If you know your music, Secretsundaze need little introduction, from their many years at the helm of one of London’s most well regarded club-nights. Their unerring focus on roots-driven dance music and strive to join the dots between the old and the new. Not to mention a string of original records, top quality groovers all of them. Giles Smith and James Priestley are a duo who have been walking the walk for many years now, so we were surprised to learn their first ever remix as Secretsundaze was to drop on Bristol’s Just Jack Recordings this September. A label which itself is always a must listen. Their remix of Ian Blevins “Welcomes” is second to none and we figured it was high time to get Giles and James to share their “Times & Tunes”.
Hey guys, great to have you on the site. How are you doing? How is life for you right now?
Hey there, we are pretty good thanks. Still riding high after our 20th Birthday celebrations on Saturday. Happy our first remix dropped last week and has had such a great reaction. On a more serious note, pretty concerned for all here with this cost of living crisis and the fact that we have another conservative Prime Minister who seems to not care for those who are most in need.
We asked you to pick 10 tracks that represent your influences, how did you go about picking the tracks? Is there a common thread tying them altogether or are your influences more disparate than that
We picked 5 each! That’s it. We’ve kinda looked at our influences outside of modern dance music so it’s more soul, jazz, funk, latin, hip hop…Can’t believe we haven’t included either Larry Heard or Ron Trent but did sneakin a seminal Blaze LP (I know using an LP is cheating – the track The Garden is in that playlist but the whole LP is just stunning and arguably the best house LP of all time)
For a great snapshot of our musical tastes and influences ranging from ambient, jazz, soul, hip hop, boogie, through to house and techno. check out our BC Radio 1 Essential Mix from May this year.
Has there ever been one record that has changed the direction of your sound? above all others?
No nothing quite as dramatic as this, more like many wearing away and sculpting their collective mark on our style over a longer period.
Can you tell us a little bit about your background, how did you come together to run one of the most legendary nights in Secretsundaze?
We met at school in Cambridge in around 1990 and went to our first rave / club night together in 1991 at the age of 15. Traveling to places in East Anglia which was a hotbed for raves and also London which isn’t too far away, We both went to different Uni’s (Leeds and Nottingham) but stayed in contact and then moved down to London the same year in 2001. We have strong ties and roots to East London or Hackney specifically living here for over 20 year and very much feel part of it’s growth which of course we have mixed feelings about as any area that becomes gentrified. We started Secretsundaze a year after moving down in 2002 with 2 other friends simply as a platform for us to play and enjoy our music with a wider circle of friends and like minded people, It may have grown and be more well known but much of that original ethos and spirit remains the same 20 years later! I think this honest, fairly pure approach has been a big contributor to the fact that the party is still alive and kicking,
You have always put a lot back into the community, the Studio being a great example of that. Can you tell us the story behind the studio and why it was set up and where its future stands?
We initially built the mezzanine studio above our old office to help a friend who wanted a recording studio and couldn’t find the right space, A year or so later he moved on as he needed a bigger space and the idea then came about that it would be great to be able to offer the space to artists close to us and also from the local community. We wanted to create a space that was warm, welcoming and accessible in terms of low hire fees. We had a lot of young producers on very affordable studio “shares” and a few evenings where we invited local kids from an estate to the studio for the experience. We were fortunate to have a long term loan of some quirky vintage, analogue gear from a friend which made it a special place and not your typical studio. Artist wise we had some heavy hitters like Henry Wu, Matias Aguayo, Commix, K15, Esa, Byron the Aquarius, Perc all in the studio a number of times but the backbone of the community is the younger artists that had a studio share or want to come and mix down something they have written in the box on an big analogue mixing desk. Some of those include Will Lister, Alex Rita, Hi & Saberhagen, Yves Thomas, Increments, Manuel Darquart and Crooked Finger.
Sadly just before COVID kicked in the building was sold and knocked down to develop into flats. We obviously did a well publicised crowd funder raise some money towards a new space but COVID obviously went on a lot longer than some of us thought and with it being our 20th anniversary this year we had to focus on our bread and butter and ensure the events were successful but we will be returning to explore how we can move forward with a new site in East London which ideally would house a professional recording studio, a teaching space and hopefully some acoustically treated production rooms too. The goal is to widen and nurture participation in electronic music at every level.
So sorry to hear that, after such a few rocky few years, how is the scene in London? bouncing back?
From a personal angle 2022 with it being our 20th year has been really strong and we’re grateful to have had some amazingly joyous and successful parties. People are of course still really enjoying being able to go out and enjoy themselves, experience music and connect with others. However quite a few promoters have really struggled this year, particularly festivals and as we mentioned earlier with the cost of living crises – particularly getting worse over the next months it doesn’t look great for those on moderate to low incomes which is bound to have an effect on the scene. London does have a strong scene and culture for sure though and young people wanna express and enjoy themselves but people will have to be more selective to what they go to..
How would you say London has influenced your sound and the music you make?
Garage, Broken Beat, Drum N Bass, Sound System Culture has had a huge influence on our sounds as DJs and producers. The bass is very prominent across all those styles! The energy and the melting pot of genres can’t help but rub off on you in London. It’s also really important to note we have been equally influenced by US soul, jazz, hip hop and notably house music from NYC, Detroit and Chicago so shouts to all our influences across the Atlantic too! Of course we are two different people with different tastes – loosely it could be argued that Giles is definitely into more classic US soulful sounds be it House but also 90’s hip hop and soul, while James leans towards more UK and alternative sounds but there is also a lot of crossover / common ground.
How do you work in the studio, is it more a live jam situation when you all work together – or something different?
It’s important to note that both of us, although involved in many different musical projects over the years – Giles for many years as part of Two Armadillos and James under his own name have always worked alongside an engineer. We are super transparent about that and have never had the time with everything else we do to dedicate ourselves to being self-sufficient in production to a level we are happy with but it’s always super nice collaborating with people. In terms of gear we really enjoy tinkering with hardware as it’s more engaging but it’s a mixture of hardwear jamming and production in the box depending on who we work wirth and what we have at our disposal. Have honestly had great and fruitful experiences with both.
Just Jack has released some amazing records over the years! How did you come to be working with the label & Ian Blevins?
They just reached out and we said yes..that’s it! We are happy to put out our first remix on a credible label. Prior to that as Secretsundaze we have only put out original material over 5 EPs in recent years on the likes of Phonica, Mule Musiq, Live at Robert Johnson and of course our own label.
After killing it for many years on many fronts in the scene. If there was one bit of advice you could share with people, what would it be?
It’s gonna sound cliche but you gotta do you! Be authentic and honest in your approach.
Let us know the last record you bought.
“It’s in Your Mind” from Kyle Hall a typical Secretsundaze mid set groover also a dope tape from Equiknoxx from a series called “The Lost Carnival Tapes” from London selectors 404 Eros.
Let us know the oldest record, that’s still always in your box.
Hmm we just checked and at the moment it’s a rather battered OG press of Mr Fingers – Never More Lonely / Distant Planet from 1989. Typically it’s this kind of era of house that is most regularly in our box mixed with new stuff and of course some older disco and boogie records at times.
Are there any under-the-radar artists that you guys really love, people who our readers might not know of just yet but you would love to shout out?
Meftah, Moon, Lunch Money Life, Deenamic, Stella, Zeitgeist Freedom Energy Exchange, Jelly Cleaver, Floating World Pictures.
What’s next for you, where can people hear your music next?
Check out our new live project Spirit of Sundaze Ensemble a recording and live performing project which reimagines / interprets a selection of tracks which have been foundational across Secretsundaze’s 20 year old history and embraces a myriad of influences from balearic to synth pop to britfunk.
The first single, an interpretation of Photek and Robert Owen’s masterpiece “Mine to Give” is out now featuring Wayne Snow. There is a debut live performance at the Royal Festival Hall on the Southbank on the 7th October. https://www.southbankcentre.co.uk/whats-on/gigs/spirit-sundaze-ensemble and more music to follow. We’re also working on some Secretsundaze original material.
Where can people hear you play?
Lately we’ve been in Paris, Barcelona, Italy, Albania, and Porto. In the next weeks we are in Lisbon, Amsterdam, Basel and Geneva. Hoping to get our US visa renewed and back to the states soon so hola US promoters!
Thanks for spending the time with us today! Do you have any final words for us?
Thank you. One love!
Interview by Matt