Spenny with some sort of intellectual
Wonderful guy, DJ Spenny is the resident DJ and music director of M1NT Shanghai, trading off regular appearances at the Bund club with guest slots in absurd dance clubs around the city, and frequent of out-of-town booking all over South East Asia, Europe, and the States. Recently, he's become an investor in a newly re-opened Bund lounge, Horizen, become patron of a local fashion designer Le Swan, and he also releases his own podcast and mixes and things.
Download his latest on iTunes right here.
What else. Am I forgetting something? Oh yeah...
HE'S ALSO SHANGHAI'S NUMBER 1 DJ.
SmartShanghai went to DJ Spenny's awesome pad to find out just who the man really is, behind the music, underneath that pile of chicks.
We talked about M1NT business, the new place he's invested in Horizen, and what life's like when you reach the absolute apogee of your chosen profession.
Spenny all up in your shit: Weibo; Facebook; mainpage; SoundCloud; Vimeo.
DJ Spenny: I was born in a place called Reading -- 35 or 40 minutes outside London. I went to school there, that area, and when I was about 18 I left school. Didn’t go to university, and I set up my own business doing IT and database stuff, and web design. It didn’t really work out as planned but by the end of the year, we’d come up with our own little product, which was dedicated servers, and we were picking up clients. We had basically like a rack of computers underneath the stairs on our office, which was a house.
And we tried another year and kept going, trying another base, got another office -- two racks in there -- and the business went really well, and after about five years of that, I started doing DJing. Fell out with my business partner and switched into DJing. I still owned half of it and he carried on running it while I moved to London. I was DJing in London and had another side business there which was a DJ A/V company -- projectors, flatscreens for private and corporate events, things like that. And then I got a bit bored and the music scene was pretty wack, and we were thinking of selling the IT business. I was also thinking of moving out of country to avoid tax and Alistair [Founder & Group CEO, M1NT] and Danielo Hoti asked me to come out to Shanghai to DJ for a weekend. I never really heard what was going on in Shanghai; I knew of it but going there had not even crossed my mind.
But I came out and loved it. Came out and checked all the tax stuff, and it was a really cool place for me to be, and I absolved everything and came here.
DJ Spenny: Funny story actually. I used to MC at garage events. UK garage -- quite a big movement in the UK at the time. I was about 17, doing different clubs. We had a big one in Reading actually called The Matrix – one of the top 10 clubs for UK garage at that time -- and that was literally on my doorstep, so I used to go there all the time and everyone would fight for the mic. Now everyone is a DJ but back then everyone was an MC, getting on the mic and talking a load of rubbish.
But, yeah, I’ve kind of come a long way from there. I used to MC at these places and hang out with these DJs. My brother was DJing drum ‘n’ bass and I would mess around on his decks -- he had these crappy, old belt-driven decks. And one time my friend was DJing and the end of one night he met this chick that he wanted to take home and have sex with. He said, “Can you fill in for me, I’ve got to go off”. So I kind of carried on from there.
DJ Spenny: Well, my dad was into country and western -- Van Morrison, Nanci Griffith… but originally I was a hip hop DJ, thinking, ‘ oh house music is crap’. I was DJing at China White -- that was sort of my first main residency, that really stepped me up – and I was also doing remixes for Crooklyn Clan. That was back in the days where it was hard to do a mash-up -- not everyone had access to it. Nowadays, anyone can do it with the technology and I don’t really do them anymore. Not because I don’t think it’s cool…
DJ Spenny: Well, from where I was coming in England, I hadn’t sold my business yet, and I wasn’t 100% financially secure -- I knew it was going to happen at some point but it hadn’t happened. But I just went in DJing for them to start. Back then the music at M1nt wasn’t so good I don’t think -- it was quite open-format with all kinds of party music and it just wasn’t working. And so when I came I caused quite a bit of a change. Everyone was like, “who the fuck is this guy”. Got rid of quite a few DJs in just a few months -- probably made a few solid enemies doing that, but that’s my job, that’s what I’m being paid to do, you know.
My job is to make M1NT have good music, within what is going to work. And I think they’ve done quite well. It’s one of the busiest venues in Shanghai and the place is making an absolute fortune. These days, I’ve got another guy, Greg, in from London who lives here now, and I’m bringing in guys from all over for short residencies -- the U.S., the UK. -- guys that I know that are really experienced. I can trust them and I know their music.
DJ Spenny: When I book a DJ I tell him no hip hop -- just don’t play hip hop. It’s all commercial house. And hip hop that’s on top of house, I guess. It’s all 130 bpm stuff. House tempos. We don’t really book big-name DJs because most big-name DJs, no one’s really heard of them and so unless they’re megastars no one really recognizes who they are, and it costs too much money. And M1NT desn’t really need to do that…
DJ Spenny: Well, I think for the music, it’s quite unique because we have a specific set of guys. It’s gradually getting more and more house-y but still commercial. We have to keep it commercial because people are expecting a certain thing at M1NT -- they want to come in, they want to get drunk, they want to listen to a song they know. That’s what people basically do when they go out, right? But more and more we’re changing it from hip hop to house. House music you can play a new song that no one’s ever heard of and if it’s a good song people will get into it. For hip hop, unless they’ve heard it on the radio people don’t get into it.
To go back to your question, all the Chinese clubs, they play a specific type of music. Every single Chinese club you’ll get the same music every night. And I really enjoy it, if I’m out, and I’m drunk -- when I got to Phebe I have an amazing time. The DJs are actually technically brilliant -- transitioning tracks, and the whole time from 10pm to 4am, it’s absolutely pumping. When you go to M1nt, it’s a bit more sophisticated. I think we’re in the middle of when Muse 2 kind of has their tech nights and the Chinese clubs, trying to entertain everyone.
DJ Spenny: The nightlife is amazing and it suits my lifestyle. I find Chinese women very attractive – there’s one thing for me [laughs] -- and there’s an abundance of them. And there’s so much going on. Business opportunities, and so many people that are like-minded and want to do something exciting. And when I’m here I kind of feel like I’m not at home. I get to try out different things – softball, kick boxing – I would have never done kick boxing back home, but because I’m here with loads of other people who are also not-at-home, so they’re more interesting.
It’s a bit of a shame because you don’t get to know people so well. I have loads of acquaintances…
Spenny underneath a pile of acquaintances
DJ Spenny: Well, the alcohol intake is pretty insane, isn’t it? There’s a lot of it. In my job I basically have to get drunk when I’m DJing… doesn’t work when I’m sober [laughs].
My style of DJing, I’m expected to perform in a particular way. When they come to M1NT people expect to see me going crazy in the DJ booth and If I’m not they’re having a bad time.
DJ Spenny: Good fight… we had that one with the F1 driver. Made the news and everything. Mate, it was still in the news like last week. Went to the courts and everything. The racer lost his job over that -- no longer in the F1.
DJ Spenny: Yeah, I DJed there like once or twice. It’s good fun but the music is pretty monotonous and you can’t really play interesting -- have to keep it commercial.
DJ Spenny: Yeah, well, if I’m there, I normally have a group of friends coming down and booking a table. And I’ve got quite a big following on Weibo. I wouldn’t say they book me and suddenly the venue is packed -- it’s not like that at all, but I’ve got like 20 or 30 people there to see me and they’re busy anyways. They’re busy every night. They’re like 88 but more focused around the girls, the have xiao jies…
DJ Spenny: I did use to DJ at 88, yeah. It’s almost exactly the same. I used to do Tuesday night for like six months. I enjoyed it actually. It was good. But the music is different to M1NT. Much more commercial, no breakdowns in the music. Top 40 house, 130bpms stuff, but with someone shouting over the top or something…
Spenny with some dance music enthusiasts
DJ Spenny: They don’t really request stuff but they come up and give me drinks. And you have to drink. They keep coming up with drinks and it’s like, ‘oh God here we go’. 88 used to have more foreigners, Phebe doesn’t have hardly any -- it’s all Chinese. I think they went through a period of trying to attract foreigners but then they realized actually foreigners aren’t spending money as much as the Chinese so they stop bothering.
One time at 88 though I had this guy and he was a bit drunk and acting like an idiot, and he came up and was like, ‘can you play this song?’ Totally inappropriate song to play… completely different to what I was playing. And then he started getting more aggressive and kept asking for it. And I’m like, ‘I haven’t got that song. I’m just not going to play it’. And then he started trying to create like a riot on the dancefloor, trying to get everyone to stop dancing and saying, “The DJ is shit! He’s not playing my song…”
But 88 is good fun…
DJ Spenny: Well, possibly. But music-wise and the type of people that go there, it’s different. Horizen is not a club. It’s not a late-night, loud music-orientated, DJ club. It’s more of a lounge. Like the DJ booth is sort of out of the way, you know. It’s not the focus. It gets pretty busy and loud, Friday and Saturday evenings -- there’s a lot of people in there -- but it’s not really aiming for that. So that’s why I thought it was okay for me to invest there.
It’s just got the best views… you’ve got other nice-views places like VUE, but it’s just a bit boring, you know. Nothing really going on. But the people involved in Horizen are people like me, you know -- they’re all well-connected and out to have a good time in a comfortable way. Great service, private tables -- just enjoying the place, and we’re getting some good people going there.
We’re hoping it will be successful for a long time.
DJ Spenny: Amazing. Officially open now. Friday, last week was the official opening, and the restaurant is opening.
DJ Spenny: Was he down before? We’ve had quite a few famous people down. The week before last we had Michael Bolton…
DJ Spenny: Well, they don’t call me [laughs]. They’re usually staying at the hotel. The family that owns the hotel are very well connected.
DJ Spenny: Yeah, I went with him to M1NT and ate at the restaurant at M1NT. He’s a really nice guy. Gave me his number saying, “Call me when you come to LA.”
DJ Spenny: Yeah, I told my mum and my dad and they’re like, ‘whoaaa’.
Shanghai's Number 1 dog (?)
DJ Spenny: I don’t. Well, I do, but I’ve kind of stepped away from it at the moment. I’ve got a whole functioning studio out the back because I always want to have it there just in case. But the last remix I’ve made was about six months ago. I’ve just been busy with business investments and trying to look after things. Music, I can come back to that.
And I’ve found that there are so many other much more talented people than me making music, so there’s no point in me making a track…
DJ Spenny: It’s true, it’s true. I might as well pay someone else to do it for me and ask to put my name on it. [Laughs.] That’s what David Guetta does right? Can’t hate on him, he’s making an absolute fortune.
DJ Spenny: Yeah, I have to. In Shenzhen, it’s more commercial stuff. I can’t play breakdown music or anything like that. If I go back to England or to the U.S., I have to play more hip hop. I don’t like to do it and I’m not very good at it…
DJ Spenny: Oh yeah. [Laughs.]
Hail to the king, baby
DJ Spenny: Well, what happened was, last year, maybe a year and a half ago, some other guys were calling me that. Some guys from 88 or Phebe or somewhere. And I understand marketing…
DJ Spenny: No, no. we’re not discussing that. [Laughs.] But what I do know is that to be successful in marketing you have to create emotion in someone. They have to love it or hate it. If it’s in the middle, people don’t care. It’s forgotten. If I say I’m the "Number 1 DJ", certain people believe it and pay me lots more money. Or they don’t believe it, they hate me, but they know who I am. So what happens is everyone knows who I am. Which is a good thing.
… Okay, sometimes it is a little bit embarrassing. [Laughs.] Like I know for a fact that I am not an amazingly technical DJ -- I can’t scratch, I wouldn’t say my mixing is amazing -- I know there are so many more DJs that are more talented than me and there are many more people who can produce music more amazingly than me, but I do know that I know how to party and when I DJ people love it. And I know how to get drunk...
DJ Spenny:.. and connect with people. Even if you heard of this “Best DJ” thing or whatever, if you came to see me at M1NT and you just watch me DJ, I know you’re going to have a great night and I’ll connect with you.
But the technical ability of being a DJ is only 20% of it. The rest of it is the marketing and people’s perception of you when they come to a gig. If you’re seeing David Guetta, he’s also not an amazing DJ, he’s also not the best DJ technically, he just plays the same music as everyone else, but the perception of him when you go to a club is, ‘wow this place is going to be rammed, there’s going to be loads of people, this is going to be an amazing night’.
And if you have that perception, then yes, you will have an amazing night and yes, he is an amazing DJ.
And that’s sort of the thing that I try…
DJ Spenny: [Laughs]. Yeah, they’re all on the same level now, aren’t they?
But, no, I certainly don’t mean to say to another DJ: ‘hey, I’m better than you’. I certainly don’t mean that at all.
DJ Spenny: [Laughs.] I don’t know. Well, I always think it’s good fun to have a hot chick, and the best way to have a hot chick is to pay her to model for me.
No, well, to get paid more money to DJ you’ve got to have good photos. The more I’ve learned that is though working at M1NT because I can only book a DJ if they’ve got good photos, you know. If they’ve got a good profile and a good set of pictures that I can use to advertise them, you know.
The one that I did with the six Chinese girls…
DJ Spenny: Well, I’ve sold it. I’ve bought a…
DJ Spenny: Rolls Royce.
DJ Spenny: Well, I sold the Hummer because… I had a weak moment. Well, I’ll tell you the truth, I’ll tell you the truth… a few other people said, ‘Oh, well, he got a Hummer with his DJ money -- how sad is that’.
DJ Spenny: Yeah, “awesome”, well, I thought it’s better that I… how to put this [laughs]. I wanted to really make a statement and the Hummer kind of… didn’t.
DJ Spenny: No, well, it wasn’t sophisticated enough and I wanted people to take me seriously when I’m investing and doing business. You can get one in the States for something like 30,000USD. I don’t know. To be honest buying a Rolls Royce is a complete waste of money but I don’t know…
DJ Spenny: It’s a very nice car.
DJ Spenny: I have a real nice bike as well and I’ve got a sticker on it that says “My Other Car is a Rolls Royce”.
DJ Spenny: No, I don’t. [Laughs.]
L to R: Spenny, Spenny's Stripper Pole, Some Nerd -- BFFs
Spenny links: Weibo; Facebook; mainpage; SoundCloud; Vimeo.