If ever there were two guys that embody progressive house in the modern world, it would be Stephen ’Soulfinder’ Hogg and Vincent Furlong. Life long friends and music lovers, they set up the genre defining label Sleepless Nights back in 2011. Now with a monthly radio show on Proton, annual ADE compilation (which sources music from new and up and coming artists as well as established names) the pair have also embarked on the high risk, high reward world of event promotion with a monthly night at Sweeney’s basement in downtown Dublin. Under The Influence is a chance for them to pay homage to the sounds that drive them forward and present cutting edge progressive house to fresh, unbiased ears. This month sees Decoded Magazine join Sleepless Nights in Dublin for a St Patrick’s Weekend like no other. A&R man Simon Huxtable caught up with the lads ahead of the celebrations to get the low down…
Hi guys, its great to see you again. Can you tell us about growing up in Ireland. Were you from musical households?
Vincent – There was always music at home growing up. My parents were pretty young when we were kids and would naturally have had a love of music albeit of genre’s I wouldn’t associate, with but would listen to as a kid. A lot of my uncles and cousins on my Father’s side have been involved in music at some stage of their lives. There’s singers, songwriters, musicians and everything in between. One of my Uncle’s has been in traditional Irish bands for most of his adult life and has played with Pete St John, The Dubliners and the Fureys (all traditional irish music artists) among others. I believe he actually had a platinum selling album in China or Japan a few years ago but I couldn’t verify it before this interview so I guess it’s just hearsay!
My main influence at that age however came from my Aunt Jane who used to babysit me and my sister every day for a few years when we were kids. The rave scene was just blowing up at that point, and as she was only 15 or 16 at the time. She latched onto this scene and became obsessed with the sound and the culture. I remember getting my hands on a “Rave 90” tape she had. I wasn’t sure what it was so I put it in the tape deck, pressed play heard Moby’s – Go! for the first time. I went completely nuts! I never heard or experienced anything like it and was completely hooked from that day forward. The rest they say is history.
Stephen – Yes, music was a big thing in my home. Being the youngest in the household my brother’s and sister’s played a big influence on what sort of music I’d listen to. We used to listen to all kinds of music from the 80’s the likes of Phil Collins, Boy George, U2 and Guns and Roses. When I was about 9 or 10 I started listening to some pirate radio stations and I fell in love with the electronic sound. It was the early 90’s when I started listening to DJ mixes by the likes of Sasha, John Digweed and Nick Warren on my walkman all day long and just fell more and more in love with this sound each time.
You’ve been life long friends, but can you remember where you first met? What did you think of each other?
Vincent – We laugh about this every time it comes up. My first memory of Stephen was when I was about 7 years old. Complete strangers to each other we ended up clinging on to the back of a goods delivery truck headed towards the city centre from our local shopping centre. It’s funny to think that two kids, who never met before, had the exact same idea, at the exact same time, in the exact same location without even seeing each other! 15 seconds later we were no longer strangers but future survivors of a parental beatdown, and were united by an adrenaline rush and the overall ‘madness’ (read ‘badassness’) of our activity!
Hard to tell what my first impression of him was, but I remember that I wanted to stay on the truck longer than he did. We both bailed at the first chance we got though. I remember that I didn’t want to end up in the city centre, lost, with no way home and a potential ass kicking in the pipeline so I jumped. There was also another guy who jumped on halfway through our very short journey but we never saw him again. I wonder if he ever made it to the city centre?
Stephen – Hahahaha, Yes I remember that very well. I must say Vincent was almost like a clone in personality to myself. As Vincent said who’d of thought that we’d end up where we are today from such a crazy moment from when we first met. Today Vincent is a very important and close friend in my life, we both have a similar vision on what way we want our music careers to go and hopefully we can achieve our goals.
Stephen, your production career as Soulfinder really took off after the Trauma EP, and you’ve resolutely stuck to your guns stylistically ever since. What is it with progressive house that so inspires you?
For me it’s the complete sound. People have been writing it off for years now, but it’s still here and some of the progressive house tracks that are available today are outstanding. The quality of the sound and the creativity is superb. You’ve got elements of tech, groovy basslines and of course epic melodies. You hear people complaining all the time that they’ve gone on Beatport and it’s all EDM progressive and there’s no good prog anymore blah blah blah, but they’re obviously not using the sub genre’s on Beatport to filter out the garbage they’re not interested in. I think if you dig a little deeper or get yourself an account on Release Promo then you will realise that progressive house is still very much as strong as it once was.
No doubt having major names featuring your tracks speaks volumes. How has that exposure helped your career generally?
Yes absolutely, not only does it help you get credibility but it also gives you confidence that you’re doing it right. Let’s face it most producers are little too critical of their own work so I think it’s important to get the support from the major players.
Having watched the scene rise and fall several times, what’s your opinion on the state of progressive house in 2016?
I will admit it’s definitely a dirty word in the scene. Melodic techno seems to be the new name for progressive house. For me it’s on the up, if you look at the big names like Sasha, John Digweed and Hernan Cattaneo amongst others, they’re all still playing it in their sets week in week out. But not only that the younger guys like Guy J, Cid Inc. and Darin Epsilon etc are getting booked worldwide every week and they are also pushing it so for me it’s definitely very much a strong genre.
Vincent, can you talk us through life in the Dublin underground scene. Is there still a strong techno connection to the city, or have other strands of dance music taken more of a foothold?
Techno is definitely alive and well in Dublin, however I think that it’s definition has changed slightly and artists now producing techno might be forgiven for labelling their work as progressive. You might go to a techno night here and will hear progressive house for the majority of the night though it’s a little more stripped back. There’s definitely more grittier stuff to be found if that’s your poison but for me I’m delighted that the scene has re-adopted more melodic tastes.
Like most modern cosmopolitan cities you’re going to find a wide mix of different types of dance music and Dublin isn’t any different. You can easily find techno, prog, future house, trance, drum and bass, house and deep house, in various venues throughout the county. There’s a lot of choice which is great but I think the prog/techno scene is growing and getting stronger. All we need now is a change in legislation around live venue closing times and we’re on the pig’s back
We understand you stopped DJing for a while to concentrate on the production…
Yeah that’s right. Back around 2007 I decided to step away from the club scene for a while. I was playing a lot of electro, tech house and minimal techno at the time. What started out as a love affair with the genres turned into a marriage of convenience and eventually I wanted out. Prior to this I was playing prog but sold my turntables to buy new ones which took over a year or two to get. By that time I was finding it difficult to find a lot of the same styles of music I used to play and eventually got turned on to more electro sounding stuff. Sure the labels I liked were still there but the sound was different.
At the end of it all I felt like I hitched my wagon to a trend and eventually became tired of it. The natural move was re-assess where I was and go back underground which meant either playing more minimal or darker techno and I just wasn’t interested so i stepped aside. Even as a club patron I remember leaving most events at the time unsatisfied. More often than not I would leave with the feeling of “That was an efficient and moderately enjoyable club experience” rather than “WHAT A F***ING NIGHT!!!!” so I took a break.
At that point I started working on my productions more seriously, I changed my production environment as it gave me more flexibility over my previous environment (plus I prefered the sound) and I revisited the engineering side of production (where previously I would focus more on the creation and arrangement side). I finally started making music that I was relatively happy with, released a couple of remixes and originals with Stephen and I haven’t looked back. I’d definitely like to be more active on the production side but with running the label, monthly events, radio shows and a change of career outside of the music industry and living a normal day to day life, it can be difficult finding enough time in the day to do everything which I’m sure a lot of people can relate to. I’m just thankful I’m busy and grateful for everything I have and will continue producing every spare moment I can get.
Without the label, who do you think you’d be aiming your productions at? There are some amazing labels out there at the moment.
It’s a tough one. I’m interested in lots of different genres of music and I think this is reflected in both my productions and mixes. Everything is electronic of course but I like chillout, breaks, some deep house, tech house, techno (both melodic and straight up), progressive house, prog trance, electronica/downtempo and ambient. I couldn’t really say one label fits all but I do have my preferences. I’ve been a big fan of Stellar Fountain for years, their next couple of releases are massive (Stephen plays a couple of them in hour one of our guest mix).
Darin Epsilon’s Perspectives Digital imprint is going from strength to strength and I’d be honored to be on the roster. I’m also really digging Dale Middleton’s Tarnished Tracks imprint which has got off to an epic start. Sudbeat, Bedrock, Lost & Found, 238West, microCastle, Selador, Tulipa, and Proton Music are some of my favourites. There’s so many top drawer imprints to mention that I haven’t listed here but I’d be happy to sign with all of them!
Tell us about Sleepless Nights. What was the vision behind starting the label, and given what you now know, would you consider starting a label in 2016?
Vincent – For us the vision for the label was two fold:
1 – To provide a platform for anyone who produces amazing melodic driven electronic music regardless of background, or experience. As long as you had a well produced track that fit the bill there was (and will always be) a place for you at Sleepless Nights.
2 – To help re-introduce melody and musicality back into the club scene while maintaining its integrity in the hope that more melodic driven techno would eventually emerge as the standard. I think we have had a lot of success in the areas we wanted success in.
I would say that financially it is not as rewarding as we were hoping, but it was never our main focus so we’re not too disappointed about it. We would have done things completely differently. If it was just about the money and we probably wouldn’t be having this conversation right now. I think if we were to do it all again armed with the experience we have gained over the past years I would definitely still go for it. I think this time, we would probably reprioritise distribution paths and consider different methods and formats for delivering our artists work to our audience. We’d probably take on someone to create video content for each of our releases.
After a few years Sleepless Nights has expanded into the world of Radio. Can you talk us through the development of the show, and what your goals were?
Vincent – We began broadcasting monthly on Proton Radio online in 2013. For me personally it was a bit of an honour being added to their schedule as I was a fan of their station for years. After that, we joined DNA radio and we’re hoping to add more stations as time goes by as it gives us a wider reach both as DJ’s and as representatives of Sleepless Nights and our Artists. Stephen also has a bi weekly radio show on local terrestrial station Phever FM but I’ll let him go into the details about that :)
Stephen – The Proton show has a been a great achievement for both of us. It gives us the chance to promote some up and coming music from Sleepless Nights and ourselves. It also allows us to create a two hour set that flows through the different variations of house music. The Phever FM Radio show I do is a solo project to the SNR one but it also gives me the chance to give some great support and exposure to some of the quality producers that are pushing out some amazing music live on FM Radio.
The role of A&R has changed dramatically over the last 5 years. We’ve talked extensively about how to send an email to a label, but still we hear many stories of people doing it wrong. Can you think of a few funny examples?
Vincent – There are definitely a few. Getting sent an email with the subject blank and the body of the message only containing the word “Demo” and a link to the track which redirects through a link monetisation site like Adfly. Then when the soundcloud page loads, the private track is two years old, has been listened to over a thousand times and is a David Guetta/Britney spears mashup.
Seriously, have you even listened to any of the artists on our label!? OR graciously declining someone’s demo because it just doesn’t fit, then having to justify the decision while being asked why we make things so complicated or why are we so difficult. All I can say is, square peg, round hole while a deep red palm print glows brightly upon the front of my face!
With the recent developments in America of SFXE going into chapter 11 bankruptcy, how do you see the landscape of music retail changing over the next few years?
Vincent – I think streaming is more likely the way forward, at least companies like apple, spotify and google are banking on this trend to continue. It’s definitely how I consume a lot of my music anyway. Other than music I download for gigs or mixes (which I would probably stream first), I can’t remember the last time I downloaded a mixed set or full album. I think once physical media was really taken out of the equation along with the artwork and liner notes that went with it, the requirement for actually OWNING a copy of music became void, at least it did for me.
Upward trends in vinyl sold continue though AND with walkmans reportedly making a comeback you never know. Perhaps the next generation of music consumers want more than just a binary version of a song they have an attachment to, or maybe it’s just a trend, who knows. Either way you have to adapt and re-focus, whatever the outcome. How cool would a Sleepless Nights release on cassette or vinyl be though?! Maybe a limited edition run in the future! Watch this space!
Hahaha… Lazor disc! Lets talk about new releases. Whats hot on the promo lists for Sleepless Nights this year?
Vincent – At the moment our schedule is wide open, it’s now March and we haven’t had a release so far this year but we’re not too stressed about it. We have been been extremely busy organising and preparing the upcoming events with Under The Influence and have had very little time to touch base with artists regarding releases. With saying that though, the label is still very much at the forefront of everything we do and we’ll be back in action again as soon as we get everything up and running here in Dublin.
You can definitely expect to see another ADE compilation this year, I’m really looking forward to it as I couldn’t contribute to last years comp (due to work commitments) We’re also thinking about releasing some singles from last years comp complete with remixes. No doubt there will be a few new originals in the pipeline but can’t say for certain by who or when at this stage but keep your eyes peeled.
Do you find any kind of spike in sales from an established name playing one of your releases at all? And if so, are there certain names which affect it more often?
Vincent – Sometimes, yeah but that’s not always true. I think part of it revolves around our’s and the artists response on our social media channels to getting supported publicly by those DJ’s. A video has more of a chance of going viral than a chart or tracklist posted by the artist so it really depends. I still think getting support from other artists and DJ’s we look up to and respect is still a massive deal.
Releases ultimately have more of a chance of being heard on a dancefloor where the vibe, energy and mood of the track can be witnessed by individiduals and their fellow clubbers in real time. This might compel some of the audience to find out what track they’re listening to and purchase it. Additionally, it also acts like a seal of approval which is always great for the artist and the label. I think a lot of the artists value this the most, myself included!
I remember Darin Epsilon reviewing Biologik’s in Bloom EP (I think) for a magazine just before the release. The Silinder Remix got a great response on Beatport but it was the first time Silinder was on the label so it’s difficult to tell whether it was the sheer popularity of Silinder’s productions or the review that drove the sales but I like to think it was a combination of both. I think as a label we should be measuring everything we can possibly measure but on this occasion I’m afraid we missed the boat.
Tell us a bit more about your new night Under the Influence. We know you’ve both played in the cities clubs for many years, but is promoting a new venture?
Vincent – Promoting is definitely challenging but it’s incredibly satisfying when it all comes together and the night goes off without a hitch. Under The Influence was founded by Div Moar (Fury Division) a while back. Stephen got involved a few months ago and I joined the guys shortly after. It’s a really collaborative project with a mix of influences and will cater for most people’s appetite for quality underground house, prog and techno. We each have varied roles and we all work to our strengths while sharing the workload as evenly as possible among ourselves. There’s definitely added pressure when you’re trying to run a successful night and DJ at the same time but living by the seat of your pants is something I think we all do well!
In terms of guests this year, who do you have your eyes on?
Stephen – We’ve already got two more nights confirmed for April with Techno head Lex Gorrie from Sleaze Records, and for May with the mighty Lexicon Avenue and Arqana. We’re also in talks with a couple of Belfast Artists plus we are going to do a few Local talent nights too. Basically we’ll be keeping it on the Melodic and Techno side of things.
A lot of new nights these days seem to throw money at DJs to perform all aspects of the nights journey, whereas you’ve opted to be residents. It was once the most coveted job in DJing: to be a resident DJ, but is that a job role lost in the mists of time?
Vincent – Yeah I think the traditional representation of it is where one or more DJ’s have a guaranteed spot in a specific venue for a specific length of time each and every week. I’m sure they’re still out there though. I think associates or something like that is a more accurate (albeit less glamorous) term. Our ‘residency’ is dynamic, in the sense that, if our style of music is not suitable for supporting a main act on one of our nights then we don’t play. I think as promoters you want what’s best for the night and as DJ’s you want what’s best for the crowd. Being both it’s easy for us to make and accept those decisions if that makes sense. But yeah, I do think the concept of a traditional residency is lost in the mists of time!
Decoded Magazine joins you for St Patricks weekend – March 18th. Along side Damion and Ian (who you featured on the radio show a while back) who else do you have playing?
We’ll be on warm up duties on the night before we hand the controls over to one of our Sleepless Nights Artists Lateral Cut Groove who’ll be supporting you guys. Lateral Cut has had a recent string of stellar releases on some great labels. He was featured on our ADE 2015 compilation with his remix of K-Nass and Julian Rodriguez’s Dandelion which was also released on Sleepless Nights.
John has been DJing since he was 16 years of age. While still at school he held down his first residency at Propaganda in Sligo City playing alongside top UK and European DJs. As a DJ his sound is truly his own. His style which could be described as a selection of deep chunky dirty tech house is enough to get anyone’s head bopping so if you haven’t seen this guy in action and you’re in Dublin on the 18th of march you should definitely come by Sweeneys.
Well guys, I cannot wait for the party, its going to be amazing.
It’s going to be a MASSIVE NIGHT!!!