DJ SPEN alongside BLUEPRINT , MAT CHRYSDALE and MORENO at Una Mas (422 Adelaide West), Saturday (September 20). $10 before 11 pm, $15 after. Rating: NNNNN
www.garage416.com If you've been following soulful house for a while, you probably know DJ Spen as a member of highly respected production team the Basement Boys. Funny enough, when he was starting his career as a DJ (at the incredibly young age of 13, DJing mix shows on Baltimore radio), he looked up to the Basement Boys as DJs and producers, and cites them as his biggest house influence. Years later he became one of them, at first helping out with pre-production and engineering in the early 90s, and soon after becoming a full-fledged member of the team.
His tracks are rich with gospel influences but are also thick and chunky-sounding in a way that a lot of deep house shies away from in favour of more subtle approaches. His hand was behind many of gospel house icon Kenny Bobien's bigger tracks, and he was the main man behind Jasper Street Co., who bring the gospel choir sound to club music.
He and the Basement Boys team have become so associated with that sound, in fact, that they've recently set up a couple of sub-labels so they can tackle other styles.
"People were looking at the Basement Boys as just gospel house and would complain whenever we did anything else, so we decided to make it more clear. God's House Records is where we're putting out all the real gospel stuff now, and Elephunk Records is what we're using for more live-instrument-based funk stuff and things that are more experimental," he explains from his Baltimore home.
At the end of the year, the Basement Boys will release a two-CD mix compilation of their own material in honour of their 15th anniversary. In dance music, this is a very long time. Right now, they're hard at work promoting Jasper Street Co.'s new full-length album, Stand, which takes their gospel approach one step further by including slower, more authentic gospel songs along with the house style they're known for.
As a DJ, the 15 years of experience Spen draws on puts him head and shoulders above most mixers. Watching him work the mixer is almost as exciting as seeing the floor explode when he drops the bass, and his knack for integrating disco classics into a house set serves as an important learning experience for anyone coming into this music late.
I'd always assumed he was playing a lot of his own personal re-edits of classics since he plays many of them off CDs, but Spen claims otherwise.
"I do some re-edits, but what you're probably seeing is me using the DJ1000 CD mixer to loop and rework them. I love that thing. It allows me to bring way more material, and you can do so much with it."
Spen's efforts as a producer actually began with hiphop and a group he started as a teenager called Numarx. You probably haven't heard of them, but everybody's heard Milli Vanilli's cover of their hit, Girl You Know It's True. In his early days, hiphop and house were both very dear to him, but like many of his generation, he no longer feels much affinity for the current, more commercial type of hiphop.
"Hiphop seemed to take a turn in the 90s, or maybe I'm just getting old. It's all right, but it's not the hiphop I grew up with. I like some of the neo-soul stuff and some of the Neptunes productions, especially the Clones stuff, but I don't really see myself getting into that again."