TSC Behind The Decks | Dense & Pika
In a studio behind an unremarkable roll-up door in rural England, two men are creating delirious mayhem for the world’s dancefloors. Since 2011, as Dense & Pika, the two men – Alex Jones and Chris Spero – have garnered an enviable reputation for making devastating club ordnance that finds the sweet spot between dark, mysterious house and roaring, brawny techno.
“The whole point of writing music is it does the stuff that words can’t,” he says defiantly.
There’s no denying how adept they are at making music that talks to people. Together, they’ve released over 40 tracks – spread across more than a dozen EPs – and nearly as many remixes, and been associated with some of the biggest labels in dance music, like Hotflush, Drumcode and Hypercolour, the celebrated label that Alex runs. Meanwhile, the label they run together, “Kneaded Pains” (an anagram of their name), has had its biggest year to date.
The two friends of 16 years standing, and musical partners for the past nine, have never released an album. Until now. With guest appearances from Matthew Dear, Leftfield and Igor Cavalera, drummer with Brazilian metal deities, Sepultura, ‘Colour Burn’ was devised with Dense & Pika’s live show in mind, swooping and soaring like a set in microcosm.
“There’s stripped-back tribal stuff,” Alex explains, “and it gets ravey in the middle, with more peaceful moments. It’s not ten club bangers.”
Alex and Chris, as experienced performers, are already working on taking ‘Colour Burn’ out on the road. Luckily, Dense & Pika’s artistic background gives them a headstart over others – a preview of the visuals hint at a fluid version of the trippy, melting faces that adorn the album cover.
“The days of it being just a strobe and curtains are gone,” says Alex. “Music is only half the battle. They want more than just two people huddled over doing something. We are in the age of the spectacle.”
I caught up with the guys to talk about their beginning as a duo, the story behind their recent debut LP “Colour Burn”, and how they see the future of clubbing. Enjoy!
Hi guys, thank you for having me for this interview! Where am I catching you and what have you been up to lately?
Well, considering we are all still in a national lockdown, not a lot! We both have kids and families, so we have been spending time in the studio, doing some new mixes for the album launch and becoming home teachers.
You are living in separate locations in Europe – Alex in London, UK and Chris in Ibiza, Spain. How is your collaboration going at the moment, especially if we haven’t seen each other in a while?
It’s the norm for us, to work apart, as Chris moved to Ibiza about 5 years ago. We work on Skype and it has not failed us yet. Of course, when we can travel and we get time together in person in the studio, that’s a bonus, but we don’t need it to get work done.
Alex did you at some point during last year consider also moving to Ibiza, and spend the lockdown there?
Not for me, I love the UK and I have a family here. Lockdown looked pretty bad in Ibiza, and I didn’t want to be stuck on a tiny island.
I understand you guys met around 2002 at Mad Records in Soho, what were your daily jobs back then and how did that meeting transcend into becoming Dense & Pika?
Well, we met at Mad Records, as that’s where Chris was working in the basement. I (Alex) was a Graphic Designer working in Soho, so I used to bunk off work and go hang out there most of the week. We ended up mates and here we are.
Dense & Pika – Slender (Official Audio). From their debut LP “Colour Burn”.
You just released your highly-anticipated album “Colour Burn”. Electronic music albums can be tricky, with the result being 10 club tracks or very experimental, ambient production where the artist(s) try to do something very different artistically. For your album “Colour Burn”, when and why did you decide to make it, what’s the story behind it as well as what did you want to tell with it?
I don’t think you can ever go into an album with a focus to tell some kind of story. For us, this is a new sound no doubt compared to other music we have produced, so potentially a move into a more sophisticated sound. But the main reason, was that we have only ever released singles, so it’s about time after a decade of Dense & Pika to culminate all the work we have completed, and work on a bigger project – and Colour Burn was born. I guess this was designed also for a live show, but due to the world shutting down, that’s all been put on a back burner.
How long has it been in the making?
A while – we started the album 2019, with the intention of having it out in 2020. Of course, that was delayed a year due to covid. Although the album isn’t all dancefloor tracks, you always want to release something when you are playing, but that wasn’t possible for us, and actually we feel these tracks are suitable for home listening, when you’re driving in your car, or having a house party.
Can you tell me about the production process of “Colour Burn”, as a whole. Is there structure of who is responsible for what part of your music production – groove, baseline, or overall engineering and the creative process, or is it individual with each production?
We work as a team, so share a lot of the creative process, however, Alex does tend to do the synths and Chris on the drums. Having too much structure doesn’t help the flow.
How did you go about choosing the other artists who remixed and collaborated on this album? There are some big names with Matthew Dear, Igor Cavalera and Patrick Topping.
Like anyone, over the years and from the early days we have a list of musical heroes, so to think that any of them could be a part of a project with us was a special idea. Of course, it made sense to do this for the album and not just any kind of release. This album was a special production for us, it definitely dives into a new and more sophisticated sound for us, and it’s not the 4/4 techno many would be used to hearing. With collaborations and remixes, we think it’s a way to generate diversity in the sounds and audience. Matthew’s vocals were killer on ‘Honey’ and made the track, of course Igor is a legend on so many levels, to be able to work with him was fucking amazing. Then we had remixes from Ryan James Ford who took things into a more underground vibe, and Patrick who killed it on the remix of ‘Honey’ with a remake suitable for any dance floor.
Dense & Pika ft. Matthew Dear – Honey (Patrick Topping Remix). From their debut LP “Colour Burn”.
After releasing the album on BMG, will you now get back to focusing on KneadedPains and its growth this year? What releases and artists do you have coming up that you can share with us who particularly excite and why?
Kneaded Pains will be the focus, yes. We have a lot of new releases coming up, from Dubfire, Will Clarke, Roberto, Dubesque, Uncertain and A.Sagittariun. We do also have a remix pack coming out which is of all older classic Dense & Pika tracks. Truncate will be making is debut on the label too, and we have a new kid called Lucid who we are really excited about and will be a big part of Kneaded Pains, so watch out for his EP. We have 2 albums also but won’t announce just yet who they are coming from.
To promote the album, are you planning any live streams or mixes we can watch out for online?
We have a live stream coming up with Beatport in March as part of one of their Residency Series streams. We can’t say more than that for now, as the line-up has yet to be released. We just did a really new mix for Balamii’s ‘Casual Swim’ series. The theme was water and nautical, so we really want out on that and created a mix like we have never before. Lastly our music video of ‘Honey’ was released last week. It has been a while in the making which was a collaboration between us and Director Maxim Kelly with the team at Caviar. Maxim who Juergen Teller’s former assistant and has recently collaborated with Valentine, Linda Farrow and Vogue. We’ve both been re-created in this video as well as Matthew Dear.
Dense & Pika ft. Matthew Dear – Honey (Official Video). From their debut LP “Colour Burn”.
I found an interesting quote from Alex, from an interview with Festicket, a few years ago about embracing technology – “ Who knows where it’s going to end up, I imagine we’ll end up DJing over this Skype at some point.” Well ironically over the past 12 months it’s been mostly live-streams, and you have been part of a few. Where do you see technology taking the music experience next?
Well that just proves that Alex was a genius! Ha ha. Technology will always be a part of music, but I don’t think it needs to take music in any other directions in the future. I think we have been forced to use technology to access live musical experiences this last year, which has been weird but something we have all got used to. Kind of a necessary evil. We are not huge fans of social media anyway, so to have a period when it was even more influential and important that before, it’s not been easy. Music technology will have no doubt learnt a lot during lockdown, so it may become an easy way for artists to reach a bigger audience and generate an additional income when not able to travel.
Last summer we interviewed Watergate Club Berlin and their “Yes We Are Open” interactive clubbing experience. It was one of the closest attempts to recreating a virtual version of clubbing. To what extent do you feel all the live streams and interactive clubbing experience can recreate the real thing?
We don’t, in any way. It’s been a way to feel like you are at a party in your living room for a while, but it will never create the real experience of going to a club. The only thing it can re-create is hearing new live sets from DJs you like, and that we appreciate as fans are missing this. However, going to a club, getting sweaty, chatting shit to your mates and colleagues, dancing in a space which has a special atmosphere and hearing music out of proper speakers – can only be done at a venue.
Do you reckon that the clubbing and the Electronic Music community as we know them, are a thing of the past after the Covid-19 pandemic? How do you envision them in the future? Will online be the new normal now?
No, it’s not going to be a thing of the past. Clubs and venues will go back to doing what they do best, events. The old way wasn’t broken, so we don’t really think much will have changed when we go back. Yes, extra hygiene and security, as well as rules on overcrowding will be necessary and no doubt more apparent, but there is no way online will replace events or be a new normal.
Dense & Pika – Shine (Official Audio). From their debut LP “Colour Burn”.
Apart from the new album, what else is in store for you in 2021? Or is there something that you’d liked to have planned in 2021, but couldn’t?
Shows, shows and more shows. The album was the main focus for us, which was due to come out in 2020, and then we postponed due to covid, and thinking we’d all be back in clubs by September, which then soon become apparent we’d all still be locked up inside, so it was postponed again. Yes the album tour will be coming, when – that’s being sorted now! Who knows.
What was the first and last record each one of you bought?
Alex – My first? I actually don’t know. But the most recent one is from Eric Travis called ‘I’m The Operator’ – it’s on an obscure Detroit label. I love it.