US house icon Sean Spencer, better known as DJ Spen, first laid his hand on the decks at age 13 while growing up in Baltimore, and he hasn’t looked back since. Spencer’s illustrious career began in the mid-’80s, as a hip-hop radio DJ producing under the moniker Numarx.
Swiftly moving away from hip-hop and towards the Chicago house sound that would define his productions for years to come, Spencer joined forces with famed production team The Basement Boys. Working under the name Jasper Street Co., Spencer released his first 12″ through Basement Boys Records in 1995, the energetic gospel house cut “A Feeling”. This was the first in a string of releases for the label over the next decade that brought Spencer commercial and dancefloor success.
In 2004, Spencer split from Basement Boys, releasing through Black Vinyl Records and his own label Code Red, before founding his second, Quantize Recordings, which has since become a regular outlet for his music. Alongside his own production work, DJ Spen has been a prolific remixer, putting his own spin on music from Diana Ross, Michael Jackson, Everything but the Girl, Toni Braxton and more. If that isn’t enough, he’s still spinning eclectic and soulful jams in clubs across the globe – including London’s very own Fabric, where Spencer is playing Room One with Tony Humphries and Paul Woolford this Saturday.
In advance of the event, we caught up with the man himself to hear about ten selections that inspire him as a DJ and a producer.
1. Barbara Tucker – I Get Lifted
This song almost single-handedly defined inspirational house music. The production by Louie Vega and Kenny Dope was top notch and the background vocals were phenomenal. Barbara was the icing on the cake, this was a must play in Baltimore during the mid ’90s. On a good sound system, the earth would literally shake when the baseline came in.
2. Ultra Nate – Rejoicing
To this day, this track rocks any underground night club on the east coast of the US! Back when it was released, it was literally a hands in the air anthem that was unlike anything else.
3. The Jasper Street Company – A Feeling
This track was my first ever solo dance music production. Including several of Baltimore’s best singers, this record took a while to put together, but the result was what some may consider to be a masterpiece. When we gave the acetate to Tony Humphries at Club Warsaw during WMC in 1995, I couldn’t believe how great it sounded. That is a day I will never forget because he played it twice and the crowd was completely into it both times!
4. Vikter Simonelli – Everybody Clap Your Hands
Well, it wasn’t the first house record to have a harmonica in it, but it was the first banging house record to have a harmonica in it. This track is truly a journey into sound. It starts simple, but quickly grows into a foot stompin’, hand clappin’ experience. It’s one of those tracks from the ’90s that I still play and newcomers to house always want to know what it is!
5. House of Gypsies – Sume Sigh Say
Another Baltimore classic! This record on a good sound system sounds incredible! As a DJ, a record like this gave you the ability to be extremely creative with layering acapellas and other tracks with it. If you didn’t have it in your crate, your DJ set could have been a disaster.
6. The Believers – Who Dares To Believe In Me
One of the greatest piano banging saxophone tracks of all time. Most people know it, but don’t know what it is. Many producer/DJs have copied it, but don’t really know what it is. This record truly is a house classic that will never die. Recently, I heard Joey Negro play the original version and he turned the crowd inside out with it! It should go down in history as one of the greatest house records ever made.
7. MD X-Press feat. Mike Dunn – God Made Me Phunky
This is a classic that speaks for itself! Another track that I heard Tony Humphries play long before it came out and I just could not believe the crowd reaction. People were looking for that track for a long time. Anyway, this record started so many different things in so many different ways. Mike’s Spoken word on that track inspired many records, but nothing touches it.
8. Crystal Waters – Gypsy Woman
I remember walking into the Basement Boys studio and saying “what in the world is that?”. I knew right away that ‘Gypsy Woman’ was going to be a big record, I just didn’t know how big. A few weeks later, I heard it in every car, club, record store, and radio station! To think that a record like that came out of a basement using a 16 track recording device was mind blowing!
9. Black Traxx – Your Mind is Going Crazy
This is just one of my favourite records! I would take two copies of that record and I would play around with the outro & it would drive people insane. Everyone’s hands would go crazy!
10. The Good Men – Give It Up
OK, so I walked into the Paradox night club one week prior to my first time playing there, and I’m thinking that I was going to walk in, check out the sound system from the dance floor, and then walk out. That didn’t happen because DJ Oji was putting it down! I was about to walk out, and then I heard this song with all these drums being hammered by this guy. I immediately went black on the dancefloor and hear DJ Oji play ‘Give It Up’ like a mad scientist. I had never heard anything like it. Needless to say, this track remains in my crate, and I’ve been trying to replicate that moment in time since then…lol!
DJ Spen plays at Fabric February 3 with Tony Humphries, Paul Woolford, Cassy and more.
Tickets and more info here.