DJ Spen: The ‘Chicago Hour’ Mix


The roots of house music stem from Chicago, whilst some may argue and contest such a statement it’s hard to deny the influence that the city has upon the genre, even some forty odd years later. New York also has a place in the heart of house, a city born upon breaks and disco culture before being re-imagined by the likes of Larry Levan who interacted and with music by the likes of Frankie Knuckles, Jesse Saunders, Ron Hardy and Larry Heard. 

Dj Spen grew up in Baltimore, watching on with keen interest he observed the lineage between the cities, the pioneers and the sounds. In the eighties he was a hip hop dj, appearing regularly on the radio. It was only later that he would evolve his sound and begin to piece together his own musical narrative which lead to him being more prolifically involved in house music.

Over the years he has released music most prominently via Basement Boys Records and Black Vinyl Records. It is at this point in his career in which we focus, a time when house music was alive, evolutionary and perhaps its most dynamic. 

We invited Dj Spen to record a mix, an ode to the sound of Chicago upon which he was raised and hasn’t left since. 

Listen and read the interview below:

Please introduce yourself… Who are you, where are you and what are you?

I am DJ Spen – DJ, producer, remixer, sound engineer, and record label owner. 

What does your music sound like? Can you draw what you think it sounds like for us (an image from the old internet is acceptable)?

My music sounds happiness, healing, joy, release, and freedom…like church.

Where was the mix recorded?

In my home which is where I am doing all my work these days. 

What would be the ideal setting to listen to the mix?

Well if times were different I would say a nightclub on a really good system so you can hear all the sound elements. But since there aren’t any nightclubs open at the present moment, I’ll say grab a really nice speaker and a couple friends and play this at a small gathering.

What should we be wearing?

Something comfortable – you will dance!

What would be your dream setting to record a mix: Location/system/format?

My dream would be Spacelab Yellow nightclub in Tokyo.  That sound system was amazing and the people were so receptive. So sad that place is gone. 

Which track in the mix is your current favourite?

“Devotion” it’s an updated version of a classic with the live strings and Byron Stingily vocals – it was just an honor to work on this.

If you could go back to back with any DJ from throughout history, who would it be and why?

I would have to say Carl Cox because his energy level is sickening. I would love to go B2B just to see if I could match his energy and create the amazing floor experience I have seen him create.  Second to that would be Kerri Chandler.

Working with him is really amazing. We have not gone back to back but I have done some work with him on stage. He is a tech wizard, musician, producer and DJ all rolled into one and he really creates something amazing during his DJ sets.

What was your first DJ set up at home and what is it now?

My first set up was a Pioneer PL4 turntable, a very small Numark mixer and a cassette boom box. My set up is 4 CDJs 2000s and a Pioneer 900 mixer

What’s more important, the track you start on or the track you end on?

I know it sounds like I am taking the easy way out but I really believe they are equally important.  How upsetting is it to be on the dancefloor and the DJ starts out with a beautiful track but then leaves you disappointed at the end? You want to end with people wanting more rather than thinking “so glad he’s finished”. On the other hand, you have to start out strong and win over your audience.  A DJ set or a mix should be an experience for the crowd/listener and that experience should be enjoyable start to finish.

What were the first and last records you bought?

First record was Evelyn Champagne King “Shame” and the last record I bought was James Curd “Hightower” Yoruba Soul Remix

If this mix was an edible thing, what would it taste like?

It’s like a colorful salad, the kind with fruit and a bunch of ingredients tossed in. You have raw elements, sweet, slightly bitter, and maybe even a bit of spice. But it all blends well together.

If it was an animal what would it be?

That is a really good question. Maybe a lion. Lions can be really tame and chill but we also know they are very powerful and can get wild.

One record in your collection that is impossible to mix into anything?

Johnny Hammond Los Conquistadores “Chocolates ”

Upcoming in the world of…

I am working on an album that I hope will be done by the end of the year and that will likely be followed shortly by a second album for the first part of next year.  Of course, my label Quantize Recordings is really pushing to continue at least 2 releases every week.

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