Guaranteed Connection Talk
Guy McCreery’s Third Ear imprint has a long pedigree of championing the best of underground electronic music. They have released music from some of the best in the game, such as Theo Parrish, Delano Smith, Orlando Voorn, Benjamin Brunn and Thomas Brinkmann, whilst also pushing undiscovered talent including the likes Wbeeza, El Prevost, Sarrass and Dopeus. Never worried about playing the same hackneyed game of hype and personality cults, Third Ear has quietly done its thing, and let the music do the talking. Now Guy is set to launch a new DJ booking agency called Guaranteed Connection Artists to support the wealth of hugely talented yet under-rated artists that he knows. Not content to sit back and wait for the phone calls, Guaranteed Connection are also starting a regular night at Dance Tunnel on the 8th January to showcase their roster. With all this frenetic activity going on, it seemed like a perfect juncture to speak to Guy about his vision, and his reasons for the new venture.
When we first spoke about you setting up an agency, you mentioned that you were going to be doing things a little bit different and I was intrigued as to what you meant by that.
Essentially it was a question of having to. I decided to start up an artist booking and management agency at the beginning of this year, after thinking about it for most of 2014. I had been wanting to do something else in addition to Third Ear. With the revenues and margins what they are in the recorded music business now, it’s very difficult to grow a record label. 20 years ago it was very different, but now it’s almost impossible to get beyond releasing 10 eps and a few albums a year. The cash flow doesn’t allow for it. It’s great, I love the record business. But I’ve got more time now my parenting duties are reducing. So, when I realised I was surrounded by a group of very good DJs who were almost all of them unrepresented, the idea of starting an artist and management agency came to me.
The idea came from the Breakfast Club, a Sunday word-of-mouth ‘party for people who put on parties and their friends’ that I had started. I asked friends who were DJs if they would DJ regularly at The Breakfast Club. As it turned out, we quickly got a reputation for the music, due to the few DJs who did it regularly. Alex Downey, Frank Mitchell and Scott Marshall. Because they were doing it regularly they became the residents by default. Then we had guests who were also friends, Mario Barbarossa, Mr Shiver, Leah Floyeurs, Red Rack’em, Phonica DJs.
I noticed I had all these very good DJs around me. So I asked them if I could represent them. Then I realised that most of them were not producers, they were just very good DJs. That’s why I decided I had to do thing a little differently. I knew that that most promoters wouldn’t be interested in any of my DJs because they weren’t releasing records. If you get newsletters from agencies, which everybody who ever sent an enquiry to an agency does, almost without exception all the information is about their DJs’ latest releases. It’s not detailed info about their DJs’ sets or their style or technique with reviews from reliable sources. You get the odd mix, but the emphasis is very much on DJs’ productions and releases. Consequently, the pressure is on DJs to make records. Just as nefarious is the pressure on producers to DJ because making records is no longer a way to make a living. The result is that the scene is packed with DJs who are in fact not really DJs at all; they are producers trying to either make some money, which is understandable because they can’t make money selling records, or they are eager to break into the party circuit to enjoy the fruits of that or to boost their fragile egos. Many of them are also not really producers either, just enthusiastic clubbers very good at promoting themselves, wanting attention. Consequently the scene today is awash with mediocre DJs and mediocre producers, many of whom are booked to play the same events and who unfortunately are written about regularly, which only sustains the situation. I won’t go into my theories of how and why this has happened; only to say that it is allowed to happen.
So this made me think that to gain any profile and work for our artists, we’re were going to have to do our own events.
Of course, because as well as setting up the agency you are also going to start up a night at Dance Tunnel right? When’s that kicking off?
That’s kicking off in January. The agency is called Guaranteed Connection Artists and the night is called The Guaranteed Connection. Matt and Leon down at Dance Tunnel know a lot of the artists that I’m representing and they’re very supportive. We don’t have a mailing list and I don’t have a list of promoters, and on the basis of what I’ve just said, I don’t think there’s much point in me contacting 90% of the promoters out there. I know some promoters who know the artists, so I can build on that. But otherwise we’re just going to build it from the ground up by the events that we do and by interested promoters coming to us.
A cynical view would be that you’re making things very hard for yourself by not playing the same old game that everyone else is. By not having a big mailing list and spamming everyone all the time and also not focusing on the centre ground that everyone is comfortable and happy with. Although because you’re not doing that, perhaps you’ll have more longevity and richer fruits when they comes to bare.
I think it’s being pragmatic and realistic. I know that many promoters don’t respond when approached by artists or labels or agents that they don’t know or haven’t heard of. Over the years, I’ve had a lot of artists, especially Detroit artists, asking me if I can help them get gigs. Quite a few of them now have established reputations and agents and they work regularly. But those reputations only came about because of their record releases. When I contacted promoters before these DJs had been written about in RA or booked to play Fabric or Panorama Bar they didn’t even respond. So I’m certainly not going to be spending loads of time writing emails and trying to do it that way. I know what happens. We’re just going to do it all ourselves. I’m not unhappy about that. We’re all excited about it. I spoke to everybody and said how I’m going to do it; no mailing lists, just doing our own events to build it. Working outside "The Dance Music Village", because we have to. I don’t have a track record as an agent and although I’ve got a reputation in the scene, I’ve never been hip or flavour of the season and I don’t aspire to that. I know too many quality DJs and producers who can’t get ahead because they don’t want to play the game and ingratiate themselves with promoters. For me, that is part of what attracts me to these artists, what makes me want to represent them. Some of them have a strong record of releases, like Mark Forshaw, Aubrey or Toby Tobias, and then there are others that are not releasing at all or who are not known for releasing music but have got a reputation as DJs, like Leah Floyeurs, Alex Downey or Sam Watson. But everybody is down with us keeping it tight and doing our own thing. When, as I expect, these artists begin to get a reputation and the enquiries start to come, promoters and partyers will discover they are wicked DJs, true artists and true people and will love them for it.
One word that you’ve used when we’ve spoken about this before, and I have to say it’s a word that gets banded around a lot, is the word family. People talk about setting up a family but it’s often quite hard to tell what they mean by that. What do you mean by that and how do you see your roster as being a family?
Setting up a family or a community is a fashionable thing to say at the moment, it’s true. I think that it is symptomatic of the mediocrity and anomie that I’ve described in the scene right now. People are trying to get back to where they can grow something meaningful, and building something up from personal relationships is one way. The problem is that the spread of mediocrity is also the result of people ingratiating themselves with each other, rather than connecting on the basis of ability and common beliefs. To me, family in the sense I use it is a group of people who already know each other, who go back and have got a history, and that’s what we are. Ability, knowledge, respect, thoughtfulness and generosity of spirit are the basis of our relationship with each other. With the Breakfast Club, when I needed DJs I turned to my friends. I probably could have turned to well-known DJs I know and asked them if they wanted to be involved. But that wouldn’t have been half as much fun or half as satisfying. Then, when I decided to start the agency, it went on from there. It was just people who I met at underground parties; that is parties that don’t advertise publicly, or DJs who were friends of friends, like Mark Forshaw and Leah Floyeurs. Everybody in the agency is someone that I have a personal relationship with, someone I know and I respect and I trust. Everyone. That’s what I meant by family.
So there’s perhaps another side to that as there’s a strength in numbers thing where you’ve got a lot of individual people that are very good at what they do but are quite invisible on their own, but perhaps by teaming up together and creating this collective you can all have a larger impact.
We’ll see. The potential is there. If you look at the roster and you know the artists then you know that there is one helluva party waiting to go off there. There is a sense of mutual respect across the roster and a feeling of excitement about being together. I know everyone on the roster looks at it and feels good about being part of it.
Obviously you’ve explained that you have personal connections with all of the people that you’ll be representing. But putting that aside, what do you look for in a DJ or live act in their art or personal approach and what in your opinion makes a good DJ?
To begin with, there’s the personal thing between me and the music that a DJ is mediating in the mix. I know what a good DJ sounds like. For me, a good DJ is someone who makes any record sound memorable when they play it, because of how they play it. How they mix it, what other records they play before it under it over it through it, after it, and that they can make a rudimentary DJ tool, one with potential for sure, sound amazing when they play it. Then all I have to do is to look around me and see the rest of the party jumping and it’s as simple as that really. It’s not really rocket science. Well, it is quite a sophisticated sensibility, I suppose. It’s a knowledge and appreciation, and an interest that comes from an innate musicality honed over time and constantly explored and encouraged.
So you’ve mentioned before that you’ve spent a lot of time over the years in clubs, what for you have been the best or most memorable and what’s the reasoning? Which clubs either here or abroad have been the most resonant with you?
The best club I ever went to, and luckily I went regularly for a few years, was Maniac Love, In Tokyo. It was quite small. The total floor area was probably about the size of a squash court; maybe a little longer, and it had a mezzanine at the back which was a chill-out with bench seats and tables, so the dance floor was 2 floors high. It was very minimal and modern in design. Fantastic sound system. Chilled staff and security. Great ambience. Pretty much all I ask for in a club before we talk about the music. The best time to be there was the Sunday morning after hours, although anytime was great. From around 4am people who had been in various clubs across Tokyo would begin to drift in, so by about 7am, Tokyo’s hard-core party people were arriving, looking forward to DJ Shinkawa, who was the DJ who I most associate with those sessions. Happy days. If I ever get the chance to build a club from the ground up, or rather from the ground down, it would be inspired by Maniac Love. Events that I go to for my own pleasure are events like Jane Fitz & Jade Seatle's Night Moves, the Gateway To Zen parties, 50 Ark parties, very underground parties to be honest, for the vibe. For me, the best parties are the ones where everybody knows each other and knows the residents, and they not only have a keen appreciation of the music but they also come to see each other. Most recently for me, the benchmark has been set by Free Rotation and Labyrinth in Japan. In both cases the location, the sound, the crowd and the programming is why they’re so good. And all of that comes from the organisers.
Yeah, I guess it's very easy to book a list of DJs but there's more to it than that. It’s one thing just putting on up a line up and then another thing actually building a party. It’s more than just a DJ or a headliner; it’s about the crowd, the space, the residents and the interaction between all of them.
I think that the best nights come from the ground up. They start from a tight group of people, some of whom want to play records and some who are prepared to run and promote the night, and they want to have a good time with their friends. Inviting a guest, a name DJ is something you do on the anniversaries or the special occasions. Otherwise, why would you? If the DJs amongst you are good enough, spend your money on the sound system and renting a better space, on keeping the drinks cheap, not on a guest DJ.
So thinking about the trajectory of clubland and the club scene that we’re all part of, it seems like you see it in very two sided terms. There’s the part that’s pulling one, more obvious way with not so much value, and then there’s also the more vibrant underside with less focus on personality and hype.
Well it does seem like it and a key part of it is this emphasis that promoters put on booking DJs who have had releases that have also been hyped by journalists. It’s like circle. Okay, it pays the bills but it doesn’t leave many people feeling very satisfied. I know for a fact that there are an awful lot of DJs out there that focus on DJing. Some of them don’t want to make tracks and they spend their time digging for records, deciding what records they want to play and thinking about records to play, not thinking about making records. I think that for the clubber and for the dancer those are the kinds of DJs that we need to be supporting and representing. We need to be giving these DJs a platform. It’s not that I’m ignoring or not interested in DJs that are producing, but when I was asking people when I could represent them, whether they were a producer or not was not a question that was in my mind. It wasn’t until after I’d got the roster together that I realised that most of them were not producers. That made me realise that that, in a way, would dictate how I run this agency.
Do you think someone whose focus isn’t equally on playing records and writing records gives them a completely different outlook as a DJ?
I don’t think so, no. I don’t see why that would be the case. I think that they’re two separate skills really. People that make good records don’t necessarily make good DJs and we know that simply because there are people who make good records but just aren’t good DJs. DJing is a different skill set. One of the main problems in the scene right now is that promoters book producers to DJ on the basis of records they’ve made, when they clearly are not good enough DJs.
I guess maybe in the past when you couldn’t rely on digital technology and syncing that maybe you’d be exposed more easily as a bad DJ as there’s a little bit more to hide behind now.
Yes there is, but it’s not the whole story. If you think that beat mixing is all that there is to DJing then, yes you can deal with beat-mixing using auto-sync. But there’s a hell of a lot more to DJing than beat mixing; selecting the tunes for a start and understanding how to build a set, how to build your set (the best DJs are wonderfully idiosyncratic). What you actually do in the transition and how you do it is a huge part of DJing. You’re managing the energy in the room when you’re mixing the records. In many ways that’s the point where you really stamp your personality on the dance floor, and it’s your personality that people want to feel and to know. It’s the human interaction that’s the buzz. They want to feel your mood and your excitement, your trepidation and your hesitation. It all makes for that alive feeling that when coupled to loud music is so exciting. If you’re using auto-sync, your set will have no dynamism; people are probably going to wander off during your set at some point, or they’re just going to be talking to their mates because you haven’t grabbed them and excited them. It’s not about digital technology, it’s nothing to do with that. I think digital technology is a great opportunity. But obviously, when you start letting the machines DJ for you, then it all starts to fall flat. Where’s the energy and emotion? It’s not there. It’s not the technology. Journalists and promoters should be the gatekeepers and tastemakers to the scene. They’re the problem. Clearly they’re not doing their job and weeding out the pretenders.
So you have some live acts on your roster as well, do you want to tell me a little bit more about them and who they are? With a live act, that’s a whole new kettle of fish and everyone has a different approach to how they do this.
I don’t have a different approach. DJ or producer, they’re both there to do the same job. I’m representing El Prevost and B Riddim from Third Ear. Even though some of the artists have released on Third Ear, I actively separate Third Ear from Guaranteed Connection. They are not related and I don’t want people to get confused and think that Guaranteed Connection is in any way related to Third Ear, because it isn’t. I decided to represent El Prevost and B.Riddim because they didn’t have an agent and I think they’re both very talented producers who play live. I’m also representing Ahu Sohrab who’s an Iranian resident in Berlin. He plays live and is a DJ. Again, he’s a friend of mine who was introduced by a mutual friend in Berlin. When I heard his music I loved it. Toby Tobias has been preparing a live show too, but he’s primarily a DJ. Then there’s also Grimes Adhesif who is a DJ but wants to concentrate on playing live at the moment.
So, a little bit about the club night. Why is it so important for you to have your own night that’s specifically linked? It would probably be more expected of you to launch a Third Ear label night to showcase artists there, but why do it through Guaranteed Connection?
I have done a few Third Ear label nights, in Moscow, Berlin, Tokyo, but not in London. When I get asked to do them, I do them. Third Ear’s artists are spread the world over. If they were all in one country, we’d be doing a Third Ear night, believe me. But it’s not a priority. As I have explained, a regular night is a key part of the Guaranteed Connection model. The hope is for a monthly at the Dance Tunnel. Leon and Matt at The Dance Tunnel know a lot of the artists and are very up for doing something with us. For the first party on the 8th January, we’ve got Sam Watson, Leah Floyeurs, o.utlier and Aubrey. An amazing line-up in terms of DJ talent. Then for the second one we’ve got Mark Forshaw, Toby Tobias, Leah Floyeurs and Frank Mitchell lined up. Again, a brilliant line up.
One further thing, other than perhaps the night, is there anything else you’ve got coming for the agency, or is it still in its very embryonic stages?
Just the nights at The Dance Tunnel at the moment.
I guess that’s what I mentioned before, that perhaps doing things slower will put the roots a bit deeper for a more solid base and longevity, rather than a flash in a pan.
There is no other way we can do it, as I explained. I don’t know if it will be slower. I do know it will be a lot more effective and a lot more satisfying for everyone. Everyone’s up for it. There is certainly the potential for many of the DJs to work regularly, but we’re not thinking about that; for now we’re just thinking about filling the Dance Tunnel on a regular basis and giving people a night to remember. If we can do that, everything else will follow. I called the agency Guaranteed Connection Artists because I believe that’s what you get when you book one of our artists.