Real Talk: Dense & Pika
Alex Jones and Chris Spero reflect on the challenges of an extended life in music.
Real Talk: Dense & Pika
Alex Jones and Chris Spero reflect on the challenges of an extended life in music.
Dense & Pika is the DJ/production project of Alex Jones—Hypercolour label boss—and Chris Spero, most widely known for his work as Glimpse. Their collaborative journey started in 2011 with a number of white label releases, and it wasn’t long until Scuba recognised their talents, inviting them to release on his Hotflush imprint—where they’ve put out a string of EPs and remixes. Other releases have landed on Hypercolour as well as Adam Beyer‘s Drumcode. Away from the studio, the pair continue to tour the world on a weekly basis, all while ensuring they provide for their families and take care of the plethora of responsibilities associated with later life. In this month’s Real Talk, the duo reflects on the challenges of an extended life in music.
Dense & Pika will be performing at Croatia’s Sonus Festival in August, alongside Binh, Rhadoo, and more. This year’s edition takes place from August 20 to 24 in Croatia, with more information available here.
When you’ve spent the best part of your life DJing and producing things can start to get pretty serious. As you get older, life just gets that way, there isn’t much of an escape from it. We all end up with long-term partners and often you also have kids, too. Alex has a 15-month-old daughter while Chris has two daughters, aged two and seven. As you can imagine, our perspectives have changed massively since we both got married and had children. You start to have more of a business-minded mentality to this industry.
Management is a really weird one but it is essential. It’s such a complex and multi-faceted situation when you manage an artist and vice versa. We’re managed by Jeremy Ford, who also manages Adam Beyer. Jel has changed our lives really. Ever since we started working with him everything has fallen into place; he’s sorted out some pretty amazing stuff—some of which we can’t mention right now—big projects, remixes. He’s been a game changer for us.
A good manager uses their leverage to get you into beneficial situations, they will put you in a shop window and then it’s up to you to prove your worth. They sort an accountant and get your finances in order. We now have a financial structure, a model for how our “business” works, which is pretty mindblowing and has taken a massive weight off our shoulders. Jel put all our agents in place; he literally changed our lives. Most importantly, he’s not afraid to tell you when something is shit. As we said, managing is a complex job and you sometimes have to be brutally honest with an artist. It’s crucial that an open channel of communication is in operation so you can both be frank without upsetting one another and ruining the relationship. Trust is key.
The most important thing for us is working with people we like, which can be applied to life outside of this world, too. You’ve got to get on with the people you work with, you’ve got to like them as people. The perfect scenario is that you all have mutual respect and admiration for one another, you’re all in this together working towards the same goal. Disagreements will come but they are dealt with in a professional manner. You must believe in one another—if you keep telling someone they’re doing a bad job they will lose their self-belief and most likely get worse. But if you get positive feedback for doing a great job you will keep on working to the best of your abilities, it’s a self-perpetuating motion of positivity.
Since we’ve had our new PR on board, for instance, our view of ourselves has changed. You can get into a downward spiral wondering why you’re not getting any press, and some of us can take it quite personally. We’re not on the inside, so we don’t know how it works. There isn’t one definitive answer and you can get knocked down quite easily when the press thing isn’t working out for you. So when you hire someone who not only gets you as an artist, likes what you do and believes in you, and then also gets you widespread press coverage in respected publications, you start to look at yourself differently. You become more positive, which feeds into all aspects of your life and career.
You have to remember that this thing does become quite serious. You’re in your mid-30s with a family to think about, so there is some pressure there. We might be on the frontline, in the clubs, on stages at festivals but when it comes to those behind-the-scenes machinations, we’re not really in control. We’re not privy to the conversations between PR and journalist, or booking agent and promoter, so we just don’t know why the press or gigs are not coming in as we’d like unless the people representing us are feeding back in an honest way. Sometimes, if you’re with the wrong people, there is no communication about the things that matter and you get lost wondering what’s going wrong—you question yourself and it can be tough.
We’re not businessmen at all so having our team in place is crucial, we trust everyone implicitly. We also trust each other, there’s no worry in that department. Look at the people who are really really successful—Sven Väth, Adam Beyer, Richie Hawtin—they’re savvy, they’re composed, and they’re fucking professionals. At the end of the day, this is a business. You can be creative but you can also have a good head on your shoulders, not get a massive ego and get battered all the time—and being aware of the business side of things will complement your creativity if you do it right. However, this is an industry that’s fed on youth and young people by their very nature are often perhaps not as likely to be so measured in their approach. Youth is wasted on the youth, as they say!
“When money, a house, a spouse, and children get involved that changes but you still have to keep the fire burning and maintain that hunger.”
For most of us, there’s just no way we can behave in the same way we would have done when we first started out. Chris was 16 when he first got into this, and Alex not much older—and you’re so hungry with zero responsibilities at this point. You’re in the studio smashing it out for days on end, partying all weekend and doing it all over again week in, week out. The thought of it being a “business” is the last thing on your mind. When money, a house, a spouse, and children get involved that changes but you still have to keep the fire burning and maintain that hunger.
As a touring DJ with children to think about, there’s a constant tug of war between wanting to spend less time away, or in the studio, and wanting to earn enough money to support them. It’s very much a double-edged sword with the focus always on the kids. How you manage your schedule on the road can become a minefield. Being away for long periods can actually be brutal. One of the very worst things is when you’re away and your kids are ill. Alex’s daughter Suki isn’t well at the moment, he’s been up all night with her online while she’s been coughing and you feel really bad because there’s nothing you can do but say, “There, there” – and your wife can get frustrated because she’s dealing with it all first-hand while you’re holed up in a hotel room somewhere post-rave. There’s nothing you can do—nothing. Alex hasn’t seen Suki in the flesh for seven days now. Thank goodness for Skype.
“You never allow yourself to go too crazy because it can lead to resentment from a partner. Neglecting your family in the name of a few more hours of raving is just not on at all.”
On the flipside, you have to think that most people who work in the city are out of the house at seven in the morning, whereas Alex is up with his little girl at 5.30am and Chris takes his kids to school every day. He can be with his daughters until 10 am, he does their homework with them, reads to them in the evenings, so he probably spends a lot more time with his girls than people who have to work long hours during the week. That quality time is so important, it’s crucial for the whole family. Time is so precious: you never want to miss anything and you want to be with them as much as you can. If you ever get caught up in the madness that our world can become, being with family is instantly grounding. You never allow yourself to go too crazy because it can lead to resentment from a partner. Neglecting your family in the name of a few more hours of raveing is just not on at all. Without being too preachy, there’s always going to be another rave but imagine missing your daughter’s school play or your wife’s birthday because you decided to crack on for another day? Unforgivable.
Balance is key. To get a bit of balance we both try and take Mondays off now. You’re tired after the weekend, so you can recuperate, go to the gym, spend time with your kids and your wife. Going out for dinner with his wife is really important to Chris, for example. It gets really tricky if you don’t do things like that because you can end up not spending any quality time together at all. The divorce rate among DJs is so high. If you’re going out with a DJ it’s a fucking tough gig, you marry someone, you have kids and they’re like, ‘Seeya, I’m off raving every weekend for the foreseeable future’! Luckily for us both of our wives are absolutely amazingly understanding about it. What DJ wives and husbands have to contend with is probably too much sometimes, we’re so fortunate to be with people who are not only willing to put up with it but give us so much support. That is one of the most important factors in being a success: having a supportive other half.
You view your own mortality with a lot more seriously when you get older, too. You want to live long enough to see your kids grow up. That sounds morbid but it is something you start to think about. Lots of artists from our generation are being more mentally and physically conscious—the usual yoga, meditation, eating healthy, going vegan—and a lot of people are doing it because it all catches up with you if you don’t. You begin to counteract the excess with being more health conscious when you can be; Chris likes to do a lot of healthy stuff during the week—going running or to the gym but sadly when you’re on tour that all goes out of the window. That unhealthy side can be testing, to say the least. Honestly, if you took a normal person and told them you’ve got to go raving in three different countries this weekend, and there’ll be flight delays, a lack of sleep and mainly rubbish food, they’d probably be like, “Really?! That’s a bit of a tall order.” It’s a lot to ask of somebody when you really break it down.
Naturally, we will always feel emotional about our daughters and, as we’ve said, juggling the career, the business with family and all of the added responsibility that comes with it can be a bit of a strain at times, but you just to have to get on with it. We chose this life. When you see other DJs who get it right, it’s really inspiring. Like Adam [Beyer] for example, he’s at the top of his game, he’s got three kids and he’s happily married—it proves that people can make it work. You’ve just got to have self-discipline and everyone’s got to be in it to win it. You need to have a deep understanding between you and your spouse, and your team. It becomes more of a job and less of a jolly, that’s what the people who get it right do: they treat it like a business—a job. A job that is also a hell of a lot of fun.