Songs and Beats and Rhythms - In Conversation with DJ Spen (FoH2018)
The landscape of dance music is a dangerous place at the moment. It’s full of music that lasts for a few moments before disappearing back into obscurity, or is presented as overly self-aware nostalgia. Thankfully, there are pockets of dance music where people actually produce material that is going to last, and doesn’t require you to have an in-depth understanding of Hakim Bey or require you read Jean-Luc Nancy or Attali to ‘get it’’.
In a world of posturing and pretenders, where can you find real dance music? House music or disco that does that special thing to your soul? Does a real, authentic, fun approach to dance music still exist? Here at FoH we often look back at past glories, but it is wonderfully edifying to find people who’re making music with true soul to it still.
DJ Spen is someone we’ve never covered on FoH before. DJ, producer, musician and label director, he cut his teeth on hip hop production before jumping into dance music. His pedigree is seriously strong too, growing up under the tutelage of Teddy Douglas and the Basement Boys, producing for the likes of Ultra Nate and Crystal Waters. No posturing, just great, real music. Spen’s latest single is a cover of the Loleatta Holloway classic “Love Sensation“ featuring house legend Susu Bobien on vocals.
Spen’s latest single is bound to raise the eyebrows of ‘purists’ across the land; a cover of Love Sensation featuring Susu Bobien. Who would have the audacity to even attempt such a thing? Taking on one of the most famous and identifiable pieces in the entire disco canon is a perilous move. Yet, here at FoH we’re throwing our weight squarely behind Spen and Susu. It isn’t a wrong step at all, it’s canny move, and one that was done with full awareness of just how difficult it is to reinvent the wheel. If anything, Spen’s take on the record is one that walks the fine line between faithful reproduction, and thoughtful alteration. Going deeper into the performance, I asked what Susu brought to the new version? What is different or special about this version?
When the single landed in my inbox I was sceptical, but after hearing Spen talk about it and after hearing Susu rip her way through that performance, I’m absolutely sold on it. I was one of those eyebrow raising purists, and now I’ve got to eat my words. As proof, I dropped the record in a recent set surrounded by some other disco house tracks, and it felt authentic. It isn’t just a rip-off or a cover, it’s got that thing in it; that inexpressible thing that comes from musicians and producers who really care about their craft and know their history. DJ Spen & Susu Bobien’s version of Love Sensation is now a firm favourite in my record crate.
Spen is working on more than just one cover though. Perhaps most importantly for us, he’s one of the key remixers for Jasper Street Company, a group that are constantly swirling around what FoH usually covers.
Spen clearly cares about what he puts out into the world. Throughout our interview his passion and attention to detail came through in abundance. He also cares that what he puts out is perceived as a positive force. Finding producers that still approach material with such thoughtfulness and sympathy for the music is a rare thing indeed. He really does practice what he preaches. The music speaks for itself, but it’s so gratifying to interview to someone who is still producing material of this calibre. It’s no surprise then that his passion is readily identifiable in his music.
As a final note, I’ve got to return to the opening question. Thanks to people like DJ Spen, maybe we’re going to return to those values that are so apparent in his Jasper Street Co productions, or the material that comes out on his label Quantize Recordings. Spen prefers to consider what he makes as simply “dance music” and isn’t concerned about pigeonholing it as house. That gives me some hope. Dance music as it currently stands is bloated and struggling under the weight of Diplo-esque vocal samples, and cheap PC Music style productions. Dance music currently swings between popular throwaway productions that are forgotten after a few weeks, and quasi-intellectual trash pushed at us through channels like Boiler Room. But Spen’s productions are neither! They feel real, visceral, and most importantly, fun! They’re full of joy, energy, and make you want to just dance. What else could you ask for? More of it please!
Love Sensation is out now on Quantize Recordings