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Dense & Pika: ‘It’s nice to put yourself outside your comfort zone once in a while and experiment with other stuff’

Dense & Pika are a British duo compromised by Alex Jones (Hypercolour label boss) and Chris Spero (formerly known as Glimpse).

The duo started making waves in mid-2011 with a series of mysterious white label releases. It wasn’t long until they caught the attention of Scuba, who signed their music to his respected Hotflush label and, in the years since, they’ve had multiple releases on labels such as Adam Beyer’s Drumcode, Hypercolour and Turbo. They’ve also turned out some killer remixes (including their current smash rework of Tiga’s ‘Louder Than A Bomb’) and dropped a few tasty treats on their own Kneaded Pains label.

We had the chance to talk with dense & pika in the lead up to their upcoming release, ‘Casino’. Read on to watch the exclusive video premiere of the track and to find out more about their label…

Electronic Groove: Hi Alex & Chris, thanks for the time to chat with us. What was the starting point with your label? How did it come to fruition?

Alex: Thanks to you. The label was the first we did actually, dense & pika came into being with the hand stamped white labels we started doing in 2011.

Chris: It has morphed and evolved from us doing our own thing to begin with.

Alex: Yeah, in the beginning it had ‘dense & pika’ stamped on the labels. We didn’t want to start releasing other peoples’ music on a label that had our names all over it. Kneaded Pains – our label-  is an anagram of our names, so I guess they are still on there in a way. It just gives us the chance to release music from people we love. It’s a way to showcase what we’re into and connect with the general public with music other than the stuff we’re making.

EG: Why was it important to have your platform in those early days?

Chris: It was partly due to a fear of rejection. We didn’t want to sit around waiting and worrying about negative feedback or having to fit it into what labels wanted our music to sound like, we wanted to release it exactly as it had been written and the first track we did was ‘Bad Back’, there was nothing like that around at the time so we didn’t know how people would take it. We didn’t want to put our names on it, or send it to any labels, we just wanted to put it out and do it in the purest way possible. No online media, no one knew who we were, just hand-stamped white labels, which are way more common now than they were then.

EG: I guess taking that approach has affected your mentality towards releases up until the present moment? Having the time and space to do what you want means you can cultivate your own sound.

Chris: It’s funny actually, now we’ve been releasing through other labels we have found ourselves making stuff that’s more suited to them at times. We’re definitely at a point where we’re going back to that original DIY mentality with our releases on Kneaded Pains. It’s a return to that point where we’re taking full control of our music; when it’s out, how it sounds… We’re so privileged to be releasing with some of the labels who’ve signed us, and proud of everything we’ve done with them but it’s nice to also have a platform where we can experiment and do our own thing without any other influences.

Alex: It’s an opportunity to take more risks. We could put out a one-sided record with 10 minutes of ambient soundscapes if we wanted to. There’s no pressure with Kneaded Pains.

Chris: Also, when you’ve made something you like you can put it out when you want to, with the artwork you want and promote it in the way you want to. When you sign music to other labels you’re sometimes at the mercy of their release schedule, so it could be months and months before your release is actually out. You want people to connect with where you are in your head right at the present moment, a few months down the line you might be in a completely different headspace.

EG: That’s a great point Chris. If you made a track today but it wasn’t released until December, it may not be truly representative of where you’re at six months from now.

Chris: When Alex and I make a tune and we really like it, we want people to hear it right then and there, not in six months time. That’s the thing with ‘Casino’, we wrote it and we were like, “Right, we want it out now!”. It’s out a month and a half after finishing it, which is perfect for us.

Alex: That track doesn’t sound like anything we’ve done before, which is why it fits on our label. It’s us doing something different for our own peace of mind I guess, to satisfy ourselves. If it doesn’t do well, who cares?! We’re not trying to impress anyone, it’s liberating.

EG: Tell us more about ‘Casino’ then, as it’s a killer track.

Alex: We were listening to a lot of old Thomas Bangalter stuff, that’s what I’ve been listening recently. The Daft Punk Essential Mix from 1997, classic.

Chris: Old Shufflemaster stuff, all the old MPC stuff, cutting up samples and all that.

Alex: That sound, that rawness, that ethos, is so much better than a lot of stuff that’s around now. So we thought we’d have a good at it, with our USP; the heaviness.

Chris: Yeah it’s got that weight, and people know us for the heads down, hard, peak-time techno we play but this is a lot ‘housier’ with a disco groove which is another side of us we want to show to people.

Alex: We’re known for the gnarly techno and that comes quite naturally to us, but it’s nice to put yourself outside your comfort zone once in a while and experiment with other stuff. Ultimately, that feeds back into our heavier music and pushes things forward, which can only be a good thing.

“Our label it’s a way to showcase what we’re into and connect with the general public with music other than the stuff we’re making”

EG: Having a label gives you the ability to do that as we’ve said, and that’s also why you started the label in the first place – to be able to take risks…

Alex: It’s all just come full circle, luckily we’re in a position now where we have a strong following and they’re open to hearing other artists that we appreciate. It’s nice to be able to help them out. Not many people will give you a leg up in this industry, but we’re using our reach to do exactly that. There are some amazing producers out there, so if we can help them out then all the better – it’s not just about us. As I always say, “It’s nice to be nice”.

EG: Yeah, so let’s talk about some of the lesser-known artists you’ve supported with the label…

Alex: The roster is pretty diverse actually, we’ve got these two guys called Melody’s Enemy, who’ve literally just started making techno.

Chris: One of them is Goldie’s MC, so they’re coming at it from a completely different angle. They’re drum’n’bass guys but they heard our remix of Tiga on Planet E and it sent them off on a techno tangent. They hold that one up as the ‘production bar’, which is really flattering. They also seem to be meeting that bar already, which is less flattering! Their stuff sounds great, nice and chunky, great for big rooms. That’s one side of things. At the other end of the scale we’ve got Myles Serge, he’s got that old school Detroit vibe and did some really nice stuff for us.

Alex: We’ve got this kid called Billy Turner who I met when we played Paradise at DC-10 last summer. I met him on the plane going over to Ibiza and took him into Paradise with me. Chris and I left at some point, while Billy stayed and hung out with Skream. He started sending music to him soon after, and Skream told us several times that it was amazing. When I finally heard it I thought it was great, really headsy techno and so we signed him up and will be working with him a lot more. Should’ve paid attention to Skream in the first place really!…

EG: And you had some established figures come in and remix tunes from your back catalogue…

Chris: Yeah we had Slam, which was quality. Mark Henning is doing the next one, some of my favorite stuff lately has been by him. Then we had ONNO from Holland, he’s doing some really really cool stuff. Yotam Avni as well, did a great rework of ‘Buttplug’ for us.

EG: The remix series is pretty cool, I guess it’s a way to introduce new fans to your older work?

Alex: Yeah, and to work with some of our favorite artists too. Danny Daze is someone whose music we’ve admired for a while now so he was an obvious choice. Same with Slam and everyone else really, all artists that we really dig. It’s been six years since those white labels went out and a lot of kids may not know our original stuff, so rather than re-release it we decided to inject some new life into it.

EG: How important is it to you to be able to have a label where you can not only experiment with your own sound but also A&R and introduce your audience to new artists?

Chris: Alex obviously runs a few successful labels. I ran Glimpse Recordings from 2005, but it was always for my own music – I was never any good at A&Ring. I found it difficult because I was always changing my mind, going off things very easily. With Alex’s experience that process has become a lot easier, and we combine our efforts with Kneaded Pains. We have a very very similar taste in techno, it’s very rare that Alex plays something to me and I don’t like it. If I had to do it on my own I’d be constantly changing my mind and letting people down. It’s great to be able to give our support to other artists that we’re into, we’re doing a series of showcases too, where we’ll get some of these guys on the lineup with us.

EG: Where does the future lie with the label, do you have a long-term vision or are you taking it as it comes?

Alex: There is no game plan or long-term vision really, we’re just treating it as we did in the beginning; simply getting good music out there. We do it because it makes us happy, what other reason do you need really?

“We have a very very similar taste in techno”

EG: There is one long-term aspect of the label though… the development of the lesser-known artists. Tell us more about that.

Alex: The Melody’s Enemy guys are a great example of this. They were sending us demos that sounded just like our music, we were really flattered.

Chris: We love their music, they were totally transparent with us from the off, explaining that the music they made was inspired by our releases. Rather than find that threatening we took them under our wing. So many people get uptight about other artists trying to sound like them, but you can actually help people to sound more like themselves if you dedicate some time to them. It’s a mutually beneficial process because we’re learning stuff from them, too.

Alex: It’s the same with Billy Turner, he’s so humble and thankful that we’re helping out, and we’re happy to be helping, you know. As I said before, “It’s nice to be nice”.

EG: Let’s finish by talking about where you guys have come from, because new fans may not be aware of your individual histories…

Alex: I run Hypercolour, Glass Table, Losing Suki and a few other labels. I’ve been doing it for quite a long time now! Highlights include signing Maya Jane Coles when she was virtually unknown, later on we signed tracks from people like Laurent Garnier to Matthew Herbert and Luke Vibert.

Chris: [Laughs] You do the maths! Well, I think that speaks for itself. I released the first ever Hypercolour record as Glimpse, so it’s all come back full circle really. I started Glimpse in 2002 with Anthony from Mad Records. Did the Grey Series with Kompakt – I did five of those, then I did the Bird Series, which Alex featured on, and Jay Shepheard, people like that… I released on so many labels actually, Aus, Cadenza, Planet E, Get Physical, Buzzin Fly, I did an album on Crosstown Rebels. I kind of regret that in a way, I was I’d been a bit more ‘controlled’ with where I was releasing. I think people can lose what you’re about a bit if you spread yourself around too much. It was great, and I don’t regret the releases but if you go into Beatport and type in Glimpse hundreds of labels come up! Anyway, I learned from my mistakes with Glimpse and I’m channeling that experience into dense & pika, so every cloud!…

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