Between them, Chris Spero and Alex Jones know a thing or two about dance music. The former is also known to some as Glimpse, while the latter is the man behind the famous Hypercolour label, but it's probably fair to say that these days they are best known as Dense & Pika.
As a duo, the pair of them have made a real mark on the world of underground house and techno, particularly in the UK, with Mixmag going as far as to dub them "the most unique act in modern techno".
Across the course of my conversation with two of them, it's obvious just how well they get on. At points they're basically just chatting with each other, and I can't help thinking of similarities to Simon Pegg and Nick Frost in their mannerisms, chemistry, and obvious passion for what they do.
Following a busy summer, and with a hometown show at Village Underground in London already in the diary for February, I spoke to the duo about nostalgia, their recent Essential Mix, future releases, and their penchant for a cloaked comedy reference in their song titles, among other things.
Hi fellas. Let me guess this right – who’s where?
Alex: I’m Alex and I’m here in London.
Chris: I’m Chris and I’m in Spain.
In Ibiza right?
Chris: Yeah. It sounds like a TV show [laughing] “I’m Chris and I’m in Spain”. What’s your name and where are you from?
Well I’m James and I’m in London. How does it work for you guys being in different countries, does it throw up obstacles?
Chris: Yeah you could say that. Winter flights in particular are a real pain in the ass.
Alex: We work over a cloud. Technology is not quite up to scratch for things like that yet is it? I mean it works but… wait what’s that noise? Can you hear me?
Yeah I can now, I’m not sure what that was
Alex: Talking of technology not quite working.
How long has it been - you two living in different places?
Alex: Chris left me two years ago, maybe three.
Chris: Yeah this is my third year out of the UK. And it does work, it’s fine, it’s just not easy as it was I suppose.
Having both lived in London before, are you fans of the city? Were the moves away for practical reasons or had you sort of had enough of it?
Alex: I’ll always be a fan of London, and I’m still on the Met line. But where I am now for raising a child compared to Hackney…
Chris: I’d definitely had enough of London. I was born there so I spent 36 years there in total. It just felt like time to move on really. I find it a bit claustrophobic and stuff, I prefer the countryside now. Unless of course my Mac breaks then I’d much rather be in London. Or anything in the studio really; if it breaks it’s a real bitch when you live in Ibiza because there’s nowhere to get anything fixed.
Alex: Don’t they have a Mac store now? I thought they do?
Chris: Well it’s got an apple on it.
Chris: But whether anyone here has ever worked in a genuine Mac store, I doubt it. It’s a Mac retailer, one of them.
You’d have thought that of all the professions, Ibiza might be able to cater to producers and DJs
Chris: That’s true, maybe there’s a gap in the market for us there at some point.
I see you’ve announced a show at Village Underground in February so you'll be back in back in London soon enough…
Chris: Yeah we come back and forth quite a lot, to be honest. We're always sort of popping in and out. We play the UK quite a lot, also Belgium, Spain, Ireland, those are probably our biggest territories. So I'm usually passing through London a couple times a week at least.
What can we expect from the Village Underground show?
Alex: Oh an absolute racket. [laughs] Loads of noise. We’re trying to do something snazzy with the lights but we don’t really know what to do.
Chris: Probably a flashing light. We’re going to revolutionise club culture.
Alex: Yeah with one light. [laughs] Like a condensed Pink Floyd concert for five grand. I don't know really, but it'll be one of our classic parties.
Chris: Hopefully we’ll play a slightly longer set.
Alex: There’s not much point us saying anything because it’s all very up in the air. I know the date is happening. Whether we have any support or whether we do it ourselves, whether we have a special light show or whether we don’t… [laughs]
Chris: We are going to be playing longer than usual though. So rather than, you know, a bombs away festival set it will be longer, slightly more drawn out, a bit deeper. There'll still be the bangers in there they’ll just be more spread out.
And is that something you prefer doing when you have that little bit extra time?
Chris: Yeah definitely. When you get into festival season mode and you’re doing all the big festival things, it’s almost like everyone just get an hour and a half, or even an hour and fifteen minutes. There’ll be gaps between the DJs and you don’t mix into the guys before and after you. It can be less about DJ-ing and more about “look what I can do in an hour and a half”, which I personally don’t like as much because you can’t really be as creative. Whereas in a three, four, or five-hour set you can really sort of…
Alex: Stretch your legs.
Chris: Stretch your musical legs, that the one. Thanks, pal.
Alex: That’s alright.
When you go into a short set like that do you feel you have to have an idea of what its gonna look like beforehand because you know you haven't got so long to explore things?
Chris: When you play as much as we do at the moment, or have done recently – 10/12 gigs a month or so – you sort of know what works throughout the year, and you get to know the combinations that work. So I think yeah certain records float to the top, as it were, when it comes to festivals.
While I remember, I've got to ask about the EP titles because I’m a big comedy fan and I reckon I spotted a few comedy references
Alex: Go on…
Chris: We actually hate comedy so you’re probably wrong.
Well, the latest one ‘Project Zeus’ has got to be Peep Show right?
Chris: Never seen it mate.
Alex: [laughs] What a strange coincidence
You’ve said before that ‘Lynn’ was a reference to Alan Partridge’s assistant – does that mean ‘Calf’ is also a Steve Coogan reference: Paul and Pauline Calf, Baby Cow productions…
Alex: No actually! That’s just from me looking out the window, my studio overlooks a field and there are a load of cows and calves in there. However, there is one that we misspelt the name on. And this is probably one of our finest titles.
Chris: [laughing] Really one of our finest hours.
Alex: We were watching a bit of Made In Chelsea.
Chris: Hang on a minute. A bit? You’ve watched every single episode…
Alex: Yeah alright, I was trying to play it down a bit. We watch a lot of MIC, and decided to name a track ‘Mitten’ after Alex. But it turns out his name is spelt Myton, so it really backfired. [laughs]
Chris: I’m not sure if we want that going out do we?
Alex: No maybe not… well, I don’t really mind.
I didn’t spot that one I’ll be honest
Alex: [laughs] It’s niche. It is niche.
Last one and this might be a stretch, but is ‘Who Cares Wins’ named after the training video in The Office?
Both: No, no.
Chris: Although we do like The Office.
Alex: 'Who Cares Wins' I think just came from the SAS slogan, Who Dares Wins.
Chris: Neither of us has any military training though, just to be clear. There were some other ones though weren’t there?
Alex: Yeah there’s a few. Let’s leave it at that though, we don’t want to give too much away, do we?
Chris: We don’t want to turn into a gimmick.
Alex: [laughs] Yeah there should be an element of surprise. Think of it as a puzzle, if you solve them all then maybe it spells something.
I’ll work on it then
Alex: [laughing] If you listen to the songs backwards…
Have you guys seen 24 Hour Party People? Seems like a nice intersection between those worlds, with Coogan and the early days of clubbing in the UK…
Chris: Yeah yeah, to be honest, we like all of Coogan’s stuff really. Love The Trip, love Alan Partridge.
Do you think the nostalgia about the halcyon days of dance music of the late 80s and 90s is healthy, or useful?
Chris: Yeah it’s useful, dance music repopulates every four or five years, I think it’s obviously very good to recognise the amazing stuff that went before. But dance music is youth culture, it moves fast and I think you know you've got to keep up with it really. Yes, all the old Derrick May records and all the old Jeff Mills records are fantastic and we love them dearly. But I think you’ve got to keep looking forward as well.
Alex: I think a lot of it just regenerates itself. For example, now, breakbeat is a probably a good one. We grew up through it, and it sort of goes full circle. You go through it once and it’s quite interesting to see it come back. And it’s interesting to see the younger generation who’ve never really heard this stuff playing it a lot. To them, it must sound super fresh, which I suppose it is because anything that was at the forefront or pioneering stuff like that was, and is.
It’s just interesting you know, going through it twice. It makes you feel…
Chris: Fucking old.
Alex: Yeah [laughs]. But you see it all the time, we’re guilty of it too. Even the production techniques, writing stuff that sounds older, with a more vintage feeling.
Chris: Everyone wants the vintage feel.
Well on that note, the Eats Everything release ‘Space Raiders’ on your Kneaded Pains label, that's one to me that sounds kind of like an old rave record, but it’s not just trying to be that…
Alex: Yeah Dan’s big into that, the 90s hardcore thing, and it’s absolutely a nod to that. We’ve actually just had the Charlotte de Witte remix of that come in, which is massive. So there’s an exclusive for you.
But yeah there’s definitely a nod to that. There is a lot of it about at the moment, little nods to that time. A lot of stuff has got that classic 'Hoover sound' in it, which is fucking powerful. It does come in handy in breaks, especially at festivals, if you need something to get the punters going there’s always the Hoover sound, you can’t argue with it.
Eats Everything said on Twitter that he sent it over to you and within five minutes you got back to him saying you’d put it out – is that actually how it happened?
Alex: Yeah totally.
And does that sort of thing happen often?
Alex: Yeah, well it’s very close-knit, Kneaded Pains, it's just like our mates really. I think it takes the pressure off. I’ve run Hypercolour as well for over a decade and that’s quite a serious record label – not saying ours isn’t, but it can be more hassle dealing with egos. So with this we just wanted to keep it simple, just be our friends releasing the stuff. So you know, I'll get demos via WhatsApp and stuff. That’s how I got that one from Dan.
It’s not like us going out chasing for people who were trendy and current, it’s just people we respect and genuinely want to release their music. Or we feel like we should because we’re in a position to do it. There's a lot of new kids that we've got like Billy Turner and Melody’s Enemy who are fairly unknown but they’re good, and they’re our friends.
We’re in quite a lucky position that we can help because I remember we were both there and it can be hard to get a foot in the door or get a leg up in this industry. So it’s good to have a little gang that you know can help get your music out there.
Also working with Billy is great because he’s only like 22 or something…
Chris: I think let’s find out how old he actually is before we start saying it.
Alex: [laughs] I might text him actually and just say “How old are you?”
We can see if he replies in time. In the meantime, I wanted to ask about the Essential Mix. Obviously, it’s a bit of an institution – celebrating 25 years at the moment. How did you approach recording that mix? Did you feel a greater level of pressure than normal? And what were you aiming for?
Chris: Yeah we just spent a long time on it really, and made sure that we included a lot of records that were quite important to us which we haven't really played out, records that are quite hard to DJ and stuff like that; a few ambient bits, a really hard to mix Jeff Mills record that I’ve been trying to slip into a mix for yonks.
So yeah we just spent a really long time on it, and we really enjoyed putting it together as well. It’s great fun when you've got two hours to play with, and it’s quite a broad range of music that we can fit it from really banging stuff to much less banging stuff.
The Imogen Heap remix comes to mind, there were a couple of points like that in there that are not necessarily what you might expect.
Chris: Yeah that remix is something that’s been knocking about for a bit and we’ve been playing for quite a while, but it’s never going to come out so that was quite nice to give that an airing actually. Lots of people have been really into that actually, the ‘Hide and Seek’ thing.
When you get the kind of response on a track you’ve played out, or included in mixes, does that ever put pressure on you to think about releasing it?
Alex: It’s kind of cool to not release these sorts of things. It keeps a bit of hype about it if we just give it to select DJs. Like that Villalobos tune knocking about a few years ago, the Depeche Mode remix.
Chris: Yeah they turned that down though apparently.
Alex: But you see those sorts of edits knocking around and only certain people have them. I just think releasing everything is a bit too obvious, it takes away that sense of mystery from the artist. It’s always nice to have those secret weapons.
What’s your view on things like the Identification of Music group on Facebook where there's this kind of clamour to find out what these tracks are?
Alex: I think it’s healthy isn’t it, it’s cool. Back in our day, we didn’t haven't anything like that. Social media has made everything so direct. We get the most bizarre requests directly to ourselves; I can't imagine back in the day emailing Sasha and asking him to put me on the guest list for the night. [laughs]
Chris: And then calling at 6am to remind him, which also happens.
Alex: Yeah and because you can call on Facebook, you just get some random person video calling you. Technology changes things so fast.
It sounds like you’re pretty comfortable with that though
Alex: Oh yeah you’ve got to embrace it really, and I’m a massive geek so I love it. It’s just interesting to see, especially the DJing side of things. The whole dance music culture being so big right now, it’s so much more accessible which is a great thing, and also easier to create the music, easier to release the music, easier to play the music. Which is cool. Who knows where it’s going to end up, I imagine we’ll end up DJing over this Skype at some point.
Well, the amount of live streaming you see now…
Alex: Exactly, well there you go.
Chris: Every single gig now pretty much is streamed live, I don't know whether that’s necessary.
Alex: I think the more people get to see things, the better, really. You don’t want people to feel excluded just because they’re in a different country or they can’t afford to physically come and see something. I think it’s ultimately a good thing.
Yeah, there is definitely that side to it, it opens it up to more people. Although there is the argument that it detracts from the people there in person sharing in a moment.
Alex: Yeah but I think if an artist wants to do something more intimate then they should play in a smaller place and not stream it, simple as that. They’ve got the power to make those decisions.
For sure. And I do think people are being more creative with the streaming idea now. People like Cercle doing their things in these iconic and impressive settings to make things a bit different.
Alex: Yeah I saw the one of Solomon playing a fucking ancient amphitheatre or something. And Carl Cox playing in front of a castle. Does put the pressure on a bit though, doesn’t it? [laughs] Bit different from me playing in my kitchen like people normally do.
Going back to releases, can we expect to see anything else from you this year, and into 2019?
Alex: We’ve got lots and lots of music in the pipeline. We’ve been touring a hell of a lot and it isn't too conducive to writing music, which is kind of weird for us because we’ve always written so much music. Don’t get me wrong we’ve still written a lot but there's a lot of sketches, a lot of sketches, it's not all finished. So we're we're really knuckling down to get them done. I think you’re going to see a lot to come from us, especially in 2019 because we haven’t been releasing quite as much as we normally do.
As for the next releases on our label, we’ve got Vonda7’s On Fire EP which is about to drop. Then we’ve got the Project Zeus remixes at the beginning of December, with two remixes from Jay Clarke, and also a chap called Steve Roberts. Which then takes us through to the end of the year.
Lovely, well I look forward to hearing them. And I’ll be sure to Facebook call you in the early hours asking about the guest list for the Village Underground show.
Alex: [laughing] Sounds good.
Chris: Looking forward to it.