When it comes to finely curated parties in Cardiff, TEAK is the city’s best kept (not so) secret. Located under an antiques emporium, friends James and David have been building the TEAK party emporium for a year now, billing the best acts that underground dance music have to offer. Former guests include Motor City Drum Ensemble, Mr. Ties, DJ Sprinkles, Max Graef, Trus’me and San Soda, amongst others.
We sat down for a chat with TEAK’s James to reflect on their first year in business. The interview is also accompanied by a mix from Manchester’s Rikki Humphrey who will be playing their next party, jam packed with Latin disco and funk picked up from a trip around South America.
For anyone not familiar with TEAK, could you give a brief introduction to who you are and what you’re all about?
We are a Cardiff-based night that has taken refuge in a converted basement underneath an antiques emporium in the city centre. We attempt to put on music we feel is new and exciting in an environment that people feel comfortable in.
What prompted you to start TEAK?
TEAK is made of two guys, David Bull (who is away in Kenya at the moment, hence the solo effort on this one!) and me. David is one half of a night in Cardiff called Studio 89 which closed its doors in December 2013. I used to help the boys out with bits and pieces; David and I felt the urge to carry on doing something a bit more house related in Cardiff once that had finished. We also wanted to offer something a bit different musically and atmospherically to what he had been doing before. The other element was out of sheer boredom of the way things were going within the city. There was good music but a disappointing lack of interesting spaces for it to be heard in.
Your resident is our homie from Bristol, Seka. Apart from his vibrant shirts and periodic monster beard, what made you choose him to be your consistent selector?
The less said about the shirts the better! We heard of Andy through some mutual friends and we started following his music on Soundcloud. We liked his mixes and the tracks he was posting, and we hung out a couple of times with mutual friends. We watched him play on the roof terrace at Simple Things Festival in 2013, and I thought he played the best set of the day on that stage, so we got in touch about a project we were working on and we were kind of on the same page musically. Funnily enough, I remember talking to Andy about that set a while ago, and told him this story and mentioned there was one track he played that stuck out in my head as the sun was setting… Turns out it wasn’t him who played it, so whoever played ‘Sister‘ by Leon Vynehall that day, get in touch!
Which three tracks would you put forward to encapsulate what TEAK is about?
‘Simple Dreams (Young Marco Remix)’ by Tony G: This is a record I adore playing, and has had a couple of outings in the basement. Bit of a TEAK ‘anthem’. ‘Kanal (Prins Thomas Sure Oppstøt Mix)’ by Telephones: We love that Nordic, cosmic-y, Italo gritty sound! And ‘Zer Trummerlatte’ by Torben: Like a lot of his production this a beautiful balance of subtle sampling and raw grooves.
Your ‘ticket only, no cameras on the dancefloor’ policy is an interesting one. What was your thinking behind that?
The no-photos thing came about because we wanted to try and get people a bit more engaged in the night rather than focusing on something superfluous. We will never kick anyone out because of it, and we do allow photography in other parts of the club. I just think it’s kind of intrusive and rude to other people; the flash goes off and blinds everyone around you. It’s just distracting. It’s also about challenging the norm of what people have come to expect of dance music. People now just kind of expect to see half the crowd on their phones rather than fully embracing everything around them; we hope it’s subconsciously improved people’s experience of the night.
Congrats on reaching your first birthday this month. What are your impressions and thoughts from your first year in operation?
It’s been pretty crazy! We’re pretty touched by how so many people have fully embraced what we’re trying to do. We have had some incredible artists play for us, and we’ve been lucky enough to hear some great music along the way. We’ve enjoyed every minute of it. Almost every element of what we’ve attempted has gone well; be it the music policy, trying something different with our posters or the no-camera thing. It’s all come up nicely.
Do you have any stand-out memories, and favourite parties from the last year?
There have been a few stand out moments for me personally. The last song from Toby Tobias‘ set in April was incredible. He played ‘Your Love‘ by Frankie Knuckles (this was only a couple days after he passed). Every single hair was stood on end seeing the entire crowd fully appreciate a seminal house track like that! Another one was during DJ Sprinkles in October. There was a twelve-minute track that had no kick drum and everyone was still adoring it! Pretty amazing to witness people get down to some seriously deep stuff. As for the favourite party, I would have to say Young Marco and Telephones in November. They were just two artists who perfectly encapsulate what we are musically.
You’re marking the occasion with Motor City Drum Ensemble coming to town. As an admiring (but also envious) fellow promoter, we’ve got to ask: how did you pull that off?
In a word: perseverance. We first got in touch with his team in July 2014 and it took around three months to get anywhere near an agreement. It’s pretty rare for him to play a venue our size really, and I think he liked the sound of what we do. We were quite fortunate to have built a good relationship with Damiano Von Eckert after he played our Miami Vice party in the summer. I believe the two of them to be good mates and I think he put in a good word (thanks, Damiano!).
What does the dance music landscape look like in Cardiff, for anyone who hasn’t already ventured across the Severn Bridge to try it?
It’s looking ridiculously strong in terms of house and techno, but it looks like other genres are falling behind quite a bit. One thing Cardiff has that makes it an amazing place to party, is that there is no pretension or chin-stroking going on. As soon as you have people at a night, you have an instant dancefloor and you can pretty much play whatever you’re feeling! There is a real core of people trying to help each other along the way too, and it’s starting to pay dividends. The thing I feel it lacks is a little originality in terms of attempting to use new spaces and create new ideas, but that’s quickly changing. I think there is a need to stop this constant comparison with the Bristol scene. People should be embracing the city for what it has and not looking over jealously at cities with large venues that can draw huge names. A bit more focus on what’s important and I reckon the envious glances will be going in the other direction.
Who else is doing good things for Cardiff dance music at the moment?
There are some really strong nights from City Bass who have been great at booking the left-of-centre artists, along with Delete, who’ve been unbelievably consistent with their car park parties and straight up house vibe. Also, Blue Honey, with their disco-influenced policy, have really upped their game over the past twelve months! I keep on hearing Chésus‘ tunes everywhere I go at the moment, literally ubiquitous in clubs across Europe it seems! His production is getting the recognition it deserves. Although he’s recently moved to Bristol, Owain K has never played a bad record as far as I am aware, an unbelievably good DJ. Also, two lads called Brawd have been pretty impressive every time I’ve had the pleasure to see them play. Keep an eye out.
Are there any up-and-coming producers or DJs that we should be paying close attention to?
We love pretty much everything coming out of Melbourne at the moment. The standout guy for us recently has been Harvey Sutherland. The amount of talent that man has is insane. He strikes me as one of those guys who finds it all a bit easy, kind of like Max Graef in that respect.
Rikki, tell us a bit about the mix you’ve put together.
Having just returned from seven months in South America, I like to think this is a small musical representation of what I’ve been up to during that time. Upon returning to the UK, James ‘Smoothboy’ Smith asked me to whip up a little ‘sutin sutin’ as TEAK are starting up a podcast series. The idea behind the mix was to piece some sounds together from the records I was lucky enough to add to my ever-growing Brazilian music section, during the two and a half months I spent travelling and volunteering in Brazil. Most of the music is 1970s-based, bossanova to funk, samba to soul and groovy. Stand-out records within the mix (for me) are ‘A Beleza Que Canta’ by Clara Nunes (which doesn’t exist on Discogs), ‘Throat’ by Morris Albert, and Ana Mazzotti’s ‘Io Sono Io’ – proper 7″ grooves! The selections were recorded on two 1210s and a DJM-800 Pioneer mixer in a small box room packed heavily with records, with a single bed and the decks occupying the remaining spare space (making it hard to climb out of bed sometimes). The setting: North Welsh hills, one Sunday evening after a rather tasty roast dinner and plenty of cups of tea. I really hope you can enjoy this mix at home in the bath, or out walking the dog. I cannot wait to party proper with everyone at the end of March to celebrate the big dawg T-E-A-K turning one!
And finally, what does the next year hold in store for TEAK?
More of the same! We’re just going to keep doing our own thing and not get distracted by trying to do too many things at once. We’re only a year old, and I think it’s time to take stock and decide what it is we are good at and go from there. We’re hoping to do a few bits and pieces in Bristol whilst maintaining our core parties amongst the antiques in Cardiff.