When San Francisco-based producer and DJ Spencer Brown walked off the rain-soaked playa at this year's Burning Man, he went home with two salient points. One, the media characteristically fumbled the bag on their second-hand coverage. In short, being stranded in a giant mud pit with 70,000 people produced magic community-building moments. People were low-stress, which couldn't have happened to a more well-equipped group.
And two, where Burning Man has ten guiding principles, he can distill his artistic philosophy into four.
"First and foremost, be kind to everyone around you," he explains. "Two, make music from the heart. Don't look at the trends; don't look at what's popping. You make music that you want to make — no exceptions. Number three, similarly, in DJ sets, you play music you want to play. If something is coming out of those speakers, I love it. That's it. Number four, regarding content, regarding that whole influencer culture, post authentic content that is aligned with my values. I'm not saying I'm not going to do any content; that's a really important part of what we do. But anything I put online, it needs to be aligned with my values, and it needs to be authentic."
Authenticity has been Brown's North Star for the duration of his career. He's famously swerved left when the industry went right, releasing his first two albums as continuous mixes against the advice of others, debuting his record label, Diviine, with a winding synth jam session called "18-minute loop," and playing to his love of language and writing long, thoughtful social media copy while his contemporaries rely on a barrage of short-form video content.
His new album, Equanimity, thoughtfully reflects that wonderfully reckless spirit. Written between 2019 and 2022, he says, "This album takes a slow-shutter snapshot of ongoing time, from pre-pandemic to pandemic to post-pandemic and the lessons I've learned along the way."
Brown says that when the pandemic hit and evaporated all the dates on his tour, and in turn, his income, writing music was all he could do not to spiral. With a constant stream of doom coming from all sides, he had to learn to be still in the chaos and accept that which he could not change. He later learned that this practice had a name: equanimity.
"This album represented a serious period of maturity in my life because I used to be easily affected when things out of my control were happening around me. I used to let it affect me and cause me stress," he says. "Writing this album was a period of learning how to just be okay when everything is going crazy. I learned there is no need to let these things out of your control and affect your mental state."
"As I've matured as a human, I've also learned and dove deeper into my psyche of what I want to bring to the table musically. And what I've realized is if I make melodic and happy, joyful music, that isn't fully satisfying," he explains. "I love making really melodic and joyful stuff. But there's also the dark side of what I like. I like to make darker music sometimes. I like a wide range of emotions. I think having the duality of dark and light is something I absolutely try to do in my music."
Equanimity, set for release on Friday, September 29, follows his previous albums in the continuous mix format, yet with a more varied sonic footprint. Hands-up groovers like "Good Times" are a yin to the yang of the smoky warehouse-tinged "Masonic Webster." Brown snakes through a genre-rich journey that includes collaborations with trance heavyweight Ilan Bluestone, mustachioed deep-house purveyor Luttrell, POS (AKA Above & Beyond's Paavo Siljamäki), Qrion, and five-time Grammy Award-winning South African male choral group Ladysmith Black Mambazo on the album's lead single "Awu Wemadoda."
Of the hundreds of tracks Brown conceptualized for the album, less than a dozen made the cut. And some, like "Awu Wemadoda" — produced alongside longtime studio partner Wilt Claybourne — have a long history.
"Awu Wemadoda" was first written on a laptop in 2017, Brown explains. "I was barely able to afford living off my music at the time, and [Wilt] was working as well. And we would go to the library and write ideas. So this was something we wrote on, like, iPod earbuds in the library. But it felt like something was missing."
The pair shelved it until 2019 when they realized it paired perfectly with Ladysmith Black Mambazo's 2016 track "Awu Wemadoda." The boys created a bootleg remix in Brown's kitchen with no pro equipment.
"I went to Prague to play Above & Beyond's party called ABGT 350, and I decided I'm just going to open with the Ladysmith Black Mambazo bootleg. The response was so crazy. I've never seen so many people like, 'What is this?' More than any other track in my career," Brown says.
After hitting a series of dead-ends getting the track cleared for release, Brown worked his way backstage at one of the group's concerts and asked them in person for their blessing. They were familiar with his rework and happily agreed to make it an official release.
"We wrote that so long ago, but it still feels fresh right now. So that made us feel like [it] can pass the test of time," Brown adds.
Equanimity bookends a period of tremendous growth for Brown, including a rough breakup that saw him temporarily relocate to Los Angeles, the death of his grandmother, and publicly coming out via a beautifully written article for Billboard. He felt that sharing his story would benefit the wider music community.
"I already had come out to people in my life, but not really publicly. I hadn't addressed that," he says. "I thought it was important to get that message across and talk about some of my struggles. And I thought it was cool that Billboard wanted to pick it up, and I thought it was going to reach some people. But then next thing I know, a half million people had read [it]."
Making an impact outside of playing shows and making beats is just one more way that Brown is helping preserve the culture of dance music, a space that has always been a safe space for people on the fringes of society. It all comes back to why he chooses to be an artist. It's not about being the object of everyone's affection. It's not an influencer play. While adjacent to a community of creators who have also become influencers, Brown doesn't see himself as part of that culture.
"Making music is not about me. It's about community. It's about others. It's about connecting with others," Brown says. "I feel like with the way that social media has moved, especially in the last two to three years, it's turned into such a "me" culture. That's not why I fell in love with [dance music]. I fell in love with it because of community, coming together with people, all sorts of people, sexualities, religions, races, whatever the case may be. Everyone comes together, and you're on the same wavelength and pushing creative boundaries."
Spencer Brown. With Conosur, Damian B2B Roig, and Napp B2B Fede Barga. 10 p.m. Saturday, September 30, at Mad Live, 55 NE 24th St., Miami; madclubwynwood.com. Tickets cost $27.23 to $39.06 via dice.fm.