In 2011, a run of hand-stamped white labels announced the arrival of yet-another anonymous techno project. Going by the name Dense & Pika, the unit specialised in bunker-optimised techno: all booming kicks and raw, hardware-derived physicality. Twelve inches like 'Buttplug' and 'Vomee' pre-empted the wave of second gen, British warehouse bangers, and yet these productions felt special, different. Of course, once the curtain was pulled back, it made sense: the brainchild of Hypercolour head Alex Jones and Christopher Spero aka British house and techno mainstay Glimpse, these guys have longer CVs than most — with a righteous scepticism to match.
They’ve different touchstones, different perspectives, a different attitude. And while they’ve worked together, on and off, for 12 years, Dense & Pika is the most aggressively techno thing they’ve done — just in time to set the music industry straight as only the cleansing 4/4 of techno can. Just listen to their scaled-up rework of Bobby Peru's [Paul Woolford] modern classic 'Erotic Discourse', on their sometime home of Hotflush, for a metallic taste of their no-nonsense aesthetic.
Now they’re bringing a tonic of mid-'90s acid cruddiness, a searing sense of humour and a hefty dose of zero bullshit (with a dash of beyond caring) to an industry increasingly sick with pointless distractions, dodgy working practices and off-kilter style-substance ratios. Dense & Pika have come to save club music from itself. One happy accident at a time.
We quizzed them on where they're at...
You’re both established producers, does the Dense & Pika project represent a freedom to begin afresh?
Chris: “We wanted to do a new project that was much more techno-orientated than what we were doing on our own. We didn’t want to be judged on anything apart from the music — that’s why we started off by putting out white labels. If we’d put our names all over it everyone would have gone, 'Oh it’s Glimpse and Alex doing techno'. This way round it was like, if the music’s popular, we’ll start doing some gigs and we’ll come out as Dense & Pika.”
Alex: “We had no idea the project would end up like this, we were just doing it so that we could put some music out, the harder stuff. Everyone’s jumped on the techno bandwagon but nobody was doing that when we first started, we were doing it before that.”
What precipitated the move towards an exclusively techno project?
A: "We’re both angry people and we need something to vent our anger with! (laughs)”
Angry about what?
C: “Just the shitty music industry, generally."
A: “The time that we started it there was a lot of that type of 'sunbed house' going around. It was just doing our heads in, so we were like, 'Fuck it, let’s write some stuff that we want to be playing'.”
C: "Music that we’d like to listen to in clubs and get off our heads to — well, not anymore, we’re too old for that now, but if we were doing that this is the music we’d want to hear."
Would you say a sense of disillusionment led you here, then?
C: "The whole high-fiving one another in the DJ box, loads of artists that don’t write their own music, scoop neck t-shirts . . . "
A: “You know all the people that look like they should be in a biker gang . . . sunglasses in dark places . . . "
C: "It’s all bollocks."
I was going to ask you what you thought of the commercial boom of “deep house” . . .
A: “Sunbed house.”
C: “If it keeps the riff-raff away from us that’s fine.”
How did the 'Erotic Discourse' remix come about? Was it difficult to tackle a modern classic?
C: "Paul Woolford asked us to do it and we’re really good friends with Paul, so we were up for it and Hotflush were up for it. Yeah, it was unbelievably difficult. How many versions did we do Al?”
A: “Too many. There were fucking hundreds! The original track is just a stone-cold classic so [we were] trying to put a different spin on it when so many people have tried and failed."
What do you think of the new generation of producers making warehouse techno? People like Happa and Blawan.
C: "I think it’s amazing because it’s an industry that’s fed on youth. I grew up listening to Surgeon and Jeff Mills and I still really love them, but there are people like Happa and Blawan, they’re wicked. They come to it from a different angle. They’ve got different influences to what I had. They’re inspired by dubstep, drum & bass, Burial . . . all these things that weren’t around 10 years ago. But most importantly, they write their own fucking music. They’re not like a lot of artists who’ve come before, like in the deep house thing where they’re just, 'Oh, I know, I’ll go with an engineer and he’ll write a piece of music, I’ll say I wrote it'.”
Is ghostwriting widespread in that scene?
A: “Everyone’s at it! Most people are more interested in how they look: their ink, doing some ‘roids, getting down the gym, having a fake tan."
Is your track 'Bad Ink' a dig at this culture of style over substance?
A: “Yeah it’s exactly that.”
C: "It’s about shit tattoos.”
You mentioned the younger generation have a different perspective to you. What were your formative experiences?
C: “I grew up going to quite a few Lost parties in London in the late '90s. You’d have Aphex Twin, Laurent Garnier, and Surgeon all on the same bill. I was so lucky to have an introduction to electronic music with people like that.”
A: "I’m slightly different. I grew up listening to all sorts: drum & bass, then into garage at one stage, then house. I started Hypercolour at an early age, about eight years ago, but as a kid I was into drum & bass really. Obviously I’ve come through so many different styles but I always see the production techniques in techno as far more of an art-form.”
C: “I think you can be a lot more conceptual when you’re working with techno. You can be so deep that you’re practically ambient and you can be so banging it sounds like it’s made with spanners. If you work in house or deep house you can only use certain things, it’s a very narrow corridor to work in."
Why do you think that is?
C: “In my opinion, techno is the single malt of dance music. It’s where all the best music is in dance music generally.”
Ha, the single malt?
C: "Oh don’t write that!”
A: “I should probably add that Chris loves his whisky.”
Dense & Pika production has a distinctive, visceral sound — do you use a lot of outboard gear?
A: “Yeah it’s completely outboard. We spend hours just running our stuff through any kind of machine we can get our hands on to make it sound bizarre. A lot of this stuff you need more than two hands.”
C: "That’s one of the main points of Dense & Pika. We wanted to make stuff we couldn’t make on our own, and a lot of it is a combination of Alex on one bit of kit and me on another, and those two things coming together.”
This project is based in London. Does being in the city affect the kind of music you’re making?
C: “People have said we’ve got quite a London sound, though I’m not quite sure what that means. I mean, one of the other things that we were really inspired by was acid techno, Chris Liberator, Lawrie Immersion and all that mid-'90s stuff. Those labels, Smitten, Cluster, Stay Up Forever, Routemaster . . . Old acid techno labels were a big inspiration for us. So I suppose our stuff might sound UK in a way."
A: "It’s like a shouty Englishman. An Englishman abroad who makes no effort to speak any other language, but just shouts loudly. (laughs)"
Some of your track titles are pretty humorous. Was that a conscious attempt to inject some fun into British techno?
A: “Well we didn’t know it was going to be big! We didn’t know that we were gonna be that big by the time that came around. Me and Chris will title our stuff that we’re working on as you know, 'Ginger Wanker' (laughs) and when it comes to the time when it goes to press, we’re like 'Fuck what we gonna call it?' and then we’re like 'fuck it'."
I just wondered if you were injecting a little bit of fun into the British techno legacy...
A: "Let’s say that we are."
It’s all part of the agenda!
A: "When really it’s just laziness. (laughs)"
Words: LOUISE BRAILEY
Copyright Thrust Publishing Ltd. Permission to use quotations from this article is granted subject to appropriate credit being given to www.djmag.com as the source.