It might have come as a surprise when it was announced that S.P.Y, the elusive DJ, producer and now label boss of DARKMTTR Records, would be taking over the legendary XOYO in London for the whole of November. The Brasil-born mega DJ generally only picks the gigs he’s really excited about and, with his release schedule, both label and personal, many fans might wonder how S.P.Y could make time for four Fridays. Turns out it was a simple decision for him.
With the well-oiled machine that is Weird Science Promotions running most D&B gigs at XOYO (they’ve also got the likes of Grooverider, Andy C and the whole Kool FM lineup slotted for December and early 2024), and a ready-made lineup at his disposal, the first three gigs have gone off without a hitch and the series closer, taking place this Friday, promises to be a great sendoff for S.P.Y and company. The likes of Calyx, MC GQ, Etherwood, Lowqui, IAMDOOMED, Alley Cat, Voltage, Kyrist and Flava D on the roster, every week was as stunning and vibey as the last, with a super blowout for the last date (read on to find how who the special guest will be tonight).
We don’t want to yammer on too much about the other stuff we chat about, because S.P.Y gave loads of excellent answers, but suffice it to say if you were looking for tips and tricks from a master producer as well as how he does his A&R, this is the article for you. Per his name, S.P.Y usually keeps his secrets close so YEDM feels very lucky he was so open in this article and we appreciate his taking the time. Now read on and enjoy spying on S.P.Y.
As a producer who seems to live in the lab and who only does the gigs you really enjoy, what made you decide to do a residency at XOYO?
XOYO is such a legendary club, so I felt quite honored to be asked to host a residency there. It’s an amazing opportunity to curate my own lineup and share with people, the DJs and producers that I really admire and respect. Funnily enough, it’s actually got me spending even more time in the studio as I’ve been busy finalizing new tracks to play at the residency. I know that everyone who’s coming down to XOYO are there because they like my sound, so it’s really rewarding to be able to drop some exclusive new tracks and mixes just for them.
We’re just about halfway through the November dates (at time of interview); what have been some of your observations about the gigs? What are you looking forward to in the upcoming gigs?
I can’t believe we’re already halfway through! The crowd at the first two nights has been absolutely incredible. They’ve been so up for anything and have really been vibing to all of the DJs, it’s such a great feeling to get to play to such a responsive crowd. It’s also been great to get to see the other DJs play. Usually I’m so busy touring that I’m in and out and onto the next show. For each night of the residency I’ve been there from start to finish and have got to enjoy everyone’s sets and really make the most of the night. Each night of the residency has a totally different lineup with a different sound, so I’m looking forward to dropping some more dubs at the next two nights. I’m also really looking forward to going back to back with Bladerunner and Flava D, that will be special!
How did you pick the lineups for each week? How did you decide to work with Lowqui as your MC?
While it seems like it would be really easy to curate a lineup, it was actually really difficult as there were so many people that I wanted to book. I was lucky that the final lineup had everyone that I really wanted and each night has come together nicely. I wanted to make each night unique, so the four lineups reflect that. I listen to a really wide variety of drum and bass so I felt it was important to cover all the different sounds that I enjoy.
I really like working with Lowqui, he’s got a great vibe as an MC, he’s a mad hype man and he always interacts well with the crowd. It’s also been great to work with some other MCs during the residency too, like Inja, Stamina and SP:MC, they each have such a unique style and add a different flavor to my set.
Coming off XOYO for a bit, you’re on year three of your DARKMTTR label and it seems curation is very important to you, and that you’re not looking for big names to release but it’s more about the sound. How would you characterise the sound of vibe you generally go for? Is it only you on A&R, or have you brought in some help?
The sound of DARKMTTR is really varied. The label releases everything from dark and minimal, to moody and musical, although I feel like all of the releases seem to have a deep, heavy undertone to them, even the more atmospheric tracks. I always knew that when I started a label I didn’t want it to be pigeonholed into just one sub-genre so I really wanted it to reflect my taste in music. It is only me doing the A&R for the label and I really enjoy doing it. I use a DJ-based approach to A&R and the first thing I ask myself when selecting a track is, would I play this in my sets? Every track that I’ve signed to the label is one that I would – and do – play myself. I’ve always wanted to do A&R and it’s one of my favorite parts of running a label. It’s really rewarding to discover new music and help producers work up their tracks so they’re ready to release.
What are some things you’ve learned over the first three years of DARKMTTR about running a label? How has it measured up to your expectations when you started it?
I’d wanted to start a label for years and I always knew it was going to be a lot of work but nothing really prepares you for the day to day reality of running a label. It’s been a really interesting experience seeing the music industry from a label perspective. I’d only ever seen it from the artist side so it’s been quite a learning curve to see what’s involved in getting a release out there. Scheduling, budgeting and A&R, they’re all things that you aren’t responsible for as an artist and may not fully understand, but they’re vital when running a label. I’m grateful that I have a solid team around me who share the vision of the label. It’s so rewarding seeing the label grow, I can’t believe we’ve had 21 releases already!
How do you decide which releases of your own will go on DARKMTTR and which you will shop other labels? Is that a difficult decision?
It is difficult. I release most of my music on DARKMTTR, but sometimes due to scheduling I will look for other labels to release my music. If I released everything I have on DARKMTTR there would be no room in the schedule for the other artists!
Are there any upcoming releases that tie in with the XOYO residency that you can talk about? Did the release schedule inform your decision to do the residency?
The second night of the residency was actually the release day for “Take Me Up,” my new collaboration with IAMDOOMED. IAMDOOMED played at XOYO the same night and it was like an unofficial release party. It was amazing to play the track with him there and to see the crowd reaction. The release schedule didn’t inform my decision to do the residency, but it was great that IAMDOOMED could play on the same day.
Talking a bit about style and sound, in the last few years you’ve been doing a lot of deep and atmospheric stuff but not necessarily melodic. What makes you inspired to change things up and how do you come up with your more unique sounds?
Producing music is such an organic, creative experience for me. I can’t force a vibe or make myself produce a certain type of sound. My music is an expression of how I’m feeling emotionally at the time, or what’s going on in my life. Depending on what I’m feeling inspired by I can produce something totally different to other things I’ve been producing lately. I spend a lot of time working on sound design which seems to give me some quite unique sounds. I also have a lot of analog and modular equipment in my studio and I try not to be too technical with it. Late nights in the studio, a bit of sleep deprivation and a lot of experimentation seem to combine to produce some really interesting sounds. Basically I just have fun with it and see what I can create!
Having been in the game for a while, how is it to create tracks with current methods versus 15 years ago? Do you use a combination of techniques? What sort of softwares or programmers do you use?
To be honest, I haven’t really changed the way I produce. My sound has definitely evolved over the years, and I try to keep my production relevant sonically, but my techniques really haven’t changed that much. One thing that I’ve definitely changed over the past few years is my sampling. I used to sample a lot for all of my tracks, however now I create all of the sounds myself. Learning more about sound design has opened up a whole new realm creatively for me and it’s really satisfying being able to use my own sounds. I’ve been enjoying sound design so much that I’ve even started releasing my own sample packs.
I listen to a really wide range of electronic music and recreate some of the techniques from other genres with my own twist. I’ve been using Abelton Live since version five and I’m really loyal to it, it’s a brilliant production tool. I also use a Solid State Logic (SSL) desk for summing my tracks in analog, which creates a really nice warm texture for my tracks and of course I listen to everything through my PMC speakers.
Is there anything else you have coming up in releases or gigs that we didn’t mention?
We have a release coming up on DARKMTTR in December; it’s a double release: a collaboration I’ve done with DJ Limited and another of his tracks which has an amazing vocal. I’m going to be dropping the track at XOYO so I’m really looking forward to seeing what the crowd think! Rolling into 2024 we have a bunch of new releases and collaborations lined up for DARKMTTR, but I have to keep everything under wraps for now. Keep your eyes on S.P.Y and DARKMTTR socials to see what we’ve got going on.
Any advice for new producers out there?
I think the main piece of advice I could give is to never stop learning. Keep improving your sound and your production, keep learning new techniques and watch as many tutorials as you can. Also, I think it’s quite easy to give up if you’ve submitted a few tracks to labels and haven’t had anything picked up. Most of the time, it’s just that those particular tracks aren’t right for that particular label, or maybe you just need a bit more experience, or you need to refine your sound. Don’t give up, keep producing and keep sending in those demos! One trick I can share is to A and B the track you’re working on with a similar track that has been released to see if you’re on the right track sonically.
S.P.Y’s last XOYO set will be tonight, November 24 at XOYO. For clips and info, check S.P.Y’s socials or Weird Science Promotions’ Instagram. For upcoming DARKMTTR releases and to hear S.P.Y’s latest track with IAMDOOMED mentioned in this article, click here.