Hi Mike, thanks for taking the time to chat to me!
So June the 14th sees the 4th event and seemingly it’s going from strength to strength, have you found it to be a learning curve meddling in the promoting game?
Yeah, definitely- it’s really gone in two stages so far, to be honest.
The first couple of events I ran with Keira from Essence Of Chi who’s an absolute pro when it comes to promoting, having laid on many large, successful events over the years. I learnt a huge amount from Keira throughout the organisation for both of those nights- I was trying to soak up as much knowledge as possible!
Branching out on my own for the third event, the learning was more about finding my own footing in the game- it’s slowly dawned on me that a large number of artists from the era that I’d like to book now are either hugely successful and out of my budget or retired and no longer performing! That’s meant having to temper my own expectations some what and try and think particularly smart around who I book to get that balance of niche, quality artists vs. actually making sure I get people through the door to cover costs.
Let’s talk about headliners! This edition sees you invite “Digital” and a rare appearance from duo “ill Raf and Logic”, first off why the forth edition to invite them, second off explain what it was that made you choose them to headline this event?
I think everyone involved in the running and support of Middle Skool from the beginning, including all the Essence Of Chi crew are massive fans of Ill Logic & Raf- in fact, I remember their names being discussed there very first time I met up with Keira to discuss the concept and potentially doing a night back in the summer of 2017. So it was always something which was on the cards.
While I’m on the subject of your headliners , can you give me a few examples of your Percy tunes from them within the “Middle Skool” era ?
So many to choose from where Digital is concerned! Aside from the obvious ones like Deadline, Spacefunk and Waterhouse Dub; there’s a tune which came out on Chronic called “Crazy Girl” which I’ve got a real soft spot for, the vocals, heavy low sun and drums all do it for me and it’s got plenty of good memories attached to it from nights during the era- particularly Future Thinkin’s Traffic events.
Regarding Ill Logic & Raf, there’s a tune on their own DZ Recordings label called “One Stop To Glory” which absolutely does it for me; again some great vocals and almost haunting bassline on it, somehow manages to be deep but uplifting at the same time, if that makes any sense at all…!
In regards to booking, do you plan who you want to play well in advance?
Yeah, I’m definitely trying to. The era I’m working with means there’s a lot of artists who have gone on to be extremely successful, meaning that I need to have a wish list and accept that those at the top of the list may well be out of reach budget wise, due to the nights being hosted in a smaller venue, and that I need to have a back up plan in place. That or some of them on the list might have retired and be unbookable today- thankfully that wasn’t the case with Ill Logic & Raf!
Let’s talk about the lower card (non headlining folk), obviously you DJ as a resident and looking at the events up-to now I’m also guessing that “Dozer” is a resident too right?
That’s right, yeah- well, the Healing Crew normally, which is Dozer alongside long time friends and DJs Mel De’Vil and JrS. They were Essence Of Chi’s residents for many years and between the three of them have a comprehensive knowledge of the era- I know they’ll always come with the goods at the night, no matter what time they play at.
Dozer has also been helping me out more with the running of the night since Keira has stepped away and retired, I think it’s pretty important to have someone who you can bounce ideas off and use as a sounding board, to make sure what you’ve got planned is at least in part going to work for a wide range of the crowd!
So aside from the headliners + residents talk us through your selection process of how you go about picking the rest of the DJs on the line ups . . .
Having always been a DJ first and foremost myself, my selection process is generally based around picking DJs who have really impressed me when I’ve heard them play, from technical skill to ridiculously good tune selection. Obviously given the era, you can’t just rock up with the latest Top 20 from Beatport, so I like to try and pick those who really know their tunes and will dig a little and pick out some hidden gems. Both Wilsh and Madcap, from the event back in November 2018 and then Immerse and Paul 90 at the last event are excellent examples of this- selection from them all was absolutely on point. Seeing the crowd up at the front giving the DJs those knowing nods or shouts when they drop that belting tune you’d forgotten about from years ago is always fantastic to see.
So Middle Skool started at the venue “Work Bar“ in Angel and now the home of the event is “Bar 512“ in Dalston, have you got any more venue hopping in mind or will you remain there for the time being?
Yeah, Work Bar was a really good starting point for the night to test the waters and see how much appetite there was for an event specifically on the era- it’s small enough that it would have been a good vibe down there even if it wasn’t busy! Thankfully the first couple of nights did really well and when I was offered the chance to host an event at 512, it felt like a good natural step. The venue has that “pub but a club” vibe that I think a lot of smaller venues from the era had and holding the one in March there felt right for me.
No more venue hopping for the moment, I think it’s a case of building the brand and following at 512 now, hopefully with a lot of successful events!
Prior to even doing the first event did you spend a lot of time browsing through what London’s venues has to offer to do the Middle Skool event at before deciding initially on Work Bar?
We did, yeah. And actually, Work Bar wasn’t the one we initially decided on, the first night was supposed to be in another venue which we had confirmed a date with and sorted a line up, only for them to pull the plug leaving us high and dry- it was certainly a brutal introduction into the world of promoting for me- we had to downscale the line up and cancel some artists we’d already confirmed after getting the link up with Work Bar and start a little smaller.
Since moving to Bar 512 you’ve been using the LAUNCH sound system, nothing better and more important than sound being on point!
How did you go about linking with Handy for the use of his system?
Yep, the Launch system was used for the first 512 event and will be in there for coming ones as well. I’d spoken to Handy a bit about moving on from Work Bar and he mentioned that he could hook something up with 512, so I went for it, that’s all there is to it, really! It really makes a difference to the sound in there, plus I’ve known Andy for a good few years- working with someone you trust to be on top of things and do a professional job is really important with so many things to think about whilst running a night (particularly that I’m mostly doing it myself!), so knowing that Andy knows the venue and setup already from holding many, many Launch nights there is reassuring!
I always feel it’s good to try and ask the questions no one else does when approaching interviews (or in fact no one else wants to ask) so I’ve come up with one that I feel is a good one to test you. . . Can you describe your event using the names of 3 condiments, also please state why you have chosen these sauces delights.
Haha, I was waiting for something like this. That is a terrible, yet brilliant question, bravo.
Ok, firstly, Andaluce sauce. It’s a Belgian sauce and something a bit different to the norm- which I feel the night is hopefully doing!
Secondly, Sriracha hot sauce because it’s a good balance of flavours and still brings the heat- this subtly mirrors the night where a wide range of D&B styles from the era are played in balance and, of course, it’s all spicy tunes, just like the sauce.
And lastly, mustard, because the night is exactly that.