We recently caught up with our Director of This Is Progressive, Damion Pell, to get his take on a few things before he heads back out on tour. With a career over 2 decades, residing and playing numerous countries, on top of co-owning a successful tech house label, running parties around the world from the beaches of Sydney to Milan, Ibiza and more. Not one to be grouped into one genre, he is known for his epic progressive house mixes, but also his late night sessions dropping techno across the UK capital or smooth deep house on the alps of Austria.
You started your career quite a long time ago in Australia, what was the scene like back then?
You know, it is quite interesting to think about. When I was 17 / 18, would be out clubbing, listening to Hocus Pocus, Hears Johnny etc, having the time of our lives and not a care in the world and you never think really too much about the music. As you get older, you look back and think, wow we had some crap music compared to today. Poorly mastered, poorly written, poorly pressed (on vinyl for you playing at home that doesn’t know what that means) and you know what, it was the time of my life and I am lucky enough to say it still is. The scene was emerging just like anywhere else around the time, the music was loud, fast, brash and underground. Raving was fun, in warehouses, forests, carparks, you name it. It was exciting, there was a real buzz in the air and there probably still is for the youth of today. I am just older and more jaded. I have never got the whole arms up in the air, caring about commercial pop music like SHM etc. Who cares, there was just as, if not worse music back in the early 90’s and there always will be in the future.
Your initial interest in music was with hip hop, why the change to dance music?
When I was young, I had a chip on my shoulder like most guys I guess, but I was never a bad kid. I just found the hip hop of 2 Live Crew, NWA etc was so negative, there was nothing positive in it’s message, was all fuck this, fuck that, bitches, hoes, gangsta this, gangsta that and it never really connected with me. In 1990, I was listening late at night to Triple J (back then a new national radio station) and they had on late at night, music from around the world and I instantly got hooked onto Electronic music. It was like was switched on in the darkest of rooms, it just made sense. I always grew up with influences from my older sister with her new wave music in the 80s and loved it (I still do) I found that dance music had no barriers, no racism, no sexism, it was a brand new world and yes, it really was about PLUR – Peace, Love, Unity & Respect. I never really knew all the E side to it as to be honest, wasn’t into the drugs, so just got a huge high from the energy of the music and still do.
The scene has changed quite considerably since then, what changes (good or bad) have you noticed through-out the years?
All scenes change, whether it is rock, hip hop, pop, whatever it is, there will be changes as people transit through. The Dance music scene is no different, but I think the ethos of it from the start, with always pushing boundaries (and still does) is prone to change much faster and aggressively. It has been the bane of major labels and the wider media for decades now with not knowing how to keep up with the pace of change. The industry was founded on people, not corporations running the show, owning it, creating it to anyway that they wanted and this really bugged people looking in from the outside. With money, those things change, with the majors and corporations buying their way in and changing it to suit their agenda. Is a shame, but they don’t have a foot in on the underground scene, so doesn’t faze me too much. There has been thousands of changes, from music, to DJs, to marketing, PR and the rise of fesivals that have ultimately, killed off clubbing as we once knew it. That is a whole other story though.
Touring takes its toll, but you get to see some spectacular places. Where has been the highlights this year?
My highlight this year was playing at Snowbombing in April. Is at a town called Mayrhofen in Austria. My partner and label co-owner decided we would make it a road trip over and left London for a fantastic drive through France, Belgium, Luxembourg, Holland (bit of a detour) Germany and then Austria. Arrived 2 days later and jumped on mainstage to warm up for Above & Beyond which was amazing. Sat backstage later smoking some cigarettes and enjoying a few vodkas just talking shop for a few hours. The next day, was up early (mildly hungover) and then had to play on top of a mountain 2km up on the summit. The view was amazing and the weather was so warm, clear skies and played a 4 hour deep house set. Was a fantastic gig and look forward to playing back there next year. The rest of the week spent sitting back in the sun enjoying beers with some good mates.
I guess the way you program a set on tour varies on the location and time you play. Any tips you’d like to share?
To be honest, I usually do everything last minute as I am a pretty busy person. I generally spend a month collecting tunes, going through mountains of promo’s, getting a few suggestions from mates or their unreleased stuff and whacking it all together onto some USB’s these days. No longer do I have to lug a trolley around of records (I would love to still play vinyl, just not practical anymore) I have never programmed a set to play out. I believe you should read the crowd, take it on a journey and make it fluid as the energy in a room can change so quickly, so it gives you the chance to just go with it. Is more fun as well, there is no hard and fast rules in mixing, you are only limited by creativity and your skills, both of which can always be worked on with hard work and dedication.
Who has been your favourite big name to play alongside?
Umm, I like to think playing alongside good mates is a plus. Is always hard for us guys to all get together and have a drink and mix these days. I have massive respect for a lot of people. There is so many from South London I work with all the time, guys who jet set around the world weekly, yet are humble and grounded enough for us to all jam at a bar in Clapham. They are the real people who keep the scene going, that love, passion and desire to do what they love. Over 20 odd years of playing, I have been quite lucky to play with people I admire, but I never really look up to too many for them just being a DJ, I look up to them for their honesty and down to earth take on things. Nothing worse than some head up their arse DJ who thinks because they play other peoples music, they have the right to be a dickhead or have a holy than thou attitude to the promoter, fellow DJs or punters.
Was it a natural move into promotion, or did you feel you had achieved enough as a DJ?
They kinda ran side by side to be honest. I have never felt I have achieved what I want at anytime. To stop and think you have done it all is either lying to yourself or just given up. The world presents itself in many ways and changes more than most people realised. Take only a few years ago, social media and how it has changed the entire music industry these days. Things change, new goals are set and there are always new gigs, new people to meet or the coolest place to play, be it a festival or some bar on a beach with 20 mad up for it mates.
Tell us about Musicology. Its a nifty name, but what’s it all about?
It started back in 2009 by some mates back in Australia, Frankie Romano ( A Hed Kandi resident) and Nick Blair (one of the greatest guys around and now retired DJ) It started off in a small bar owned by a mate of ours in Kings Cross (Sydney). Was a place for about 80 people (crammed in) but had such the best atmosphere. There were times I was so drunk, would rip my jeans off and play in my socks, it was just such a great place and over time, we took to another level. I was running a bar and nightclub group and we had a new venue open, 1200 capacity, so we took over Saturdays there and jammed away, but it really lost that vibe, so when I left for the UK beginning of 2011, we stopped it and the guys went their own way. June 2011, a good mate from Australia moved to Milan Italy and we decided to revamp it. Within a month, we were hosting a night in Ibiza with Hed Kandi. Between you and me, it was crap and didn’t do well, but we learnt and moved on. Later that year, we rand a secret beach party back in Australia and that’s when it really took back off. Since then, we have done events in Milan, Sydney, London etc and we have a boat party on Sydney Harbour and a after party coming up in October, so always busy, but I take a good seat back these days.
You also are the co-owner of quite a successful record label, tell us more
Ahh yes, the bane of my existence hahaha, only joking, not true. Well, Bootleg Social Records started 5 years ago by my business partner Tobie Allen, who in his own right, is well known around the UK and far flung shores of South Africa. I met him through a mutual friend, Damian Gelle from Lock n Loaded / SW4 and he asked me to come and play at Ministry of Sound for one of his nights. We hit it off quite quickly and I played at quite a few of his nights, such as Full on Ferry (Ferry Corsten night) Group Therapy, MoS, Gigalum etc and he approached me one day with going into partnership with him. That was about 2 years ago now and since then, we have done some pretty amazing parties, touring and label releases, including our own mix album with Ant Brooks from Toolroom Records last year and another coming out soon. On top of this, we are a music publishing company which is a lot of work. I mainly handle the marketing, artwork, PR, tour management etc and Tobie does the A&R (although he sends for me to listen and I give my opinion) and publishing. It is a great partnership and I have a lot of respect for Tobie. We clash, just like all business partners do, but we do have a great laugh sometimes.
The scene is going through some very difficult times at the moment with the likes of the old super clubs Gatecrasher and Slinky now closing their doors. Where do you see the scene going and how might This Is Progressive influence the scene?
It is the way things go. If people are going to run their business into the ground (any business, not naming names) then so be it. This notion of brands of yesteryear that deserve some sort of break or pity doesn’t sit with me. It is business and looking at things in rose coloured glasses doesn’t wash. I really don’t think TIP is out to influence the scene, I think if we can give a good, honest articles, music, less hype and a story, then so be it, people will make up their own minds. I have strong views about media being used by PR companies, labels etc to set the agenda, when it should be our job to provide a clear and unbiased view of the industry. It is lying to those who read our site, it means we are not being honest with them and saying this was a paid article, or some PR firm gave us x amount of money to push their new album, I don’t believe in that. If that influences people in a good way, the way we do business, then I can live with that.
In regards to This Is Progressive we hear there is an events arm called One Week To Live. Can you tell us more about this and how you came up with the name One Week To Live?
It has always been an idea of mine, to link with promoters who share the same vision, design, branding and marketing ethos as I do, to run parties collaboratively around the world. I think it is an extension of what we already do now with the site, in sharing that vision, but to then put it in a dark basement with a massive sound system, few lasers and a handful of respected DJs, then you give it a whole new dimension. We aren’t confined or restricted to any one venue in any one city, we can do an event one week in London and the following on the beaches of Thailand, it doesn’t matter, just as long as the music is right and the people have a great time, which really comes back to the name. If you had One Week To Live, what sort of party and people would you want around you?
You are obviously a very busy man with your day job, the various music projects and touring. How do you find time to relax and when you do what do you like to do?
I love to spend time with my partner, she is amazing, we are like to crazy best friends and she supports me in everything I do, so I like to spend that time with her. A good coffee over looking the common in the morning or grabbing a few pints with mates is perfect. To be honest, I am surrounded by so much music, that I don’t listen to it too much at home or go out much, but I will always support a mates party or gig, it is essential.
Much has been reported about the term EDM. What are your thoughts on the term and its influence on the dance music scene?
It is like the ying and the yang of music. We need it for kids, to help be exposed to dance music, to grow the underground, otherwise, when all the chin stroking hipsters have moved on to the next big thing – deeper and deeper house? There will be no-one there to fill the voids of an empty Shoreditch club on a Saturday night. I personally don’t listen to radio or watch MTV etc, but the times that it does get flicked on for those brief seconds, I cry a little to what passes as music in general in the mass market. I personally don’t care about Paris Hilton, Avicii etc, stop worrying about what they do and just move on.
Being involved in so many projects and touring must expose you to a lot of new music and artists. Is there any artist/DJ that has caught your attention recently and if so why?
Hard to say, not because of so much good music, but because my tastes change so much day to day. One day I love my techno, others deep house, others drum and bass, so I just keep an open mind and go from there.
Is there any advice you can give up and coming producers and DJs?
Work and be good to your mother! Seriously though, take in as much information as you can, learn your history, show respect to those who have tread in your shoes before and don’t expect instant overnight success. It takes years to get anywhere, but if you are serious about music, then it won’t matter. Be polite, professional, get out there and meet people. I was walking around SW4 the other week and have a few people come up and introduce themselves as they knew of me from Facebook or somewhere, but took the time out to actually be a human, not a keyboard blagger. I would book someone who attends my parties, comments on mixes, has an informed opinion and a general nice guy, over someone who has 3000 facebook friends etc. Most of all, go out and have fun, be passionate, get excited, be supportive of your fellow DJ and expose yourself to new music always. There is a life outside of the 4/4.
Lastly is there anything in the pipeline you can tell us about?
I am off to Barcelona Spain next week to showcase my label at La Terrezzza with Ellie Pettersson from House Arrest. Been looking forward to this one for awhile. I am doing a 3 hour main set, so great to give me some scope of music, some deep house, techno and tech house, then off to do another party after that. After that, we are releasing a new house album from the label, another EP and a couple singles, then we have our label out in Australia for a few parties and back to the UK where we back at Ministry of Sound. For This Is Progressive and One Week To Live, lots of plans, but can’t say just yet, although I can tell you how OWTL has teamed up with Bootleg Social Records to head off to Snowbombing next year, plus a very busy year of touring the brands. Look out for some news on Holland in the new year!
Follow Damion Pell with mixes, touring, gigs and more at https://www.facebook.com/DamionPell