Words: Colin Brownbill
"There has never been any specific plan; I’ve just been on my own musical journey, discovering new artists and sounds that I connect with." Celebrating ten years of his burgeoning party and label, Huntleys + Palmers, Andrew Thomson is a man with impeccable taste, unwavering in his commitment to finding exciting, distinctive electronic music.
What started as an intimate, inclusive party in a West End townhouse has grown to become a globally recognised and respected label, with Huntleys + Palmers home to artists as diverse as Auntie Flo, Sophie and Hi & Saberhagen, while H+P events have played host to everyone from Helena Hauff to Red Axes and Jessy Lanza in recent years, with footholds in Glasgow, London and Berlin.
When Andrew hosted his first party back in 2007 with edit master, Pilooski, Glasgow's party landscape was very different to what it is today; the social media revolution was still a couple years down the line and the DJs Andrew wanted to see weren't getting booked by the city's promoters. "Glasgow is a competitive scene, and to stand out I was pretty determined to only book artists who’d never played Glasgow or those who I felt an enormous connection with musically" he reflects.
This intuitive, if somewhat brazen self-belief bolstered Andrew's passion, leading to the launch of the Huntleys + Palmers label in 2011, with Auntie Flo's early singles and debut album ‘Future Rhythm Machine’ making a colourful first impression. "Much like doing parties, I didn’t really know what I was doing until I had the first release out the way" says Andrew. "In terms of signing new stuff, I just applied the same sort of logic - don’t go after artists who are already out there, trust my intuition and sign anything that really excites me."
As he prepares to mark ten years of Huntleys + Palmers with a series of special events - including this Thursday's essential soiree with Ben UFO and Lena Willikens at The Art School - Andrew can toast the last decade in the knowledge that he's stayed resolutely true, and it's produced incredible results.
Listen to Andrew’s ten years of Huntleys + Palmers mix on Solid Steel Radio below and read our full interview in which we retrace the last decade of H + P – from humble beginnings as a spontaneous party to a defining label driven by musical discovery:
SG: Huntleys + Palmers launched at very transformative time for club promotion and media – which you neatly refer to as ‘the heyday of MySpace and message boards’. What inspired your first party in 2007 and how did you approach promoting it?
Andrew: I’d just turned 23 when I threw the first party, so had been going out practically every weekend for 5 years in Glasgow. I’d also travel down south or have the odd trip abroad on occasion to visit venues like Fabric and see DJs that I was really into and who weren’t getting booked up here at the time.
Eventually, after a lot of complaining about this, I decided to do something about it and start my own parties booking whoever I was discovering. That being said, I didn’t have much of a plan beyond booking Pilooski whose edits I was massively into, and he seemed to represent a sound that was quite sophisticated, but still very party-driven and fun.
MySpace was becoming more prevalent around that point and message boards like the Slam Board and Optimo were a really good way to connect with the scene, discover new music and waste a lot of spare time - much like Facebook is now.
I decided that I didn’t want to have a flyer, so agonised over this compilation CD which I then burned one at a time, wrapped in newspaper and sealed with a label which had the MySpace address with the party details and tracklisting. Incidentally, the name was only ever meant to be a temporary thing until I thought of something better, but it eventually stuck and I’m still explaining it all this time later.
SG: At that time you were based in a rather intimate space called The Research Club in University Gardens. How would you describe the early H+P events and what type of guests were you booking?
Andrew: After getting the first one out the way, I became quite bolstered by the response and my life had a bit of a void after banging on about this one event for months beforehand, so very quickly after that, I got back on the horse and started to work through a list of artists I’d like to see come and play, and that hasn’t stopped since.
I tried to keep the CD idea going for as long as possible, but it was too time consuming, and once I got the hang of how things worked behind the scenes, I began to get busier. Stereo had also just opened and I started to do stuff there after doing a couple at the Research Club and then alternated between the two for about a year.
The Hetherington Research Club, circa 2007
Looking back, Pilooski was a really great first booking as he had never played Glasgow before and his sound was pretty all-encompassing. Glasgow is a competitive scene, and to stand out I was pretty determined to only book artists who’d never played Glasgow, or those who I felt an enormous connection with musically. That meant that I was taking more risks and I think people who were into these quite niche names began to connect with what I was doing as they probably thought they’d never see these artists ever play in Glasgow either, so I think that helped connect with folk outwith my immediate social circle.
Unit 4, Turzi, Joakim, Marissa Nadler, James Pants, Silver Apples, Aeroplane and Solomun all played during the first year. I’m a HUGE James Holden fan and as I felt there was a bit of momentum, I got in touch and explained about what I was doing and that I’d love to have him come to play; I didn’t actually expect him to agree! I think he was feeling a bit pigeon-holed in the minimal techno world and I was defiantly against that sort of sound too, so it was a good match, but as a total fanboy I couldn’t - still can’t - believe that happened so early on.
SG: You launched the Huntleys + Palmers label in 2011 with an early release from Brian D’Souza aka Auntie Flo. How did you meet Brian and what was the catalyst behind the label?
Andrew: Brian and I were bumping into each other pretty regularly when we were out and about at parties and afters. He was part of the Slabs crew, who had quite a strict booking policy of either Detroit style stuff or Italo, but Brian also had a large interest in other types of music and we connected through talking about records and music. This then led us to start talking about doing something together, which became the Highlife parties.
Shortly after the first event, he sent me a demo and it completely blew me away. It encompassed everything I was into musically at that point and I was seriously impressed. Initially, he was hoping that I could help with putting him in touch with labels through the people I was booking, but for a while prior to that, I was harbouring the idea of starting my own one and had came to the conclusion that I’d wait for the right music to find me. So I talked him into the idea of releasing it ourselves, and it then went on to become his debut album, ‘Future Rhythm Machine’.
SG: You’ve since featured important releases from the likes of SOPHIE, DrumTalk and Hi & Saberhagen, not to mention an early mix from Helena Hauff. How did the label progress from your initial release? Were you quite assured in its musical direction?
Andrew: Much like doing parties, I didn’t really know what I was doing until I had the first release out the way. In terms of signing new stuff, I just applied the same sort of logic - don’t go after artists who are already out there, trust my intuition and sign anything that really excites me. The first two releases were really well received, sold out and had a lot of support by a lot of big DJs like Villalobos, Caribou, Ben UFO, etc; so after a promising start, it was a bit of a humbling experience to realise that wasn’t always going to be the case, and not every record I liked was going to make the same connection with others.
I’d like to think that my hit-rate in discovering new artists is pretty decent, and I think the label is a good stepping-stone for emerging artists to get a bit of attention before going off to do something bigger elsewhere, which suits me, as by that point I already have a whole bunch of new music to put out there, and so it goes…
SG: Last year you launched a spin-off series called ‘Clyde Built’ which is entirely focused on new and unsigned Glaswegian talent. How did you source the music? And were you surprised by the quality and abundance of talent on offer?
Andrew: About 10 releases in, I was beginning to discover more artists who I wanted to help get their music out, and doing a release per artist at a time wasn’t fast enough, so I started a sort of compilation series on the label called ‘Chapters’. There have been 3 in the series to date, each with a loose theme, and I was planning to do the fourth one focussing on Glasgow.
At the time I wasn’t living here, but had an idea of who I wanted to have on there; then I moved back and started to work as the booker at Sleazys, where I made it my business to reconnect with the scene and figure out who was doing what. So the list grew longer and longer, and I began to feel a bit anxious about how to present all this music with such a variant in styles, which was high in quality and low in profile.
Separately to this, I had been having conversations with the Boiler Room about doing a label showcase in Glasgow and was quite keen to show a different side than had been portrayed on the previous sessions; so it was held in a different venue and I had a range of DJs who are connected to the label and the H+P story in their own right. At some point it occurred to me to suggest to BR about doing a compilation of lesser known Glasgow artists, and here we are.
I wasn’t surprised about the abundance as I already had a bit of knowledge about who was doing what, and there was actually a bunch of people who missed out on the first release because of the tight deadline to turn it around, so I already had the urge to do a second one with a whole new squad of faces because the first one was received so well.
I think one of the reasons the scene is so strong here is because there is a big enthusiasm for the music itself; people really care about what they go out and dance to, so it’s not that surprising that the production quality would be high as well.
SG: The first of the H+P 10 celebrations takes place at The Art School with Ben UFO, Lena Willikens, Sapphire Slows and 12th Isle. Why is Ben the right person to mark the occasion? And what can you tell us about the other acts on the bill?
Andrew: Having booked Lena Willikens regularly since her first ever UK gig back in 2012, she quickly became one of my favourite all time DJs and someone who helped me figure out my own style. There has been some discussion about doing a party with her and Ben UFO for a while now following a few b2b dates they had been playing together, and it just so happens to fall on this year, but in saying that, I think Ben is an appropriate booking for the birthday.
Funnily enough, I’ve just found out that (Ben's label) Hessle is celebrating their 10th anniversary this year too, so we were both starting out at the same time. Probably for the first 5 years though, he was more connected to dubstep, which was pretty far removed from what I was into, but I feel like our tastes have been running in a similar parallel for a good few years now, and the combination of him and Lena together is one that really excites me.
His openness and lack of pretension to all different kinds of music is very apparent and I love that he has a huge following on that basis, who he continues to share interesting music with. Sapphire Slows is someone I’ve been into for about 4-5 years now and it’s never been feasible to book her until this particular date as she’s based in Japan and not hugely well known in Europe. 12th Isle started their residency at Sleazys at the same time as I did and I’ve been really impressed by what they’ve been doing and I’m excited to watch them evolve.
SG: You’ve hinted at some big plans and parties over the rest of your anniversary year; without giving too much away, what else can we look forward to?
Andrew: I’ve just finalised the next two big parties in Glasgow on either side of the summer. I’d love to tell all, but have learned that it’s better to wait and allow excitement to build closer to the time. I can say that there will be some big guests from the past, alongside some new exciting faces who’ve never played in Glasgow before. There’s also a few releases I’m really excited about and can’t quite believe they are happening. Watch this space I guess…
SG: Finally, ten years of parties is a remarkable achievement. What would you describe as your most memorable highlight? And what keeps Huntleys + Palmers driving forward?
Andrew: I’ve been thinking about this a bit recently in anticipation of questions like this…why am I still doing this when there have been so many other hyped nights which have stopped a few years in? The answer is definitely the music. There has never been any specific plan; I’ve just been on my own musical journey, discovering new artists and sounds that I connect with, and that has taken over and set the path ahead. Maybe I am pretty good at persevering, but that comes back to being enthused about what I’m doing this for, and if I’d been looking to make a quick buck, I’d have realised very quickly that this is the wrong game to do that in.
I guess I’m in a fortunate position where I now have different ways to communicate these discoveries - either by booking someone, putting out their record, DJ’ing, doing a radio show or recording a mix, and with these outlets I have extra motivation to keep on looking for more.
Out of hundreds and hundreds of events - there was 60 in one year alone - there really is too many to pick out one. Some are special because they were absolutely sold out and everyone was buzzing about getting in, others are special because they were pretty quiet, but full of the right people whose enthusiasm made up for the rest.
Huntleys + Palmers start their tenth anniversary celebrations this Thursday (23rd) at The Art School with Ben UFO, Lena Willikens, Sapphire Slows and 12th Isle. Advance tickets are available now via Resident Advisor priced at £10.00 (excl fees).