Finding Your Own Sound With Spencer Parker
In Behind The Decks, we focus on the most important aspects of a DJ’s craft. This time, Spencer Parker talks about the importance of finding his own sound.
“Just you do you, boo,” says Spencer Parker. “There is no one on the planet that can be a better version of you than you, so stick to your guns and go for it.”
This might seem an obvious sentiment, but these days plenty of DJs seem to prefer to fit in, to play big tunes that guarantee a reaction and to drip-feed the same half-assed “thank you” posts and tedious gig updates as everyone else. Maybe it’s a matter of safety — but Parker has never played that game.
The Work Them Records boss’s social media feed is a stream of tongue-in-cheek posts about DJ life. He’s dreamt up his own thematic posts, like #thingsinmytinykreuzbergapartment, and isn’t afraid of posting shots of himself looking fabulous in various high-end outfits. He also serves up a steady stream of memes that are laugh-out-loud funny, interspersed with posts about his unashamed love of Rihanna, and moments of gratitude and honesty for being on an early morning flight home from, say, Brazil, instead of the early morning shift at Marks & Spencers, as he would have been 20 years ago.
Back then he was just a wide-eyed clubber with no real intention of becoming a DJ. “I was simply a fan of the music,” says the Berlin-based Brit. “As I started to go out more and more, I would want to have my own copy of my favourite records that I had heard at certain clubs, kind of like a souvenir of a fun night out.”
These humble early traditions meant he soon had a “pretty nice collection,” and one day played a friend’s party. He couldn’t mix, and that particular gig was blighted by the girlfriend of another DJ in the crowd who was “purposely jumping on the stage to make my needles jump and make me look bad.” But his selections alone were hot enough to make an impact. “Everyone danced, and didn’t stop.”
As his love of DJing flourished, it was the flawless technical ability of US DJs like David Morales and Masters At Work, who played records no one else had, that really made an impact on Parker. “I didn’t really want to be exactly like any of these DJs, but there was certainly a lot to admire about them, in my opinion.”
Once he was technically tight and armed with the freshest records possible, Parker started sending out mixtapes, before making follow up calls to promoters. Mindful of the fact that they would get sent lots of cassettes, he would spray paint the tape case and Jiffy bag with gold paint so they always stood out. Then he’d give the promoter a call the following week to “harass” them all over again. “I’m a pretty shy person by nature, so I’m not sure exactly where I got the fucking balls to do all this, but I was just so desperate to play somewhere, and that overrode everything else, I guess.”
Parker is a party DJ who doesn’t take himself too seriously, so he believes his role is to educate, inform, edify, amaze and entertain in equal measure, but he admits he is still keen to learn. “From listening to others — be it a big name or a lesser-known person I’m playing alongside — or from just constantly coming up with ideas or tricks on my own, I seem to never stop thinking about DJing or what I want to do at that next gig. I still just love it so much.”
Style is all important when it comes to distinguishing yourself from the crowd. Parker is a DJ who famously pumps the floor, but does so in his own charismatic way. He can keep the energy levels high for hours on end, and can join the dots between a number of seemingly disparate styles. “My favourite thing to do is take the most difficult route, and that is to play a bit of everything.”
Steamy-as-you-like-it house, wall-rattling techno, colourful disco — you name it — Parker reaches for nearly anything when the time is right, and importantly, does so in a way that doesn’t feel forced, tokenised or disjointed. It’s just as easy to walk away from one of his sets having fallen in love with a record by Gino Soccio as it is to lovingly remember a Developer track, or something by ItaloJohnson. “I think that’s what I spend most of my time working on,” he says. “I don’t feel restricted, because I’m able to reach across all the areas I’m interested in.”
Of course, that’s not to say he’ll bang it out during a warm-up set, or go sleepy-deep at the peak time, because context is always key. “Prep for warm-ups takes a little time as they are so easy to fuck up,” he explains. “One wrong move can really fuck up the momentum and vibe you have built up over that last hour or two.”
Parker admits he does have a certain love of playing the closing set. He enjoys the challenge of bringing a party to an end and sending people home with a nice feeling, and nearly always ends with a vocal record.
“I never play what I think the crowd wants, I play what I want,” he says. “If you try to constantly guess what people want, you are on a road to disaster. I am there to represent myself and put forward the music that I love and that I truly hope they will love too. I don’t mean it anywhere near as arrogant as it sounds, but I think you have to, ultimately, be very confident and strong in your own opinion and abilities, and just do your thing.”
For Parker at least, it’s working a treat.
Kristan Caryl is a freelance journalist living in Leeds. Follow him on Instagram.