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Desyfer [Interview]

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Label owner, music producer & DJ Spencer Hickson, aka Desyfer has been involved in the music industry for over 25 years, He also works under the pseudonyms Phoenix & Sundogs with fellow producer FOTN. Released labels included Sony, Ministry of Sound, Solaris, Northern Exposure & The Sound of Copenhagen. Desyfer has received fantastic support from Sasha, John Digweed, Nick Warren, Guy J, Paul Oakenfold, Danny Tenaglia Nick Warren, Quivver, Anthony Pappa and Dave Seaman, amongst others. This this past year Spencer has focused on revitalizing his Tactal Hots imprint with the release of his latest productions 'Dronemind’ and ‘Solo'.

Progressive Astronaut caught up with Desyfer to learn more about the release of 'Dronemind’ and ‘Solo', his background, nightlife in the UK, DJing, and more. Enjoy.

Hi Spencer, thanks for sitting with us today! What is your current mood and what was the last piece of music you listened to?

Hey, I’m good thanks, my mood is always pretty calm, I have to keep a grounded attitude and enjoy my moments. I’m always listening to or working on projects and don’t have those melodies and thoughts far from my mind. I’m currently listening to some Afterlife releases for some inspiration.

Do you consider yourself a DJ or producer first? And which do you enjoy more and why?

Well I started as a DJ and the Production side followed later, there is something special about mixing 2 pieces or even 4 pieces or more of music together. You don’t get the same buzz writing in the studio as you do with mixing, although there is a buzz, it’s very different, with mixing I find to have less of a plan as producing you get to vibe from the tunes the crowd and it’s more pure, it’s live.

Tell us more about your story. How did you discover electronic music?

Being 16 in 1989 and living 30 mins from Stoke and 1 hour from Manchester and discovering Key 103, and the great Indie scene that was happening was something very special. I’d not heard or seen anything like it. It was completely captivating for a young adolescent looking for new experiences and a direction in life. Hearing these tunes in clubs and raves were amazing times, very colourful and innocent time and the music was evolving all the time, it was very exciting to be part of it.

How has growing up and living in the UK contributed to your passion for electronic music?

Hugely, it felt like all of a sudden there was all this colour, from these new sounds we were listening to, from Indie, to Acid House and the Piano House and Hard Core, to this colour we were all wearing in our clothes to the flyers, which we’re these magical flyers you’d receive leaving the last Club or Rave, it was the part after you’d changed from your soaking dancing clothes to getting your dry designer gear back on, and looking at the these flyers and line ups, and saying yes we gotta get this one or that one.

What are some of your best memories from first going to clubs in the UK? Were there specific nights or sets that really made you feel you wanted to pursue electronic music?

Yes absolutely, the first couple of years were the best and being 90-91 was obviously a beautiful time to be a raver. Cuing for 2-3 hours from 5pm on a Friday to get in to Shelley’s to hear Sasha, Dave Seaman, Nipper of Ralpy, were great times, everybody buzzing with that feeling we were all going on a journey tonight, no one fully knowing where it might lead, but also knowing you were going to have a great night and you we’re in it together.

What are your favourite venues to play in the UK both past and present, and why?

Past: The Voyeur (Time & Space) Newcastle, The DJ Booth was a big glass half moon one hanging over the dancefloor, it really got you close up to the crowd, It was awesome, and just the best vibe.

The Castle, Thailand big vibes on a tiny island, great fun.

The Monastery Manchester, WOW!

You have a couple of new tracks ‘Dronemind’ and ‘Solo’ out now on your Tactal Hots imprint, tell us about those and how they showcase your current sound?

Yes these are both my latest releases and are sounds that I like to use, but then saying that my sound keeps evolving and changing, which keeps the interest and excitement.

Let our readers inside your studio for a moment, what is your current setup and what studio tools are featured heavily in your recent productions like ‘Dronemind’ and ‘Solo’.

I use Ableton as my DAW iMac, Motu M4, Ableton Push, Deepmind 6, Vector, Microfreak, S49.

Was there anything that inspired these particular tracks? and what in general inspires your music?

I generally don’t start a track after hearing something else, it just happens, I go with a sound or melody I like and it starts hear. I look for inspiration from other music when I’m committing to more of a finished idea.

Both yourself as a producer and the label had a bit of a hiatus until recently, tell us about that and what was it that brought you back?

Yes a few things contributed to this, I finished my Counselling Degree in 2017 and started a charity locally where I live working with Children and Vulnerable groups using Music, Djing and Counselling. Which I did and is going really well. Also Covid happened so my last track was 2019 and the labels 2020. I was always still playing around with ideas and 2023 seemed like a good time to start again.

What is the task you enjoy the most when producing and what would you prefer someone else to do?

I like how these ideas happen, it seems sometimes unnatural like we are lost in the session deep in the moment and then these sounds and patterns emerge, sometimes like we did unconsciously almost, it’s like when we’re driving and then our brain says how did we get here, we don’t even remember, but it’s a nice feeling.

Let’s talk a bit about your label for a moment, what led you to start Tactal Hots initially? Was that your first foray into running a record label?

I started Tactal Hots because I wanted full control over my releases and like a lot of other people hadn’t had the best experiences with other labels over my time in the industry, and it seemed the best way to move forward.

It’s an interesting label name, where does it come from and what does it mean to you?

Tactal Hots Music is an anagram of ‘Scott Latham’ who was one of my best friends who introduced me to Producing. I met him in around 1993 and he used to DJ at a club my family owned in my home town, I was promoting events here and there and he came and played at a few and we became good friends, he introduced me to Producing and our first and only release was Phoenix – Rise Up in 1995. Scott sadly died in 1996 in a car accident, he was a genius and a really gentle soul, he would have been huge if he had lived. My father died in the same year, and Scott’s father Graham and I became very close over the 28 years, which is a lovely positive out of a very hard time for both of us. I call him Dad No2 and he introduces me as my 2nd son. When I started the label I wanted to make it a tribute to Scott as he was the reason I started producing.

In terms of DJs and artists who would say are the biggest sources of inspiration for Tactal Hots?

There are so many great artists that inspire me at the moment I’m really in to Innellea, Joris Voorn, ARTBAT, Fabio Florida, Tale of Us, Dino Lenny and of course The Man Like.

The label has been running for well over a decade now so I’m curious how running a label 10 years ago changed to what you are doing on a daily basis now?

Certainly, the way we engage has changed. We now find new artists and music from the streaming platforms so much quicker than ever before and we can take a peek in to profiles quickly looking at their socials. We’re very much more plugged in now than I recall back in 2010, those moments away from the screen are always needed to keep a balance.

Are you solely responsible for the A&R on the label? And if not, who else contributes to what gets signed or is helping with the weekly duties?

Yes and no, I run lots of ideas past long term friend and production partner David Fletcher AKA FOTN, he’s for sure someone I trust and who he Is also a top producer, he’s my go to guy for sure.

What advice do you have for artists hoping to get signed to Tactal Hots?

Make sure it sounds quality. The only way to do this really is to get other people to mix your tracks and master them, then you will get fresh ears on where sounds should be in the mix. We get so used to how a track sounds in our studio, having it heard elsewhere can really help the final production.

Let’s talk about DJing a bit more for a moment, it’s a unique discipline at the border between presenting great music and creating something new with it, between composition and improvisation to an extent. How would you describe your approach to it?

Listening to new music is still the same in many ways as it used to be going to a record shop, we just use a mouse or our finger these days, but that picking up that record and looking at the cover then putting it on the deck is a great thing to do, we used think, can’t wait to get this home and have a mix with it. Now we can be mixing it within minutes, which is also really great. In terms of sorting new music, using folders with months/years then down into sub folders.

How much prep do you put into the tracks you choose to play? Or are your sets totally spontaneous?

Once I know I like it and then I get to hear it and know it, it can come in anywhere, the more spontaneous the better, and that why I like 4 decks, it gives me the chance to pick sections I like and play around with new ideas quickly.

Can you tell me a bit about how your work as a DJ has influenced your view of music, your way of listening to tracks and perhaps also, your work as a producer?

Being exposed to a wide range of genres and artists as a DJ I get to see how different genres, tempos, and moods can flow together to create a cohesive experience and how they can interconnect. This reflects well in the studio as lots of ideas can spring from mixing on the decks and hearing that maybe one sound in a track that leads to inspiration in the studio, I feel they go hand in hand.

If you are not DJing, producing or socializing at clubs, where do we find you? And doing what?

Spending time with family and being quiet is a big part for me, exercise and a simple existence is what I like when I’m away from Djing and Producing.

If you could set up an event with a line-up of five artists of your choice, who would you book and what set times would you ascribe to the artists?

Underworld
Sasha
Fabio Florida
Hanz Zimmer
Mogwai
This would be a main room and a chill out room lineup.

If you were not a DJ/Producer what do you think you’d be doing with your life?

Counselling which is one of my other day Jobs and passions. So I guess I’m happy doing a multitude of jobs.

What advice would you offer to your younger self or up and coming artists, considering all the knowledge you've acquired being in the industry for close to three decades?

My advice to younger me, would be to Focus on your own sound and DJing is a great way to find that in the early stages as an artist, the learning of the software and instruments is the big challenge and getting to know your instruments is key to finding your own production style.

What TV series have you been enjoying recently and what are some of your all time favourites?

Ozark
ZeroZeroZero
Fav:s
Only Fools and Horses
The Peep Show
The IT Crowd
The Office
Spaced
Game On

Current top five tracks?

Desyfer – ADA
Node – FiveP
Armour Propre – With You
Focus FL – Become the Light
FOTN & Marsden – Sunrise

Apart from music, what makes you happiest?

Exercise, Food, Chilling, walking my Dog (Lottie) laughing and being positive

What 2024 hold for you in terms of releases and gigs? Anything you can share with us?

I am just starting my first monthly residency radio show with Data Transmission, which I’m really excited about. I am filming each show either from my studio or on location and then posting it after the show as a full video set on my Youtube Channel. I have just filmed my 2nd show in a huge cathedral in Manchester which was crazy good and looked amazing. I am also working with a great singer Emma Konnanov and we have our first track coming out on Nebula Sounds on 19th April, she’s very talented and a really lovely person to work with.

And then finally it’s the 25th Anniversary of Desyfer – 831 in 2024 I’m doing a new mix with a brand new version, where we have developed the lyrics. The track was really about how I felt around my father’s suicide in 1996, lost and looking for answers, which you can hear in the lyrics. Over the 28 years since his death, I have found peace, so the new version will be a nod to the original and incorporate the positive place I found myself in now, so please watch this space.

'Dronemind’ and ‘Solo' are available now via Tactal Hots: https://tinyurl.com/fsehfmzz

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