Bay Area DJ and music legend Stephanie Ornelas, a.k.a. DJ Stef, passed away on Sunday. She was 55 years old.
According to reports from CBS, Ornelas died of a sudden heart attack. The outpouring of emotion has quickly spread across social media, with many hip-hop legends from the Bay Area and beyond sharing their memories of DJ Stef, along with condolences and some heartfelt sorrow.
heartbroken to hear about dj stef passing. truly a lovely, kind soul.— el-p (@therealelp) October 2, 2017
RIP to @djstef415, one of the undersung heroes of the Bay Area turntablism scene, esp. back in the '90s when she started The Vinyl Exchange— O. Wang (@oliverswang) October 2, 2017
In a DJ scene awash with bros, @djstef415 showed me that it was possible for a woman to do her thing and be recognized for her craft— Nastia Voynovskaya (@nananastia) October 2, 2017
DJ Stef made her name in the Bay Area as the founder of the Vinyl Exchange, "a newsletter for deejays and vinyl junkies" that would go on to chronicle the rise of record-collecting culture and serve as inspiration for many musicians and DJs to come.
the Vinyl Exchange. "a newsletter for deejays and vinyl junkies", Free, Dec 1995. This was an awesome San Francisco based 5 page newsletter, produced by Stephanie "DJ Stef" Gardner/Orlenas. Circulation as noted in this issue as 2500 a month. It kicked hard facts on wax from Jan '95 to July '97, 31 issues ran of this modest yet super cool trade/DJ-insider-network zine. It has a real chill SF vibe to it. I had a subscription in high school. There were 7 DJ charts/lists alone in this issue. Rasta 'Cue-Tip' "come-up of da month" was "Funky Technician" domestic, sealed at Berkeley Amoeba. Billy Jam eulogized Vallejo's DJ Cee, who spun for Mac Dre, Mac Mall, Ray Luv, Young Lay and others. There is a cut-out AD to mail order the Hobo Junction EP tape and a cool, thoughtful piece on How To Make a Record "Showbiz & AG did it ... Why can't you?". I'll post some more close up images from VE in the future. DJ Stef is a great, highly knowledge discjock - catch her spinning in the Bay if you can. You may still be able to cash in that Hobo Junction coupon?
On top of being a DJ and a newsletter curator, she also worked as a graphic designer, and her work can still be viewed online on her portfolio.
The East Bay Times spotted one of DJ Stef's profiles on SF Station, where she wrote about her vinyl collection: "My record collection is deep with soul, disco, punk, various ’70s, ’80s and ’90s styles and a wide range of dance music, but hip-hop and rap from the early days to the present are its core. Although you’ll see ‘Don’t book me, I’m retired’ here (if you look closely), don’t believe it. I’m happy to keep playing as long as people want to listen." As well, she wrote that the Vinyl Exchange "championed the DIY aesthetic, DJs, underground hip-hop, and of course, vinyl."
You can watch the first episode of The Vinyl Exchange's television show, VETV, below.