For more than a decade, Spencer Parker has developed a unique groove through his dj sets. Being able to combine techno, house and disco, he is one of the rare dj who doesn’t care about limits between the styles.
Highly respected for his ability to communicate his energy with the audience, Spencer also knows how to feature techno talents with his label Work Them Records.
Your first vinyl, ‘Open Your Eyes‘, was released on C2 Trax in 2005. Could you tell us how you entered into the underground house music world ?
I started to go to my local commercial club, in my home city, when I was 16 or so. They would have a 30 min segment when they would play the biggest house and dance music records, and that was always my favourite part. So, I started to buy these records, researched where I could find and hear more of this music, started to going to some of the more underground clubs in London and it just spread from there. I would buy records to remind me of a fun night out at clubs in London, like a souvenir – I never really wanted to be a dj, I just loved these records and wanted my own copy, to listen to whenever I wanted. But, soon, I had a lot of good records, someone asked me to play at their party and… I did it, even though I had no idea what I was doing!
I was very nervous, and I couldnt really mix… but nobody stopped dancing!
Your DJ sets are known to be very dynamic and you always give the impression to live them fully. How do you prepare and build your sets ? And what are the keys for a good set ?
I just try to play good records, that’s the key.
There are lots of records out there, that are the big record of the moment. I KNOW this record will get a big reaction, because its so popular – but if I don’t personally like that record – I will NEVER play it, I will leave that for the next dj to play. For me, I’m there to play the music I love, I’ve never played a record I don’t like. Never. So, when you have this attitude, it’s a good place to start with your preparation, what can go wrong if you only play the music you love…?
I prepare quite a lot because in most sets, I play some house, some techno and some disco too so, for me, the challenge is always to present these genres and records together. As a result, even though they are very different, they sound good together, and the jump from house into disco or disco into techno sounds like it was meant to be. It’s not easy, but I like this challenge, I find it interesting. The dj’s I admire have always been able to connect records together in this way, so I try to do the same thing.
I spend a lot of time looking for or making “bridge records” – the records that could easily lead one genre into another. I made a record called “Faster Forward” and I can use that to mix into a really hard techno record, into a house record or into a disco record. The kicks are very strong and it sounds good on a big sound system, so I can use it as a nice moment before going into banging techno… but it also has a gentle melody, so I can mix it with a house record easily… But the vibe is quite positive and a little laid back, so it also works well with disco.
I’m not sure what the key for a good set is, one person may love it and one person may hate it, so… I’ve played disco in italy and had drinks thrown at my head ! But one thing is you may hate what I play or be really into it – I play from my heart. And this is why I sometimes jack my body a little in the booth. I’m playing my favourite records really loud, it’s my dream and if you think I dance badly/crazy in the booth, you should see me at home, it’s even worse !
While speaking about DJ sets and interaction with the crowd, how do you perceive the growing place of technology and more precisely social media in the relation between the DJ/producer and its audience ? Do you think it is rather a positive or negative thing ?
As with a lot of things, I think it’s a little of both. I see some djs that are now becoming almost more “internet personalities” than djs… I never hear anyone talk about their sets, only about their posts, videos and interviews. If anything happens in the scene, they immediately comment, constantly trying to be seen everywhere at once. I see some other dj’s where every post is a picture of their own face, because they happen to be very beautiful or used to be a model. Both these ways of promoting yourself are different and interesting, and each person makes his/her own choice. I think this way of promoting yourself is one route and I can see that it’s certainly very successful for some djs, but it’s not my choice.
I have been traveling as a dj, worldwide, for over 15 years now. When I first started traveling, it was a really huge deal to play in London… as there was so much competition. To be asked to play in another country was just unheard of, pretty much. Even some of the biggest dj’s in the UK at that time would only play in the UK. It could have been 4 gigs in one night, but most of them in the UK. This was way before social media, way before I ever made a record. I remember the first time I was asked for a photo for a flyer… I just said “why do you need a photo? Just put my name, who cares what I look like…?” So times have definitely changed a little…
I was very lucky to be invited all over the world to play because people had heard a tape of mine, or heard me play in London at my residency, or seen me somewhere else. So, I am here now because of one thing : my djing. And thats something I’m very proud of.
With social media I think its very easy to create the illusion of being a dj, but without having put in the work. However it’s also a lot easier to reach out to people and connect with your audience if you are the real deal. So, as I said, it’s good and bad…
Nowadays DJs tend to be categorised into one kind of music however it’s not your case, you can play either house, techno or disco during your gigs. On one hand people listen to more and more house and techno but on the other hand we can also see that most of parties will focus on one particular kind of electronic music. Is it more complicated to remain eclectic today ?
Definitely. The most difficult thing you can do as a dj is playing different genres together, and make that work. And this is why so few people do it.
I’ve played gigs in Berghain after DJ Pete and played only techno, or i’ve done events with James Ruskin and only played techno and I’ve done events where I have played only disco or only house. I can easily play a whole set of one style and I sometimes do, but I like to “connect the dots” between all of them, and I think that is what makes me a little different from a lot of other dj’s out there.
You launched your own label, Work Them Records, a few years ago. How would you define the artistic guideline of Work Them ?
Records for djs to WORK in the booth and for dancers to WORK too, on the dance floor!
Yes, I’m very lucky to count Matt Edwards as a good friend and I am fortunate that he has supported me right from the beginning. Matt is one of my favourite djs and has an insane knowledge of ALL music, so obviously his label is curated incredibly well. I love that the label can release banging techno, a super smooth remix from Larry Heard or a song based project like the Ziwi release that recently came out. We’re good buddies and in a couple weeks we are playing together all night at Robert Johnson for a Work Them Records Presents… party. I am really excited about that and also proud to invite him to play for me, after he supported me so much by asking me to play at Rekids parties in the past.
You have played at Concrete in Paris pretty regularly since its beginnings. Could you remind us how the first time you play there was ?
The first time I played there was a little crazy from what I remember, I played upstairs after Virgina and there was a problem with the decks, the needles weren’t working and it was a bit stressful. But I found the vibe and had a great time and from then on it has always been one my favourite places to play. The whole gang behind it are all music lovers and I think that really comes across in the vibe of the party. I’ve had so much fun there playing with people like Joe Claussell, Laurent Garnier, Behzad & Amarou etc. Every time my agent tells me i’m gonna play there I get super happy and do a little Briciano dance!
Concrete has evolved over the years and so has the french underground scene. We can also see that French artists have released on Work Them Records. Being someone from abroad, how do you perceive this French evolution ?
Well, I think Concrete was a big part of it, to be honest, at least in Paris. Many people were complaining about the scene and saying it was boring, but no one was really stepping up and actually DOING anything that was interesting, innovative or groundbreaking! It’s easy to complain but not so easy to actually do something. So that’s why I have a lot of respect for the Concrete crew. They created something out of nothing and Paris now has a club that people all over the world ask me about. They have also supported a lot of local talent that I have worked with on my label, people like Behzad & Amarou, Antigone and Anetha. The last few years I’ve been playing more and more in France and it’s something I’m really happy about. I have family in Paris (shout out to Benji MowMo and Big Kev) so I have a strong connection to the city and to France. So, I’m really happy I get to see a lot of this country and go to so many cities that are embracing this dance culture. In the recent past I’ve been lucky enough to visit and play in Lyon, Lille, Nantes, Bordeaux, Rennes, Rouen, Marseille… so I love the French scene and i’m proud and happy I get to play as a part of it.
Could you tell us what are your plans for 2017 ?
More of the same, I hope… – more planes – more records – more clubs – more fun – more dancing – more more MORE !
Lastly, we have a philosophy with our blog, ‘Life is hard, we make it sweet’. What makes life sweet according to you ?
All the motherfucking macaroons and eclairs that i’m gonna eat as soon as I get to Paris on saturday afternoon !