With Mixmag recently declaring Secretsundaze- the worst kept secret in clubland is Mixmags 2005 Club of the Year, club promoter and a DJ itinerary thats taken him from Ministry to Manumission and Rio de Janeiros perfectly formed micro-club Dama de Ferro, James Priestley, is unarguably flying high, some four years after quit both promoting and DJing.
Id been a DJ/ promoter in Nottingham, running a monthly drum & bass night at The Bomb, called Bassic, and the night became really successful. But I had enough of all that and actually wanted to quit DJing, which I did, he explains.
I had enough of promoting nights and got really bored of the drum & bass scene especially the crowd. I was getting older and most of the crowd were students so I wasnt relating to the crowd that much.
Sitting in his local Shoreditch designer bar, hes both down to earth and friendly, as well as refreshingly frank, for one so superbly sorted.
There were times when I found DJing really rewarding but times when it wasnt and it all started feeling a bit easy, he muses, I wanted to challenge myself more and after researching different roles in the music business I decided that artist management was what I wanted to do.
Seeking a foot-in-the-door job in the music he almost landed a spot on HMVs graduate recruitment scheme.
I got through to the last 25 though didnt get the job, but I dont think they thought I was genuinely interested in music enough, he chuckles, But Im so glad I never got that job: because in your first year they can move you somewhere else around the country for 12 months.
Eventually landing a lowly job at Soho record store Selektadisc (ironically off the back of working in the stores Nottingham branch as a Saturday job while still at college), he then moved up to music distributors Timewarp, which was where he worked when he set up Secretsundaze with his old school mate Giles Smith and London promoter Kristophe Howard, with little serious intent.
When the club started I was still wanting to give up DJing, he repeats, Id been playing drum & bass in Nottingham following a more soulful, deeper style and at the same time in was doing bar gigs playing freestyle, disco, soul, funk, that kind of stuff, so I carried that on. I was spinning mainly in the afternoon, as a warm up set essentially.
Persevering, the club gathered momentum though with little hint of the explosion in popularity to come.
The first summer was really quiet, we made no money at all. Between 2pm and 7pm wed attract between 50 and 100 people during the whole day and wed be upstairs on the terrace at 93 Feet East, with our burgers, having a really relaxed affair. Then around 7pm two or three hundred people would turn up and the atmosphere would be amazing until 10.30. It was the same every week and every week wed be shitting it thinking no-ones going to come, he recalls.
Then halfway through the second year the press started getting interested and more and more people, cool people, started to come. For the first year we charged between three and five pounds then the second year we made it free which really helped. Then just as it got really busy, we lost our venue, 93 Feet East, so we had to start moving around. Then the summer thats just gone was crazy busy.
Three years on, hes also now making music with US studio Dan Berkson, their second production coming soon in the shape of a miminalish remix of Spektrums upcoming single Horny Pony (remixed under the name Barlz e Syntho)
Skrufff (Jonty Skrufff): Starting with your music, why have called yourself Barlz?
James Priestley: Im still friendly with a lot of my old school friends from Cambridge, my two flat mates are from there and I went to school with Giles (Giles Smith, his Secretsundaze partner) and we were really good friends from the age of 15 onwards, we started going out raving together. My nickname at school was Barlamb and Barlz is short for that. I was called Bar-lamb because Ive got really curly hair, especially when it was younger and it was quite long. The curly hair was a sheep comparison and the bar comes from the sound of a sheep, and me mumbling a bit. A few years ago someone called me Barlz which stuck. Its a personal thing.
Skrufff: What kind of school did you and Giles attend in Cambridge?
James Priestley: We went to a school called the Perse School For Boys in Cambridge, its one of the top academic independent schools in Britain and is always in the top 10. Giles and I were obviously not average kids there; we didnt fit into the school regime very well. It was a pretty strict place, it was fee paying school but wasnt like a public school, lots of kids attended there with grants so it was fairly mixed in that sense. There were some good people in each year but generally there werent many people Id be hanging around with today. We were always up to no good, smoking pot at lunchtime, that kind of thing.
Skrufff: When did the raving come in?
James Priestley: We started going out raving and clubbing when I was fifteen, Giles is a bit older than me so I guess he was 16 or 17. Im 28 now so that was in 1992 when there was a quite healthy rave scene going on around East Anglia with outdoor parties in and around Cambridge. We travelled to raves in Milton Keynes as well, to places like Milwaukees and Sanctuary. Then in Cambridge the house scene started developing and wed go to places like the Junction to see DJs like Danny Rampling.
Skrufff: What was the genesis of Secretsundaze, how did the whole thing begin?
James Priestley: We had a vision of what we wanted to do, we wanted to make it really different and in particular, really high quality, in every sense. That meant in terms of production and everything else. Sunday afternoon clubbing wasnt a big thing when we started four years ago, so to encourage people to come out we had to make sure we were offering people nice surroundings and to show them that we werent just turning up and plugging in the sound system. We used to operate our own barbecue and would literally make our own homemade burgers and flip them ourselves.
We all used to do it, youd be doing a round on the Barbie, then go and wash your hands and start DJing. In the first year wed be selling about 40 burgers a session. We used to get down to Brick Lane early and order loads of rolls from the bagel shops. Sometimes we sold sausages too, but homemade burgers were our speciality.We also always made sure we had a high quality sound system. Our vision was to offer a Sunday afternoon party that was different but I dont think any of us ever imagined it would grow into what its become today, successwise.
Skrufff: What was the music like when you started then?
James Priestley: When it started I was still wanting to give up DJing, Id been playing drum & bass in Nottingham following a more soulful, deeper style and at the same time in was doing bar gigs playing freestyle, so I carried that on. By freestyle I mean disco, soul, funk, that kind of stuff. When Secretsundaze started I was mainly playing that kind of music and I was spinning mainly in the afternoon, as a warm up set essentially, with some house music thrown in though not much. Giles, the other resident, was really into soulful music at that point which was what he played. There was another resident then too, a guy called Will whos no longer part of it, we had to let him go in the second year as we felt he wasnt pulling his weight.
Skrufff: I guess you could now easily milk Secretsundaze and run it throughout the year, why dont you?
James Priestley: Of course we could, youre right, but weve always had a big outdoor element to the parties and theyve very much been inspired by being in Ibiza, the idea of day time party with the sun out and friendly people partying to really nice music. We started in May and always finish in mid September though actually in the first year we did try and continue through the winter. Some promoters that we looked up to told us if you can run a successful club like that in the summer then when winter comes youll be laughing because normally thats the case with clubs, so we thought OK, well carry on. It didnt work at all, so we gave it a few weeks then stopped. And since then weve kept it strictly to the summer, apart from odd events such as our Snow boarding trip in April and New Years Eve. Thats a stroke of genius in some ways and will give Secretsundaze some longevity because people know it starts in May then ends in September and thats it.
We could easily rinse it out, one we dont want to do it and two it wouldnt make much sense. Obviously, there have been other parties that have started that are very similar to ours since we stopped, and theyre doing all right, but I dont think they have quite the same edge that we do.
Skrufff: As you got more press, how did you manage to stop a whole different crowd forcing out your original people?
James Priestley: Its really hard, in fact thats out biggest challenge, especially this year. Its the people that make the party and were constantly sitting there for hours thinking how can we do this? We want to make sure everyones treated fairly but we still want to maintain the quality of people we attract.
Skrufff: Do you have any door policy?
James Priestley: Errrrm, we kind of do. We use a lot of different venues so it depends on the size of the venue. Often well use places that are different so not many random people will find out about the parties. Or sometimes we wont email our entire database, well just text and email personal friends if its a small party. We do have to have a policy of some sorts because so many people are coming down and we want to look after our regulars who are the people who have made us what we are. For the last year, weve employed someone, a friend of ours, to be on the door, to make sure our regulars are looked after and also to keep out some of the people we dont want in. we attract all sorts of people and thats one of Secretsundazes great things, theres such a mixture of people. But the balance is key, Id say the crowd is THE most important thing.
Spektrum: Horny Pony: Barlz e Syntho remix is out on February 27 on NONSTOP records. James also co-promotes Go!zilla with Nudes Terry Hart and All Over My Face,
Jonty Skrufff (Skrufff.com)