For the last of our Basement Boys Q&As, we caught up with DJ Spen.
With almost a hundred years of experience collectively under their belts, Teddy Douglas, DJ Spen & Karizma are true legends in the House fraternity.
Synonymous with deep, soulful House, the Basement Boys are responsible for producing a plethora of underground classics in the late eighties, before moving into the mainstream with productions such as 'Gypsy Woman' for Crystal Waters and remixes for the likes of Paula Abdul, Michael Jackson, Erykah Badu and Ultra Naté. In 1994, the Basement Boys formed their own record label under the same name, recording under a variety of aliases, such as Those Guys.
On 1st January, Teddy Douglas, DJ Spen and Karizma from the Basement Boys will be headlining a very special Groove Odyssey Party to mark the start of 2017. Ahead of the party, we sat down with them all individually to find out more about the legendary Basement Boys and what they’re all up to now...
DJ Spen! How’s it going?
I'm good. Getting ready for the Basement Boys at Groove odyssey on NYD.
So first up ... you have a degree in English and Mass Communications, is that correct?
Yes. That is absolutely correct. Oddly enough, I've never really had to use it. It seems God had other plans for me.
Presumably you weren’t thinking about doing music when you started out at university, can you pinpoint the time when you started taking music seriously and thought you’d carve a full time career out of it?
Well, I had always thought of music as something I would do. My first gig was when I was 13 years old, and I've been working in music ever since. University was a safety net, but being a mass comms minor gave me the training I needed to work as an announcer on the radio.
Before you got into House, you were in Numarx and producing hip hop tracks. Tell us a bit about why you made the transition from hip hop to house?
At the time, I had just finished working on a new hip-hop project with the Numarx. One of the songs on that project was called "Do It Good". Thommy Davis and Jay Steinhour from the Basement Boys remixed that track for us and their version ended up doing much better that our original hop hop version. Lol. Later that year I began doing pre-production and songwriting for the Basement Boys during the time when they were producing Ultra Nate, Crystal Waters, Those Guys, and Mass Order. These guys were making a mark in the history of music and that's what drew me closer to them and the style of music they were creating. This was the beginning of my move towards dance music.
Now you’ve said before that being part of the Basement Boys was like being part of a family... what did being part of that unit mean to you at the time?
Being a part of the Basement Boys early on was nothing but a family affair. And just like any family, there were a lot of ups and downs, good and bad. The experience was amazing because BBP spawned many Baltimore dance producers. Just take a look at the Traxsource Top 100 for 2016. I would venture to say that there are at least 10 producers from Baltimore on that chart that were inspired by BBP and what was happening back then.
Now the Basement Boys came very much from a disco background whereas you were previously immersed in Hip Hop and R&B – did you find that your different backgrounds complemented one another?
Absolutely! A promise example of this is when Karizma and I DJ together. There are a lot of times when hip hop elements are brought forth out of that combination alone. Add Teddy Douglas and Thommy Davis to that mix, and when we are on one accord, you're going to get a night full of disco, house, hip hop, neo soul, deep house, breakbeat, etc. When we are all on one accord it's really a site to behold.
Do you ever miss producing hip hop or is it something that you still dip into occasionally?
On the rare occasion, I may delve into doing some hip hop type beats. But, here's the thing about hip-hop, it is an experience and is something that unless you're living the lifestyle, making music in that genre can come off fake. My time with hip hop was amazing, and I was there when it was at its height. I don't think going back is an option for me.
Now you’re doing Quantize Recordings at the moment, which is really all about soulful/ gospel house sound – who else is involved in that?
My brothers Thommy Davis, Gary Hudgins, and Soulfuledge are involved with me in the day to day business that is Quantize Recordings. It's crazy, but between the four of us we tend to get various things done.
As an A&R head, would is it you look for in an artist?
To be honest, what we've really been concentrating on as far as artists are concerned is commitment. There seems to be a lack of it in the world today with reference to making music of any kind. Everybody thinks making music is easy and that there's a lot of money to be made doing music. "I want to be a star! I want to be a big Dj! "... thing is most people are not willing to do the massive amount of work that it takes to be successful in the music game.
And what can we expect from Quantize in 2017?
More great music and more great project collaborations. We are planning to release several LPs next year and we are looking forward to that!
Finally, can you tell us your all time top ten favourite tracks?
This is always a hard question, and it's always what comes to my head first. Ask me again next month and it'll be a totally different ten! So in no particular order...
1. Curtis Mayfield "Right On For The Darkness"
2. New Birth "Wildflower"
3. Kraftwerk "Trans Europa Express"
4. Pete Rock & CL Smooth "They Reminisce Over You"
5. El Coco "Coco Motion"
6. MFSB "TLC"
7. Spoonie G & The Treacherous Three "New Rap Language"
8. First Choice "Double Cross"
9. Man Parrish "Hip Hop Be Bop"
10. Gladys Knight & The Pips "Taste Of Bitter Love"