When it comes to throwing parties, it’s often a thankless task that leaves many hopeful promoters with a failed dream and an empty pocket. Yet there’s an abundance of successful crews out there that nail it, with some of them managing to pull it off all on a stressful shoestring. But how do they do it and what is the secret to surviving an increasingly competitive scene?
Meet SHAKE, three young chaps from Middlesbrough who, over the last two years, have been responsible for throwing parties with a raucous reputation… as well as introducing the native ‘Parmo’ to whomever they book.
Denis Sulta, Peggy Gou, Mall Grab, Gerd Janson and Joy Orbison are but a few of the names on an impressive booking list, and are all names that would otherwise have never graced Teesside. See, not only have these three lads followed their passion for disco and house music by bringing their favourite DJs to their hometown, but unassumingly, they have created a new home for electronic music in the midst of a somewhat lethargic city nightlife.
In addition to their monthly club parties where they warm up for the main booking, they also host a free party at a local bar, donning the decks themselves. Their success has not gone unnoticed, and last year they were invited to play at the Campfire Headphase tent at one of the UK’s best small festivals, Farr Festival. To put it mildly, they well and truly seized the opportunity. By the end of their set they had pulled in the biggest crowd of the weekend for the Campfire stage and were rewarded with another invitation to this year’s edition.
With their rising popularity and a growing fanbase – their summer party for 2018 sold out within six hours – SHAKE have spread their reach by throwing parties in Leeds at Hifi and Wire. Ahead of an enticing summer, we caught up with them to find out how to make it as young promoters…
What was the thinking behind setting up SHAKE?
Five or six years ago, we realised we were all getting into the same kind of music, and in 2014, the three of us went to Leeds to see Motor City Drum Ensemble at Butter Side Up- this was the turning point for us, we knew that we wanted to start throwing parties together.
Parties like these were a lot different to anything that was going on in Middlesbrough; we wanted to be able to play the music that we love to our friends and bring our favourite DJs to the area for the first time. Together, we’d all already been playing in clubs in Manchester and Hull before we started SHAKE in early 2016, and after getting a great response from DJing together at a local party at renowned Boro club The Empire, we got our first two dates locked in at our favourite club Medicine Bar.
As young promoters and event organisers, how have you found the whole process? Would you recommend it to others wanting to do similar?
Starting SHAKE has certainly opened a lot of doors for us personally. You learn a lot from running events so we’d 100% tell anybody that’s in two minds to go for it. However, bear in mind that it can blow hot and cold – you’ve gotta be prepared to lose out on certain parties as it’s pretty much a given for every promoter at some stage.
There’s been times where the stress and anxiety in the preceding weeks has made us question whether we should keep going at all. In the early days, one of our parties flopped massively, but it acted as a learning curve and it’s helped us out in the long run. We wouldn’t change anything that’s happened along the way. We’ve had so many positive experiences and some of our best memories have been made throwing these parties.
How has the town of Middlesbrough reacted to your events? Is there a notable difference nightlife-wise?
People seem to be really enjoying them. Seeing tweets, posts and messages from people saying they’ve had a great night makes all the stress worthwhile for us.
Middlesbrough has always had a strong nightlife, going back to the days of Sugar Shack in the late nineties, which was one of the best house nights in the country and hosted everybody from Masters at Work to Carl Cox. We’re all too young to have gone there ourselves, but growing up we had the likes of Riffraff & Ruckus around, who definitely played a part in developing our musical styles.
In more recent times, we just felt that there was nowhere to go in the area to dance to disco, soulful house and 90s US garage, so we saw it as the ideal time to bring something new to the scene and thankfully it’s paid off for us. It’s also been nice to see people who’ve been regulars at SHAKE events setting up their own parties and thinking in a similar way to how we did!
What has been one of the most enjoyable aspects of running SHAKE and what have been some of the hurdles you’ve faced?
One of the things that gives us the most satisfaction from throwing parties is bringing all our mates together and just seeing everybody having a sick time with each other.
We’ve met a lot of sound people through SHAKE and on the whole, everybody is super supportive of what we’re trying to do. Playing alongside some of the world’s biggest DJs ain’t too shabby either!
It’s still quite baffling to us how we’ve managed to persuade the likes of Joy Orbison and Gerd Janson to come and play in our small town. Being able to get these names has meant we’ve been able to expand into throwing parties in Leeds which we’ve been really excited about. We sold out our first show with Manchester’s Transmission Funk & Kornel Kovacs, and we also sold out our upcoming show with Ross From Friends at the end of April.
Leeds is a city that we’ve been visiting for years to see DJs, so to now be selling out the likes of Wire & Hifi is mad.
In contrast, Middlesbrough can be a tough cookie. Everybody knows everybody in Boro, it’s a very working-class area where people will graft all week and then let themselves go on the weekend to look for some sort of escapism. There isn’t much of a student presence here and the population is really small, so there isn’t much of a scene in comparison to some of the cities around us like Newcastle and Leeds!
You recently threw a party with Tom Trago in Middlesbrough in partnership with Farr Festival, how did it go?
It was class bringing Tom over from Amsterdam to make his Middlesbrough debut, he’s a top guy and we got the chance to play an impromptu B2B with him which was a whole lot of fun!
He also tried a Parmo (if you know, you know) for the first time too, which has become a bit of a ritual with us and our guests, so be prepared for a calorie overload if you’re coming to play for us. Teaming up with Farr Festival was huge for us, we’ve been going to the festival for a couple of years now and it’s one of our favourites.
Last year you brought in the biggest crowd that the Campfire Headphase tent saw all weekend. How does it feel to be playing back at Farr again this year?
That night was the highpoint for us running SHAKE, and is easily one of the best experiences of our lives. We brought about 50 of our mates down from Teesside too, so it gave us a bit of a headstart with filling the tent out haha. It was mad really, definitely a lot different to the three of us mixing together in Brad’s bedroom when we started off!
We had tweets coming at us afterwards saying stuff like ‘best set of the festival’ – and I’m pretty sure Brad came out of the tent and said that he felt like he’d just had a kid he was that buzzing.
We’re over the moon that Oscar and the gang asked us to come back to Farr this year, we can’t wait. It’s always a wicked vibe, the crowd are always on the same wavelength and really clued up musically, plus the line-up this year is incredible. We’re playing on the Thursday this year, keep an eye out and come join us for a boogie!
Tom, you’ve recently released your first production as an individual where you’re called Dansemode, have you some more productions lined up? Are you playing anywhere over summer?
I’ve just released my first record ‘Fonda U 2’ as a part of the first various artists compilation on new Irish label Jelly Red – which is ran by super-talented producer Mark Laird, who also sits alongside me on the EP. I’ve just put together the first edition of their mix series too and I’m buzzing with how it’s turned out. As far as new productions go I’m currently plucking away in the studio and should have some more out fairly soon.
Gigs this summer are looking pretty good, as well as Farr Festival we’ve also been asked to play at The Garden Party in Leeds at the end of August, which is huge for us. I’ve potentially got some more Dansemode stuff in the pipeline in London & Manchester too!
What is the rest of 2018 looking like for SHAKE?
We’ve got our series of SHAKE Summer Daze terrace parties in Middlesbrough, the first of which sold out within six hours! These went so well last year, we put loads of venue installations and decorations around the terrace and had our close friends Blackfish doing some live guitar jams over the top of our set which fit the vibe perfectly. We’ll also be playing a few more gigs down the road in Leeds at Wire and Hifi.
Bringing a new concept to the area each year is important to us as it keeps things fresh, not only for ourselves but for the dancers too. We’ve got something in the works that isn’t 100% yet, but if it comes off it’ll be another big addition to the local nightlife, so fingers crossed!
And hopefully, we’ve got some big-hitters returning to Teesside towards the back end of the year that have played for us before, so we’re hoping these come off too.
Expansion into other areas in the UK like Liverpool and Manchester is also something which we’ve been looking into, so maybe we’ll be coming to an area near you soon!
Catch Shake at Farr Festival, July 5-8. Tickets available here.
Words: Samuel Asquith