In total, there are more than 15 MCs and DJs and a huge laser show.
Tickets cost £15 from theticketsellers.co.uk or WithIt in Cascades shopping centre.