Two parties, originating from opposite sides of the Atlantic and opposite sides of the weekend. Secretsundaze and Mister Saturday Night have set the standard for good, wholesome partying in New York and London. Since Giles and James set out in 2002, and Eamon and Justin in 2009, their respective projects have spawned labels, venues, booking agencies and even offspring, while their dance doctrines have been embraced on floors all over the world. Before they all come together for a collaborate party in Barcelona this weekend, we gave Giles, James, Eamon and Justin the floor to ask each other some pressing questions. Topics covered include couple counselling, how they’ve built the identity of their respective parties as residents, the challenges of juggling the job they love and how fatherhood has affected their creative exploits.
Secretsundaze go b2b with Mister Saturday Night on 18th June in Barcelona. Justin and Eamon celebrate Mister 250 with a party on 25th June at Nowadays, New York and a new compilation and mix, Then and Now.
Justin Carter: Testing.
James Priestley: You guys are partners on the road, partners in the club, partners in a record label – you obviously spend more time with each other than with you other loved ones. Do you ever fall out or at least argue?
Justin Carter: Rarely. I have to say we work through a lot of things very civilly.
Eamon Harkin: You have to really if you’re going to have a long term relationship right? You need to find a way to work together.
Giles Smith: Sounds very diplomatic!
Justin Carter: We disagree about stuff, but we tend to just try to find a way to explain ourselves to each other.
Giles Smith: Are you sure?
James Priestley: We’re always bickering!
Eamon Harkin: Ha!
James Priestley: Married couple us…
Eamon Harkin: We do all our venting to our wives.
Justin Carter: But truly we’ve found that when we are not seeing eye to eye on something, we try to explain the deeper root of what’s at hand and why we feel the way we feel.
Giles Smith: You should go into counselling Justin.
Eamon Harkin: He’s available for hire if you guys need him. I’m his agent.
Giles Smith: Think we might need his services over at Secretsundaze towers!
Watch a video of us going record shopping with Eamon and Justin in Idle Hands, Bristol
Eamon Harkin: Playing on your own versus having guests. You guys are obviously known as DJs, but you’re also known for booking parties with guests. How often do you do parties on your own? And how do you keep the party in the spirit of Secretsundaze when you have guests?
Giles Smith: When we started the parties in 2002, it was all about the residents with no guests and it morphed over time. We enjoyed inviting other guests and hearing different flavours of music. We keep the spirit alive by being super selective over the people that we invite to play and just book people that we are really into at that time as opposed to just booking big headliners to put bums on seats.
James Priestley: These days we also do a monthly party at The Pickle Factory, where it’s just us all night long, no guests…
Justin Carter: And you guys recently did a big Sunday with just the two of you as well, right?
James Priestley: Yep, on a Sunday in Hackney Wick. We played for 12 hours, 700 peeps came down, was a great day and night.
Justin Carter: Do you find that there is a difference in the parties with just the two of you and when there are guests?
James Priestley: We love having guests, it adds a different dimension, but we love playing for long solo shows too again, you know what it’s like, from you own parties and touring. It’s often the residents that tear it up, but the guests bring some extra spice.
Giles Smith: We’d also get bored of hearing each other’s records too!
Justin Carter: Ha! Yeah, it’s really nice to hear new sounds infused into the party.
Giles Smith: Right. It’s a balance and cool to have / do both.
Justin Carter: We just started bringing guests back into the mix, and so far it’s been really nice.
Giles Smith: It’s funny as we have gone the other way a bit.
Justin Carter: There was a moment, though, where it felt like having guests messed with the vibe of the party. Not always, but sometimes you would book an artist, and they would be blowing up, and it would bring a concert-like energy into the room. An audience that was thinking of the night as a show rather than a party.
Giles Smith: Right, totally.
Justin Carter: And that felt like it was hurting the vibe of the party.
James Priestley: But I think we’ve managed to steer away from that on most counts by only really booking people we’re super into and not necessarily hype-y people.
Eamon Harkin: Personally I feel like our party went to a whole other level when we stopped having guests. We developed a deeper musical relationship to our crowd.
Justin Carter: The crowd also became more consistent.
James Priestley: Originally, in the early days it was like that with us and people seemed to really like that too.
Justin Carter: But I suppose that’s it. You guys built a solid foundation, an identity that people understood, and that allowed guests to come in and add something.
James Priestley: You know what it’s like though. Suddenly the scene became much bigger (again) and people became very guest-focused. There’s a reaction against that now I feel, which is good.
Eamon Harkin: I agree. I think parties that are a consistent experience not built around named bookings are swimming against the tide. From festivals to club bookings it’s an arms race of who can stack line ups with big names.
Justin Carter: We had Avalon Emerson come and play a couple weeks ago, and it was perfect. She’s a great DJ, attuned to the vibe that was there and able to work with it while bringing something unique.
James Priestley: In the past our label has often taken a back seat. We managed the grand total of one release in 2016. How do you find it juggling so many projects and do you ever think that you spread yourself top thinly?
Justin Carter: We do.
Eamon Harkin: Especially with nowadays.
Justin Carter: Yeah, it feels particularly acute right now.
Eamon Harkin: It’s been a huge undertaking, way more than we anticipated. We’re getting there, but it has sucked up a lot of creative energy that could have been pointed in other directions.
James Priestley: I can imagine. I had a venue for a while too, The City Arts & Music Project (The CAMP) which was fun. It was a great experience but it was also a massive drain.
Justin Carter: The work of running an outdoor venue while opening an indoor venue, while also trying to put out records on the label, make our own music, stay focused on being the best DJs we can for our own parties and touring dates, being dads and husbands…it’s a lot.
Justin Carter: That’s actually a good segue to a question I had for you guys. We’re all pretty blessed here to be making our livings from doing things that we love. But that doesn’t mean we love everything we have to do in association with our gigs. What are the hard things for you guys? And do they ever get so heavy that you have fantasies about packing it all in and moving into the woods?
James Priestley: We are super lucky to still be doing what we’re doing after so long. I guess the main thing is being away from family and friends, especially at the weekends which are the precious times especially if you’re also working hard during the week.
Justin Carter: Do you guys tour every weekend?
James Priestley: Most weekends, yes
Justin Carter: Right. That’s gotta be tough.
James Priestley: I mean it gets long sometimes the travelling. The main killer here is with the exception of London City – all the airports are FAR and LONG! That’s the killer coming back on a Sunday night and then having to travel for another hour or so to get home.
Justin Carter: Do you think that you guys could just move to doing weekly parties in London and sustain yourselves that way? Or does that even appeal to you?
Giles Smith: On a different tip sometimes the expectation of some people that come and see you on the dance floor is not in line with what you want to do.
Justin Carter: Right.
Giles Smith: But I guess that is DJing and you learn from those experiences
Justin Carter: It is. But when you build a thing at home, you get to have that safe zone. Most of the time at least! Not every party we throw ourselves is perfect, but we get to set the tone, which is nice.
James Priestley: As for the weekly party in London – well it was weekly for some years in the early days but really we like the travelling, experiencing different places and cultures and taking ourselves out of our comfort zone. That’s a positive experience for a DJ. I guess a mixture is good. Plus there are more places that we can relatively easily hop to from here than for you guys in the states.
James Priestley: Has fatherhood changed you in anyway apart from being even more tired than you were before?
Eamon Harkin: Definitely more tired! Professionally and creatively it hasn’t really changed. I still have the same sense of what I want to do as before. It has made me more focused on priorities on the home front. And of course that feeling of being a parent is something you don’t really understand until you become one. It’s pretty great.
Justin Carter: I feel like it’s made me more resolute in doing the creative things I want to do. I want to show my daughter that you can live a life that is creative and fun is important.
James Priestley: Ah yeh, that’s super important, I feel that for sure..
Justin Carter: That she can make a way for herself doing the thing that she loves.
Watch a session we recorded with Harvey Sutherland at the Secretsundaze Studios in London
Eamon Harkin: Next question, celebrating milestones….How do you guys celebrate a milestone? We’re just coming up on our 250th party, and we’ve got our own little ways of marking the occasion, but we’re curious about how you guys make a party feel even MORE special than your regular parties, which you inevitably want to feel like each party you throw to feel special?
Giles Smith: Actually we don’t over emphasise those things. We make special effort to invite friends and family down. As with the party going on for 16 years a lot of people have kids, but we try to bring people together for those events. We did the 10 years comp as one way we’ve celebrated a milestone. Another year we did 2 parties in 2 days which was….tiring!
Justin Carter: So you guys don’t celebrate each year you have an anniversary?
James Priestley: No not really.
Justin Carter: Right. We’ve never celebrated an anniversary.
Justin Carter: The 250 thing just felt like a moment.
Giles Smith: We are ahhhhhhemmm …..16 years old! Not sure if we should shout about that or keep it quiet. We are proud of it though.
Justin Carter: Your party would be able to drive if it lived in the States!
James Priestley: You guys settled in New York and of course run your party there. We feel there are many parallels between Mister Saturday and Secretsundaze and indeed London and NYC. Perhaps most notably where these two things intersect is in the multi cultural and also fairly wide age range at the party. Is this one of the things that you feel makes NYC special?
Eamon Harkin: The weather for a start! It allows us to do a weekly outdoor party. That would be a challenge in London!
Giles Smith: Yeah righ,t I just cycled to the office with a North Face jacket on. It’s June right?
Justin Carter: But of course the diversity of New York is amazing, and the fact that it has a nightlife history. That means there are people of all ages who have an affinity for going out.
Eamon Harkin: The two towns are very similar. They both have strong musical traditions that still informs the scenes today. I love London because, despite all the challenges, the scene feels strong and deep there. It’s definitely bigger than NYS. There’s an extra exuberance I feel in NY when it goes off.
Justin Carter: Right. But yeah, when it really happens here, it’s like nowhere else.
James Priestley: Love it out there too. Would love to spend some more time there some time.
Eamon Harkin: I lived in London for eight years and have family there, so it definitely feels like a home of sorts. We can do a house swap James.