Dynamic rhythms from a rising talent.
Earlier this year, at RA's Choose Love party at OHM in Berlin, Gwenan Spearing played early in the night, moving from indefinable avant-garde music through to bouncy, left-field house and techno. Somewhere in the middle was an instrumental mix of Massive Attack's "Unfinished Sympathy," the only recognizable tune she played. Aside from being a near-perfect warm-up, her set was bold, understated, and a perfect example of why Spearing is quietly one of the most promising young DJs out there at the moment.
Spearing grew up in Wales and lived in London before recently moving to Berlin. She's had some good influences along the way: her friend Joe Delon, who "dragged" her to her first rave in 2007; her former partner, Andrew James Gustav, who helped her hone her craft. But many DJs can say the same, and few have a sound as singular and self-assured as Spearing. Deep and tactile with a kinetic sense of groove, drawn from a collection that smacks of avid digging, her style behind the decks has earned her a place in some of underground dance music's most headsy events, from London's Undersound parties, to Libertine in Berlin, to her home country's most beloved festival, Freerotation. On RA.619, Spearing presents the clubby side of her sound, slightly tweaked for home listening.
What have you been up to recently?
Working, playing records, attempting to learn German.
How and where was the mix recorded?
In my room on a Saturday lunchtime on two technics and a broken XONE:92R.
Can you tell us a bit about the idea behind the mix?
I treated it a bit like a gig—spent a week or so picking out and listening to records, drank a pot of espresso and started recording. It doesn't completely capture how I play in a club (I find that hard to do at home), but it gives a taste of the "electro-techno" sound I enjoy playing at peak time sometimes.
Like I would for a gig, I took records from my whole collection for this. It's a mix of old, new(er), and a couple of new-to-me tracks on records I've had for years. This is my favourite thing about vinyl. It never ceases to amaze me how many times I can go back to a record and dislike (or not even notice) a track that later turns out to be my favourite. My ears are changing all the time. Vinyl helps me discover that in a way that digital music doesn't.
For readers that don't already know you, tell us a bit about yourself. What's the Gwenan journey been like so far?
I grew up in the Welsh mountains and never thought I'd live in a city. I guess I was wrong. I see myself back to the countryside one day though.
As far as music goes, my journey is mostly defined by the people I've shared it with and met along the way. For starters, I wouldn't be doing any of this without Joe Delon, a very old friend and amazing DJ, now based in Lisbon. He dragged me to my first techno night back in 2007 and it was love at first hearing. We've shared our love of this music ever since.
I can't underestimate the influence of living with, and sharing music with, Andrew James Gustav for several years. I've learned so much from his ear and his approach to playing out, especially the art of packing a good record bag. I also have Andrew to thank for being crazy enough to invite online music friends to come and stay in our house in London years ago—something I never would have been open enough to do myself. We made some great friends this way, including Pascal, who years later is a close friend and collaborator who I share a studio with in Berlin. Our other studio buddy and good friend, Bruno Schmidt, Andrew and I met on a minibus driving into the Bulgarian mountains for our first Meadows In The Mountains festival. I never get tired of musing over these little encounters.
Two more people who have been a big influence over the years, and I still go to see play at every opportunity, are Jane Fitz and Nicolas Lutz. Two very different artists from different corners of the world, but both DJs to the bone. You'd think they climbed over the bars of their cots to get at the decks and haven't moved since. Both of them have that magic skill of communicating something new to you about the music—showing you what they hear through the way they play it. That's what the best DJing is all about.
In general, music has opened me up to a huge range of people, experiences, attitudes and sources of inspiration that I wasn't open to ten years ago. I feel extremely privileged to be part of a global community of people who love the same thing I do, and who are showing me new things all the time.
You've been mixing records for over a decade but you recently moved to Berlin to focus on DJing more—is that right? What's that been like? How has that change affected your DJing?
The move was more about wanting to focus on production. As a DJ, I wasn't sure how wise it was to move to a city with a thousand other DJs, but I wanted a studio, which I couldn't afford in London. Most of all I wanted to make music with machines, and work with and learn from others doing the same.
One of the biggest things about moving to Berlin for me is the simple fact that I did it. I always knew I wanted to live abroad at some point, and I was afraid that I never would. As far as moving abroad goes, I had it very easy—I already had friends and a job here. But the fact that I took that step is empowering, and helps me believe that I might follow through on some other dreams one day.
In Berlin, dance music is culture. In London it is not seen this way. Moving from one to the other has definitely affected my outlook on what I'm choosing to do with my life. I'm gradually learning to see myself as a creative person (maybe even an artist). I thought I would feel more pressure here to play a certain way, or to have cool or obscure enough records. Instead I feel the city gives me a lot of freedom and space to do my own thing.
What are you up to next?
Starting at the end of the month, I'll no longer be working a full-time office job alongside music (for a few months at least). I hope to spend a lot of the extra time in the studio, starting with sorting out some badly-needed acoustic treatment.
Looking ahead to the summer, the next night of my residency at The Pickle Factory will be on June 1st. We've just confirmed that Atom™ will be playing live, an act I've wanted to hear for a long time. Pascal and I will be playing alongside.
One thing I'm excited about at the moment is the quiet growth of ambient music events. Last night I was playing at a little event called Ambient Soup in a beautiful artists' studio in Ljubljana, and I'm looking forward to playing at Waha festival this summer. Experiment Intrinsic has made big steps for this music in London, and last year with their first festival in France, which is one of the best events I've been lucky enough to take part in. It's really exciting to me to have the chance to play this kind of music and I hope to see more events popping up in future.
Besides all this, I'll be celebrating spring by buying a bike and a couple of plants for my balcony.