If you are familiar with Qoöl, even just casually, you'll probably understand that we approach DJ talent very differently. Part of that difference is our apparent bias for unsung heroes. It's always the great music that gets you, then you see the talent and immense dedication behind the music and you're hooked. Enter Will Spencer. He's logged countless hours behind the scenes listening, track hunting, and even doing his own music production work. He's also a smart guy who's followed the electronic music scene closely for more than 10 years so his perspective on the scene alone is valuable (like music? you should talk to this guy!). It follows then that his DJ sets are something of value.
We caught up with Will in our usual last minute manner to ask him a few questions. As always, his replies are thoughtful. Did we mention that we just love this guy?
Qoöl: When and how did you happen to stumble upon the electronic music scene, and what about it grabbed you?
My wonderful sister (who’s reading this; thanks Liz!!) took me to a rave when I was in college. I had no idea what to expect. I ended up dancing for hours that night wearing a big pair of angel wings. Then I went to sleep that morning at home, and woke up later in the day, and I remember looking at the ceiling in my room and thinking, “I have to do this.” ‘This’ meant being a DJ. There was no question.
There’s something magical about a quality dance music set. It is simultaneously the most energizing and relaxing thing. An outstanding DJ can make you forget about everything except that moment, or even make time seem like it’s stopped. A great set absolutely demolishes barriers between people. I don’t experience that in any other genre. Experiencing one of those moments brought me here, and the search for more of those moments keeps me here, really.
Q: What's the roll of music in your life?
Hah, what isn’t the role of music in my life! Music has defined how I spend my time on evenings and weekends, my social circles, where I live (so I can play records at a decent volume), where I’ve worked, how I spend or save my money, where I travel to, and even the amazing woman I love. (We met at Qoöl’s former afterparty Satellite. Love you, babe!!!) And what I love about dance music is that I’m not alone in this.
Then every day, the pursuit of music as a passion continues to teach me more about myself and life than I ever thought possible. And music reminds me of things that are true. A great song is someone speaking truth out loud. We live in a world where people are often afraid to do that. It reminds me that there is much goodness in the world when things get rough.
Q: What's the coolest phenomenon in the electronic music scene today?
I think it’s the growth of women’s influence in the scene. When I got into dance music, it was a boy’s club behind the decks and in the industry. In the past few years, there’s been an explosion of outstanding female DJ’s and businesspeople (agents, managers, etc.) that have really come up and led the way.
Technology is technology; there’s always going to be a new democratizing tool that comes out next year and attracts new people. But if your whole industry is hostile to the professional aspirations of an entire gender, then that really says something. So I’m so very glad that’s getting sorted out.
Q: What's your personal approach to doing a DJ set?
It depends on the set. Opening sets get opening music, late-night sets get late-night music. It’s just common courtesy, not only to the DJ’s you’re playing with, but the dancefloor, as well. No one likes it when the DJ up there is hammering it out before you’ve had your first drink, you know?
But what I appreciate about Qoöl is that those rules don’t apply. The local new kid can play a 5pm slot like a headliner, bringing his best stuff, and the crowd is up for it. Play well enough, and you can earn a 9pm slot, no matter who you are. It’s unlike any other party I’ve seen. It’s brilliant. So for Qoöl my process is a little different. I make an effort to find interesting music that I love, that showcases who I am as a DJ, and what I want to say with my time up there. It’s a unique opportunity to be myself without too many professional constraints. Then I follow the tried-and-true route to Carnegie Hall. :)
Q: Pick a moment in your relationship with music and describe it.
Less than a year after my first rave, I met a kid who asked me to bring my turntables and mixer to a warehouse party in exchange for playing the sunrise set. Not knowing any better, I said sure. Turns out he didn’t have a permit for the warehouse, and the party got busted. Swarms of cops showed up. I had to stick around because it was my gear. I got a nice ride in back of a squad car that night.
I almost gave up on dance music totally after that. I was going to keep one turntable and a few records, just as a memento of a brief but fun time. But then I sent an email to SFRaves sharing some of my thoughts about dance music, and someone who would become a dear friend reached out and asked if we could get together sometime. The rest is history. (Thanks, Jason!!)
Q: What's your greatest joy in life?
Moments of connection. To another person, to a song, to the moment, to the universe, to myself and my own heart.
Also, really amazing food. When I taste something wonderful, I laugh. I can’t help it. It’s joy. Maybe not The Greatest Joy™ , but it sure is up there!
You can hear Will Spencer spin at Qoöl on June 5, from 7pm to 8pm. Missed it? Don't worry, we'll do our best to have him back. Keep your eyes on our events!