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Orchard Lounge is Headed Into Hibernation

In-depth with the duo about their marriage, the Disco Biscuits, and taking time off to make their first record.

Orchard Lounge headlining at The Metro in Chicago, with visuals by Video Villians. Photo courtesy of Soundfuse. 

Husband and wife duo Spencer and Bethany Lokken are two DJs who love the shit out of their job. And with not one single record in their official discography, they have indeed made their careers around being just that—disc jockeys.

For years this talented (and adorable) pair have toured relentlessly, courting the Chicago house heads and festie kids alike. They've made a name for themselves throwing down at their hometown haven, Smart Bar (which Bethany refers to as "church"), and alongside jam band heroes the Disco Biscuits at Camp Bisco, where they have performed eight years in a row—longer, they say, than anyone but the Biscuits themselves.

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Ever since seeing the duo deep in the woods of Michigan at the Electric Forest festival, I've been devouring any and all recordings of their eclectic, but seamless, DJ sets. I don't care how much of an aficionado you fancy yourself (or how well your Shazam app might work)—if you find yourself at an Orchard Lounge gig I wish you luck in identifying the large bulk of their track list. This is a group that isn't afraid to fuck up your expectations, to catch you off guard and, along the way, make you dance like an intergalactic bunny rabbit.

After dancing—like said intergalactic bunny rabbit—to their headlining set at Output in Brooklyn the night prior, I got the chance to sit down with Spencer and Bethany of Orchard Lounge. By the end of our chat I was mostly just praying that my own marriage could one day be this wonderful. One can dream, right?

Orchard Lounge was nice enough to throw together a super exclusive studio set for all of us at THUMP. Listen and download below:

THUMP: So you guys just played at Output in Brooklyn last night, conveniently located down the street from the VICE offices. What has your experience been like playing in NYC over the years?
Spencer Lokken: We're enamored with this city. Besides Chicago this is probably our number-one destination. Last night was our first time playing Output—last time around we played the Highline Ballroom, which went really well. I think we have a solid following here and people are open-minded.

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Tell me a little bit about getting started in Chicago, the birthplace of house. How much of that classic house vibe do you guys try to portray in your sets, and how much is just 100% Orchard Lounge?
Bethany Lokken: I think at first we didn't want to be completely cornered into the Chicago house scene but now it's really fun to incorporate some of that flavor into our sets. It's part of who we are.

SL: We bring Chicago wherever we go and are always trying to rep' the city. We're really proud of where we're from but at the same time neither of us actually grew up there—I'm from Minneapolis and Bethany grew up in Arkansas. Before moving to the city we weren't really exposed to house music at all. That all started after we moved there.

What type of stuff were you guys listening to before that?
SL: Everything across the boards—funk, rock, soul. We cut our teeth with a lot of those genres.

BL: Hip-hop… [pause] Dolly Parton.

Yeah my cousin said she saw you at Smart Bar and you dropped a sample of "Jolene" in one of the tracks!
BL: Yeah, it's fun when you're able to do that.

SL: If you look at our iPods now you'll find everything from house to classical. I think that all really serves to help us be better DJs. It all comes out when we play somewhere that's not as much of a typical "club"—maybe a fashion show or art opening. There we get to really change it up and play stuff that's not always four-on-the-floor.

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This is a tough one. Where can I get the best hot dog in Chicago?
BL: Hot Douuuuugs!

SL: Yeah that's not a tough one at all, that's an easy one. Hot Dougs all the way.

Let it be known, Orchard Lounge chooses Hot Dougs as their number-one dog in the city. So, moving on from that, you guys are married. I don't think I've ever heard of a married DJ duo. Can you tell me a bit on how you guys met and started spinning together?
SL: We met when I was DJing in Chicago. To make a long story short, Bethany came over to the DJ booth and started pulling records—this was before Serato and Traktor, so I was spinning vinyl. These were records that I didn't even think a massive music nerd would know about, but she knew a lot of them. My pick-up line was that I had a "pair of turntables I needed to sell her" [laughs]. I'm not sure where that one came from. I definitely didn't have a pair to sell her.

BL: We eventually went and bought new ones and put them in my closet.

SL: That was in 2001. Bethany probably practiced in the closet for almost two years before she came out and did her first gig outside of the closet. It was in a sunglasses shop called The Silver Room. I had been DJing for a while before that so I tried to teach her what I knew. I had the basics down and she had incredible taste in music, which is definitely one of the reasons I was drawn to her.

When you two are up there spinning do you find that you are in a different state of mind? Are you Spencer and Bethany, married couple, or do you kind of flip a switch and become purely Orchard Lounge? Or is it always a little bit of both?
BL: We like to get an interesting dynamic because we're not cheesy lovey-dovey at all—we're more competitive and we have to be to get the right sound out.

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You both are always playing back-to-back. Does someone usually take the reigns on the night?
SL: I usually start off the set with a couple of records before we start going into the back-and-forth. I think people are drawn to the fact that we're married, and we share a lot of similarities musically, but also how we can go off in our own directions. I think that's part of the appeal for any DJ collective. They see what Bethany does and what I do and eventually how we meet in the middle.

BL: We're good at always setting each other up, I know that Spencer can grasp on to whatever I am doing.

SL: There's always a plan of attack when we are putting together a set and there's a lot of communication that goes into it. But still a lot of the magic is purely just through spontaneity and being able to make selections based on the energy that the room has.

Are there a lot of challenges about being a couple and DJing together? What if you have a big argument then have to play a set together? When you get in the booth do you just hit reset?
BL: I think it actually helps. It makes you forget that you're husband and wife and makes you remember you're performing and entertaining people and makes for an interesting chemistry. So when we argue it's even a better in the end. We could be mad at each other for four hours and it will turn out to be one of our best sets yet.

Can you tell me a bit about the concept for Orchard Lounge? You guys have that motto "from the dance floor to the couch." What's going on there?
SL: So it all really started when myself, Bethany and our third member, Ben Silver, all were living on Orchard Street in Chicago. That's how we got our name. After we would go out from seeing a DJ or live act or what not we would always end up back at our place listening to music well into the wee hours of the morning; just the three of us hanging out.

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What we tended to gravitate towards were these really mellow records, not so much in-your face stuff that we had just heard in the club. We were fascinated with making the shift from these banging 120BPM records to stuff closer to 106BPM, almost a hip-hop instrumental feel. Then we really started digging and finding this music that we were so completely enamored with. From there it really just progressed naturally.

You guys have such an eclectic taste. I like to think I know a lot of the electronic music that is out there but when I see one of your sets I always say to myself, "Where do you find this stuff!" So, where do you?
SL: Here's the interesting bit and we didn't tell anybody this until today. Last night at Output, almost everything we played was from between 2003 and 2009. We purposefully didn't play a lot of records that came out this year or last year. We know that there's going to be so many people in the audience who say "I know that one." When we find our self at an awesome venue with a great sound system we often like to play our classics that might be a little bit older or under the radar. It's fun for us to hear how they will sound on giant systems.

BL: We put a lot of time into trying to find stuff that you haven't heard. It's a big part of our job.

Are people always responsive to that?
BL: We were at a festival this summer and were playing a sunrise set from 4AM to 6AM, and we thought that we would play some more downtempo beautiful music. We looked out into the crowd and everyone was just standing there so we knew that we had to make them dance. So we did!

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SL: Yeah, to that point—I don't think either one of us is scared to leave people scratching their head about what they just heard. We're not afraid to clear a dance floor. But it's always about a balance. We know we can take a risk and play a record that won't have all of these simple elements that will create immediate emotion. Often we play stuff that requires a little more patience. That's one of the most fun elements about what we do. We cherish the fact that we're DJs before anything. The record hunt is so huge for us and is such a part of our history.

I've heard Smart Bar in Chicago is kind of your second home. What do you guys love about playing there?
BL: We've seen so many of our favorite acts there. Smart Bar is connected to The Metro, which is another amazing venue. We saw LCD Soundsystem do a live show once at The Metro, then James and Pat went downstairs to DJ at Smart Bar to close it out. It's just a magical place.

SL: The place has a lot of history. We have a great relationship with the owner, Joe Shanahan, and love his whole way of branding and his concept of what he wants to do with that space. It's a no holds barred place—great soundsytem, dark and dingy basement. It's hard to explain. Once you go there you understand.  It's one of those places you go to just forget about all the things that might be bothering you.

BL: It's like a church!

You always throw in a lot of cool samples in your sets. How do these ideas come together?
BL: We often turn to current pop culture when choosing samples. Stuff from American Idol, the news, TV shows, funny movies—the Carmax Super Bowl commercial is one of our favorites.

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You play at a lot of summer music festivals and often do set-breaks for jam bands and other acts. How did you guys get started in the festival scene?
BL: We would go to festivals a lot, often to see the Disco Biscuits who are a jam band but also have a lot of electronic and sounds. That was really exciting and new to us. They would take these thirty-minute set breaks and the music would stop. I was always like "the music needs to keep going!"

SL: We wanted to create this full night of music for the fans where they got the live music elements and immediately would get this DJ set before the band would come back on. So they never really have a chance to breathe. Our other member, Ben Silver, was very close to the Disco Biscuits and had known them since their early days in college around 1999 when they were just coming up.

I find it so interesting that many of your fans are house-heads and also crunchy festival hippies. It's such a diverse mix.
SL: Yeah we're really proud of that fact. We knew there would be an opportunity there with how open-minded those fans are and knowledgeable about such a wide variety of music.

Kind of going off that I know you guys are a longtime mainstay at Camp Bisco but didn't play the festival this past summer, which a lot of fans were super bummed about. How did you guys feel about that? Were you upset?

BL: We got so much from the Disco Biscuits—we're very happy to have been there for as long as we were.

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SL: We were there eight years in a row, which I think is longer then any other act besides the Biscuits and we're really proud of that. To answer your question though, were we bummed? Yeah, we were bummed.

So I know you guys are in the studio and are putting together your first release of original material, which is super exciting? Can you tell me a bit about that? Why wait so long to do this?

BL: We just never really felt any pressure to put anything out—we like keeping things for ourselves. I think it's the classic DJ mentality of playing those "white label" records that people don't know.

SL: We're perfectionists and have very high hopes for where we are going with our music. But this certainly isn't the first time we've produced. Over the past couple years we've been making stuff and occasionally throwing it into our sets just to gauge the crowd response. But we never tell anybody that it was a "Bethany edit" or "Spencer's new track," or something from Ben.

This is the first time I've told anyone this, but moving forward into 2014 we're going to take a bit of a hiaitus from DJ gigs and are only going to focus on the studio stuff. Right now we're trying to find this nice balance of work, play, and DJing and producing, and we finally realized that we need to focus on just one of them. We want to sit down and concentrate on putting these records out.

Are you looking to put out a full album?
SL: I'm a little hesitant to talk about this right yet. It's TBD for right now, but from what we've planned with our own music we're definitely not opposed to giving it out initially for free. Just giving people the chance to take it and play it out, give it to their friends. We're also talking about a special limited edition vinyl-only release. So we're kind of in talks for how we're going to approach this—what's most important is the music that ends up being created is something that we're really proud of. If it's good enough to get picked up that's great, if we want to just put it out ourselves because we're dying for people to hear it then that's what we'll do.

Tell me a little bit about this company you guys own, Style Matters.
SL: I started Style Matters in 2006 to appeal to people who were doing events outside of club culture—stuff like art openings, fashion shows, wedding receptions, corporate functions. People who had a little bit of a budget and wanted something off the beaten path of what was available to them. So in Chicago we found this core group of DJs who were friends and were all very talented. We had this goal to get ten high-end contracted functions within the course of a year. We ended up getting over forty. We knew that there was a market for what we were doing.

The core business model is really just going out to do what you love to do, but do it for someone else. We've met a lot of wonderful people along the way. I played violin for an event with Tom Brokaw and Colin Powel which was amazing. We have some high hopes for where this is going to go. We look at Orchard Lounge as the creative side and Style Matters as the business side, and often they meet in the middle. We get to do what we love to do and don't have to sit in a cubicle.

What have been some of the cooler gigs that you have done with the company?
BL: Spencer liked the Victoria's Secret Fashion show.
SL: Yeah, that was cool.

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David wants to know if Orchard Lounge will play a private DJ set for him and his grandma when he goes to Chicago this weekend. @DLGarber