Spencer Kincy was at the top of his game in 1997 when he reached a peak of astonishing creativity, the likes of which had never and probably will never be seen again. In that year alone, Spencer released three full-length LPs: In and Out of Fog and Lights, In Neutral and Imagine-A-Nation. He also released four EPs. By my count, that’s forty-seven tracks on vinyl in a year – no remixes, no reissues. That would be impressive in any era, but this level of fecundity was unprecedented at the time when a release involved test-pressings, expert mastering and an investment of more than a few hundred bucks to get and promote a track on Beatport.
Spencer would never reach this level of productivity again. His releases over the next two years are certainly noteworthy (particularly 3 EPs for Derrick Carter’s Classic), but that’s all there was – seemingly a period of rest after this seismic eruption. And after that, nothing but silence: Spencer hasn’t released a record in 11 years, and most likely hasn’t made any.
Spencer Kincy (aka Gemini)
Spencer Kincy Mixes
House LPs from this era (and today) are notorious for containing filler, and jumbled in with three absolute classics there are a couple of tracks on Imagine-A-Nation (1997, RR778) that probably could have been left off without too many tears.
But – you can blame this on nostalgia if you want, but I think it’s true – it’s hard to imagine this LP any other way. The whole of Imagine-A-Nation is a perfect mirror of Spencer’s infamous DJ sets, which on an average night would leap from Salsoul to Tresor, from DJ Rush to Carlos Santana. It’s hard in spots, it tickles you in others. Some tracks go on too long; some you wish could have been extended for another three minutes. Some serve no other purpose, it seems, but to lull you into lowering your guard for a two-by-four across the jaw that comes with the next track. There’s an ebb and flow – one slower or more experimental track leading into a stomper, then bringing you back down in a tense and manic cycle. How else can you explain why one of the saddest, most depressing House tracks ever made is immediately followed by “Stand Up” – one of the most life-affirming anthems Chicago House ever created?
One other oddity: two separate records on Relief by Spencer share the title Imagine-A-Nation, and it’s interesting to compare them. When the first Imagine A Nation EP (RR715) was released in 1994, Relief still had a reputation as the “harder” cousin to Cajual. When Spencer used the Imagine-A-Nation name for his LP three years later, Relief had evolved into a very different beast. The tracks were sample-heavy, sometimes gimmicky but releases like Gene Farris’
It’s hard to account for taste, but tracks from this record have probably blown more speakers than any other Relief issue aside from the many remixes of “Flash”. I should state here that I fell in love (or at least lust) with the sample-heavy filtered disco sound in the 1990s – energetic, jarringly hard and out-of-sync, like a hand-cranked gramophone being spun at lightning-speed and then slowed down to a crawl. The beats on Imagine-A-Nation are the epitome of this sound to me – absolutely slamming, and mixed in with distorted disco samples (and from more surprising sources – see “Falling Leaves” below) it makes for a devastating attack.
The kick-off is a slow funk jam, “Native to America”. The Latin horns are just a perfect compliment to that boogie-woogie riff and the scarcely audible but omnipresent jingle bells in the background. Like a lot of Spencer Kincy tracks, this one has a subtle way of getting into your head: there are so many exquisite little touches you probably won’t notice the first few spins, like the extremely subtle vocal hum when the groove turns. This is supposedly an “homage to Native Americans” according to a contemporary review I dug up, but it would blow right by you if you weren’t told as there’s none of that irritating kitsch of Enigma or any other new-agey crap that come from electronic producers blatantly ripping off native culture. I’ve no clue how Relief handles licensing these days but I’d be surprised if “Native” hasn’t been the fodder for a hundred hip-hop tracks – legit or bootlegged – over the last 13 years.
And from the depths of “Native to America”, Spencer rips the top of your head off with “Don’t Look Back”. This is the first serious classic on Imagine-A-Nation, and a stomper that could be dropped today on an unsuspecting dancefloor. To call this “frenzied” doesn’t do it proper justice, and it’s inclusion right before the chilled “Falling Leaves” is a mental freak-out. Make no mistake: Spencer is toying with you by presenting these two diametric opposites one right after another. To people who claim that good House can’t be hard, I present you with Exhibit A in why you’re wrong and should feel ashamed.
I’m pretty sure that the creepy digital vomit at the start and interspersed throughout “Falling Leaves” comes from Jerry Goldsmith’s soundtrack to Logan’s Run (those that share my fetish for incredibly cheesy Sci-Fi will instantly recall this primitive but distinctive electronic sound from the scenes showing the slot cars inside the domed City). It’s madly distorted until it sounds almost like how the digital rain in The Matrix might sound – a weird and otherworldly cascade of data gibberish.
If this track were cut today, it’d probably launch a new genre that some European scribe would dub “Drone House”. The funky beat is almost completely submerged. The voiceover (“No one comes around/When the leaves are falling on the ground”) adds to the sense of depression, especially the repeated refrain of “No one… No one… No one…” I mean, this is House Music, right? If there’s no crying in baseball, there can’t be any depression in House Music. But it’s there. And when you consider where things headed shortly after this…
And naturally, the meditative “Falling Leaves” is followed by perhaps the most inspirational song that Spencer ever made. This is one of my undisguised favorite tracks of all time: the anthemic “Stand Up”. It’s hard to write about a personal favorite and sound like more than a slavering fanboy, and I doubt what I write here will change your mind. As grounded as “Falling Leaves” is in the afterparty, this is all about the moment. You can’t even call this “peak hour” and do it or yourself any credit.
If the only thing you get from “Stand Up” is “Dis wun is a danceflo slayah, mang” – then I’m sorry my friend but you have entirely missed the point of House Music and especially of Spencer Kincy. “Stand Up” is nothing short of an affirmation of being alive, as inspirational as any disco track, as gorgeous as any electronic song made in the late 20th century by a sentient human being.
The third classic from Imagine-A-Nation, “What You’re Gonna Do”, is still being played more than 13 years after Spencer strung together a collection of unrelated samples and hammered them together into a filtered disco epic. From the very first beat you know the track, you know that swing horn is coming next, you know down to the milisecond when those “What You’re Gonna Do” samples start buzzing in and when that the bottom-heavy horn is gonna drop the floor from beneath your feet. And yet you still love it, and you always will.
But this is something can be said for all of Imagine-A-Nation and most of Spencer’s tracks. His music was so far ahead of it’s time that you never get that slightly uncomfortable feeling of listening to something that was “brilliant for its time” but now sounds… dated. All of these could be released as singles today and make some sort of cosmic dent in the universe, regardless of the technology that was used to make them. That’s what Spencer means to me, and why I keep going back to this: this music, as individual tracks and taken together as the creative vision of a single man over the course of a career cut short in its prime, has created a cosmic dent in the universe. And I can’t get the sound of that hammer out of my head.