We’re joined by a man who i-D magazine declared as “leading the next wave of hella great producers”. His music is being championed by Radio 1, Capital, MTV, 1xtra, and Kiss, he has been critically acclaimed by the Guardian newspaper, Hunger magazine, Mixmag magazine and Digital Spy magazine. His summer anthem ‘I Wanna Feel’ sold in excess of 200,000 copies, racked up 9.7million views on YouTube, on the way to debuting at number 1 on the UK national singles chart. Not content with success in this country, that runaway hit ‘I Wanna Feel’ peaked at number 3 on the US Billboard chart. From Chicago, Illinois to Sussex, now taking it to the world, it’s the DJ/producer known as Secondcity.
It’s been like a whirlwind for you, out of nowhere Secondcity just happened, and now you’re transatlantic with the music, has it felt like a whirlwind for you?
Yeah massively, yeah huge.
When you were working on ‘I Wanna Feel’, did you anticipate it going as far as it did?
No, not at all. I just made it as a club record and was gonna put it out free, and then obviously I didn’t do that in the end, but that was kind of it. I made the record in two hours, I had no pressure to produce it, no one was saying this is gonna be signed or whatever, so it was really easy for me to do and I just made it something that I could play, that represented a 90s house sound.
Let’s rewind a little bit because this whirlwind has happened, people have seen you come out of nowhere. Let’s get a 360-degree view of you. Secondcity, is that because you were raised in Chicago and then came to this country?
Yeah that’s it.
Do you come from a particularly musical background?
Not in essence no. I guess I grew up listening to house music, and hip-hop, and jazz, and classical, and all kinds of stuff. The house thing was kind of my mum, when I was a kid she used to play 90s house all the time, so I had a lot of that going on, pounded into my head all the time. So I think growing up that was something that I was really drawn to, I really liked it, and she always used to play a lot of tribal beats and African-led samba music, really cool stuff. ‘I Wanna Feel’ to one side, before that I’d been doing a lot more underground music, following that on, house-driven, I guess tribal-y rhythmed house music is what you’d call it.
Obviously you were listening to a lot of music in your house from your mother, coming from Chicago I suppose that’s inevitable that you would be house influenced. When did you make the transition between just listening to music to saying “I wanna become a DJ”?
So I started DJing when I was 13, so probably about two years after I moved back from Chicago. I was just playing hip-hop records, any records that I could find that I could mix together. It wasn’t until I was about 16 that I started making music. But that was just me making music for myself, just in my bedroom, locked away, just making tunes and that was it. It wasn’t until I was probably 23, 24, that I started sending music out to people, like Huxley, and Skream, and Disclosure, and Eats Everything, and people like that. They were the first people I ever sent tunes to. I was working from the age of 18 to 22 up in London, so it took me a long time to finally quit my job and just go for it. It was a hard decision. But I was so passionate about it, I’ve always DJed and my mum was just like “if you don’t do this now, you might never do it.” So I was like “ok cool”, I told my boss I was leaving in a week and he was like, “right what do you need”, and was like, “I need to get a laptop”, and he was like, “I’ll buy you one”. And my boss at the time bought me a laptop, which was like my first proper laptop that I used to produce on.
So let’s move to the single ‘I Wanna Feel’, that’s the one that’s kicked down so many doors for you. Obviously you got a video that goes along with it. What is it about you DJs that end up producing that you don’t wanna be in your videos? DJ Fresh does it!
I just don’t consider myself a pop star, or anything like that, or don’t wanna be known as a commercial act, so I guess I was like, “this is the track, that’s what it represents”, and that’s all I wanted people to take from it. Not like “he’s a commercial pop act now”. I wouldn’t know what I’d do in the video either, cause I don’t sing on it, so it’d just be a bit weird.
So in regards to putting the music together, what was the inspiration behind that?
Basically, like I said just growing up listening to that kind of 90s sound like Frankie Knuckles, and Pete Heller, and people like that, I just thought I really wanna do a record like that, just as a bit of fun. And R&B samples are just the one for it. Toni Braxton, Brandy, must be the most sampled people in house music. So I literally just found this small ten second loop out of a Toni Braxton a cappella, and I played this piano riff, made some drums, looped this vocal about 30 times and that was about it. I bounced the record and was like, “oh cool, that’s fine, I’ll make something else now” and that was it.
You’re booked for events well into 2015 as a DJ. So what’s your most embarrassing experience DJing on stage?
Embarrassing? I haven’t really had one, not at all. I would never let that happen! And I would never tell anyone about it!
Ok what’s your most memorable experience?
Probably Ushuaia in Ibiza was the most memorable, because I looked up to people like Nic Fanciulli, Joris Voorn for a long time, so then I played with them out in Ibiza, so that was a real box ticker for me. And that led to me then doing a remix for Carl Cox, which was like another one on of my list of things I wanted to achieve. Yeah that was very memorable.
Artists are usually judged by their bodies of work. Obviously you’re signed to Ministry of Sound, was that off the back of the single ‘I Wanna Feel’?
Ministry of Sound I only signed to for ‘I Wanna Feel’ and ‘What Can I Do’ just as singles, so I haven’t signed any album deals yet, but I’d love to an album. I’d have to be ready for it. If I was gonna do an album, I’d wanna put like just crazy stuff on it, African music, jazz, classical, house, kind of a broad contrast of everything, hip hop even. Just stuff of what I grew up listening to, a more inspirational album. So that’s why it’s gonna take a bit more time.
You’ve got the single ‘What Can I Do’ featuring Ali Love. Obviously you produced the beats, Ali Love wrote the record itself. What’s the creative history behind that one?
I was making this track, I really wanted to get a guitar on it to add a bit of a disco element, a bit like what Nile Rodgers would do, like Daft Punk or something like that. So I got in with a session guitarist, and he knew Ali Love, and he made the call, got Ali Love in, Ali Love came and wrote the hook, the rest was history. We kind of jammed it live as if we were a band, for about six hours, and then we just started recording it, and we just did it all live, everything, grand pianos and basses, and drums. It was really nice, really good fun.
People don’t really make music like that anymore do they - I make my part, send it to you, you make your part, send it to the other one.
Or it’s made on a laptop. You know there’s nothing bad about that at all, I do that with pretty much 90% of my work but I just thought if I’m gonna do another crossover record, I wanted it to feel like a song. If I ever was gonna perform it live, I feel like I could easily, and it would look good.
The video itself has got like 344,000 views. I like the clever use of mixing animation with live action as well, were you involved in the creative ideas there?
So who’s responsible for all of that then?
It’s one of my best friends actually. He’s done music videos for Chase & Status, and The Black Keys, and some other old bands, and he’s had this idea for a long time and he just really wanted to do it. And I was like, “actually it sounds pretty cool”, and it was a bit different, so I gave him full creative control.
Obviously this is a follow up single and people will say, “ok, is he a one hit wonder?” and ‘I Wanna Feel’ was a runaway hit. Do you feel any added pressure for this single to perform like the other one did?
Not at all, because I don’t judge my artist life or my career on chart success. Obviously if it happens, it’s great, it’s really exciting, but I just judge it on the feedback that I get from records, and the way that people get them or see them or whatever it is. ‘What Can I Do’ is a completely different record to ‘I Wanna Feel’. ‘I Wanna Feel’ for me anyway was like a big club record, whereas this is more like a song. I think it’s a lot more of a slow grower, whereas ‘I Wanna Feel’ was easy, immediate, which is a bit different. I think with club records it tends to be a lot easier to get them through quicker, whereas actual songs might take a year extra for it to resonate. But I don’t think about it, I just make stuff that I love, and as long as I love it and people enjoy it, that’s great.
Looking beyond the EP, anything coming along the track that you can tell people to look out for?
I’m doing a tour, that should be cool. That’s like March, that’s gonna be a tour of friends, people that I look up to, people that sort of inspire me, so that should be good. And then festival stuff starts again, which is gonna be good.
Follow Secondcity on Twitter