Trying to pin Spencer Parker down, either as a producer or as a DJ, is a tricky prospect. The London-born, Berlin-based artist masterfully straddles a heady mix of house, techno and disco that has seen him become a regular at legendary spots like Panorama Bar/Berghain and Concrete while his output sits in the boxes of DJs like Ryan Elliott, The Black Madonna, DVS1 and Gerd Janson.
With a record store background, it’s unsurprising that Parker’s instinct to dig is paired with an unapologetically high standard when it comes to track selection. As a result, he’s a DJ who draws on undiscovered classics as much as he does unreleased material during a typical set. This perfectionist stance spills into his production work too – taut, energetic and often relentless productions released through a select group of outlets including his own Work Them Records and Radio Slave’s Rekids, an imprint he very much considers a home away from home.
Ahead of his extended set with us at Cell 200, We sat down with Spencer Parker and began picking his brain on the current state of dance music as part of our behind the headphones series.
You were born in London but like many artists have moved to Berlin. How do the two cities differ & do you think you would be at the same point in your career if you moved to say Barcelona or Amsterdam?
The two cities differ in a million different ways but I never had any intention of moving to Berlin to further my music career. I split up with my girlfriend and had nowhere to go until a friend kindly offered me their couch in Berlin. So, I never had the thought process of – “moving to Berlin will help me get gigs” in any way. Had that person lived in Lisbon, Lyon or Copenhagen, I would have ended up on their couch there. I think a lot is made of people moving to Berlin and that it furthers their career, but, I’m not so sure it’s true.
Many artists come for a couple of years, try to get gigs and hype off the fact they are based here and then move away when that doesn’t quite work out. I’ve been here over ten years and I’m happy here, but I’m sure I’d be at exactly the same place in my career had I not – you can’t dance to someones postcode, you know…?
You have been a regular at clubs like Berghain / Panorama Bar & Concrete in Paris. In your opinion what elements are required to give a club legendary status?
Lots of things go into it I think, some that can be described, and many that can’t. In Concretes case I was very lucky as I knew the guys behind it before they had even started the club, and were doing parties in Paris under different names. So, I was fortunate enough to play there right from the beginning and also host label parties for my record label, Work Them Records, with people like Answer Code Request, Dan Beaumont, Anetha etc.
I think Concrete completely changed the whole Parisian scene because they had the balls to book the acts they loved, it’s that simple. Instead of chasing only the huge names, they booked people that they thought were good DJ’s. They also built a crew of amazing residents in people like Behzad And Amarou, Francois X, Antigone and many more regular guests like Anetha or S3A. It became legendary because they found an interesting venue and booked acts they believed in, it’s not a totally revolutionary idea – but no one else dared to do it – they did. It’s the same situation with their new location De Hors Brut which I played last Saturday, and Dixon played the Sunday…
In the case of Berghain and Panorama Bar, I think there are so many elements that have made it legendary, from the opening times to the no photo policy to the door policy, to the space and sound system and beyond.
Electronic music has changed significantly over the last decade. Resident DJs who used to play all night long have almost disappeared completely. Instead, they have been replaced by stacked line ups and short sets. What impact do you think this has on the scene & do you think there is a need to return to smaller line ups and longer set times?
I think it’s had a devastating impact on the scene. I think promoters should consider building their party around their residents, supporting this younger talent that is so often not given chances, and then think about branching out to booking one headliner for their party, once it becomes successful. By doing this, you build an amazing party that headliners are happy to play and probably more than happy to play an extended set at.
It takes SO much more work to do this than to just book 3 of the hypest names out there, who may even not be great DJs, and may or may not fill your venue, but, so few people choose to do it, and that’s how we are in the current situation with the scene.
Recently we have seen a lot of discussions online with artists having to defend the inclusion of certain genres or styles in their sets. For example, artists dropping a DnB track in a techno set. As someone that has always traversed the full spectrum of genres, how do you feel about this and do you think it is important for artists to have the freedom to play what they want?
I haven’t seen any of that discussion, to be honest, so I can’t comment on that specifically but, I think it’s absolutely essential that the DJ has the freedom to play what they want. Personally, I’ve ended a set at Berghain with “Valley Of The Shadows”, played Whitney Houston in Panorama Bar and finished a set at Homopatik with “Goodbye Horses” so, I always do what I like anyway and I certainly don’t need to defend it.
But, I think it also depends on the tracks you choose to play. I love every record I play, none are played ironically – I genuinely think they are great records. If I go to see someone DJ and they play “Last Christmas” by Wham, “Saturday Night” by Whigfield or something along these lines, then I think you can’t help but concur this DJ is arrogantly just choosing to disrespect the people on the dancefloor by being ironic or “wacky”…
What do you think are the biggest mistakes aspiring artists make?
I think the biggest mistake is comparing yourself to others around you or in the scene – absolutely no one on the planet can be a better version of you – than YOU! So, just do your thing and work your arse off!
What has been the most difficult moment in your career and how did you overcome this?
I think every artist that has been lucky enough to do this for a while has gone through a not so good period, the way to overcome it is simple – work harder, smarter and most of all – don’t stop!
Finally, if you could produce a track with any artist past or present who would it be and why?
Rihanna for the royalties!