I remember hearing from the first time of DJ Spinna. That happened by the end of the 90’s after my long time friend DJ Morpheus enthuzed about the way he’d heard him blending the vibes at the Rennes Transmusicales festival. He would also soon after manage to introduce us to each other at the Miami Winter Music Conference. This being the very first in a series of meetings we happened to have in New York. But also at the memorable Sunslice Festival in Toulon where we both happened to spin in 2004…
What got me fascinated by the man was not only his obvious interest in so many different domains where we would get his spiritual food and play from there. But also his humility and accessibility, seeming like graced with a natural gift. An expection in a fragmented world into like hermetically closed formats? Sure thing, even though countless are those of us who’ve tended to forget how music is first and foremost a whole. Made of a whole array of different vibes, as opposed to a specific niche with everything not reputedly belonging to it remains ignored.
At the crossroads, this is exactly where DJ Spinna is to be found. Remembered for his memorable foray into Hip-Hop along with The Jigmastas. As through his collaboration with luminaries such as Mos Def, Talib Kweli, Pharoahe Monch and De La Soul among others. He also made himself quite a reputation with his magnifient remixes. From Shaun Escoffery, on the seminal ‘Days Like This’. To Goapele (‘Closer’), Alison Crockett (‘Crossroads’) and Donnie (‘Cloud 9’). Not to mention Tortured Soul (‘In My Fantasy’), Louie Vega feat. Raul Midón (‘A Better Day’) and Black Coffee feat. Tsepo (‘Never Saw You Coming’) to name but a few…
You no doubt have a trademark. Who have you got your influences from? Those you’ve seen the efforts of as quintessential?
“I found my influences in people like Stevie Wonder and James Brown for melody, rhythm and Funk. In Jazz for the emotion, and Soul for the soul. I like and listen to all kinds of music. Diversity is my template.”
Tell us about your own background… The way you build a piece of music. The basic elements needed to have a good piece of music, in terms of melody, arrangements, sound spectrum, etc. Do you have precise pictures in mind when creating a piece of music?
“I grew up playing a few instruments such as the violin, clarinet and keyboards. But I never went all the way through as being a profound musician. Nevertheless all of that education at an early age definitely helped and trained my ear for music and tonality. So no matter if I’m sampling drum beats, play parts out on a keyboard, or work with established musicians that can further my vision musically… I know what I hear. And I see a picture while creating songs…”
You seem like quite versatile. Have you seen this as a necessity in order to avoid the risk of repeating yourself?
“I’m versatile because I like good music…”
When having a look at today’s situation and despite the assistance of technology, it seems like more and more hard to work on a long term basis, as opposed to what’s supposed to be needed in order to establish a name. In other words, seems like it’s the latest who’s talked who’s right if you see what I mean. How do you see that?
“Everthing’s in shambles but there’s always hope. The digital revolution has made CD and vinyl sales harder, but easier to access the music online. Meanwhile, smaller indie artists can make their music available to the world without the middle man. In order for an artist to keep their name out there, you have to make music and get it out.
You got to get in people’s faces by touring and making appearances. That can be hard work but technology has helped that situation. Because if you can’t physically make it to a show, you can go online.”
The development of technology has been synonymous with a legion of peeps putting sounds together on their own (I mean alone). Isn’t that somehow a non sense considering that music has to be spoken. This suggesting the presence of at least 2 people in order to be developped like any other language around?
“I would definitely not say that. You have people like Prince who plays several instruments as well as Stevie Wonder. Both of them can practically put together masterpieces on their own with technology or with live instruments. It’s really the man behind the machines if you know what I mean.
If you rely only on technology and have no sense of how to physically play a keyboard or program a beat like a real drummer, then that could be an issue. But there are so many great producers who make good music on their own that you can’t really discredit their talent…”
I sometimes have the feeling that the way music is spoken nowadays is about the same as the way language is written by people when texting each other. In other words, in a sort of intituively manner. As a result, how can people think about putting out timeless music when acting like this?
“It takes one to make the music and one to listen. That’s how language is passed on just like music. As long as you get to hear it, that’s what matters.’
A good friend of mine recently said to me that a vaste majority of contemporary music isn’t made anymore to last say for life like back in the daze. But to respond to some basic economic need. Would you agree with this?
“We live in a very capitalist society. Obviously some artists are in this business to cash in, and others are in it for the art. Usually the ones who only care about the money side may have one temporary hit as opposed to someone who’s in it for the soul. Eventually resulting in something people can listen to for a long time.”
What’s your definition of a good song?
“A good song is something that touches the soul. It doesn’t matter if it’s Rock, Jazz, Hip-Hop, Techno, Reggae or R&B. There’s good music and bad music. But what one thinks is good, someone may think is bad. It all depends on what kind of person you are. Some people simply have no soul…”
Funny how the Disco vibes seem to remain so alive after nearly 4 decades.
“Disco exists in many forms. The terminology has transgressed into House, Techno, Electro etc. It remains because people need a way to express themselves and let loose of all their hang ups. Dancing could very well be the best way to express this kind of release. You forget about all of your troubles while dancing. Therefore, Disco will never die…”
Seems like most of today’s people are making rounds and rounds when producing. Could it be that House Music is dead?
“House music is not dead. It’s just not doing as well as it used to because records aren’t selling. Producers and artists aren’t making money. This actually can said for more that just House Music. But the urge to make the music is still there somehow.
People want to express themselves and music sometimes is the greatest outlet. This is where you find people making House Music more for the right reasons. In a way it’s good that it’s underground because it leaves less room for mediocrity.”
Some people tend to think that everything’s been written. Isn’t that somehow a non sense for the producer that you are? How do you see the (possible) future? Is there some space/possibility for a new genre to emerge such as Hip-Hop, House, Techno or Jungle back in the days?
“We had Broken Beat coming out of London. Anything’s possible.”
Suppose you are new comer. Would you act the same as you did to make yourself a name?
“Most likely I would act the same way. Everything I do has Soul and that’s the key word. James Brown tried his hand at Soul, Latin, Blues and Jazz. Stevie Wonder was influenced by Brazil, Rock, Jazz, and Country Music. And it’s something you can feel in some of his recordings. So why shouldn’t I be diverse?”
DJ Spinna – Heavy Beats Volume 1 (Rawkus Records)
DJ Spinna – Mix The Vibe: Eclectic Mindset (Nite Grooves)
DJ Spinna – Intergalactic Soul (Wonderwax)
Mr. Scruff / DJ Spinna – Southport Weekender Volume 9 (SuSU)
DJ Spinna & Mr. Thing – The Beat Generation (BBE)
DJ Spinna – DJ Spinna Vs. P&P Records (Five Day Weekend / P&P Records)
DJ Spinna – The Sound Beyond Stars (The Essential Remixes) (BBE)
DJ Spinna – The Wonder Of Stevie (Volume 3) (BBE) (vol. 1 & 2 on Harmless)
Interview: DJ Spinna
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