Secretsundaze 10th Birthday
When you run a party with a reputation for putting on events on some of the capital’s weirder and more wonderful dancefloors, on roofs, on terraces, and beer gardens, how do you choose to celebrate a decade? Back at the beginning, at 93 Feet East in 2001, Sunday afternoons were an alien concept for the capital, even less so outdoors. In fact, depending on which one of its DJ founders (along with promoter Kristophe Hofford) James Priestley and Giles Smith you talk to, Sunday was never in the initial plan. But sometimes the best results come from happenstance, and in the case of Secretsundaze, this outcome reshaped the capital’s clubbing landscape, spawning many imitators and yet surviving to its landmark intact. There’ve been ripples along the way, famously when the police raided The Poet, their legendary – and semi illegal – early venue after the trio broke back in when the owner was on holiday in 2004, and in 2010, when, mindful of the party’s ever-increasing popularity and concerned its original ‘family’ ethos was being eroded, they took the decision to scale back, downsize and take Secretsundaze back to its roots. “We started off very small and it’s become quite big I guess… we wanted to make it more of a party rather than a club night again”, the pair said before last summer rolled into action. The resulting lack of advance PR, both in terms of venues and guests, and tickets, had the desired effect: once more people were coming down on the reputation of the music and spirit of the party alone, rather than simply wanting somewhere to be seen, and in 2011, events have been stronger than ever.
With this in mind, there’s always space to bend the rules from time to time. In the case of the birthday weekend, while Saturday saw the return to the Peckham rooftop that’s been one of the highlights of Secretsundaze’s recent years, Sunday’s venue was revealed – after the tickets sold out and guest list swelled – as Greenwich’s House And Terrace, somewhere Giles and James had filled in 2009 and 2010 on previous Bank Holidays. While some of the capital’s more egocentric clubbers may have sniffed at the choice – no doubt blind to the sheer logistics involved coming up with new spaces in a crammed capital that are sympathetic to dance music when a decade’s worth have already been exhausted and the battle for licences goes up to the 11th hour – when taken at face value it ticked many of the boxes that Secretsundaze have always had at the core of their plans: an interesting, outdoor space that will allow them to hang their glitterball and paint it with their broad palette of house, techno and spacey disco that’s become their trademark. And for the line-up, like the pair’s own take on fusion of musical old and new, two of the newest lights of the capital’s scene – Ethyl and Flori – would sit alongside house legend Moodymann. Kenny Dixon Junior’s warm, vintage sound would be the perfect foil to the character that pervades from Secretsundaze’s take on electronic music. Even early on, as the queue snaked back outside the venue, Ethyl and Flori’s low-slung grooves were the perfect appetiser for the next ten hours, with the sun peeking out from behind the clouds, as the mid-afternoon crowd slowly thickened, easing themselves into proceedings with the knowledge that the whole evening lay ahead of them.
By the time James Priestley came on, chopping back the bpms to reset the dancefloor to a deeper vibe with a classic Theo Parrish cut, the venue was near-full, and revelling in an atmosphere that is far from the edgy, exclusive picture that many of the capital’s nights are painted with. Secretsundaze has always felt like more of a house party that you’ve all been invited to that’s just happened to spill out into a bigger venue, and with the subtle decor in their trademark yellow emphasising the landmark, as well as balloons, the infamous cartoons, and their immense glitterball, they gently sprinkle of layer of their own sprit over the venue that makes it feel it’s always been theirs, as opposed to just another stopping off point for this summer’s extended celebrations. The music was a pleasing mix of unshowy, inclusive house that imperceptibly lifted the tempo, but never sought to upstage their guest, and showed the care and attention with which Smith and Priestley construct their sets. For long-time fans of the pairing, it’s their embracing of the full spectrum of house, whether from 1995 or last month, and their ability to read the crowd that’s been gained over their ten years together, that mean either is as comfortable opening the afternoon as they are closing out the evening. It’s why every party brings a different musical path, a chance to skew their programming to each guest, and make the most of their extensive and collection of vinyl favourites.
There’s a perceptible change in temperature when Moodymann takes to the decks. Decked out in tracksuit and hoodie, as if he’s merely turned up at a friend’s to spin a few tunes, it’s not long before the trademark mix of eclecticism: funk, soul, hip-house, disco and house is in full flow, and regular trips to the mic pockmark the set as much as as swift musical left and right turns. The changes in genre, tempo and direction keep everyone on their toes, dropping Ai No Corrida in the middle of the first half hour, while the intermittent, lazy, Detroit drawl punctuates the hours with reminiscences of music, or just a need to talk about the next track. Even if it’s not everyone’s thing, it whips the crowd into a frenzy of cheering every time its fuzzes over the speakers. It’s a rare London daytime appearance for the American, but he seems at once totally at ease, eagerly sifting through his vinyl for the next tune as the last of the sunlight ebbs away and the atmosphere changes once again as night-time pushes into the foreground. In the middle of this action, spreading out from the booth like a wave suddenly appear party hats on the sea of heads, a last yellow reminder of Secretsundaze’s other ingrained trait: fun. Plenty of warehouse parties and underground promotions exist across the capital, but you’d be hard-pressed to find many that would spend a chunk of its budget on partywear for its punters, but then it’s just another reason to mark the anniversary of a ten-year-old that still has just as much naughty schoolboy in it as seasoned veteran.
By the time Giles Smith takes over from Moodymann the dancefloor is a seething, heaving mass, and any new track is greeted with whoops of delight as the laser streaks through the clouds of dry ice and hats bob up and down to the kick drum, any earlier sunglass-shielded artifice of cool long disappeared in the sea of grins and waving arms. The view from the booth must be every promoter’s dream: a many hundred-strong crowd willing every next record, committed for the long haul, eyes half-closed, hands punching the air. To its creators, it must feel like justification for a decade’s hard graft; as anyone knows, the parties that look most effortless are usually the ones that require the most work, and for the team behind the night over the years, the last hours are the time to relax, forget the guest list, the bar bill, the 50 missed calls, and just drink it in. For many that may have only seen Giles at the start of a Secretsundaze over the years, this is the flip-side to the deep beats that greet the early arrivals, and he’s relishing every minute. Ten-thirty approaches and sails past, but not one person’s left yet. Greenwich it may be, but transport home is tomorrow’s problem, and the last minutes of the night are a chance to enjoy that rarefied atmosphere of a night that is completely in the zone. When it’s finally time to file out into the cool air, a mix of joy and disbelief where the last eight or so hours suddenly disappeared to, one can only reflect just how obviously long a party that’s still such a resounding success a decade on has in its future. For Giles and James there’s clearly no dilution of the enjoyment they get from seeing every Sunday pass off, to planning their next guest, or rooting out another idiosyncratic venue. For now, with only the closing party to come before another winter ‘off’ (if Berlin and Japan really qualifies as that) and hatching plans for starting it all over again, there’s hope the 10th birthday will prove far from the end, and instead just a springboard for more great years to come. We for one, can’t wait.