Spencer Parker is one of Europe’s finest DJs and producers – a technically brilliant selector with an absolutely impeccable taste in music. Spencer has released records on hugely respected imprints like Rekids, Buzzin’ Fly, Liebe Detail and Tsuba. London (well… Croydon) born and bred Spencer has been based in Berlin for the last few years with regular plays at the iconic Panorama Bar. He’s headlining this weekend’s Paris’ Acid Ball at Dalston Superstore so we asked him some burning questions…
Which DJ inspired you the most as you were starting out?
I don't think there was one in particular to be honest; I was more just interested in going to clubs that I’d heard a lot about and listening to whoever was playing. My only reference point was the half hour of drum ‘n’ bass and house they'd play at The Blue Orchid in Croydon each week, so it's fair to say my frame of reference was, initially, quite limited.
For those readers not from London - The Blue Orchid, along with Jaz Discotheque in Purley, were kind of like the forerunners of The Loft and the Paradise Garage.... Just...... In Croydon...*
(*this may/may not be entirely true)
As I got more into buying records I became a bit of a trainspotter and would specifically go to a club because of a certain DJ. I remember going to the Ministry of Sound a lot (for their Rulin' night, or to see Harvey on the Friday night, where he was resident) and I was really into hearing the big American DJs like Tony Humphries, Masters At Work or Terry Hunter when they'd come over and play places like Garage City or Cafe De Paris.
I was going to all different places though, like SW1, The End, The Leisure Lounge, The Gardening Club, Lazerdrome, Club UK, Bar Rhumba, Pushca, Malibu Stacey, The Loft (for Paul "Trouble" Anderson's night), RAW and Velvet Underground (where I eventually held a residency) and The Cross (where I held another residency). So, to start with, I was just "going clubbing" to hear music, whoever may be playing it.
I do have to say that I was a big fan of Roger Sanchez and Eric Morillo though, as, at the time, they were playing some great music and technically, were phenomenal. I think when you start going out and DJing, to see someone who is technically really great, always hold you in some kind of awe, as you are still so eager to learn all the "tricks" and learn as much as possible / be as good as you can be (as a DJ).
I still have a compilation with Morillo playing tracks like Jeanette Thomas - Body and Video Crash, which he'd often play between other tracks I didn’t know while sometimes laying accapellas over them (something I'd not really heard done very often by UK DJs. Sanchez was probably my favourite though and I became a big fan after seeing him at Fabric, shortly after it opened, and he was playing tracks like Dubtribe Sound System's Equitorial and 3 copies of Simon's Free At Last (still one of my all time favourite records) going from the dub, into the speech, into the sound effect. The music Morillo and Sanchez play now is quite different, to say the least, but I was a huge fan of theirs at the time.
Which record do you wish you had made?
Props for possibly the most difficult question ever!!!
HOUSE: Donna Summer " I Feel Love"
NOT HOUSE: Massive Attack "Unfinished Sympathy"
Yes, I know they are both hugely obvious!!!
EDM... Is it a good thing or a threat to the very fabric of house culture?
Hmmmmm, I’m not entirely sure but I think it's a good thing really, as hopefully it will be an entry point for a hell of a lot of people to go on and discover quality house and techno.
I think most people, myself included, initially discover dance music in a way that would probably not be deemed "cool" but it piques your interest, and, as you get more into it, you search out new music that is often more underground that what you first started listening to. That would be my hope at least.... If someone goes to a huge rave to hear Deadmau5 and accidentally stumbles across a different stage where Carl Craig is playing live as 69, and they like what they hear and start becoming a follower of Carl Craig, Planet E et al, then this can only be a good thing, right....?
Maybe I have a very naïve view on it all, but I would like to think the preceding scenario is at least possible.
Also, the music that comes under the "EDM" banner is, honestly, so far removed from the music I like, make, play and enjoy as to be almost irrelevant, so, I think time will tell.
What do you think Berlin has taught you about house music?
Well, I have to preface my answer by saying that I came here due to a particularly brutal break up with an ex girlfriend, not because I so desperately wanted to "go to Berlin" or because I thought it would be "good for bookings", like so many do. I wanted to get out of London and my friend, who lived here, offered me his couch to sleep on while I sorted my own flat. Had this same friend been in Barcelona, Paris or Amsterdam, I may well have ended up in one of those cities instead. But he wasn't.
With regards to music, I don't think it's "taught me" so much, as it has reinforced what I already believed before I got here. When I first arrived, around three years ago and ventured to clubs like Panorama Bar or Club Der Visionaire, I'd hear people like Prosumer playing old Johnick records on Henry Street Music or Steffi playing Marcus Mixxx tracks and I'd think, "Aaaah, OK, I AM on the right track". I already owned/played/loved these records so, to hear DJs I respected and admired, playing them to a rapturous reception in, what was one of the best clubs I'd ever been to - simply told me to keep on doing what I was already doing.
It was pretty rare, towards the end of my time in London, that I'd hear a DJ that inspired me or impressed me, everyone seemed to play it safe, linear and just so fucking BORING! I've always loved to play sets that can include, house, techno, disco, new records, old records, unreleased tracks etc and that seemed to be a lot more accepted/encouraged in Berlin. So I wouldn’t say it taught me anything, but it has surely inspired me a hell of a lot, I can't deny that.
Why do you think vinyl is more important than ever?
I think it's important because it does a very simple thing, and that’s it immediately let's you know whether a DJ takes his/her "job"/performance seriously or not.
The simple fact is, if you are a fan of house/techno at the moment, there is undoubtedly a slew of great records available to you that will be vinyl only releases. If these records are vinyl only releases, then to not miss out on them, to have the best possible choice of music at your fingertips when you play - then you have to go record shopping!
Whether it's via mail order or visiting a real store, you have to go record shopping OR you simply won't be able to compete with the DJs who DO go record shopping. I don't care if you buy the vinyl and play it or if you record it as a WAV and throw it in your laptop or on your USB stick.... But if you want to play the best music possible... you have to go record shopping.
This is a fact.
Yes, there are phenomenal digital only releases too, yes, there are some great sites for downloading quality house and techno as well, I shop on all of them, but the fact remains - if you don't go record shopping, you are missing out on amazing music to play to your audience.
And here's the funny part.... So many "DJs" don't go record shopping. And boy, oh boy, does it fucking show!
I've lost count of the number of times the DJ before/after me has asked me about a particular track that just got a great reaction, and where they could possibly find this hidden gem they've never heard before, only for me to think, "It's on vinyl, it came out two months ago, there were 500 of them!!! If you ever set foot in a record shop, you could have bought one and been playing it for the last two months too!!!" There is an entire scene of DJs who are content to simply play what they find on Beatport, what they have coming on their label or what they swap with their friends via Skype/iChat (don’t get me started on that...)
So, the reasons vinyl is still so important are myriad. But, for me personally, vinyl’s survival is so great because it is such an easy signifier of whether a DJ is insanely passionate about what they do and how they perform or whether they are content to simply play the big tracks/whatever they've been sent this week and collect an envelope of cash.
If you are a DJ you should WANT to have the greatest music possible at your fingertips, it should be an all consuming passion, there are great tracks available only as download - so I download them and play them, there are great records available only on vinyl - so I go record shopping and play the vinyl or record it as a WAV. I want to cover all bases, as I simply want to play the best music I can get my grubby little hands on. If you're not buying records, you're not getting the full picture and neither are the people who paid good money to hear you play!
Yes it's heavy, yes it can be a little inconvenient to spend a whole day digitizing records if you prefer to play with CDs or USB sticks, but so what - all that should pale in comparison to being able to play the best music possible... Shouldn't it.....? I still do it and so do a lot of DJs I know... But a hell of a lot don't.
The good thing is, and to go back to my original point, you only have to listen to 30 minutes of their set to know who's who...
How do you think the art of DJing is changing?
Well, technology would be the main way that it's changing I guess, but apart from that I guess "the art" is still the same as it ever was -after all, it's all about making people dance, isn't it.....? I think now, “DJing” means a lot of different things to a lot of different people. Most of all to the DJs themselves.
For some DJs, it's setting up Traktor and playing your whole set with the vinyl control discs so it looks authentic, yet not realising that a lot of us have noticed you haven't touched the pitch control all night. Yes, we saw, and yes, it's pretty easy to flawlessly mix on Technics if it's already synched for you, still - it looks really "real" I guess.... For others, DJing means playing 4 different loops of 4 different tracks at the same moment, again, all conveniently placed in time for you. Personally I can't stand this style of "DJing" but.... each to their own. For me, when I go to a club to hear music, I just want to hear a great fucking record on a great soundsystem, followed by another great fucking record and put together in some kind of cohesive pattern for the most devastating reaction possible. And thankfully, there are still enough DJs doing that to keep me happy.
Will you ever move back to London?
No. If there's any way I can avoid it, no.
Who are your favourite producers, DJs and labels right now?
Where do I start...
Ok, long list... Seems easiest... And I love a list...
Eduardo de la Calle
Molly (Rex Club)
Work Them Records
It's Not Over
What do you like about playing Superstore?
First of all, before I mention anything, I have to mention the burger. I love the burger. There's nothing I don't love about the burger. They are bloody great! And I will be eating at least one before my set (and possibly another during).
Now that's all dealt with, I can discuss the amazing cocktails, the crowd, the space, the staff, the music policy and much more. I love "La Store", as I call it, because it’s just that rarest of breed: a great club that you can go to on any given night and know you'll have fun. It reminds me of the sort of place you might have stumbled across in ‘90s New York and thought - I wish we had one of these in London. It's simply a great neighbourhood club, run by great people with impeccable taste, be it in decor, food, drinks, or music policy.
I like it, I like it a lot*
*Jim Carey "Dumb And Dumber" voice
If you had a Superstore of your own what would it sell?
Lanvin, Raf Simons, and Commes Des Garcons, only in my size and all at low low prices!!!!
...And records too!
Spencer Parker plays Paris’ Acid Ball this Saturday July 7th at Dalston Superstore with Hannah Holland, Dan Beaumont, DJ Squeaky, Josh Caffe and Cathal.
Visit Spencer Parker's website at www.icametoparty.com
Photo credit: Nic Schonfeld