"My purpose in life is to keep the legacy of soul music alive"
Brooklyn-born producer DJ Spinna has been a staple on the NYC house scene since the late 90s. From hip hop to house, DJ Spinna is one of the most imaginative and versatile selectors around. Having collaborated on stage with the likes of Joe Claussell and Kenny Dope, and remixed everyone from Mary J. Blige to Donald Byrd, it’s no wonder he remains in high demand. His legendary themed throw-down parties, celebrating the works of Stevie Wonder and Prince, among others, have proved to be an overwhelming success, leading to several collaborations between Stevie Wonder and DJ Spinna including remixes for “My Love Is On Fire" and “Sweetest Somebody” from Stevie’s 2005 A Time To Love. Last week, we had the honour of catching up with DJ Spinna to find out more about what inspires him to work in music and what he’s up to now.
You grew up in Brooklyn in the 70s and 80s surrounded by such a rich and vibrant music scene, what with the block and basement parties in the area. Do you think that without that rich cultural backdrop, you wouldn’t have ended up in the position that you’re in today?
Those elements of my upbringing definitely defined me, but I think even if they hadn't existed I would be involved with music regardless. I was playing records before I could walk, so music has always been my guiding force.
Funk & soul was at its peak, but house came in a lot later. What was your initial reaction to house music?
I loved it. House music fit perfectly within the mid 80s music scene. It wasn't really labeled house yet, the popular term was "club music". When Marshall Jefferson's "House Music Anthem/Move Your Body" blew up it was around this time that the term house was officially coined in New York, and I was definitely on it. I was picking up many of the local releases out of Chicago and New York/New Jersey by the likes of Mr. Fingers, Tyree Cooper, Frankie Knuckles, Serious Intention, Blaze, Sybil, etc. As an aspiring DJ coming up in New York you couldn't avoid it. A few tracks crept into daytime radio play and sold thousands of copies. It was becoming a thing, fast!
Did you expect it to take off like it did?
I don't think anyone expected it to blow up, not even the artists making the music. For the most part it was very experimental and played mainly in underground clubs. Once the major labels got behind house music the general public started to take notice. There's tracks that crossed over into R&B crowds so even if you weren't a "house head" per say you were exposed to it.
At what age did you first start taking music seriously?
I started very early. As I mentioned earlier, before I could walk I was playing my dad's records and owned toy record players. By the time I was 9 years old, I was already spending my own allowance money on 45 singles and disco 12"s because they were cheap. But even prior to that my dad used to take me record shopping. My fondest childhood memory was walking into a store with him when I was about five years old and picking up the 12" single for "Dreaming A Dream" by Crown Heights Affair. I still play that track till this day and it transports me right back to that time.
Aside from music, what are you really passionate about?
I love helping people in need. If I weren't a music person I would probably work in some sort of social service like counselling. I'm also into film and acting. I took up musical theatre in high school, but I was more into the acting part than the singing. Music is visual to me so I could also see myself writing scripts or acting to some degree.
Now you are well known for hosting some of the biggest and best parties around – WONDER-FUL, in particular, which is a guaranteed sell-out, year-on-year – what do you think is the continual appeal of these nights?
I think there are a few reasons why this event continues to attract the masses. For one, it's Stevie Wonder's magic presented in a way where people can actually dance and celebrate his legacy which spans 5 decades and still remains timeless. His music speaks to the entire universe and represents love and unity for all, which we need now more than ever before.
Secondly, the events are known to be generational. Parents have brought their kids, kids have brought their parents, and couples have literally met and had kids as a result of these parties. It's been running over a decade world wide and has become one of the main events people look forward to annually... people plan their lives around it.
The most amusing thing for me is, for first comers who find out about it, they don't initially understand how this event could work... a night of strictly Stevie's catalogue seems impossible. Yet, it always captivates, and folks automatically get hooked. Lastly, I always try to keep it interesting by including new music that's Stevie connected, influenced, and inspired. A good example is Omar's "Feeling You" featuring Stevie Wonder which came out about 10 years ago and is now a "new" classic at the parties. Stevie is still very active and at some point will release new music. There's always something new or old to rediscover from the vaults.
What is your favourite Stevie Wonder hit?
That's really hard to answer, honestly. Some of my favourites are "As", "Golden Lady", "Superwoman", "Too High", "Do I Do", "Another Star" and "You've Got It Bad Girl", but those favourites change all the time. So the correct answer is everything!
You run nights that celebrate the works of Michael Jackson and Prince (Soul Slam/ Forever Michael) and have dropped a number of truly excellent compilations featuring everyone from The Supremes to Minnie Riperton to Gwen McCrae. As a DJ and promoter, do you think you have a duty to keep the music of these greats alive?
My purpose in life is to keep the legacy of soul music alive across multiple genres. As years go by and new generations of music lovers are born it's important to pass on the knowledge and continue the legacy. With social media and this fast paced world we live in, it's so easy for the past to be overlooked. We are constantly being bombarded with new information all the time. People have gotten desensitised to what's quality and timeless and tend to get consumed by overexposed, manufactured, disposable mediocrity. There has to be that balance, I'm the balancer. There's great old music and incredible new music still being made as well that deserves attention.
If you were to put on a totally new night celebrating the works of one musician, who would it be?
I'll keep that answer for myself!
You’re a self-confessed vinyl junkie, so if you had to put an estimate on the number of records you own, what would it be?
I stopped counting years ago but it would have to be somewhere between 80 to 100k. I buy records profusely. It's like buying groceries.
What's the most recent vinyl you bought?
The last few things I picked up was the reissue of "Tomorrow's People" released on Floating Points' Melodies Label, and a rare Deep Funk 45 by Sounds Of The City by Stuff and Thangs.
We’re beyond excited to have you play for us alongside the phenomenal Terry Hunter & Julie McKnight on 25th March – but what else do you have coming up for us in the next few months?
There will be tons of house remixes, a few mentionable ones I'm working on are for Dajae on Groove Odyssey, Ruth Koleva, Steel Vybe featuring Peven Everett and a new soul artist Brian Owens featuring Michael McDonald. I'm also working on my first full length album in ten years and a few Hip Hop projects including Jigmastas on BBE and a great new remix Hallex M ft Darien on Groove Odyssey, records called "Feeling" out Friday 17th Feb promo exclusively on Traxsource!
DJ Spinna will be at Groove Odyssey on Saturday 25th March, tickets and info here.
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28 Feb 2017