Sliding into the spotlight for Truancy Volume 274 are Bill Spencer and Izaak. With over a decade of experience of buying, grading and shipping records between them they’ve forged a long-lasting friendship, nurtured by their love of old 80s and 90s funk, soul and rnb cuts. With their musical values crossing over to such an extent, back and forth exchanges of rare digs and finds have gone on for years, with the pair building up what they tell us is an overwhelming amount of material, ideas and musical threads. With their collection growing, the idea of collaborating on a shop ensued and Just Us Records quickly formed, affirming itself as a small hub of engaging people with likeminded tastes, and those interested in the physicality of this genre of music. It’s easy to recognise the energy the two friends have spent sharing music together, and it comes across as completely genuine with Just Us.
We caught up with Bill and Izaak to discuss the musical spark that formed Just Us Records, how they source their incredible finds, their individual journeys through parties and the mutual encouragement that strives them both to be better DJs. On Truancy Volume 274, (which acts as a spiritual successor to their first collaborative mix) we get the real Just Us Records experience, displaying their ability in selecting and mixing funk, soul, rnb, reggae and house to perfection. It exudes summer-time magic and we don’t say the following lightly, this will be an anthem of a mix once June rolls in. It’s 120 minutes you’ll want to luxuriously vibe out to at any occasion the sun is both out and as its setting.
Hey Bill and Izaak, thanks again for such a splendid mix and taking the time to answer some questions for us! What’s been new with you and how have you two both been despite everything going on?
Bill: Hey Riccardo, we’re stoked ourselves! Things have been fine as they can be in Detroit, just been keeping really close quarters, working on house projects and spending time with my partner and all our pets. Music has really been my source of sanity throughout this time.
Izaak: Thanks so much for having us on! It’s such a treat. I’m keeping a pretty low profile as well, just trying to stay level through the ups and downs of all this time spent apart from friends and family. I’ve been using the time to finish some music projects I’ve been casually developing for the last couple years, and been riding my bike a lot more which definitely helps me feel healthy.
So with you being from Detroit Bill and you living in the Bay Area currently Izaak can you tell us a little bit about how this musical friendship was formed? I was reading that you had been sending music back and forth for a few years. What was the musical spark at the beginning?
Izaak: Bill’s always been a part of this beautiful group of friends I’ve made in Detroit over the last decade, but I remember being so touched when he came out to see me at a gig back in 2017. I was playing on the early side of the night in the ambient room at a Freakish Pleasures party; he set out a folding chair and listened intently to the whole thing. We started texting more and more after that – it became this sort of feedforward of excitement, this mutual opening that really solidified our friendship.
Bil: I’m glad Izaak was able to pinpoint a moment because as cliche as it sounds, Izaak is one of those people I feel like I’ve known forever. We were almost immediately bonded upon meeting and have kept in close contact ever since, sharing music back and forth daily. It was only natural that we started working on several different musical projects together, it was very organic.
How big had the playlist got for the first mix you had planned together? Two hours is a long time, but so is three years of back-and-forth music digs. Were you very much on the same wavelength of what you wanted the first mix you did together to be?
Bill & Izaak: We’ve definitely got a lot of threads – it can get overwhelming! Our dialogue seems to range all over, but soul and r&b are at the centre of what we value in music. We find ourselves constantly retracing these territories together, and our ideas eventually piled so high we realised we had enough material for a few mixes in this vein. It took us a while to figure out this second one, but we’re glad to have finished it after a year of tinkering.
So when did the discussion for Just Us records come about? Can you tell us a little bit how it all came into fruition?
Bill & Izaak: The idea of collaborating on a shop emerged from our perpetual back-and-forth. We both wanted to get deeper into our commitments to physical music and to present our digging worlds to other people in other ways. We thought that selling records would be a good way to engage with people who like the same sounds we do and to finance making records of our own once things got rolling.
Collaborating on this as a duo, what do you feel you pull out of each other that you feel you wouldn’t be able to do if you were doing this solo?
Bill: We really feed off each other and push each other. I think also there’s this sort of healthy competition I feel because I hold Izaak in such high regard. I’ll hear something and think “wow this will blow Izaak away” and it will get me even more inspired and excited. It can be difficult to just keep that energy and interest when you’re just getting feedback from yourself, but when you have someone this close and this aligned, it’s that instant gratification to share and connect, it’s so special.
Izaak: Yes! I really appreciate this atmosphere of mutual encouragement that we’ve cultivated – Bill inspires me to listen more deeply and to strive to be a better DJ.
There’s a lot of sold-out records on the site! Had you expected this sort of demand? Are you finding it is a lot of regular buyers or more varied customers?
Bill & Izaak: We are definitely quite surprised and appreciative of the support we’ve gotten from both repeat buyers and one-off customers, but also I think to an extent we were expecting to see things move like this. Personally, I’ve been working at shops and selling records for close to a decade now so there’s a familiarity in it, and also we have a bit of a relaxed attitude about it. We both came up buying locally in shops from friendly faces, and our collections grew in part because every now and then you’d get great bargains from people that are just happy to sell records. I feel like we do a good job pricing our stuff fairly, are open to trades and offers, and just enjoy interacting with our customers. It lends to records just selling out.
How have you two ended up sourcing some of these records? I was looking on Discogs and there are obviously some incredibly rare or limited finds in this collection. Is it sad to part with them in some cases?
Bill & Izaak: There’s no one way to do it! The shop definitely represents a bunch of approaches to digging things up. Really it boils down to an extremely-onlineness that’s informed by DJing, just having a guess at what some other people might want to listen to as well as paying attention to what others are turning up. I’m not sad to see the records go – it’s great to have the music get into the hands of someone who will love it.
Do you have any YouTube channels, Discogs sellers or other avenues that help with finding this sort of music that you’re willing to share? Do you have to spend a lot of time digging to find the good stuff?
Bill & Izaak: It’s hard to pin it down to just a handful of outlets because it really does become such an ‘anything goes’ approach. We both enjoy following different threads and seeing where it leads, whether that’s from finding a brand new channel on YouTube that has great content, spending hours just clicking through credits on Discogs releases that we love, coming across random online shops that have stock, or the best which is tracking down an artist and working with them to sell old releases of theirs. Of course it’s helpful to have other collectors and DJs who generously share things with you. Two people we’re constantly chatting with are m_august, who runs the Funyons YouTube channel, or our pal Sholto, who puts his finds on YouTube under the Bristol Atlas moniker.
This a joint mix but I felt it was important to just ask about your own individual journeys as DJs and what it’s been like so far? I ask because I know you’ve both been DJing for way over than a decade so wonder how much crossover you two might have if we go way back?
Bill: Moving back and going to university in the metro Detroit area was definitely the catalyst that got me into DJing. I had been collecting records seriously since 2005 but it was my friends Charles Tillinghast and Alex Taam who inspired me and taught me how to DJ. Those two also started getting me gigs, mostly just playing around town at different people’s houses. Because of the Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti connection I came up really idolising local legends Carlos Souffront, Tadd Mullinix and Todd Osborn – all of whom were the first DJs who totally shaped my trajectory and also the people I was actively buying records from. Moving to Detroit in 2010 was just the natural continuation – there’s no place I’d rather be.
Izaak: I tuned into dance music as a tween at the beginning of the p2p era, growing up outside of San Francisco. The internet gave me access to this culture I had zero chance of interacting with in the real world, and I became totally obsessed and started DJing and producing music early on in life; this year marks two decades actually, which is crazy to think about. My friends were mostly listening to other things, so electronic music was always primarily my own online world when I was younger. Through the years I’ve followed these ideas from where I picked them up back to their sources, which of course drew me to the black music history of the Midwest. I also lived in Philadelphia for a number of years and was DJing around town pretty regularly there after a while. Since moving home to the Bay Area a few years ago I’ve been DJing and writing music with my partner, Anya, as loveshadow.
Do you have three parties each that you have particular fond memories of? Ones that might sum up a start, middle and recent of Bill Spencer and Izaak party outings.
Bill: My first big experiences with very intentional and extremely well thought out parties were through the Interdimensional Transmission crew. Those were the first parties I was consistently attending in Detroit that really set the standard for me. There I was exposed to all varieties of house, techno, electro, acid and experimental electronic music, all displayed in this intensely psychedelic but inclusive way. Being able to grow close friends with BMG and Erika over the years and getting the opportunity to play a string of IT parties with them before the pandemic was really such a full circle moment for me. The IT livestreams that have been coming out during this time of lockdown have been lifesaving.
Another party mainstay for me was the Macho City parties at the R&R Saloon. The energy and atmosphere of the party was off the charts and was my first intro into the gay/queer party space in Detroit. I’ve been attending all the iterations of the night but the times at the R&R just hold a special place. The way Mike Trombley, Scott Z and then Jeffrey Sfire (as well as the amazing guests they’ve brought to the party over the years) are able to weave a cohesive web across boogie & disco, house & techno, freestyle & italo is just remarkable.
And I’d be remiss to not mention Rainbow Bus Club / Suck It. Although it’s a party I’ve been involved with for years, it’s truly the brainchild of my other DJ partner in crime Geoffrey LaRue. Someone who is dedicated and completely devoted to creating an incredibly unique and fully inclusive party, they are one of my dearest friends and biggest influences. Suck It is part queer-oriented underground diskotheque, part electronic cabaret. Geoffrey is always giving 200% into the concept, the bookings, the set design, and DJing all night with me on top of it. We have a very yin-yang, push-pull, dramatic sort of DJ relationship that is very indulgent for us but Geoffrey couldn’t be more community focused.
I miss going to all these parties very much and can’t wait until I join everyone else in the dance again.
Izaak: The first show I ever went to of my own choosing was to see Sasha and Digweed, who were my absolute heroes at the time, at this place called the Cow Palace in San Francisco – it’s a place here where they normally do trade shows, the Dickens fair, stuff like that – but they turned it into an all-ages rave and I somehow convinced my parents to let me go. It was simultaneously a dream come true and totally terrifying – I was 13 years old and really didn’t understand anything about what was happening – the music had been something I’d only engaged with on an abstract level, at home. Going to that first party filled in a lot of gaps I’d had in my mind about what nightlife really was about.
I don’t want to hyperbolise, but I know I’m not the only one who feels this way – Scott Z’s sleaze sets at No Way Back parties in Detroit have changed my life forever. There’s something about his commitment that’s so compelling, and the radically inclusive quilt of music he’s able to put together just comes alive in that particular context. It feels boundless, but simultaneously rooted in place and history – this history of psychedelia, the history of sleaze disco – I can’t heap enough praise on him honestly. What he does is so vital.
Also, I’ve got to mention the Music Gallery parties in the same breath, since they take place on the same weekend. Theo and the Sound Signature crew have been able to really cultivate the perfect feeling in that space from beginning to end. It’s a sort of complicated, entangled, determined positivity in there, totally holistic. They’re the torch bearers – they are carrying American music in this really crucial way that is important for everyone, I think, to support and learn from.
Can you both give us a selection of other current DJs that influence you at the moment and why? Be it local or across the seas.
Izaak: I’m impressed with how certain people have really owned the shift in which DJing has gone online completely this past year, doing it creatively and in a compelling way: Traxx’s mixes and streams have been nothing short of revelatory and Mark Grusane’s been able to keep the vibe going almost nightly and he deserves to be crowned for it. There’s a crew in Chicago called ‘Mirage’ putting on these very well-curated and thoughtful streaming events. I’ve also been so wowed by John Gomez’s show on NTS, in terms of the music and his ability to deftly present it in sort of a classic radio format.
Bill: I’ve also been really tuned in and inspired by all the livestreams that have been happening throughout the pandemic – some of my favourites to tune in to have been Turtle Bugg, Kiernan Laveaux, and Ali Berger. Also always tuning in to Father Dukes, Shigeto and Tammy Lakkis, and Interdimensional Transmissions streams.
Photo credit: Andi Kocher
What’s next for you two, individually and in terms of Just Us? Is there anywhere you would want to take Just Us even if just an idea at this point. What else are you looking forward to in 2021?
Bill & Izaak: We’re getting close to announcing our first record – it’s a reissue of a very beautifully adventurous jazz-funk album that was recorded in the Bay Area over a long period of time. Getting started pressing records these days is a trying process, and the pandemic has certainly slowed things down even more, but we’re really looking forward to sharing this record sometime this year. Hopefully it marks the start of a string of reissue projects we do under the Just Us umbrella, we’ve got some ideas we’d like to pursue and friends we want to bring into the fold.
Izaak: Personally, the thing I’m most excited about for this year is that an album I’ve been working on with my partner anya, as loveshadow, should be coming out this summer. We started it in 2017 and are so excited to have it finally get released after all this time and effort. And of course, I’m hoping that the pandemic will begin to wane and people can dance together again before the end of the year. Fingers crossed!
Bill: Besides being super excited about the upcoming release on the label, I’ve been compartmentalising a lot of different sounds and styles for the past year of lockdown that I’m hoping to flush out in a couple new mixes. Beyond music I’m really looking forward to the chance to get out in nature with my partner in 2021.
So what can you tell us about Truancy Volume 274? I feel like there could be a story to be told with a track-by-track run through but are there any particular tracks you want to shout out/have a certain meaning for you?
Bill & Izaak: It’s a tour through some of our favourite r&b and soul cuts from the 80s and 90s that we’ve come across in the last few years of digging together. If there’s a story to be told here, it’s that there’s so much beauty, life, and ingenuity in this era of music that even after all these years of people obsessively hunting through it, there are still artists that remain mostly unacknowledged despite the quality of their work.
Izaak: I wanted to shout out some of my favourite of Bill’s selections:
The production on this drives me wild – I’ve rarely heard 80s remix trickery applied in this psychedelic kind of way. The breakdown takes me to another place completely.
I’m really impressed by the flourishes of the arrangement and instrumentation on this one – what happened to Elan? Neither of us could find any more information on this Jersey city maverick. He does a great job of channeling Prince’s scream when he gets going, but the track has an almost new-wavey sense of drama that makes for a pensive vibe all his own.
This one’s pure candy to me – The Vamp has this optimistic quality to it that rolls around again and again so well. I’m in love with sound design – a perfect mix of hard and soft elements to my ear.
Bill: Izaak and I had arrived separately at the same desire to shout out selections the other made so I’m going to do that now!
The arrangement and production just blow me away, it definitely defines that sound I love so much – such an earnest performance alongside great tension building with the moments of heavy layered vocals in the chorus and the guitar solo, leading to such an unforgettable breakdown at the end, its such an earworm.
I love when I get a Detroit record pulled on me that I didn’t know before or just simply overlooked. This one rides such an undeniable guitar riff along with a hard yet sophisticated groove that keeps slowly adding more and more layers as the song progresses.
This one completely sends me, I’ll never not dance every time I’m listening back to the mix and this comes on. Incredibly tight production by Charlie and Larry Wilson from Gap Band fame with Kenny Lattimore on vocal duties, all expertly edited by legend Greg Ski, arrangements and chops that would make Todd Terry and Latin Rascals blush. What a tune!!
Last usual question for us, what was the last thing to put a big smile on both your faces?
Izaak: We completely rearranged our apartment and it feels really nice and fresh in here again! We’re just doing little things to keep home life fun.
Bill: I just celebrated my birthday over the weekend so I got to relax with my partner Andra – we just ate some amazing food she prepared, got a little out of our heads and stayed up all night listening to music.
You can download Truancy Volume 274: Bill Spencer & Izaak in 320 kbps and view the full tracklist by supporting Truants on Patreon here. Your support allows Truants to continue running as a non-profit and ad-free platform. Members will receive exclusive access to mixes, tracklistings, and merchandise. We urge you to support the future of independent music journalism – a little support would go a long way.
Q&A and Words by Riccardo Villella