Truancy Volume 197: Secretsundaze

Honed by Giles Smith and James Priestley over the last sixteen years, Secretsundaze’s organic growth from being a Sunday party to a fully fledged brand, label and studio can be looked on as an evolution many dream of. Held in high esteem beyond their home ground in London, the pair have solidified themselves far beyond being just promoters over the years, with their DJing and production as artists reaching a point lauded by many. With regular appearances at Pickle Factory, Panorama Bar, Robert Johnson and a string of high-profile international dates in 2017, their schedule seems busier than ever. Their two labels continue to provide a platform for pushing talent with releases from Endian, Shanti Celeste, Fred P and Palms Trax, exhibiting the very best out of them. We caught up with Giles and James to discuss their progression as artists, a heavy touring schedule, all night long sets and their first long-time coming production as a pair. Their Truancy Volume, coming in at 197 in our series, is a strong representative of their style of DJing, with their usual emphasis on maintaining a solid groove being a focal point. Starting with the sweet sounds of the Detroit Escalator Company and moving to tracks throughout from Cassy, Glenn Underground, Wajeed and more, it’s a sultry blend of vintage house rolling in at an hour and a half.

Hey there Giles and James! Thanks again for doing this interview, really looking forward to hearing the mix. With the end of the year drawing closer just want to start with a little recap question and ask how you feel you progressed as artists in 2017? With the two of you being in the scene for so long, how do you look to take year-by-year? “It’s been a year of transition for us, focusing on making more time to produce again and cutting back on other things we do. We have a great team around us now, which has made it more possible. Both of us have had periods where we produced with various partners, Giles with Two Armadillos releasing a lot of music between 2007 and 2013, up until Martin Dawson’s tragic passing and James with Marco Antonio Spaventi and Dan Berkson. Over the last year or so we have been producing together for the first time albeit with some help and also DJing together back to back. The back to back just seemed like a logical move at a certain point. Anyone that maybe came to Secretsundaze back in the day would know that we were quite different as DJs but over the years our styles have converged and we have influenced each other so there is more symbiosis now and of course it can be great fun. Over the last 16 years we haven’t been thinking too far ahead believe it or not and things have been very organic but now there is a bit more of a plan!”

You’ve been on the road a fair bit this year with a string of high profile international dates. Can you run through how some of them were? It seems like the pair of you had a good time in the States? “There have been the usual regular favourite haunts like Panorama Bar, Robert Johnson, The Block etc but our two favourite tour dates from this year have to be Closer in Kiev and Smart Bar in Chicago. We’d heard quite a bit about Closer from other DJs like Jane Fitz but didn’t really know what to expect. The club was great in terms of set up and sound which really just allows you to do what you do to the best of your ability but of course it’s the people that make a night truly special and the crowd there was just so warm, receptive and music focused. We played for close to 10 hours across the club inside and then outside on the terrace well into the afternoon and it’s strongly etched on both our memories. It was our second time playing at Smart Bar but first time playing Queen! Honey Dijon took Giles there one day after another gig a few years back in the fairly early days of the party and it blew him away so we were super keen to play there. Of course with Chicago being the home of house and having such a deep-rooted love for the music / scene and the fact that Queen! Is such a fun, gay, colourful night crowd wise, it just felt so easy and natural. Our music felt perfectly suited to the vibe there as much as somewhere like late Sunday afternoon at Panorama Bar.”

You’ve done a load of ‘All Night Long’ sets this year, be it several at the Pickle Factory or Pikes in Ibiza, as well a forthcoming post-Christmas/pre-NY one coming up at the Total Refreshment Centre. What goes into playing these sort of sets for you as a pair. “The bigger parties over recent years had become more guest led and with that our sets times had became quite short 1.5 hour warm ups, or closing sets. We both missed the longer sets that we’d play in the early days where we only had one guest DJ as opposed to sometimes 3 now, so the ‘All Night Long’ parties have given us back that feeling of having a longer time to grow a vibe. In terms of preparation even for the longest back to back we did which was 12 hours at Mick’s garage in May we actually don’t get together before hand or talk about it that much before the day but I guess we are very familiar with how each other plays and each others range so its fairly intuitive. We tend of do pure one on one off, or two on two off in shorter back to back’s but for some of the really long ones we might switch it to 30 mins each and then start playing back to back at a certain point as we get more in our groove.”

In terms of your current listening habits and as label owners, how much time do you spend listening to new things compared to time spent listening to things that you already know you like? 
”Well we spend a lot of time searching and reaching for new music. More so in terms of just checking stuff that we like and excites us – could be discovering music that we’re not aware of by artists we already know, delving deeper into back catalogues or by finding out about artists we weren’t aware of, both new and old. We both regularly listen a few regular specialist radio shows and that’s a great way to be turned on to new stuff, from people whose taste we already trust. NTS particularly is great for that, but also regular record shop trips and mailers from those stores themselves are a good resource for us. Of course we also spend a lot of time digging for stuff to play out too, fairly evenly balanced between old and new music. We’d both rather go to stores and buy records than labour over all the digital promos we get sent – that’s not something we really love doing, and as label owners, at the moment we’re focusing on working with and developing a little crew of artists that we really feel and believe in as opposed to spending loads of time listening to demos.”

How do you feel throwing SS parties for fifteen years now has informed what you make in the studio? With SS already being so established before your first releases, you must have gotten the chance to test run tracks multiple times over as your production techniques improved, which is an amazing opportunity to have. “Of course throwing the parties helps inform what we do in the studio but its DJing in general as opposed to just our parties in London. We do way more international dates a year at different clubs around the world than we do throw parties so I think this experience as DJs in general that holds us in good stead knowing what works on the floor.”

When reading through a past interview there was a line from you, James, that stood out in stating that this idea that London clubbing has suddenly gone to shit is more of a narrative device than an actual lived reality, with the idea of a past golden age being somewhat misguided. That was in 2015, what are both of your thoughts on that statement? “It’s undeniable that the scene has changed hugely since we first started going in the early 90’s, as dance music has become such a big business. It’s hugely more professionally ran than it was then and a lot safer to go out and party but of course the illicitness and DIY vibes did really give a sense of freedom and adventure that has maybe been lost at many clubs parties these days. I think some promoters do a great job of recreating this feeling though. A good example of this could be say at Berghain where once you have passed through the clubs doors and passed their ‘test’ you are pretty much left to your own devices as long as you are respectful of others around you. We feel London clubs have become very strict and security seem to be overbearing but it’s of course because they are up against it and all afraid of losing their licenses etc. It’s a hard question to answer unless we could experience first hand what its like to go out for the first time in 2018 as an 18 year old or whatever as opposed to in the early 90’s.”

You’ve releases some outstanding records and tracks on Secretsundaze over the years – Endian’s – Finish Me and Shanti Celeste’s Nu4him being some standouts for me. With the recent release of your split record with Palms Trax, do you feel you’ve achieved what you set out to do when you decided to start the record label aspect of Secretsundaze? “As with a lot of what we do there is no big master plan really and everything happens organically. I mean with the first 12′ we did from Brawther that came about because Giles used a very early release on Balance by Brawther in his 2007 Resident Advisor podcast and Brawther reached out to say thanks etc for using the track. The Endian release came about as George Levings is a friend from Cambridge our hometown and was using our studio space. Shanti and Palms Trax are both regulars and played at parties of ours in London and abroad etc We are proud of what we have put out on the label but not sure if we are where we want to be with it. We really hope to step it up in the next few years.”

What can you tell us about the mix you have done for us? “The mix was planned over a few days and was eventually mixed in one take on vinyl with just one digital track. Its pretty representative of our DJing style with the beginning and ending having our usual strong emphasis on groove. There are just 3 or 4 brand new tracks and lots of older things that we like including a few we picked up whilst on tour in the states a few months back. It definitely has that live feel with some nicks n pops on the records as some of them have been played hundreds of times but hopefully its still an enjoyable ride!”

What can we expect from Secretsundaze for the rest of the year and early 2018
? “We have a new release on Phonica coming next year hopefully around February time so we are looking forward to seeing that come out. Also have records on the label on the way from Alton Miller, a follow up from Fred P, a Slyngshot 12′ and more. We have our monthly All Night long at The Pickle Factory on the 2nd Saturday of each month so the next one will be on Dec 9th. On the 29th December we have a Christmas / early NY party at The Total Refreshment Centre where we’ll go back to back all night long with a secret heavyweight London based artist that has released on labels such as Rush Hour. Touring wise we have confirmed dates at the likes of Vent in Tokyo, Closer in Kiev, Panorama Bar, Robert Johnson, our residency at Oven Club in Valencia (this weekend) an Italian weekend in a few weeks with Milan and Bologna. Then over Christmas and New Year period we’ll be in Beirut on New Years Eve with Ben UFO, DVS1 and Moxie and then will stay for a few days to explore Beirut before heading to Tel Aviv for one of our regular gigs at The Block with our good friend and great DJ Partok. Some festivals already in the diary too for next summer including Love International and hopefully we’ll be at Gottwood again.”

Lastly, can you tell us the last thing that brought a big smile to your faces? “Ahh that’s pretty easy….we were at James’ brothers wedding for 2-3 days in the countryside a few weeks ago surrounded by friends and love so that got us both smiling no end. Still smiling about that now.”

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