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Secretsundaze: Giles Smith & James Priestley

Inverted Audio caught up with secretsundaze founders Giles Smith and James Priestley to find out more about the origins of secretsundaze as well as the evolution of the brand that encompasses a record label and booking agency.


Interviewed by Tom Durston

James & Giles Press Images

Secretsundaze has been running for the past 12 years. That’s a huge achievement, can you explain to me when you got the idea to setup the party?

Giles Smith: It started with four of us. Myself, James, Kristophe and Will B. Kristophe still does the production for our parties, he’s not so involved on a day to day basis anymore as he has other projects but he but is very much part of the fabric of what we do. There was also a third DJ call Will B who moved on in the fairly early years.

James Priestley: We started it so we could get our friends together and play records that we loved in a nice setting that wasn’t in the confines of a traditional environment in terms of kicking out time.

We trawled London for what we thought was the perfect venue, we must have looked at about 50 different venues. We wanted something that was one room and had a great atmosphere and attributed to it. We found the Loft room at 93 Feet East, which we fell in love with.

At that time 93 Feet East were operating the venue as a three or four room venue, if we wanted it on the Friday or Saturday, which we were open to, the whole Sunday concept emerged, it wasn’t necessarily part of our thinking straight away.

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So the whole Sunday thing was by chance?

James Priestley: It was kind of by chance, we had that idea as well. There were two ideas we had. The one was for me, Giles and Kristophe to do a party in London and then there was the idea of putting on a Sunday party, which wasn’t an after party, but was something that started much later and was a destination party in itself. The fact that we could only get the Loft room at 93 Feet East on a Sunday meant that we went for the Sunday party idea. Obviously the name came from that and the fact that the Loft room was tucked away upstairs on Brick Lane, so there was this idea that it was quite secretive and unusual to the mainstream markets happening down the road.

At this time were you bothworking a full time job as well?

James Priestley: Yeah I’d just moved down to London in 2001 and we started secretsundaze in 2002, so in that period in between I was working part time at Selecta Disc Record Store on Berwick Street, Soho and on the same week that secretsundaze started I started a full time job working at Time Warp Distribution Company so it was quite full on, working full time and then putting on a party every Sunday. Coming into work on a Monday with often a very hoarse voice was tough. I was after all working in telesales selling records to shops. I had to get on the phone a lot, which was quite hectic. But I was in my early twenties enjoying life in London, having a blast.

Giles Smith: I was actually DJing from then, so I was living purely from that. I was doing ‘music’ full time then, but in terms of the party, we were just young people having fun, putting on parties for our friends. We didn’t have a strategy, or any visions that secretsundaze would become a brand. I just wasn’t that conscious of our purpose then. We just enjoyed it and wanted to continue doing it.

The first year was about 150 people in the Loft room at 93 Feet East; it was mainly us playing and the odd guest playing. We had Joshua, Tiefshwarz, Doc Martin and Ashley Beedle played for us. We didn’t have guests every week.

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Were all four of you friends from school?

Giles Smith: James was the year below me at school and we met at about 15. I met Kristophe at about the same time via a mutual friend but he went to another school in Cambridge. Some of the kids in my class lived on the same street as him. Yeah we were all friends from the age of 15 when we first started to go out to raves In East Anglia that was a hotbed for that scene around the early 90’s.

What types of music did you hear at these raves?

Giles Smith: I heard early house on a NOW compilation, it had the double cassettes and the second cassette D Side usually used to have some early dance house stuff on. I vividly remember sat in my friend’s mum’s car parked in the school playground and stuff like MARRS, Krush, and the Beatmasters was booming out of the stereo. It was more the crossover stuff that lured us in.

We must have been 13, then a few years before we first went out, but I didn’t know about raves then. I had an older friend Jimmy who was two years older than me and he took me to my first rave in a big sports center called Love of Life and of course Eclipse. It was mainly that hardcore stuff. Randall, Slipmatt, Bukem, Grooverider all the big names then. At those events I discovered a small house and garage room. I remember hearing music from Terrence Parker and X-Press 2 and I guess I just liked the rhythm and the more groovy feel of house and techno more. It was less frenetic!

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secretsundaze is now a record label, agency, club night / mini festival. Would you say your visions have changed since you set up secretsundaze? How have your mindsets changed and developed over the past 12 years?

James Priestley: Good question, it started off very much for friends and friends of friends. At the time myself, Giles and Kristophe were all going out a lot at the weekends partying and telling everyone about this party that we had just started. We were very enthused about it and wanted to tell everyone about it. News of the party spread by word of mouth and it grew naturally. In the second year it really took off, we had a gap from end of the summer 2002 to next summer of 2003. Over that period anticipation had built up.

By the summer of 2003 we were hitting a thousand people attending. Before that we’d hit 300 people, so there was a massive change. That was at the same time when we lost our regular venue at 93 Feet East. So we were looking for different venues for each party. We had a great thing going and we were enjoying it and were getting a lot out of it. We weren’t taking it too seriously, we were just enjoying what we were doing.

Giles Smith: When we started the second year, I remember the second party and we went from like 150 to 800 people and turning people away with queues snaking across the courtyard and into brick lane. With that gap after the summer I think people that had really got into it in the first year had told their friends about it and word had spread and people ‘got it’.

We did our own PR and hand-to-hand flyering ourselves. We were even going to spots like Soho Square where you had quite a mixed crowd and handing out flyers to people there that we thought looked cool and a lot of them came down. That personal touch was effective and it was just very organic. We also used to send text messages to people. That was pretty much it, face to face and texts.

James Priestley: It wasn’t a few years later when we started to focus on it properly, we got an office and had to be more responsible and employ someone to help us because it was getting too much for the two of us to deal with. We got to a point where I quit my day job so I could concentrate on my DJing and to carry on secretsundaze. We saw the potential for secretsundaze.

We’ve just strived to develop it whilst also keep our idea and ethos in line and not compromise in quality or music. But it doesn’t make sense for us to try and do it every week in London; it just wouldn’t work especially at the scale that we’ve got to. Also we’re touring abroad with secretsundaze a lot this summer.

Now with the secretsundaze label, agency and Go Bang! I think we just want to capitalize on what we have achieved and also for our own sense to keep things moving forward and developing. Also to bring on artists and help them develop through he agency and record label. Also with Go Bang! We want to reach out musically to different artists that we wouldn’t normally book.

For example our headliner ‘Borderland (live)’ we’d never normally book this for a normal secretsundaze show. But we’re honored to be working with two of our musical heroes Juan Atkins and Moritz Von Oswald. Same a people like Ron Morelli and Will Bankhead they’re both people that we really respect and admire, but we wouldn’t normally book them for secretsundaze parties. It gives us the chance to express our musical taste and to put on a larger show that we as ourselves would really want to go to.

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Tell me about the venue Studio 338 for Go Bang!?

James Priestley: In terms of what London has to offer, venue wise for outdoor / indoor day parties, nowhere compares to it. It has this great covered terrace, which lets in lots of sunlight and can fit 1500 people. It’s tiered, so it has great dynamic sound levels that you can get in there.

Councils, venues and restrictions are getting worse and worse and it’s a great space that doesn’t get used that often by other promoters that are similar to us, the staff are really friendly there and it has a real unique vibe. Moodymann played there a couple of years ago for us, Derrick May played there for our 2013 opening party and yeah it’s just a really unique place.

You have places like Victoria Park, which Lovebox use but they really struggle on sound levels and staff, Studio 338 is right by a disused gas works so it has a nice urban backdrop. It’s been our favorite large-scale venue for the past four years.

Who are you personally looking forward to see play at Go Bang!?

James Priestley: I’m really excited to see Juan Atkins and Moritz Von Oswald play Borderland; they’re going to be coming on around 2am, so not too early and too late. Their album is brilliant; Laurens Von Oswald will also be performing with Juan and Moritz as part of Borderland.

I’m also excited to see how Portable goes down. He’s played for us at Space in Ibiza and he’s a very talented artist with a really unique live show. During the daytime I think he’s going to kill it. Also looking forward to Tama Sumo, who has played with us in Ibiza. DJ QU we’re also big fans of, who will be warming up with Borderland. We’ve also got Floating Points and Omar-S playing outside during the day.

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Tell me about the visual identity of secretsundaze, can you explain the concept and its original incarnation and evolution?

Giles Smith: The first year the logo was basically secretsundaze written in Tahoma font. Will B came up with that because he had some basic design skills. In the second and third year we started to get more serious, we wanted an identity. We had meetings with three or four design agencies that were all really good and one of the companies we spoke to were massive secretsundaze fans who came along all the time. They were from a really established company but insisted that we shouldn’t change the logo. They came up other stuff colour wise and design wise to complement the logo and to make the visual identity stronger. We’ve worked with the same designer since day 1, Samuel Muir. He’s amazing. Every year we just talk about things and how we can make it different he’ll then come up with new concepts and we’ll tweak them.

You have forthcoming records from Bleak and Amir Alexander. Tell me about the record label? Artist albums?

Giles Smith: It’s been talked about but we’ve been really busy putting on the party, label, and agency. It’s something we want to move onto. We’re going to launch a sister label, focused on more experimental stuff or with a wider remit. We’re keen to do it and we have a name for it, so in the next 6 months we’ll see.

Do you have plans to do a two or three day festival?

Giles Smith: We’ll see how it goes, but it would be nice to grow it out. At the moment we’re focusing on this party. We’d like to keep on growing but always keeping a quality control and not just booking the big bankers to make the event sell, that’s never been us. I think I’d like to incorporate a wider screen vision of electronic music in this.

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