#PHANTASYMIX 13: Andrew Thomson

With an incredibly keen curatorial ear and an enviable address book of some of the most genuinely cool characters in contemporary dance music, Huntleys & Palmers founder Andrew Thomson has spent the last ten years evolving into of the most quietly vital practitioners of UK club culture. As a label head, a party promoter and a musical consultant, it’s no surprise that he’s also a fantastic and truly versatile DJ, as is almost immediately evident in this live mix, recorded in anticipation of an eight-hour set at renowned underground Georgia club, Bassiani. 

Since founding Huntleys and Palmers in 2008, Thomson has been instrumental in filling slabs of vinyl and packed-out parties with some of dance music’s finest oddballs. SOPHIE, Mehmet Aslan and Alejando Paz have all benefited from early releases on the label, alongside his creative partner Auntie Flo, with whom he runs the wildly open-minded Highlife label, focusing on experimental dance music from across the globe. His parties have made room behind the decks for some of our current most celebrated DJs, including Lena Willikens, Four Tet, Veronica Vasicka and Talaboman. He’s even had electronic pioneers Silver Apples take to the stage.

With Thomson recently putting the kibosh on a decade of Glasgow parties (aside from a forthcoming, long-awaited shindig with Daphni), Thomson is DJing more than ever, and this mix is the perfect encapsulation of the H&P sound. Take a read of our interview with Thomson below, covering Bassiani, Belters and taking down boundaries, before diving into the latest edition of #PHANTASYMIX.

So, tantalise us with some words about the records to be found in this mix?

This was made in anticipation of my first time playing at the infamous Bassiani club in Georgia a few months ago. Their bookings are a bit more techno'y and I wanted to put something together as a sort of introduction to the H+P world and sound for that particular audience. There's a few label bits and bobs on there and some more classic records. I even broke my rule of never having the same record on another mix and used the same closing track I featured on my Truants mix a few years ago.

For those out there unfamiliar with Bassiani, describe the club and what makes it particularly special, as well as increasingly talked about in revered tones?

It definitely met up to the expectations and then some...

To give you a short summary of my understanding of the scene over there.. Georgia was part of Russia until the 90's and after becoming independent no scene really started to exist until the last 5-6 years, so right now everything feels brand new and exciting. The Russian state also seems to have been replaced by the Orthodox church as an authoritative figure and the Bassiani guys seem to be a leading force for change towards society's views of LGBT rights and relaxing drugs laws.

The venue itself is beneath a 35,000 seater football stadium in the centre of town - which is a pretty grand and unforgettable way to walk into / out of a nightclub. The main dancefloor is in a disused swimming pool, with the decks in the deep end and completely packed with dancers. The atmosphere really reminded me of when I first went to The Arches in Glasgow combined with going to Berghain around 2006 - that feeling where you're not exactly sure what's going to happen, but you can feel a collective air of excitement. Helena Hauff was playing in the main room and I was up in a smaller room - similar in size and set up to the Panorama Bar. During the process of getting booked I was asked if 6 hours would be OK - and of course I was delighted - in the end I played until midday (for 8hrs) and could have kept going if I didn't have a 3 hour drive to the next gig that day. I'd read all the articles beforehand, but they still didn't fully prepare me for the experience. I'm used to playing around 8 hours at the Salon des Amateurs, but that's more of an open to close scenario where I warm up for myself, this was playing peak time music for 8 hours and musically I felt completely free to play whatever and managed to play lots of records I've always kept a hold of just on the off chance that I might get to play them one day, so that was pretty cathartic.

I felt like I'd peaked after that - proper dream gig - and really couldn't be bothered with the next one the following day. It was in a small town called Kutaisi and when I got there I thought it was going to be dead as no one was out in the street at all. I even stepped over a sleeping dog on my way to the club. But it was packed and the atmosphere was amazing - it turns out that there's a small community of promoters, DJ's and clubbers across the country who all travel to support each others events - some had made the same 3 hour drive from Tbilisi as I had and would go back again the next day. Kinda like the stories I used to hear about the generation before me who would travel across the UK to experience different parties. Here's a small insight

I can't wait to go back and would definitely recommend anyone making the trip over there. Direct flights from Luton are really cheap, feel free to give me a shout for suggestions if you're planning to head over.

Your latest sub-label, Belters, is dedicated to just that type of tune (Naum Gabo's 'High On Cat Milk' is also possibly the strangest club tune this year), and seems to be your current priority for releases. What's the benefit of separating strictly 'club' fare from the other material?

As the label's output increased and the more music I was getting sent, I began to realise that it made more sense to split things up a bit. There was already a bit of a discussion about whether this was a 'Huntleys' record or a 'Highlife' one - which was usually defined by whether either Brian or I would play it at our Highlife parties. I also had more album type stuff that I wanted to release too and it felt better to have another avenue for straight up club 'Belters', one for 'Highlife' club music and keep 'Huntleys' for the more esoteric stuff. Also with 3 different labels, I can get more music out.

You compiled the recent Clyde Built Chapter 4, which encompasses nearly 100 tracks from Glaswegian dance producers, of a generally outstanding quality. This is a pretty sensational undertaking. How long was the process and when do you start farming for material once again?

The first one came about pretty quickly in 2015, although there had been some idea germinating for a while before that. I had originally planned to release a 'Chapter' record themed on Glasgow based artists and had maybe 4-5 tracks in mind, but then I moved back to Glasgow and started a booker job at the Nice N Sleazys venue, which plugged me right back into the scene again and started to increase my awareness about who was doing what. When we done a Boiler Room, I was keen to include some Glasgow influences during the broadcast itself and didn't like the idea of leaving anyone out, so the comp idea came to me maybe a week or two before and I managed to use the Boiler Room platform to give it really good start. 

The response was great and I still had a bunch of people who couldn't fit on the first one, so that was an incentive to do another later that year and each time since, I've felt like there's probably not going to be enough new artists and projects (around 20 tracks) to make up another and that I'd have to start going back to the artists on the first comp and mix them up, but each time I've then been hooked up with someone I hadn't heard about before and then their pal and then another and I'm continually amazed - although not surprised -  by just how much good people are doing good stuff at the moment and it definitely makes me feel excited for what lies ahead with the scene in general. The other great thing about these is that it completely bypasses the pretty arduous production process involved with releases. I typically start contacting people with around 2 weeks notice, which means that the music on the comps are as fresh to me as they are to anyone else who's downloaded. The spontaneity is really refreshing.

Huntleys and Palmers has existed as a party and a label for ten years now, and many of the artists you've worked with, and continue to support, have become near-enough household names, or at least in the sort of houses with decent record collections. What do you think those artists - Auntie Flo, Lena Willikens - have done 'right'?

I think these particular examples both have a strong musical identity in common, which is actually still quite broad in terms of what they can play, but they both very much have a sound that can be related to either of them. I really enjoyed reading your interview with Joakim recently where he talks about people connecting with a simpler defined sound and I can definitely relate to his frustration felt by pursuing broader tastes. I feel things are changing for the better in general though - there's a kinda Spotify / shuffle generation who don't really listen to music in terms of genre anymore and I think this can be exemplified with the rise of someone like Hunee who is playing really sophisticated club music to huge audiences. Hopefully being asked 'what kind of music do you play?' will become something of the past. Brian and Lena have managed to develop a trust with their followers which allows them to go off in different directions musically and take their audience with them.

Finally, with your final Glasgow party out the way, where next for H&P?

Actually, there is one more party coming up.. It's a bit awkward as Stamp The Wax just released a film about what were due to be the final events in Glasgow and London and essentially they are. BUT there was one bit of irresistible unfinished business.. I had been trying to book Dan Snaith in Glasgow since 2008, so pretty much for the full duration of running H+P parties -  I recently found out he first met Floating Points at a gig I arranged with them at Plastic People in 2012, which is pretty mad considering how synonymous they have became to each other since.  We also worked on a few other London parties - including the Daphni album launch, but Glasgow never happened for one reason or another. Then around the same time of announcing the final parties, I got the go ahead to book him in Glasgow and I considered presenting it as something new, but that's not really where I see things going and it felt more natural tell this story rather than present it as something else...
After that though, my main plans are to commit the time, energy and resources into the label and associated projects. There will be label showcases and things like that on an events side, but more in collaboration with venues rather than it all being on me. I'm also DJ'ing and travelling way more than ever before and really enjoying myself in the process, so I've got enough to keep me busy. In many ways not much will appear to change from the outside, but for me, the change is huge. One thing that kinda bugged me over the past few years is that H+P would mainly be described as a label - even though far more effort, energy and stress was going into promoting a party than a typical release, so letting go of that feels quite freeing and I'd like to think that instead of booking someone early in their career, we can now collaborate in different ways.

John Thorp, April 2018

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