The Candid Mind of James Priestley

Words by: Kristan Caryl
Posted: 10/12/12 7:35

The Candid Mind of James Priestley James Priestley has his fingers in many pies. Most notably, he is one half of the team behind genuinely seminal London party secretsundaze and the label and agency that brand now encompasses. He also spent a couple of years as creative spearhead of London venue THE CAMP and is an in demand spinner on many different continents, all at the same time as drip feeding us with carefully considered productions that go way beyond your average banger.

Earlier in the year came ‘Baia 2012’, a track that tipped its hat to the late 70s scene Priestley has been so inspired by. December sees the release of a follow up single, ‘Speed’, again produced with Marco Antonio Spaventi and again dealing in the sort of complex arrangements that begs the question, why doesn’t the man produce more? Well that question is answered in this interview, along with some candid thoughts on THE CAMP, the London scene and an insider’s perspective on the infamously short lived Pleasure Garden’s complex that was set to blow up the English capital. Until it all went wrong….

How has your year been, what have been some highlights?
It’s been pretty good thanks. On a professional level, finally being more active in the studio and getting 2 records out there has been great, and rewarding on a personal level too. Spending time producing music in Amsterdam is so different to the usual hectic ness of my life here in London and travelling for gigs.

It’s also been a great year for secretsundaze as a whole, with the label being more active and working with some great young UK producers such as Ethyl, Flori, Nyra & BLM. Plus despite all the odds we managed to pull off our first attempt at a mini-festival, secretsundaze Go Bang! I also opened a pop-up restaurant ‘Meter’ on the site of my former venue, The CAMP, which during its short life, was a challenging yet great experience. Alongside some great overseas shows, particularly in Japan and the States, it’s been a pretty hectic year but I guess that’s the way I like it.

If it wasn’t for my partners Marco Antonio Spaventi & Dan Berkson, I wouldn’t have been able to record & release any music.
So, bigg ups to both of them. But beyond that, both the partnerships have been fantastic in many ways...
Musically what is turning you on, where is your head at stylistically, as it were – has it/does it change much from month to month or year to year?
If I had to really sum it up, it would be to say I’ve been playing quite a bit less house this year, and reaching for more UK & techno sounds, playing faster, often darker and quite a bit more moody at times, although always keeping an eye for a musical element / hook. I’ve also been dropping a few more electro / steppy numbers. I think my head / tastes are constantly evolving really, gradually but then if you think back to a certain period and you were more into x or y, then it can seem quite a big change. I like to keep evolving in that sense and hopefully people that follow me or those that are aware of my playing will see or hear the thread.

All your releases to date have been collabs – what do you like about working with someone else?
First and foremost, it’s truly out of necessity, if it wasn’t for my partners Marco Antonio Spaventi & Dan Berkson, I wouldn’t have been able to record and release any music. So, bigg ups to both of them. But beyond that, both the partnerships have been fantastic in many ways. Working with Marco I’ve certainly been more hands on with the various synthesizers and drum machines we use as well as using Ableton for our arrangement, which I have a basic grasp of. Certainly in terms of realising ideas, taking samples and seeing what we can do with them, experimenting with different stylistic ideas, then this is great working with someone else. Plus the whole thing of sharing an experience with someone, that is quite special in itself, the results aside, just the process, can be very enriching.

James Priestly & Marco AntonioCan you foresee a time when you step out on your own? Is there anything stopping you?
I first started taking lessons in producing music in 1997 in a local boys club in Hyson Green, Nottingham, while I was at University. At the time, the course was based around how to use an Akai sampler and then a (mixing) desk. I’ve done various other courses since then, but never sadly really had the time to dedicate myself to the art of producing in a way that it really needs doing. So yes, really time is stopping me, I would have to remove quite a big chunk from my life to make way for it and I cant see any chances to do that really, without neglecting another part quite significantly. It’s quite frustrating in many ways but it’s the decision I took and I stick to for the time being at least. The last course I began was the Electronic Music Production course at SAE in September 2009. But within weeks of that I went to the States for 10 days for gigs and opened my venue The CAMP and it was just clear I didn’t have time for everything and something had to give.

Might you ever produce with Giles, have you tried it before? Why will or why won’t that work?
Actually, we have been in the studio once before. I thought of it only recently after the extremely tragic news of Martin Dawsonpassing away. RIP Martin. Back in 2008, alongside Dan Berkson, the 4 of us remixed a track of Tobi Neumann’s ‘Sensitiva’ project, ‘Viola Tricolor’ as a sampler to the mix CD Tobi did for us. Just giving it a quick listen now, it’s not bad actually, very of that time looking back. Seeing as Giles and I are both in the same boat in terms of needing to work with other producers it, well I guess it’s a bit tricky. But who knows, one day, if someone can put up with the two of us in the studio together!

There is something of a concept – or a least a story behind your new one, Speed, can you explain?
Yes, both this record ‘Speed’ and mine and Marco’s previous record ‘Baia 2012’ I guess do have some kind of story or concept behind them. With Speed though, it wasn’t that we set out to specifically make some kind of track in homage to Bukem & Fabio and the ‘liquid’ drum n bass sound of that time. It was more retrospective in a sense.

The idea of choosing to use the same Maya Angelou sample that Bukem used in Horizons came to me through writing the track, realising the track shared a lot of the same elements of the music of that time, which has been hugely influential to me, the vocal happened to fit perfectly (to me) and felt a nice way to give a nod to those guys and those times. For many it will be nostalgic, for many others, it will be the first time they’ve heard it.

Similarly with ‘Baia 2012’ it wasn’t like ‘lets make a track inspired by music of those times’, it was more of a reflection once the track was finished, what the hell we were gonna call it and to try to find some relevance or context for it. The scene in the late 70s spearheaded by the likes of Danielle Baldelli have been very inspirational to me, and it just felt natural to reference them in that way. We were even ‘inspired’ with the artwork we used too.

With the label and agency (The Secret Agency) we’re now engaged in different ways of reinforcing what we stand for & like to do, whilst sticking to our guns & not compromising on quality & taste. We’re super excited about the year ahead, have some great projects on the go...Is it always the case that you like to work on music in this way, from an idea, rather than just merrily sketching away at random?
I always go into the studio with lots of ideas and samples but usually the end product is something way different to what I may have originally pictured. That’s the beauty of the having a bit of time for that creative process I guess, and seeing how two people’s ideas and skills come to fruition.

I know you and Giles made a decision to reign in Secretsundaze somewhat a while ago – you still in that mind-set? Did it work out as you hoped it would?
To be honest, yes, it pretty much worked out exactly how we had hoped for. That was in 2010, where we took the parties way more underground again, often not announcing the guest and venue either at all or until the last minute (in terms of the guest), turning our backs on social media and even not listing our events on RA etc. It was quite a bold move at the time but we felt it had to be done. It really helped us re-build what we had, in terms of the crowd more than anything, which we weren’t connecting with as much as we had in the past. So a lot of these people started going to the other Sunday parties that had popped up and it kinda left us to do our thing.

2011 was our 10th anniversary year which was deserving of a different approach. That and this year have been two of the best years we have had, perhaps since the early heydays of 93 Feet East & The Poet, in terms of quality of music and most importantly, energy and vibe. We’re pretty focussed on how we see things at the moment, which is different to that of 2010 for sure, but certainly have learnt some lessons from the year or so running up to that. With the label and agency (The Secret Agency) we’re now engaged in different ways of reinforcing what we stand for and like to do, whilst sticking to our guns and not compromising on quality and taste. We’re super excited about the year ahead, have some great projects on the go.

SecretsundazeAnd how has The Camp been for you – has it turned out how you hoped? And how have you enjoyed running it and the business side – do you like that or do you prefer to be creating, DJing, etc?
Ah The CAMP. Looking back, I am proud of what we achieved there. There were some great times for sure, but some equally stressful ones as well, which was always going to be the case. Unfortunately I do feel that certain key aspects of the business we didn’t get right and that didn’t help us for sure, many operational aspects, which i wasn’t really responsible for and we just didn’t quite nail the concept from the off. I did really enjoy it – it was a challenge and I learnt a hell of a lot, which in itself was really rewarding.

A lot of my role there was quite ‘creative’ in a sense and I do enjoy the more business side of what I do also. In many ways I miss the place but we always knew it was a temporary project and I’m glad to have moved on from it now.

London seemed to go through a rocky stage a couple of years ago, do you think it’s in a solid state again now? Are there enough good venues and exciting opportunities in the city do you think?
Hmm, I’m not too sure really. I think this whole warehouse phenomen has in many senses played havoc with what I call traditional clubs, venues set up specifically for people coming together to listen to DJs play on good soundsystems, in rooms that have been acoustically treated, serving good drinks etc. If you look for pure examples of these in recent years, it’s hard to find many that I myself at least, get all that excited about. Venues are having to be more flexible now, opening them up to lots of different revenue streams to stay afloat – that’s my reading of it anyway.

I think what London is lacking now are spaces more suitable for 1500-2500 people, that’s the real tricky one for me right now. There’s a lot of people who can produce great shows for that many people but there just aren’t the suitable spaces...That in itself is pretty exciting in many ways, and brings opportunities for a wider spectrum / blurring of the arts etc but perhaps takes the emphasis and ability of creating a very good ‘club’. Plus I think the whole licensing and planning issues, which we had our fair share of at The CAMP also, is also pretty tough for venue owners these days, either ones with premises licenses or ones working on TENs etc. I think what London is lacking now are spaces more suitable for 1500-2500 people, that’s the real tricky one for me right now. There’s a lot of people who can produce great shows for that many people but there just aren’t the suitable spaces, especially in terms of licensing, that can accommodate them. Such a shame that LPG went so spectacularly tits up..

I wonder what you make of the Pleasure Gardens fiasco – you were due to have a party there you soon pulled – what’s your view?
Ah, LPG! So much has been said about this. To be honest, the whole thing was super disappointing on so many levels. From a personal level – had it been delivered properly, it could have been such an asset for London and UK as a whole, especially for Electronic music fans. From a business perspective, it was a nightmare, those weeks after Bloc, we tried to keep faith in the them and the project, but in the end, we felt we were very badly let down by the people behind it and we lost quite a chunk of money when the company went into administration. All pretty gutting really. I’m just glad we found an amazing replacement for the event we had planned there, secretsundaze Go Bang!, in the Roundhouse and Proud in Camden. The Roundhouse particularly was killer, loved it there, came together so well.

Have you anything planned in 2013 you can talk about?
Yep, for sure. We have quite a few new releases signed, the next one from BLM should be dropping in January hopefully, great 3 track EP, watch out for him next year. Some other releases too but ones I can’t actually talk about now. Party wise, yes, lots planned, starting with a big party at Electric in Brixton on Thursday March 28th, Easter Thursday – keep an eye out for announcements soon. Go Bang will also be returning next year so look out for that also. Plus we’re also hosting festival arenas at Eastern Electrics and new festival We Are FSTVL.

What else have you got coming up/are you looking forward to?
We’re moving office soon, to The Laundry in London Fields – we’ve been in the same office in Shoreditch for 6 years now and really just grown out and bored of it. Super happy to have managed to get a space in The Laundry, there’s loads of other great companies and artist studios in there like EYOE, K7, Secret Cinema plus there are plans for one of the Exmouth market restaurants looking after the canteen there so fingers crossed! Either way, looking forward to working around and vibing off other people doing cool stuff.

Other than that looking forward to a few weeks here in London in the run-up to Christmas, plus I’m playing at Shoom 25 anniversary party this Sunday, which is quite an honour to be asked to play at, alongside Alfredo, Derrick May, and Danny Rampling of course. Funny how ‘Speed’ is released the day after that party… Without Shoom there certainly wouldn’t have been ‘Speed’! Other than that, there are a few personal projects I’m very much looking forward to for next year also.

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Secretsundaze NYE 2012

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