There's a few theories for this, the main one being that most Twin Cities DJs think the extremely giddy, almost circus-y sound dubbed "happy hardcore" is an ear-splitting fad stuck in glowstick-kid circles and is somehow legions lesser than any other genre. But there's another theory we have that involves a possible twinge of jealousy because happy hardcore loyalists are known to go the most insane in front of the DJ booth -- drop a few notes of the stuff and they lose it every time. But Spree (a.k.a. Craig Paulnock) is saying goodbye to that honor very soon after deciding it's time to move on, much to the dismay of many fans across the US, if not in Minneapolis. His last gig in the state is at First Avenue tonight at Woody McBride's epic rave-in-a-club showdown Bassgasm, and this month he'll play his last set ever in Washington, DC. We caught up with Spree to find out how he feels about wrapping up his music career -- here's what he had to say.
Gimme Noise: You're the most famous DJ for your genre stateside, but Minneapolis never fully embraced you as a headliner -- why do you think that is? Do you feel regretful about that?
DJ Spree: UK Hardcore (aka Happy Hardcore) is closer to an aerobic workout than it is a musical accessory to getting laid by some chica that's already slept with three of your friends. In the late '90s, I was fortunate to get high-billing at a lot of the raves that were happening locally, and since the scene moved to a club setting, there was more interest in music that allowed for controlled dancing rather than the flat out freak-fest that goes hand in hand with UK Hardcore.
Hardcore was chart-topping stuff in the UK in the early 90's. Even Moby and Carl Cox produced and DJ'd hardcore back then (see: Moby - Feeling So Real and Carl Cox in 1994 DJing in Belfast). The quintessential early 90s hardcore album was Prodigy's Experience. Hardcore has seen an incredible resurgence in the UK in the last few years. Even Ministry of Sound is releasing Hardcore compilations now.
GN: Why do you think HHC is so polarizing?
Spree: The name is absolutely horrible. Happy Hardcore? Are you kidding me? How popular would house be if it was called "Professor Fluffy's Good Time Music"? I also think that people in the states have a tougher time letting go of their inhibitions. There's a stigma that the average HHC fan is a kid looks like Mardi-Gras during a bad acid-trip. Dancing to music at 180 bpm and flailing your arms isn't something you can do discretely.
Further, over the years I've had so many people tell me "I hate happy hardcore!" When I ask them if they've ever heard it, they say "well, no, but I KNOW that I'll hate it!" If your attitude is that you'll hate something before you've even tried it, then you'll probably hate it after you finally give it a shot. I gave this music a chance and I've had some incredible fun jumping around like a lunatic till the early hours of the morning while listening to soaring vocals, toy-pianos, and super-fast thumping basslines.
GN: This is sadly your last gig in Minneapolis but not your last ever -- you're going to play some huge party in Washington, DC as your last hurrah, right? Tell us about that, and tell us how you know Woody McBride, the promoter of this party.
Spree: It's called "Uniting Nations - HTID vs Ravers Only." It's a co-production between the biggest hardcore promoters in the UK and USA. They're forecasting 3500 attendees. It will have all of the top UK and USA hardcore talent. There's more information here: http://www.raversonly.com/ In all of my years as a DJ, I've never seen a Hardcore lineup like this in the states. Parties with a similar lineup in Europe draw upwards of 5,000-10,000 kids. When Ravers Only asked me to play at this, I jumped at the chance.
As for Woody, we first met almost 10 years ago at a show we were playing at in NY. We started talking and it turned out we had a lot in common. Among other things, we both avoid drugs and are into music that moves people. We chatted all the way to check-in at the airport. During check-in he used his own airline miles to get me a complimentary first-class ticket so we could keep talking on our flight home. The guy is just 100% class. Woody then started booking me, and my MC (MC ADB) to play his shows. We've played for him here in Minneapolis, and at an outdoor festival at the Shawnee caves in Missouri.
GN: You're amazing at scratching. Why didn't you ever get into hip-hop?
Spree: Awww, thanks! I love hip-hop, but it's not the style of music I wanted to play. The style of hip-hop I'm into is more intimate in nature. The focus isn't on the DJ, it's on the guy who rhymes. Just being able to scratch isn't going to be enough for me to get a room of 2,000 kids to go completely mental for 90 minutes regularly.
GN: Seems appropriate here to ask for any last words -- thank the fans, admonish the haters?
Spree: First, thank you to the haters, seriously. It was the people telling me that I sucked that always made me work harder to be a better DJ. Thank you to the producers. If it weren't for you making the music, I wouldn't have ever been able to be a DJ. Thank you to the promoters going out on a limb to book a happy hardcore DJ so many times over the past few years. To the fans, I can't thank you enough. You are the reason why I DJ. All of the traveling, all of the practice, all of the time and money I've invested in this over the years has been for you and for the energy that you've shown me when I've performed.