Truancy Volume 165: Spencer Parker

With two Truancy Volumes left in 2016, this week’s mix comes from one of the scene’s finest purveyors of house and techno music. A regular to labels such as Rekids, Tsuba and his own label, Work Them Records, over the past ten years, Spencer Parker could easily hold his head high as a producer alone, but he’ll be the first to admit his true strengths lie behind the decks playing records. Based in Berlin, he rounds out the year having continued his collection of No More Silly Club Songs Vol.2, dropped a new techno alias under the name Brotherhood, whilst also bringing two fresh talents, P.Leone and Physical Therapy to his label. We caught up with Parker to discuss the origins in setting up Work Them, his It’s Not Over We Hustle Harder alias, tour highs and a host of classic US garage records. He delivers his Truancy Volume in a way you’d expect from a man with club ready tools always at hand—a cohesive collection of house, techno and disco records all unashamedly aimed at the dance floor.

Hey Spencer, thanks again for taking the time to do this mix and interview. We’re longtime fans obviously, so getting you on board has been very exciting for us. Thought we’d start by talking about Work Them Records. Just going back to the beginning slightly I understand it was a fellow guy named Spencer who convinced you to start the label? Keen to know how you guys first met and the details in setting it up. “No problem at all, thank you for the kind words! So, I’d known Spencer (Broughton) for years actually, as we have a mutual friend in common and I would go and see Spencer DJ at places like Ministry Of Sound and Club UK (he was a resident at both). We met randomly after having not seen each other for eons, stayed in touch and one time he suggested the label idea to me and, initially I wasn’t really into it. I just thought, “Every DJ has a label” and I just didn’t think it was a particularly original or groundbreaking thing for me to start doing. But after we spoke about it a little more, my interest was piqued and I was finally convinced. One of the main reasons I agreed to do it was because the process was made so effortless by Spencer’s company, Prime Direct Distribution. I’m able to get the records ready, arrange the artwork and Spencer takes care of everything else, including getting them (amazingly) mastered, pressed and on the shelves of my favourite shops.”

You’ve expressed a big interest in A&R. Can you tell us a bit about the first two records and the last two records you put out? Has the vision of the label remained the same. “I’ve worked for a few different labels in the past doing A&R or consulting for labels as an A&R and it’s something I’ve always enjoyed. The vision of the label has always been the same, and very simple—and that’s to release records for DJs to WORK in the booth and dancers to WORK to on the dance floor. By this I mean, every release is unashamedly aimed at the dancefloor. Not to get in an end of year poll or a “most charted” list, not to be discussed on a podcast—to be PLAYED and DANCED to.

A lot of the time we release an EP where you could easily mix one track into another, or the 12” may have a bonus beat or a dub where you can mix one into the other. I come from an era when this was quite a normal way of introducing a record or building tension on the dance floor, so for me it was natural to do this with the label. It’s quite funny as, pretty often, we get reviewers saying, “this is nothing more than a DJ tool,” which always puts a smile on my face because that is EXACTLY what I aim to release—DJ tools—tracks for DJs to play and people to dance to, no more, no less. I’m a habitual record shopper and there are just so many records/labels out there that are tagged as “house/techno” and then they are 4 mins long and 108bpm, with four on each side, or made so badly and (on purpose) distorted that it sounds terrible, or with a volume fade intro. If people want to do that, that’s their call. For me, I just wanted to completely go against every facet of that kind of pretentiousness. Work Them Records is a label for DJs and the dancers! That was, and is, the vision of the label.

The first record we ever signed was by Boola from Romania, who is part of that whole Ar:Pi:Ar scene pushed by Rhadoo, Raresh and Pedro. I loved the tracks and was playing one in particular a lot at the time, so I signed them. No.2 was by the amazing Dana Ruh and, to me, just sounded exactly like an old US house record. It really reminded me of Victor Simonelli or someone of that ilk from the NYC ’90s house scene, and I’ve always loved that sound, so I signed that too. The last two have been by P. Leone from Brooklyn, and Anetha from Paris. P. Leone is making some amazing techno and we’ve already released one 12” by him earlier in the year. His current 12” is great, and the track I’ve been playing nearly every set is “9v9” which is a real beast. He’s also a killer DJ too, so I’m sure he’ll be playing more and more in Europe in 2017. Anetha is from Paris and the last 12” we released from her was a remix 12” of her earlier EP, with remixes from me and an original track from her. I have to give props to my unofficial techno A&R (and my DJ agent) Ms. Maya Barlat on this one—as it was her that first discovered Anetha and sent me some of her tracks (she is also the same person who put me on to some relatively unknown fella called Rødhåd super early, and that’s how we got a remix from him—maybe you’ve heard of him? :)

The idea of the label is to release what I play—house, techno, disco—or records that manage to blur the lines between one or the other, or all three. It’s extremely hard to find any modern producers making great disco records, even great sample based ones and I haven’t really been feeling anyone in the house scene recently (that I could sign) so we’ve been kinda techno heavy this year. But we’ll always be a label that can release between those three genres I think, and we have some great house records lined up for 2017 already, so, I’m happy about that.”

One of my favourite records you’ve put out is Spirit Talkin by Dan Beaumont. That track took on a whole meaning for me once I heard it out on a system, along with your remix. Being a regular at Dance Tunnel before it closed as well as Chapter 10, keen to hear how far back you and Beaumont go? “The legendary Beau Mont Large! I loved that record the second I heard it and signed it immediately, knowing exactly what I wanted to do with my remix. That track is a case in point, the rarest of things; a great sampled house record that manages to still be modern whilst expertly using an original sample that’s not been sampled a million times before. It’s not often I hear records like that, so I knew I wanted it for the label straight away. Dan is someone I’m proud to call a friend, and we met just DJing I think. I’m pretty sure I went to see him play once or went to one of his Disco Bloodbath parties, who knows! Anyhoo, we became good buddies and I’m extremely proud to have him on the label. He’s one of my favourite DJs to hear, and is able to play house, disco and techno effortlessly and always kill you. His set at our second label party at Panorama Bar was just insane, and the fact he’s been back there a few times to play again, including their birthday, probably says it all, really.”

Your It’s Not Over We Hustle Harder alias seems to have stopped putting out music shortly after Work Them got off the ground around 2012/2013. Can we expect any more music from that alias, and if not, what were the reasons behind calling it a day? “It was always a finite project, so, it won’t be back. I wanted to try something different and thought it would be fun to use an alias, make the 12”s pretty limited, not tell anyone it was me—although, of course, people always figure it out. It was my homage to Chicago, New York and Detroit really, hence the visuals on the videos and the track names. That’s why some were more house and some others deeper, some more techno. The plan was always to do a few 12”s and then finish with a comp—the album It’s Now Over (see what I did there?)—which was a double unmixed CD of the main mixes of all the 12’s plus some unreleased tracks and bonus versions.

I wanted to just explore releasing some music in a new way and see if it would connect with the DJs I admire as well as the people on the dance floor. I also wanted to put something out there that showed how I can play across the board as a DJ (I tested all the tracks in my own sets for quite a while before they ever saw the light of day). That’s always been a big thing for me, to be able to play the big techno rooms as well as the super small basement joints or the crazy, off-the-wall gay parties. It’s fun to me and I enjoy the challenge that each one throws up. The It’s Not Over project was great for that because, whilst Zip was playing one 12”, Ben Klock and DVS1 were hammering another, and Nick Hoppner, Mr Ties, Delano Smith and Ryan Elliott were vibing on a different one. Ryan actually added the first release to his Panorama Bar mix too.”

As someone who currently lives in Peckham, I was interested to read one of the first clubs you attended growing up was a club called Lazerdrome in Peckham. Can you tell us a little bit about this? Did you have decks set up at home yet or just a punter who enjoyed heading there on Saturdays? “I used to go there after I finished work at Sainsbury’s in Purley, where I was stacking shelves. It was a pretty intense place, to put it mildly. I didn’t have decks at the time but I was buying records. I had no real desire to be a DJ in any way at all to be honest. I would just buy records I liked as a little souvenir of a night. If I heard Little Louie Vega play “Love and Happiness” at Ministry of Sound, I’d find a copy and buy it to remind me of that night, a little memento of a fun night out—and because I loved the record too, obviously. After a while (of going out a lot) I had quite a few records and my friend was having an 18th birthday and asked me to play, so I did. I’d never used decks before but knew the vague idea of segueing one record into the other so, that’s what I did. I couldn’t really mix, but, everyone danced and they didn’t stop. Obviously I wasn’t technically perfect by a long stretch, but I had great records and records that I loved and believed in. DJing, for me, is about sharing that, about that moment you hear a great record and say to your friend, “FUCK !!! Check this out—it’s amazing!!!!” I’m just doing it to a few more people on a bigger sound system now. I’ve never played a record I don’t like, and I never will.

I understand you were into a lot of US garage around this time? Any particular records that stood out for you? “So many! This time and a good few years later really was the golden age of that sound for me—before it got too overtly soulful and woefully lacking in energy and originality. For me, some of my faves were, Michael Watford’s “So Into You” (Inner City Club Mix), “I Can’t Get No Sleep” by MAW, Satoshi Tommiie’s mix of Loleatta Holloway “Dreamin”, which I had on acetate before it got signed and used to KILL!, Sunkids’ “Rescue Me”, MAW (again) “Backfired” – Erro, “Change For Me” – David Bendeth, “Feel The Real” (Jazz N Groove Mix) –  Armand Van Helden, “Flowerz” – Kenny Bobien, “Brighter Days” – H2O featuring Billie,  “Nobodys Business” – Mood II Swing, “Closer” (which I later got to remix for King Street—a huge deal for me!). I’ve always adored a great vocal record and although it’s a lot tougher to find them now, I still do.”

I think one of the reasons why so many people gravitate to you as a DJ is that you seem to just be having the time of your life whilst doing it. Obviously you’re in a comfortable position where you get to tour and play at some of the world’s top clubbing institutions but have there been any moments that have truly surprised you in terms of enjoyment and reminded you why you got into this whole DJ thing in first place? “I absolutely adore playing records, it’s that simple. I’ve just started a little web show/podcast called “Playing Records” (via my fb page) precisely because I’m so often just at home playing records for my own enjoyment. The thing is, I’ll always be a DJ first and foremost and that’s what has gotten me to where I am today. I have a label but it’s hardly the biggest/hypest in the world, I’ve never made a big hit or even an underground hit that I’ve toured off the back of. I’ve never signed with an agency that has forced promoters to book me if they want one of their bigger acts, I’ve never been the touring warm-up man for a huge DJ, I wasn’t a model with a huge amount of Instagram followers that decided to start playing house one day instead of fashion parties (although, obviously I am fucking gorgeous).

I’ve simply worked hard and given my all when I’ve had the opportunity. I’ve been traveling as a DJ for a really long time now, since way before low-cost airlines existed, when it was a really huge deal to play elsewhere in your country, let alone someone else’s country. I’ve been invited to play in places like Russia, Australia, Japan, China, Italy, France, Germany, Croydon, etc., all just off of the back of my reputation from playing in London and giving out, sending out tapes! So, although I’m not exactly the biggest DJ in the world, I’m really proud of where I am, and how I got here. I’m sharing the stage and playing the same clubs with the biggest and most credible people out there and I’ve done it without compromising. I’m not a huge name in the techno world, but I’m playing massive rooms with James Ruskin, or following DJ Pete in Berghain, or playing on the same bill as Jeff Mills. I hugely admire these guys as masters at what they do, and I’m able to stand on the same stage as them and hold my own. At the same time I’m also able to play sets b2b with Mr Ties or Dan Beaumont, or do a label night at Dance Tunnel, or go on after Joe Claussell at Concrete in Paris, or be the headliner for the opening of a huge club like Tenax when they start their new season. I’m not really a huge name, I don’t really have any of the typical things behind me that can/do make a DJ huge right now—massive record, massive residency, wacky internet presence or relentless social media profile that sees me comment continuously on everything in our scene—but I am in the position I am in just from my DJing, and I think that’s kinda special. I genuinely love DJing and I just adore what I play, and I guess that’s probably quite obvious when I play.

Standout moments, wow, closing sets at Panorama Bar are always special, as you have no idea just how long you will play—think my record is 9 hours. I’m always so excited to play that place. I loved Dance Tunnel just SO much, but that vibe continues with the great Chapter 10 parties. I had an amazing time at a party called Sunflower in Florence this year, Tenax, also in Florence. Headlining Womb in Tokyo, a great open air gig under a huge tree in Bari; playing Depeche Mode as the sun came up and the whole crowd singing it to each other; the Work Them Records party at Concrete in Paris; a great party in LA by the name of Spotlight; playing Sylvester – “Make Me Feel (Mighty Real)” in Berghain; finishing my set in Berghain with Origin Unknown – “Valley Of The Shadows”; tearing out some techno for the Cockette party at Dude Club in Milan a couple years back; playing Trouw with Radio Slave, Carl Craig and Mike Banks on keys; playing a 14 hour set at Berlin’s infamous Homopatik party. Haha there’s been a few, I’m very lucky to say! Here’s to a few more!”

Having been doing this for so long now, what are some of the key things that you’ve taken away from what you do? “Just enjoy the ride, as Mr Bill Hicks advised. I’ve had some really shit jobs in my life—stacking shelves at the aforementioned Sainsburys, jocking the register at Marks and Spencers, selling (or, failing to sell, as it turns out) car insurance at Direct Line. I’ve had some bad experiences working in the music industry too; one job I was fired from for not working hard enough, but was replaced by three people to do what I was doing. Another I was fucked over on a insanely huge deal. So, I’ve had those shit jobs, I’ve had those jobs where you are really struggling for money and I’ve had those jobs where you get a knot in your stomach on Sunday night as you desperately don’t want to go in on Monday because you despise it so much. So to be in the position where I can pay my rent doing what I love is just amazing to me, and I’m just beside myself with gratitude that I’m in this position. I’m hardly rich but, if I want a new pair of Stan Smiths, I’m good. For me, it’s just so great that, if I want to go see a film on Tuesday afternoon, I can. I can afford the ticket and I don’t have to ask anyone for time off or permission, I just go. That may sound really silly, but to do something that’s as insanely competitive as the DJ world, and be in a position where it pays your bills and allows you to live your life how you want—is just something I am so so grateful for. It could all end tomorrow, so I’m just trying to enjoy it today! The music industry is fickle; it’s show business at the end of the day, and it can all end in a moment, so I’m just trying to take time to smell the flowers while also working insanely hard to do all I can to NOT make it end any time soon.”

A couple months back you posted on Facebook saying A Sagittariun – Concrete Walls may be one of your favourite records of the year. A couple months later and are there any other records that rival that for you? “Nope! That record is A M A Z I N G ! I do have to give an honourable mention to the new Rising Sun 7-inch which I think is called “TT” as well though!  And if I’m allowed to name a record on my own label, then I’d have to say that “9v9” track by P. Leone, because I’m pretty sure I’ve played that every set since I heard it!”

What can you tell us about the mix you’ve recorded for us? “It’s amazing! (joke!!!!) :) For me, I’m a huge fan of house AND techno AND disco, so, ideally I’ll play all three when I play out. The trick for me is to be able to play all these slightly different genres in a way that they make sense together, to make the “journey” cohesive and so that they don’t feel that they’re being shoehorned together, but instead flow into each other and compliment each other. So that’s what I tried to do here. We have some tear-out techno from Steve Stoll, some lush disco from Debbie Jacobs and my beloved Ms. Holloway, and we even have some new tracks in there from me!”

What does 2017 look like it will hold for Spencer Parker? Anything already set in stone? Hopefully more of the same! Work Them Records will continue, I’ll keep doing the “Playing Records” show/podcast and there will be more planes, trains and automobiles for me as I play records here and there. Production-wise, I will be releasing three EPs in January/February/March as part of a series called “Different Shapes And Sizes”, the idea being to just showcase the different styles I enjoy playing and making. The first will be a kind of beatdown two-tracker, the following a techno four-tracker and the final one will be an EP of peak time, party time H O U S E! Apart from that, who knows?!”

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