Kaluki's Lee Spence started off working at Sankeys Soap putting up posters for the club. Within a decade he was running the infamous institution, his own Kaluki night having become one of the last successful residencies there. Kaluki now travels around the world, a recognised club night brand that assures quality house music. It has also spawned a record label, which Lee runs and which has released music by Lee's own Pirate Copy production project.
Skiddle caught up with Lee Spence while he was about to drive to a studio in Liverpool to work collaboratively with Kinnerman, a new talent with whom Kaluki are working, before playing Blackpool Festival which takes place between Friday 6th and Sunday 8th July.
Your Discogs page says that Lee Spence, Jake Dawson and Peter Stanley make up Pirate Copy, but I read elsewhere that you were a duo and Jason Herd was part of the set up, but in a recent interview you said you were making tracks on your own. So, what's the score with Pirate Copy?
OK, good to see you've done your research there! Well, I was making music for 2 or 3 years using a different alias, Ellesse and that music was a slightly different sound. It was still house music, but more of a classic, US sound, more instruments, a piano player. But I kind of got to a point where I felt it had run its course and I wanted to move on.
Around that time I was running a studio in Beehive Mill, above Sankeys, and I had a couple of mates working in the studio with me. We came up with this concept of Pirate Copy and we were trying to find lots of weird samples, put them all together in a live project with Jake singing, Stan on keyboards and me DJing. We were just getting it together when Jake got an offer to move to Asia and just vanished with a week's notice and Stan's wife got pregnant with his second child so didn't have the time to dedicate to it. So, as quickly as it had started, it came to an end.
But, I really liked the idea. I was thinking to go solo, but I was speaking with Jason Herd and he'd been a friend of mine for a long time. He was interested in working together. We had similar musical tastes. So, we did it together for a couple of years, had releases on Kaluki and Elrow, but around this time last year it wasn't really clicking musically. I was doing quite a lot gigs where Jason wasn't there. It just got to a point where it wasn't working for either of us. We're still friends, but now we're both working solo, me as Pirate Copy.
It's been 5 years since your debut release on Kaluki and in the last couple of years you've released on Sola, Elrow, Moon Harbour and now Relief Records. Those are some pretty high profile labels.
Yeah, they are. When I decided to go solo, I decided to put 100%, everything into this. I was determined to make it work. I sat down with my manager, Lee Haslam and told him the names of the labels I wanted to release on. We've managed to tick off 4 out of the 5 big ones within 12 months. There's more to come as well, so I'm quite happy.
What are your favourite releases on those labels; Sola, Moon Harbour and Relief?
On Sola, I think the recent Miami compilation was pretty solid, Solardo 'On The Corner' was also a big one! On Moon Harbour, probably Daniel Stefanik, 'Deep Inside' in more recent times. Its huge!
On Relief, I've been playing Detlef 'Deep Dip' a lot recently, love his take on the classic.
Kaluki made a name for itself at Sankeys Soap and it now travels around the world. Is your original home a tough one to surpass?
I must admit it is, yes. With Kaluki we were there for six years, once a month. One summer we even did every week. A lot of parties. So, that will always feel like home. But, it's gone now. You can't go back.
It was so special and you do get spoiled by it. I used to get people coming to play it often and as a promoter you do get these headline DJs saying to you, oh my God, this place is amazing, bigging it up, saying it's the best gig ever. You kind of think, yeah, yeah, whatever. Heidi said to me, Lee, I'm not shitting you, this is my favourite gig in the whole world; the atmosphere, the energy, the fact that all the kids seem to know every track, the sound, it's intense! It wasn't until I started to tour more as an artist myself, going to North America and coming back a little underwhelmed that I began to think, wow, they people were right.
There is some special kind of energy and magic within Sankeys and Manchester in general.
You not only ran Kaluki from there, you also worked for Sankeys for 10 years. What are some of your funniest memories from that time?
Dave was a mad character. I started work there putting up posters and in the end I was in full control of the club as Dave had gone off to set up Sankeys Ibiza. A problem with a lot of the stories that I have is that they're not for the public domain, ha!
It was a laugh a minute with David at Sankeys, to be fair we had some good times. He loved giving everyone nicknames, Mick D Greek, Theo the Tabcat, Yeah Dave, The Worm, The Fly, Mad Mike, Ner Ner New, “is it strong?” But trying to remember a funny story… we had a bit of a phase of stage diving once, off the front of the DJ box, straight into the crowd at the end of the night. It was that good we kept doing it.. until he jumped one time and everyone moved out of the way… and he hit the deck pretty hard. I shouldn’t laugh, but it was pretty funny!
One of your most recent releases on Kaluki was from Steve Lawler. How did your relationship with Steve come about?
I've known Steve for quite a long time. Going back 10 or 15 years, I was a young promoter at Sankeys Soap and our paths crossed a little bit. In more recent times he's done some Kaluki gigs and also played for my partner, Nick, who runs Paradise at DC10.
A lot of the artists you ask for tracks say “yeah, yeah, yeah”, but they never really deliver. Steve was one who came back and said, I've done something special, exclusively for you guys, it's made with love on analog synths and drum machines, all the old school gear. It was a good release for us.
Skiddle just interviewed Steve Lawler and he said “Tech house has been rinsed. And then some. For a while it was almost as if every new producer on the planet bought the same sample CD. I was losing the will to live having to listen to any more tech house” Would you agree?
Yes, to a degree. But, for me, there's generic tech house and then there's the stuff that's different. When Beatport became the number one download store, all these labels came in. But there's more than deep house, tech house and techno! But all of these things were labelled. Now there seems to be a lot more subgenres.
But, for me, good music is good music. If it's boring and it's average, it's not because it's tech house, it's because it's boring and average. It's a big can of worms. There is some truth in what Steve's saying, but it's not quite as straightforward as that for me.
What future releases do you have planned for the Kaluki label?
Next up we've got a various artists compilation with tracks from Jamie Roy, Kinnerman, Lee Walker, a bunch of up and coming acts that are playing with us. That's out in a couple of weeks. Through the summer we've got some really exciting stuff coming from Ki Crieghton, Second City, Jansons, Mihalis Safras, Pro & Fitch, Shiba San, Max Chapman, Jamie Roy, Kinnerman and a few more to boot...
And for you personally, what do you have coming up in the near future?
At the moment I'm preparing for Saturday night, on Ibiza. It's the start of my season. I'm playing elrow, closing the Amnesia terrace on Saturday night. That'll be my first time doing that. I've also got a new residency for Kaluki at Privilege, for Vista Club, on Sundays. So, looking forward to getting stuck in to the summer.