I first met Giles Smith of secretsundaze way back in the day; it was (I believe) at Lazy Dog in Notting Hill, a Sunday party that ran during the same era as Vertigo at The Cross. Giles is one of those charismatic cats that has a pied-piper appeal - virtually gold dust if you're a promoter and possess the depth of musical knowledge and love of the culture that sets you apart from the pretenders that Giles does. I caught up with him after a recent working trip to NYC and chatted about the history of his and secretsundaze partner James Priestly's long running and iconic clubbing institution.
So this is the 12th year for SS ? How did the idea come about in the first place? It was just the usual thing of wanting to do it for yourself - throw a party for your friends or like minded souls in a great space. It was as simple as that really. We had some ideas about doing a sunday party but really we were desperate to use the loft room at 93 feet east. Sunday was the only day the the venue would let us use just that part of the club on its own as opposed to taking all 3 rooms as they had no business on Sundays and brick lane definitely wasn't the thriving place it is now was back then. That loft has been closed and used as office space for the last 10 years.
secretsundaze was free for quite a while wasn't it? I think DC started In the late 90's so probably 5 years before we started secretsundaze. I was there in Ibiza in the very early years at DC10 there was no roof covering the terrace, the booth was in the opposite diagonal corner and the bar was in the middle of he dance floor. To be honest we were as much if not more influenced by Space where i first went in 92 / 93 when we were about 15 and there was a really special feeling on Sundays. Loved all the plants and foliage they used to have there on the terrace. We wouldn't go out the night before. It was an internal promotion Space was simply Space on Sunday, Spanish run and it used to open at say 10am. We'd have breakfast at our apartments and then head over, drink cups of tea and take e. There was only one terrace and it had an incredible vibe there with such a mix of people and colour that you don't see predominantly in Ibiza now. More flamboyant, more interesting everywhere you looked and certainly less Italian and British! secretsundaze was free and of course we just wanted people to come because the Sunday thing was fairly uncharted territory(of course there was full circle and Lazy Dog before us) so we didn't know what would work but we had a deal with the club that we'd get paid a fee and split if the bar did well.
Was it much easier to get DJs back then, before all this 'exclusivity' nonsense... I guess it was but it was also that we just didn't place so much emphasis at the beginning on guests. Of course we had people like Ashley Beedle, you and a few DJs that were in town that were playing at Fabric like Joshua and Doc Martin. Also Ewan Pearson, Kenny Hawkes, Tiefschwarz (their second London gig), but the house scene or at least the Sunday scene was a smaller thing then, it wasn't so in vogue like it is now and i guess we weren't seen as a threat to a big Saturday night club's like Fabric. I have to tell a story that one day towards the end of the first year someone introduced me at the party to some DJ that i'd never heard of called Ricardo Villalobos who seemed like a really nice guy and and he expressed a strong interest to come down and play. I didn't really know his DJing or music back then and didn't book him until maybe 3 years later at which time he started to build a name for himself! He played on a roof for us on Curtain road. Having been running parties I understand this 'exclusivity nonsense'. You can't be paying a fortune for a DJ that has played 3 weeks ago somewhere else where things are so competitive now. The whole landscape has totally changed. Also if you are a DJ you don't wanna spread yourself too thinly. I wouldn't play in Berlin more than 3/4 times a year and would space the gigs apart, so i don't really think the exclusivity thing is nonsense but i appreciate things are different now.
What were the early stand out parties for you? Honestly there's so many - all the parties in that Loft and the Poet. I would definitely say life was one big party back then and they blurred into one, what is it that Danny Tenaglia track 'Better Days' says 'Life was the party... and the party was life'. Well it was like that for sometime! With not a care in the world and no responsibility the summer's definitely seemed hotter and longer and coupled with the mix of people that we had attending. trendy kids, music heads, gays, rude boys. the party was always mixed from day one and of course when the word got out it just snowballed. The huge street party we did about 3 years into our history in the street that runs parallel the viaduct at what is now Village Undeground was off the hook with about 4000 people rocking up.
Having an outdoor party was easier in East London back in the early days I take it. Which DJs played early on? Anyone who you 'discovered'? Yes for sure we got away with so much more. The Poet was totally illegal back then as it didn't have a music and dance license for the terrace. We also did 2 or 3 roof parties at the drop of the hat at places like the 6th story roof of a building on Bacon street off Brick lane because we knew this guy Nick that leased one of the floors. It was often decided on the week that we were going do it on a roof with a run of good weather. People were more free and liberal and East London of course was less gentrified and less built up so you weren't upsetting so many people. At the beginning we had some of the west coast guys - Doc, Iz and Diz, some of the Classic records associated artists , Junior Boys Own crew associated guys like Ashley Beadle, Rocky and yourself included. We were totally into that vibe also Paper, Nuphonic combined with the new slightly more edgy electronic vibes of say Ewan Pearson, Tiefschwarz then soon after Ivan Smagghe, Trevor Jackson and the like. In terms of breaking artists well i could name quite a few - the aforementioned Tiefschwarz. Dan Ghenacia we brought (to our sister party All Over My Face) that was run by the same three people (myself, James and Kristophe).
Cassy made her UK debut for us at the other party All Over My Face too, we brought all the Romanians over pretty early on; we were really pivotal in pushing a lot of the french artists who were much more in vogue back then than say the Germans so apart from Ghenacia and Smagghe the likes of Phil Weeks, Jeff K, D'Julz. Jerome Pacman. I was and still am very close with Jeff Labelle from Audio Families who represented them all and he was happy that i was booking and helping launch the career of quite a few of these. We brought Tania Vulcano over for the first time with the help of Terry Farley who had the connect with her from early DC10. As I said sometimes the lines and bookings blurred between this and the monthly All Over My Face that we were doing sat the same time for 5 years at Herbal and then The Key and there we booked quite a few of the German guys first too like Dorian Paic, Guido Schneider, Tobi Neumann, Sasse. We supported Steve Bug from early on and the Innervisions gang too. We pushed under dogs or under rated artist certainly like Losoul. Dutch guys like 2000 and One, Shinedoe, Melon all made their debut's with us in the UK. We brought Audio Werner to the UK for the first time at our stage at TDK Cross Central. This continues to this day most importantly as we have Joey Anderson and Jared Wilson, two immense talents breaking through featuring at the party in the first two months this season. Nothing has changed on that front basically. So we really try to expose fresh talent and say to people "you need to know about x, y and z and come and check them". Too many parties don't do this and take easy options playing it safe. I feel we have an important role to play in doing that.
Around 2005 you guys really blew up and became a more traditional party crew - ie. door charges and indoor venues. Has it been a hard decision? I would go as far as saying it started exploding it the second year in 2003 and that was it. We went from 100 / 200 people to 800 in the last parties of 2002 and first few of 2003. I guess in 2005 it may have seemed we changed tack or became more traditional but it wasn't the intention as we started doing say Village Underground which was of course bigger and inside but with natural daylight / skylights and real palm trees drafted in at huge expense (we sold out the first party there with 900 people bit still managed to lose a grand as we had spent so much on production! So it was far from playing it safe - the the change was more forced upon us having had problems at both the Loft of 93 and then the Poet. It was circumstance not a conscious decision of lets start doing bigger parties and charging more or compromise / playing it safe by going to door an indoor party. This also led to us being able to afford / invite bigger artists but came straight from the heart and we always put people on that we wanted to hear. We started charging in the second season. It might have been a fiver I think, £6 maximum. Then of course it went up over time as DJs fees went up. We were bringing guests and of course wanted to make a bit of money we weren't doing so much then. James had a full time job at Timewarp distribution but Kristophe and i didn't really have outside jobs from secretsundaze and the DJing i was doing. It wasn't a hard decision or big dilemma at all to be honest.
You found some amazing spaces that I still relate to being discovered by secretsundaze. Village Underground / The Poet and the roof top on Kingsland High Road - how hard was it finding and putting on these parties? To be honest as much as i'd like to say that we hunted high and low to find these special nuggets, they had a habit of finding us! Some examples could be after being kicked out of the Loft at 93 Feet East, we were homeless right at the beginning of our second season. The sound guys we worked with the most over the years Wattco are great guys (with a custom built hand made system designed and built by themselves) had a habit of just pushing the sound that little bit too much and the day after our first party of 2003 our second season i received a phone call from 93 feet east saying 'that's it.' The community living in the estates off Brick Lane had been on the phone complaining and the venue just freaked out and they pulled it. Jared King, one of the original duty managers at 93 Feet East, had left the venue a while ago and moved to The Poet, a pub just off Bishopsgate and informed us about this amazing courtyard / beer garden at the back of the pub he'd started managing that was very quiet during weekends and didn't have that many residents nearby…that was it.. so we spent the next 2 seasons there.
Eventually the landlord of the pub got his collar lifted by the authorities and we moved on again then to The Light Bar and Village Underground. Kristophe just wandered into Village Undergound one day as he lived down the road and the guy that owns it, Auro, asked Kristophe who he was and what he wanted. Kristophe told him and he was like 'no way I've been trying to find a contact for you guys for ages and I want you to throw a party here to launch the place'. So that was that. Even that penthouse roof on Kingsland Road the guys who owned it knew someone that knew us they approached us. I think they had bitten off more than they could chew with the rent and also liked the idea of having a secretsundaze party on their roof! So honestly it was all fate really, or the planets aligning or however one wants to interpret that.
What's your favourite recent secretsundaze party? Of course i really love the parties where there is that daytime spirit of the open air (of course with fingers and toes crossed for sunshine). The 10th birthday with Moodymann sticks out in my mind. The energy, passion and warmth on the floor that day was really something that i haven't seen on a London dance floor for a few years and the crowd was fantastic - very open minded musically and just going with it. Kenny played everything from Hot Chocolate to Baby Ford. I have to say that of course after 13 years of parties there is a special connection between myself and James as residents with the crowd and I enjoyed playing that day as much as i have ever enjoyed DJing anywhere in my life, period. The opening last year with Deetron, Aybee and Wbeeza was off the hook. I am super looking forward to the opening this year with Derrick May, Soundstream - Live and Midland there and the after party with Jared Wilson and XDB.
I love the Bussey building roof - is that still on for 2013? Probably not. We have the option of doing it but to be honest over the last 2 years the sound levels have been monitored more and more. Of course most people appreciate that an open-air party and even London festivals are pretty restricted sound wise and it's a trade off. There is a limit though; we are not a village fete but a party playing house and techno so it has to be a certain volume. We are looking at another similar roof that I think could be better. Bussey were talking of putting some perspex roof on it which would mean that it wouldn't be open air but still great views and would allow better volumes so let's see.
How is the booking agency going? Great. We have 2 bookers now and a team around them - we look after some of my favourite artists on the planet. We have actually taken risks on some very young developing artists that most agencies wouldn't touch till they are 'ripe' but that's not our vibe - as with the bookings of the party. This is looking great with the likes of Citizen, Wbeeza, Anthony Naples, Brawther really developing. Having other more experienced artists like Patrice Scott, Amir Alexander, Chez Damier and Delano Smith that I respect so much; it's amazing to see them doing so well. We are doing a lot more label showcases as the label develops. Check out the new EP from BLM, 'Sudden Death', out next week.
What amazing spaces did you go for that, sadly, did not come off? I wouldn't say! There a couple we're still thinking about that would be killer but just haven't worked out. There's one place we've been looking at for about three years now…..still hoping!
Finally, what can we expect from secretsundaze at We Are FSTVL? Well, we have a line up that reflects what I was saying above. Deetron headlines and has played for us at the opening party last year and is a very solid DJ with incredible skills doing the three deck thing. Delano Smith form Mixmode/Sushitech will also play. He has had an amazing year in 2012 playing at every quality club across the world and 2013 will be equally as strong. John Heckle who is one of the most exciting young raw talents will also do an analogue live set.
Be sure to grab tickets to the festival underneath. See also for exclusive tickets to the after parties at FIRE, right here on Pulse.
FSTVL DAMYNS HALL AERODROME
25 May 2013 11am-2:30am
Main party Tickets
After party Tickets