Tag Archives: London

A chat with…James Priestley & Giles Smith (secretsundaze)

The summer has traditionally been the domain of secretsundaze, so just before their first UK party of the year, we sat down with James & Giles to talk shop.

It’s clear that they haven’t lost any of their enthusiasm for what it is that they do, and that they’re still very much dedicated to their craft, so we gave them a few nasty questions about the past, the future and everything in between. These are the results.

Summer looks like it’s secretsundaze’ busiest time of year. What are you most looking forward to this summer?
In terms of our UK activity, it’s definitely the busiest time of the year with events. We have 2 parties in May, 1 in July, August and September. Our next party is something we are really looking forward to on Easter Thursday at Electric Brixton, with Derrick May, Deetron, Livity Sound and Arnaldo. This should be a killer. The 2 May dates should be huge both being day and night time events over 2 locations. That has the likes of Rolando, Mosca, Joey Anderson, Wbeeza, Steffi, Martyn, A Sagittariun and Virginia amongst others. The birthday is in August on the bank holiday and we are working on announcing details of that soon. Of course we are doing some great international events too. We are touring the states in the next few weeks, we have a new 3 date residency at Tresor in Berlin and and of course our huge off Sonar party at La Terrrazza in Barcelona in June where we also do 3 dates over the year.

(Details and tickets here).

Your first event of the year features Derrick May alongside Arnaldo. How important is it to you to match these established names with the less well known DJs?

Very important really.. whilst we obviously love welcoming elder statesmen of the scene such as Derrick, and everything people such as him bring to the table, we also really like giving younger artists or ones earlier in their careers the platform to do their thing on a bigger stage. Plus for our own interests, it’s often these artists that are really turning us on as DJs or individuals – there will always be a balance of cutting edge artists alongside more established names at secretsundaze. We’ve often taken risks on breakthrough artists, booking many people over the years in the UK for the first time, from people like Joey Anderson through to the Cassy’s of the world.

secretsundaze

Since you started putting on events 13 years ago, you must have seen a lot of changes in dance music. Which of these have struck you as the most significant/interesting?

I seem to get asked this question a lot recently. In terms of doing parties – there is much more competition – there are many more promoters putting on similar nights so it’s like a scramble for DJs and we are having to book them 6-9 months ahead. I do feel like this has taken the fun out of it a bit and we can’t be as reactive to new things as we used to be. Another major point would be just the growth and commercialisation of dance music. This really is a huge thing now and it’s developed in ways which I see as both positive and negative. There is a new professionalism in terms of some events that are put on – people have more experience etc. at running events but on the negative side I’m quite saddened by how much the hype machine has come to affect this scene and it’s a little less meritocratic than it used to be or based on say how good a DJ you are and as much about your image. This has always been true to an extent but its now hitting new heights. Musically things are always evolving but its nice to see some of the great house and techno from the 90s being introduced to a whole younger generation who were not able to hear it the first time around.

What about London? The city’s constantly evolving, do you think it would have been harder for you to start to do today what you did 12 years ago?

In many ways, no, not really. London is an amazing place to start up new enterprises, whether they be music led or something completely out of the creative sphere. As long as you have a passion and a plan (not that we had much of a plan), there are opportunities here. If anything, the advent of social media and digital marketing has meant it’s easier to start things up I’d say. We had more of a rogue edge when we were younger, and certainly used to get away with a lot more in terms of some of the legality of the parties we were putting on, which we certainly wouldn’t get away with now. So the city as a whole has sadly become more awash with people with money and attitudes to boot. You only have to look as far as what has happened in Shoreditch and incredibly quickly in Dalston in relation to the backlash to the late night economies there to illustrate that. The scene is very developed now, which may make it harder too, but at the same time, I’ve not witnessed the level of interest in this music since we started back in 2002 so in that sense, you could argue there are plenty of people to go around.

Do you ever go out these days to parties where you’re not on the bill? It looks like there’s a very healthy community of promoters in London at the moment putting on smaller events with innovative lineups and amazing residents in unusual places, such as Undersound, Frontroom, Night Moves, World Unknown…although I was a bit young at the time when you were starting out with secretsundaze, these promoters’ approach to putting on a party strikes me as similar to yours back when you were starting out.

I have to be honest and say for myself but also James, we are playing a lot abroad, doing our own events and on a night off I’m looking to do something different than go to a club. However I’m really aware of most of the nights you mention and know that they do good stuff from the heart. ReviveHER! also do some cool stuff out in Hackney Wick and the Make Me guys curate some nice line ups. Yeah, I feel that DIY ethic is never far away from the heart of London.

You’re fortunate enough to be invited to play in loads of different places beyond the UK. Do you have any favorites? You seem to spend a lot of time in Japan?

Japan is certainly a favorite. I’ve been fortunate to be touring there as a solo artist since 2005, and then under the secretsundaze banner a few years later. The country, especially the cities (I’m not so familiar with the countryside), the culture, the people, the food, the nightlife and the record shops are something else.. I will never tire of travelling there and still get the same level of excitement as I did 8 years ago when getting on the plane. There are a lot more white / western people there now, and some of their traditions seem to be sadly waning but it is still an incredibly unique place to play and visit. Going the other way, I love spending time and touring around the states. There is so much that is wrong about America but they also have got a lot of stuff right. Closer to home and in Europe, as far as actual clubs go, then Robert Johnson in Offenbach is perhaps my favorite place to play, we do at least one annual party there on the Sunday of the Easter weekend and have done for 5/6 years now, as well as various other dates there over the years. That place is the finest specimen of the perfect small club, certainly that I’ve seen anyway.. hopefully, long may it continue..

Do you ever feel that there’ll come a point when you’ll feel that you can’t take secretsundaze any further? Do you think you can continue topping what you’ve achieved before?

I don’t over analyse that too much at the moment. We still really enjoy what we do. The brand has grown to incorporate the agency and the label so there are different facets of what we do and the music is the main factor that still binds us to this.

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A Chat With…Jane Fitz

Jane Fitz is a DJ we’ve got a lot of time for. Her selections are eclectic and you’ll never hear her play the same set twice. Whether she’s playing soul, acid house or whatever other style – one thing’s for sure. She plays records worth hearing. Along with Jade Seatle, she puts on Night Moves, which you can read about below. Catch her every Monday from 10pm – Midnight on myhouseyourhouse radio. We caught up with Jane to talk about her approach to DJing, digging and putting on events.

Jane Fitz Interview

Hi Jane. Could you briefly tell us who you are and what you do?

Well, I’m guessing you’re here to talk about music, which is actually only about 1% of what I do. Well maybe a bit more, maybe about 10%.

You’re also a journalist.

Yeah. It’s funny to be on the other end of the questions – I’ve been a journalist for over 20 years. I don’t really do much writing anymore, I stopped in March out of default, not out of choice, the magazine I was deputy editor at finally collapsed after about 5 years of clinging on. I mainly just make other peoples’ writing a bit better and concentrate a bit more on my music these days. That again wasn’t really by design, more by default but I’m quite happy with that, it’s all right. They’re both quite lone professions though, I spend a lot of time doing my own head in – making music and buying music you’re generally on your own apart from a few hours a week when you’re suddenly surrounded by all these people. But I’m not complaining.

So how long have you been DJing for?

It depends on what you’d call DJing. If it’s putting records on in an order for people in a room, then I’ve been doing that since I was 13, when I was still in school. I was the only person who had records so I’d go and play at house parties. We’re talking house parties in the 80s; we’re not talking anything sophisticated here. I did a bit of radio and played soul, funk, hip hop, rare groove, shit like that in pubs when I was a student, around ’91. I guess I started mixing properly when I was in Hong Kong, which would have been about ’97. That’s when I started buying records more seriously and playing in clubs all the time. I think I put my first party on in ’93 in a recording studio in Camden, so let’s say around that time.

It’s always been records for you?

Yeah because that’s what I’ve got. I’ve never felt any need to adjust…I’ve always had a lot of old records…when did I notice the format change? It was in New York actually, I was freelancing for DJ Mag – it was a pretty lame job but it was cool to go to New York. I went to Subliminal, which is Erick Morillo’s record label and he’d just released some statement that he was only playing on CDs and I remember thinking…well that’s not for me, cause I store things visually and I’d never be able to find anything in a dark club. Also my handwriting’s so bad after all those years of doing shorthand interviews on the phone. I love flicking through records, it’s just a visual thing.

I’m really anal about where they go in my house, I’m incredibly disorganised and chaotic with everything else, but my records are in an unbelievably complicated filing system so if I’d have to start looking for a track on a laptop, I wouldn’t even know what to look for. It’s purely organisation that keeps me playing records, nothing else.

D’you ever forget you have a record?

Oh, yeah all the time. That’s the beauty of it. I’m always selling records – I’m not one of these people who’s like “I’ve got 10,000 records, they all must be good.” Bullshit. You’re always gonna have shitty records, so I don’t believe that you should have a record collection that just gathers dust. It should be like an organism, you should feed it and you should prune it – cut off the deadwood. Just by that process, you’re discovering things you’ve forgotten about, which is brilliant. If I had files and I was deleting them, half the time I wouldn’t know what I was deleting, cause I don’t remember track names.

The only problem with having a record collection is the amount of space it takes up! In my house my records have an entire room to themselves. I figured that I don’t have a kid, but I’ve probably spent as much money on my records over the years as I would have done bringing up a child. I’d probably be in there for 4 years listening to all of them!

Do you find you’re still going to record stores and listening to records, or has your digging moved online?

I go to second hand record stores more than I do new ones. Over the last 10 years I’ve not been going as much, because I’ve seen most of it already. Put it this way, when I lived in Hong Kong, which was ’96 to about ’99, when I started buying records beyond just occasionally, my flatmate at the time was playing dnb and you couldn’t get that over there. He was getting his records online, from the Dance Music Resource Pages, which was the first name for Juno. There were no sound clips on there, so I’d chance it and order stuff. A year and a half later, about ’99, I came home to England, but because that’s what I was used to, I kept doing it even though no one else really did. So I was actually ordering records off the internet long before most people, so my digging for new records began in that way and by now it’s habitual and everybody does it that way.

I only really dig for things in record stores that I haven’t listened to already online, which rules out most of the new stuff. I used to work in the Music Exchange, I was based in Notting Hill and then I worked in Camden and Soho once a week. I kind of stopped going through basements because I’d seen it all before. I do still go though; especially when I’m abroad I go straight for the bargain bins.

I do still go to the Music Exchange, and sometimes to Reckless, just to talk to the people there. That was always the best thing about them, was talking to the people – about music or about parties, even though I’m really not someone who talks about records. I hate it. I get really frustrated when you meet people out and they don’t know you but they know of you and the first thing they say to you is about records. It feels like you get pigeonholed as the “record person.” In my old house in Leytonstone about 10 years ago, people used to come back to my house and they’d all be DJs. If I caught them talking about records, I’d kick them out! Records are there to be played, not talked about. I’d rather people heard the result of my digging.

What’s your approach to DJing? Do you do your own thing and play the records you want to play, or do you try and have a feel for what people want to hear?

This is actually something that I spend time thinking about. I think it’s a bit of both. You’re in a room and it’s the weekend and people have generally payed money to be there. If you went to see the Rolling Stones and they didn’t play Satisfaction, you’d be pretty fucked off. Obviously I can’t really play Greatest Hits, but I do think you’ve got to be aware that people have had a long week and they’ve come with some expectations. However, you’re also not there to be a jukebox. If you book a DJ, then you’ve done some research to see what they play. I think it’s like “Okay, I’ve paid money to see a DJ do this, but also be themselves while doing it.” I always try to watch the crowd. If they’re not responding to what I’m doing, I’m not gonna be some mug, trying to force music down peoples’ throats. I’ll try change it up and make them respond.

I spend 5 or 6 hours packing my record bag before I go out to play, I try and think about the night, who’s on before me and pick records that will make the crowd respond. I’ll always fall short of saying “What d’you want me to play?” But I’ll always do my homework. It’s not like I’m a wedding DJ – I think there’s a sense of freedom when you’re booked to play a night. But I will spend hours packing that record bag, thinking about the night.

I think music is a real representation of who you are. I’m not very good at small talk, so I try and get across what I’ve got to say through records. I’m sure that I could get more across to you by playing a certain record than I could by talking to you for 20 minutes. When you’re in a club environment, you’re not in a library, you’re at a party. You’ve got to make sure people have fun, so I always try and give people a good time, to take them somewhere different so they can forget about all their crap.

You’ve put on your fair share of parties. What are the most important elements that make a party a good party, rather than just another night?

It’s doing things in the right order. The last thing you should think about doing is booking a name. You can’t light a candle without a match. You need to have the ingredients there to make it happen first. What are you trying to say with the party? How welcoming d’you want it to be? Where’s it gonna happen? What’s it gonna sound like? Who’s gonna come? And then who’s gonna play the music. You need to put in a lot of time into your guests – into making people feel welcome so that they want to come to your party.

I think you need to show people that you give a shit – that you want them to have a good time rather than you just want their money. I’ve stopped going out in London a lot, because they’re booking amazing people but they don’t feel like a party anymore. I always try and create a welcoming, family vibe with amazing people and amazing music. I try and create a sense of belonging. I want people to feel like it’s their night. The crowd is the key to a good party. You need to create a vibe where no one feels like they’re being watched, like they’re there to be seen.

I don’t want an atmosphere where it’s too packed to dance, and it’s all just people standing there watching the decks. I don’t understand why people watch the DJ. How can you possibly be having a good time if you’re staring in one direction? I don’t think it’s important where the DJ is. Parties are about having fun, having a dance and meeting people, not standing in one place all the time. That’s not fun. I remember a few years ago, Moodymann was doing things like DJing from behind a sheet. The DJ is just a conduit for music – they’re not doing anything live. They’re not rockstars, any DJ who wants to be watched is a prick. The party should be on the floor and not in the booth. I just…don’t understand it. I would never put a DJ on a stage, I would always stick them in a corner at floor level. That’s how we do it at our parties.

So we’re not gonna see a Jane Fitz Boiler Room then?

If I did a Boiler Room I’d face the other way. And all of those people, who desperately want to be on camera, can be! I play other peoples’ music. I’m not important, the records are.

Is that what Night Moves is about then? Trying to do something completely different?

Yeah, I think so. It’s completely transparent. It was really difficult at first promoting a party when you’re anti-promotion. We’re not elitist, we just don’t want to be a trendy thing that can just as easily fall out of trend. Our priority is the crowd and making the crowd feel like they’re part of something. We made a really important decision really early on, which was not to have a guestlist. We didn’t want any elitism. Every single person who comes to the party can contribute. Everybody puts something into the pot, there’s no blaggers. We keep the prices low. If people can spend £60 on a gram of coke, then they can spend £10 on a party that lasts 8 hours. That’s 2 drinks around here! By doing that you have no VIPs. Everyone is the same, which makes for a democratic party.

People can see we’re not millionaires, and we keep it small. We don’t do any advertising and the venues we use are only used by us. Everybody knows it’s not about money and because of that we’ve got a very loyal crowd.

We want people to find out about us, but we want them to work for it a little bit as well. So we keep it secret. We never ever disclose the venue unless you buy a ticket. It makes the party feel private. You’re in a Night Moves vacuum for the next 8 hours and you can do what you want! No one gives a shit. There’s no hipsters looking over your shoulder, there’s no kids off their heads on ketamine, no women in heels, no blokes on the pull. It’s just an atmosphere for letting go. And that’s what a party should be.

Me and Jade are both really proud of it because we’ve created a party that we would like to go to. If I’m DJing, Jade will be on the floor. We’re very visible because there’s no VIP. Everybody’s a VIP, because everybody’s special and I genuinely don’t think there’s another party like that in London and I think that’s what it’s lost, that authenticity.

Other promoters who I really respect come out. The FreeRotation and World Unknown guys have all come to Night Moves, which is a really nice compliment.

The ones we did in the summer we didn’t have any tickets or Facebook events, we just said if you want to come send us your number. Jade had printed out little blue circles and we put them down by the canal so that people could follow the circles. Then to get to the venue, we swung a boat out across the canal and people had to cross it to get there. The second day party we had a speedboat and people had to go to a place where they’d get picked up. It makes our parties different to everything else. We try and have that free party spirit. I don’t want to be another promoter, I want to put on parties, and there’s a difference.