Marc Spence: The Early Years, How It Came About

Marc Spence: The Early Years, How It Came About

DJ Gym Birmingham tutor Marc Spence is one of our most beloved DJ mentors. His passion for DJing and the art of mixing is inspirational and infectious. His charismatic teaching style has encouraged hundreds of DJs to pursue a passion in music. Many students often ask him, ‘How did you start DJing?’ We asked him to divulge how he entered the world of DJing and become a prominent DJ in Birmingham and beyond. 

Marc: Growing up I always dabbled in music. I played brass instruments in primary school and I beatboxed in the school choir. Yep that is not a typo, me and my friend Peter actually used to beatbox along with the school choir! I even remember a teacher walking past when we first did it and saying “Oi, you two! Stop doing that!” To our response “we’re meant to be doing it sir…..

While I’m on the subject big ups Peter Folkes! He taught me flow! I would try and explain it but how on earth do you write down the details of how someone showed me how to make the beats produced by my mouth flow? 

Onto high school, where I played the drums, which I do believe is what really helped me pick up beat matching so easily. Not the actual skill but more of the understanding of it and what needed to be done.

Now in my time of a school teenager, roughly the years of ’99 to 2001, the UK Garage and MC scene was exploding and I remember me and a friend going to a ground floor flat in Brandhall one afternoon and being led into the bedroom where there was about six or seven lads passing the mic around and dropping bars. They were MCing to the beats that were coming from a set of what I know recognise as Technics 1210 MK2 turntables perched on a wobbly ironing board. A hooded character was standing behind bopping away focusing on what was coming from the headphones. I had no idea what he was doing yet weirdly knew exactly what he was setting out to do. Everyone in the room was constantly battling to get the mic so they could have their say at dissing someone else in the room. During all the commotion I found myself sat on whoever’s bed it was totally fixated on the mystery of the spinning black wheels saying to myself “I wanna have a go on those!!”

Growing up in Smethwick, before the internet, doing anything with music didn’t seem accessible at all. I’ve got one friend who did a lot of music, Kraftyman. He had a studio set up and I would go round and jam with him at every opportunity I had. At this time it felt like doing music as a career was never an option. In fact, becoming a footballer seemed more realistic! And that was the path I chose.

Marc Spence - The Early Years!

I have a tendency that what ever I’m interested in at a given time will fully take over my life. I literally engross myself in it, and that was the story with football. Every minute of everyday I would have a ball at my feet, on the way to school, ball. Break times, ball. Paper round, ball. 

Behind the house where I grew up, there was a school and I would climb over the gate and spend all my time alone kicking the ball off the wall. I was really lucky because the playground had a slight tilt to it, so as I kicked the ball towards my target on the wall the ball always rolled back perfectly to my feet. Younger kids who climbed over would walk past and say “why do you always play football on your own?” And I would respond  “because you get 100% of the ball!” To be fair I did manage to achieve a decent skill level, but sadly when I was about seventeen or eighteen I ruptured my cruciate ligament. 

When it happened, I remember screaming in pain but I didn't really cry until after an MRI scan the doctor says to me you'll never play professionally. That that hurt me bad. After that I remember I didn't leave my room much at all. Sitting there, leg raised with a cricketers cast I remember looking down and seeing a CD, an old trance CD. I don't even remember where it came from and on the front of the CD said: Bonus CD included - PCDJ. 

PCDJ was an early DJ computer program, and I was hooked. 

For those who remember, this was the time of file sharing sites Limewire and Napster. So, I used to download music and tried mixing them on PCDJ. I started creating sets and playlists of my favourite tunes. I didn't really understand all the different functions like cueing, but I always understood that you need to beat match.

The first two tracks I ever mixed together were ‘Man of Steel’ by Aphrodite and Missy Elliott ‘Get Your Freak On.’ I mixed them halftime before I even knew what half-timing was.

The idea of DJing actually came from my first job as a drain clearer. I was a drivers mate to a guy called Moza (Mark) whom I became very good friends with. He was the one who introduced me to the sounds of the UKG group Heartless Crew and especially the creative skills of DJ Fonti and the way he crossed genres. Having that as an inspiration meant I immediately looked at DJing from that angle. When I got used to how PCDJ worked I spent the rest of my recovery days putting together a set and memorising every mix.

One day my friend Richieman came round and I played it to him to his response “Yo blood! You should be a DJ!!” But still it didn't really seem anything that was that accessible. Once I got back on my feet I felt lost because I still didn’t have a job. I used to spend my time picking up my brother after his school day ended. One day, I caught eyes with a guy called James Prime. There was an instant connection between us and we were both like “Safe bro! How are you….” And then just hit it off with a conversation. Then I met my brother, walked home and didn’t think anything of it.

A few weeks later, still jobless, I went to the Birmingham city centre with my friend Sinky who was doing sweet at the time. He had a job scaffolding and was earning some decent wedge for our age. I remember walking down New Street, which in the day was really busy, and bumping in to James whom I had just previously met a few weeks ago. He was handing out flyers for GodsKitchen, back when the club night was in its heyday. To some extent, the only way that you knew what was actually happening in clubs was radio, flyers and word-of-mouth.

As we got on well and we'd met a few weeks ago I approached him and asked him if there was any sort of jobs going. He said “yeah, course bruv I can get you a job” The following week I started to give out flyers. 

I remember specifically working for about four, maybe five, weeks and still not receiving any payment but I was adamant I wasn’t going anywhere until I've been paid. So, I stuck with it and lo and behold, I got paid. The main reason that my flying job morphed into me DJing is because of where we used to store our flyers. A record shop called Three Shades. This meant I was constantly around vinyl and the culture of record shops. People were in there all day Fridays and Saturdays digging through records and just sharing conversation about the love of music, the art and the wax.

Now I was continuously close to the art of music and DJing my interest continued to grow more and more. The financial aspect was what held me back, as I just didn't have access to decks or the money to buy them. At this time, CDJ’s were on their, as I like to put it, “industry-takeover” and were far more accessible. Due to my early interest and fascination with turntables, I knew if I was going to be any good at the the true art of DJing I had to learn on turntables, where it all come from.

As far as the actual flyering itself, I and James used to just look at it as a game. The game was we would both have a big pile of flyers and the last to get rid of their flyers would have to buy lunch. At the time it was a £1.99 special from Baguette Du Monde that included a drink and a packet of crisps! Now, all in aid of getting rid of my flyers, and being a 19-year-old kid in the city who really didn't have anything to lose, I used literally shout my mouth off “Carl Cox at Godskitchen tonight, Paul Van Dyke at Godskitchen, James Zabelia at Godskitchen” I had no idea at all who all these DJs were, but I just knew that I had to try my best to rid of these flyers.

Being such a loud mouth, I caught the attention of a guy called Eddie Bolton who approached me and gave me his card. He asked me to get in touch about doing some work together. Due to my ignorance about who he was I just threw it away and didn't think anything of it. A couple weeks later, he came up to me again and said “You didn't call me, call me, I'll definitely make it worth your while” This led me to go up to Ryan, the Godskitchen promoter, and I handed him the card and said “This guy keeps giving me his card”. Little did I know, Eddie Bolton was one of the most successful promoters in the city and actually one of the original people who started Godskitchen. This graded his attention and he was most likely thinking, hang on a minute if Eddie is giving this guy cards and trying to get him to work for him there must be something about him. This encounter led on to them giving me a job as a promoter for a night called Rouge, formerly known as Babooshka. 

Marc Spence (Right) 2015

This meant that I had my own responsibilities to organise all the promotion for this party which included managing my own flyering team and distribution. One day, while I was standing at the crossing (a main spot in the city centre) one of the promo team came and introduced me to her boyfriend. He asked if I had any work for him. He seemed a good guy, so I said yes and took him on. I and Rich immediately got on really well and he actually went on to work for Godskitchen and some of the main promotions for Global Gathering 2005. Now that was such a good festival! Anyway, going back to when we first started working together, I remember being in the van with him on the motorway on the way to his village, Penkridge. He said “When we get back to mine, we’ll have a smoke and a mix” and I was like “A mix!? On what?” He said “I've got turntables bro..” I couldn’t believe it! Up until that point I had still only used the PCDJ which was a virtual way of mixing. I’d never actually touched vinyl or any sort of DJ equipment. So, having turntables in front of me, 2 x 1200’s and 1 x 1210 MK2, with what I remember was a gold Vestax mixer, I was overloaded with excitement!

I remember having a go in between Rich’s mixes and the record would constantly run out of time before I could beat match. I would still having to pass over the headphones while Rich had his go. Every night, roughly about 2 to 3am, Rich used to always fall asleep on the sofa in the studio. I would take full advantage of the opportunity to get my practice in by turning down the volume of the speakers so low it didn’t disturb him. The headphones were almost louder! I would stay there practising until 5/6 am till the sun came up and then run into the living room and jump on the sofa like I had been asleep all night. Any opportunity to practise was most definitely taken!

When the Internet started to take over and online shopping became a thing I remember Three Shades having their own website where they would record a section of a track using a deck on the front counter and always thought it was there simply for that purpose.

One day I was sitting there and noticed there was a second deck and actually a full set up, so I asked if I could have a go and the guys were like “Yeah, sure” so me being me, took full advantage again of the opportunity.

At the time, I was doing club promotion which meant I didn’t necessarily have to be in town respectfully early but my girlfriend at the time used to start work at 8:30am. I used to catch a lift into town with her every morning and sit outside the record shop until Mike would turn up at 9am to open up. I would stand there all day everyday, learning how to mix.

That was some pressure, imagine learning how to mix in a record shop full of diggers who all most likely know how to mix. You're the one playing beats in there. You know for a fact every one in there could hear every mistake, but I didn’t care, I was just buzzing to be mixing and having a shop full of records to practice with! As much as the opportunity was amazing, I knew I needed some decks at home to really start putting some stuff together. 

Conveniently, and I can’t remember how it came about, I heard that a DJ I was aware of called Ranier was selling his turntables. £400 for the pair, so I asked my girlfriend to lend me the money and I snapped them up. I also bought a Vestax mixer off Rich for £50 and I was away.

I bought records whenever I could afford it as my aim was to build a two hour set. Once I had them, I planned and prepped my set from start to finish making sure every mix was the most creative it could be. A few double drops, extended mixes etc etc and then I practised constantly over and over and over again. Sometimes even four or five times a day, until the mix was flowing through my veins. 

Luckily, being a promoter I already knew everyone I needed to. I went up to Rue, one of the promoters of ‘Mud Club’ (probably the biggest afterparty in the city at the time) and asked him for a set. He was like “You play? Yeah sure get me a mix over” and the truth was I couldn’t afford to because at that time you either had to book into a studio or have CD burning equipment at home. I couldn’t afford either, so I said “C’mon bro, I’m a promoter. I’m not gonna go up there and make myself look like a douche am I!” Trying to swerve the option of a mix and he was like “Yeah sure then, you can play last set next week”. I was buzzin!! 

So, obviously that week, all I did was take every opportunity I could to practice literally until the moment I had to leave for the club. I remember going out that night and doing the rounds, slightly nervous but at the same time not that much as I knew exactly what I was gonna do. The only thing on my mind was being able to unplug the CDJ’s and plug the turntables back in including any feedback issues before the track I had to mix in ran out. Turntables were still in clubs then but mostly just used as stands to put CDJ’s on and that was my only concern really. I wore my ’N.E.R.D’ cap so I could cover my facer the best I could as didn’t want anyone looking up seeing me and thinking, here we go another promoter who wants to be a DJ.

I was, and am still incredibly passionate about DJing. I was so proud of how much time and effort I put into the music selection. It was all I wanted everyone to ‘see’.

Elated, I walk up to the entrance and I see Rue standing near the door. He was looking at me with my big record bag and said “Ahh shit mate, I completely forgot I said you could play and I’ve booked someone…..” I was gutted!!!

I was devastated but tried not to let it show as wanted to stay sweet with him as obviously as he does all the bookings.

No worries mate, just get me on when you can. I’ll still come in for a bit

I went in and sat round for a couple hours, had a few drinks and thought time to get off. I had put my bag in the cloakroom as it was too big to be lumping around everywhere. I went over to collect it and remember asking Trevor for the bag and as he passed it to me him saying “Where you going?” “Getting off bro..” He was like “Aren’t you playing?” “Nah bro, I was but Rue booked someone else so I’m not playing” then he said “are you sure as he’s not turning up, he’s ill, I think Rue needs you to play, go ask him.”

I literally ran to the DJ booth, caught eyes with Rue, who made the DJ scratch hand gesture and mouthed “you cool to play?” Fuck yeah I was!

Ran back, got my bag and got up there!! Rue finished and I jumped on, still remember it like yesterday, played the set exactly as I prepared it and it went down a storm.

Towards the end of a the set a big circle formed in the middle of the dance floor and a few started break dancing! The only issue I had during the set was when I dropped Mr Oizo - Flat Beat. My friend was loving it so much he jumped up high and the vibration of his landing made the record skip. Nothing major though. I wrapped the set and went home flying high on a job well done. I couldn’t stop thinking about it all week.

A week later I was back flyering. A guy came up to me who ended up being the promoter of a party in Wolverhampton. He said “Are you the DJ who played last set at Mud last week? I want you as my resident…."

And that’s it, from one chance encounter to the next I discovered a life-long passion for DJing. 

DJ tutor Marc Spence

People often come to DJ Gym from all walks of life. We welcome all ages, abilities, learning styles and celebrate our diverse city. If you want to learn how to DJ with the cities best DJ tutor book a DJ lesson or DJ Course at our studios. Maybe you discovered a passion for DJing over lockdown, or your friend introduced you, either way we are here to help you access top quality DJ tuition and DJ opportunities.

You can learn how to DJ one-to-one with Marc and become part of Birmingham’s rich tapestry of musical heritage! Who knows where it will lead! Click here for more information.

Marc Spence


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