In Conversation With: Summer-ized Sessions
I invited the guys and gals from the Summer-ized Sessions events team for a casual, friendly, and very open chat about their recent Secret Garden Rave tour and what they have coming up. They were generous with their answers, offering insight into the finer points of putting on an event, and even giving some great advice on the inner workings of how to make a great night a great success…
Shane Fernandes (SF), Owner
Kieren Lythgow (KL), Events Co-ordinator, and Resident DJ
Paulina Skwara (PS), Events Operations Manager
Donna Love (DL), Artist Bookings, and Resident DJ
You guys are putting on your first tour, you’ve just finished your first tour which was last year, 2019. As far as I gathered, which was pretty much the inspiration behind doing this particular piece, it went down kinda well.
SF: It went down very well!
KL: Took us by surprise, almost.
PS: It did go down very well, yeah.
What made you come to the point where you decided to do a tour?
SF: Secret Garden Rave is one of the event concepts, and after starting off as a good event in London – many sold out shows in different venues, like 93 Feet East, and Steelyard – we decided to take it on tour because it was one of our most popular parties, and it felt unfair if we didn’t actually take it from the capital to all across the country. Last year, we went to most of the major cities, and it’s been a great learning experience: working with different people, different venues, sourcing different crews for different places. A massive learning experience, but I think we came out on top.
KL: Yeah, and to add to that, you’ve gotta take risks with these things. It was so successful in London, it seemed like a natural consequence to go around the country… and it’s paid off.
SF: The next step, basically, yeah.
PS: This was my first year, so I don’t really have a frame of reference to what was going on before, but for such a successful event not to be taken out of London would be a massive shame, and I think that was predominantly what the thinking was behind it: so that we can just share the love around the UK, really. And it did go really really well… but, y’know, it had its challenges, and I think we’ve all worked very hard, and things were stressful, but at the end of the day, that’s what makes a good event: you work hard to deliver something that’s amazing for everyone… and we managed to do that!
Yeah, definitely. After-movies are a thing these days, and yours are always incredible!
KL: Yeah, they’ve been getting a lot of attention.
And they look… bangin’!
KL: Sourcing the right videographers and photographers for those is essential. You get the right people in – and there are a lot of people doing it – you get the people who can get it looking that good.
SF: Yeah, and you can get the best videographers, but there’s also putting an event on of that stature to capture those moments. And those moments are created by not just putting DJs on, and not just running a night but by putting an experience on – which is music, a visual experience, and everything all together. It keeps your crowd engaged, and delivers something that looks like what you see in those videos. It’s creating all of that together, really.
DL: It’s amazing how popular the shows have been in the other cities, because it’s all been new territory for us, as well! It’s always a big risk when you take a show that’s been unheard of previously to a new city: you don’t know if it’s gonna go down well or not. But you can see from the after-movies that they’re just going down an absolute treat, and that the crowd have all just come and enjoyed it, and just thrown themselves into it. So it’s been a big success.
So with Summer-ized Sessions, where did Secret Garden Rave as a concept come from?
SF: Summer-ized has been what started off as a mix-CD, and then it evolved into a radio show, and then turned into events, and has been going since 2013. Since then, we’ve done day parties, we started AfterDark, and Secret Garden Rave was a similar concept that we came up with where we wanted to create this whole experience. At the beginning it was us, getting our hands dirty and doing the production ourselves, putting up décor, and getting all of that done ourselves – getting confetti all over us for days… and weeks!
KL: The worst part of it was taking it down afterwards. We had to be responsible for that when you do what’s called the “dry hire”, and it was just horrendous – with a hangover, as well!
SF: After the party, turning up the next day! That was painful.
KL: Yeah… it was something we chose not to do again! [laughs]
So, going from stand-alone events to a whole tour, what would you say are the must-haves and must-nots you wanted to bring over?
SF: Having an audience to deliver something like this to, because it costs a lot. You have to know your market, know who you’re selling to, and gage from that how much you spend… and don’t overspend, because you could end up broke. We’ve taken it in our stride and started off slowly without taking giant strides, we’ve been adventurous in tapping certain cities… but we’ve done it very calculatedly. And in 2020 we’re actually doing it even more so.
PS: I think, to add to that, the biggest must-have for me personally is having a team. Nobody could do this on their own: there’s too many things to look into, to look after. I joined, Donna joined, Alayna as well, and that enabled us to do so much more in such a small and shorter time-frame. We actually have full-time jobs: this is what we do on the side, so spreading the responsibility helps a lot.
KL: It wouldn’t have been possible to do a tour without the team we’ve got now.
SF: Yeah! Before, when we just did London, it was Kieren and me when we started off, and then last year we built a team: and it wasn’t just about delivering events, it was actually a whole team-building exercise that went hand-in-hand with the events – so yeah, a proper Events Operations Team.
KL: Yeah, and definitely make sure the CO2 cannon’s connected!
DL: Also, on the artist and headliner side of things, it’s quite important to book a headliner that is relevant in the scene, does a lot of shows that are current, and has a lot of releases out. You could book a headliner that’s a big name, but they maybe haven’t been as present on social media, and are maybe not gonna draw much of a crowd. It’s those little things that all add up to making the show a success.
SF: We’re not the big boys.
KL: We have been called the mini-Elrow a couple of times.
Really? Who by?
KL: Me, mainly.
So going back to the transition from single events to grand tour, how has the workload changed?
DL: Being in charge of the Artists’ bookings, it’s as much negotiating with the agency for headliner fees, contracts, all the little details, down to whether we cover accommodation, rider, technical setup. On the resident and guests side of things, it’s who we’re picking for the night, making sure they’re on top of social media, sending invites, sharing/liking posts, and generally just shouting about the event to get it more out there and raise awareness of the event.
SF: Yeah, I think in our capacity as a smaller brand compared to the big guys we’re going up against, it’s essential that everyone, as a collective effort, puts this brand out there, and puts these events out there… because otherwise, it wouldn’t happen. Unless you are Toolroom, or Defected, or doing festivals, people don’t know. When you’re small you need a collective effort to compete against the big events.
PS: And I think, in terms of the workload, after all the hard work that was put into making a name for ourselves in London, now we have to extend to other cities… and that is exponentially harder because nobody has heard about you, so you have to do that much more to actually get yourself noticed in that particular scene – especially when you’re talking about cities that are the clubbing capitals outside of London, like Manchester: you have to break through the noise. The other thing is, we are working on multiple events at the same time! It’s not like we do an event and then move to the next one, we’re working on three events ahead of time, throughout the entire year. So, in very real terms, instead of one, it’s three: whatever you’d do on one, you’ve had to do on three… for the whole year.
Wow… that sounds… stressful AF!
KL: I’m responsible for the crew – videographers, dancers, glitter artists, et cetera – and in London we’ve got a lot of people we know now, that we can rely on. But then we’re in another city, where we don’t know anybody, so we have to go on recommendations, Facebook posts, researching who’s good to work within that city. It’s a bit of a nightmare, especially when you’re somewhere brand new.
SF: And budgets! Lookin’ at clients, doing background checks on what clubs to work with, every different aspect of that is research. From what cities to target, to what venues have what passing trade, engagement, the crowd that actually visits these places: we’ve actually picked very specific clubs, even with logistics, like décor restrictions, certain floor plans, ceiling requirements. You have to look at all of that.
KL: Bringin’ in new people as well. Alayna’s busy doing ticket-work, and knows all the different ticket websites because they’re different in different cities: up north it’s Skiddle, down here [in London] it’s Resident Advisor. And bringing in Paulina to do the whole Operations management really helps in making the whole thing a lot more organised, and seamless.
PS: Yeah, for all those reasons, each event is different, so you have to know what questions to ask, when to ask them, and ask them before! Risk assessments, et cetera… it’s basically, prep, prep, prep, prep, prep – because you can’t just wing it on the day: you have to be very organized, and very fastidious.
KL: Yeah, prep on the day! That’s a whole other topic!
So with all the variety of acts available, how do you decide what headliner to have at which event?
DL: Well, with what I mentioned before, we also take into account what musical style they play as well – that’s probably the most important thing. For example, with Secret Garden Rave, the music policy is quite Tech-House, verging into Techno, so that’s what we would look at. But then you’ve got regional variances as well: for example, the crowd in Glasgow might like it a bit heavier than they do down in Brighton… you would tailor it in that way, to the people that would most likely attend your event.
So, just going back to the point about what happens on an evening being a whole different story…
KL: Yeah, so, on the day, you’ve got so much going on, and you’ve got a checklist to make sure that everything is absolutely covered, but as long as you’re going through it like a flow chart to make sure everything is ready – like crew turning up at different times, and making sure someone is there to meet & greet them – there’s the production on stage, confetti cannons, CO2, set-up for the DJ, sound tests, the décor, all of that. When we started off, when it was just me and Shane, we learned a lot about what can go wrong, and what you need to prep for.
SF: It’s not just turning up on the day and wingin’ it anymore.
PS: It really starts, like, 48 hours before.
So, your on-the-day is actually two days in advance?
PS: Oh god, yeah! It has to be, because you can’t just show up and think “right what’s going on?” The 48 hours is when you start making final checks, like whether everybody is still available, everybody knows where they’re going. Then at 24 hours, it’s making sure the finer details are sorted, so that you turn up during the day to check how everything is going – because sometimes they can be going smoothly, sometimes they might be going to shit! – and you have to be able to react there & then to try fixing problems: otherwise, you could turn up at nine o’clock and find the décor couldn’t go up because of a problem that you didn’t know about. Don’t assume anything! Everything is checked, and triple-checked, so that all of this prep leaves you time to react to things on the night… because it’s Events: something will always go wrong! The key is to make sure that no-one out there, that paid to be here, notices.
SF: Which brings you back to one of the must-haves: to remain calm in all situations, and thinking “it is what it is… what do we do from here?”
SF: Even with Pacha, when we did that, like: decks don’t work, one deck’s died, monitor doesn’t work, the amp’s blown! Or when we did Egg once, and all the visuals were ready, and all the stuff that I was gonna give out… but then we left all of that stuff in the back of the taxi!
KL: And there was a particular event down at 93 Feet East, when it was just me and Shane, and so much was going wrong, like the door staff going to the wrong venue because they hadn’t read anything, the burger van having a break-down because he’d spilt oil everywhere, the guys and some of the crew were falling out, and then the accommodation that had been booked didn’t exist!
KL: But you learn how to mitigate against the circumstances. Like Shane said, keeping a cool head is so essential. If you get stressed, it affects everybody else.
PS: Yeah, and it doesn’t stop there, it’s through the event, and a little bit after. You’re on call throughout the night, and pretty much spend 12 to 14 hours constantly working and running around. So give yourself enough space so that if everything goes smoothly, you shouldn’t be doing anything: that’s the goal.
KL: And that’s why the after-parties are so essential.
That’s the debrief…!
SF: Casually, maybe yes, but we do have a proper debrief, a proper ops catch-up.
PS: There’s a whole post-event debrief/things that need to be closed-off …and only then can you actually close the event.
SF: An event’s not wrapped up on the day, there’s a lot that goes on after, we have meetings: a lot of work goes on before and after the event.
PS: There’s the debrief, there’s invoicing; there’s all sorts of different things.
Have you had any headliner or artist problems on the actual night itself?
SF: I think every headliner that’s played for us has absolutely loved it, got involved with us, mixed around with the team, and actually loved playing for us. And most of them usually wanna come back.
KL: We look after them.
DL: There’s not been anyone that’s not turned up. There’s been no disasters that way, everyone’s been on time. No, so far so good – touch wood!
SF: Most headliners love playin’ for us, once they’ve met us. And they’ve always complimented how we run things.
PS: Like, we invite them to dinner, we try to get them engaged outside of the actual just ‘show up and play’ situation. And if they do/they don’t, that’s absolutely down to them – some do, some don’t – but the invitation is there, so we try to bring them on more than just ‘we’ll pay you to come and do the job.’
SF: It’s not ‘strictly business’ with us, it’s like being part of a family reunion. And most events with Summer-ized have always been that way, because the thing was all of us meeting up and having a good time. Even now, before an event, we all meet up for dinner, then head to the venue and do our jobs: it’s not just running an event, it’s not just business, it’s a family.
Wow, yeah, you really do put on a vibe.
SF: That all contributes towards creating an atmosphere, and actually adding a feel. It’s not a machine.
DL: I think that’s part of the reason why the headliners and guests do always ask to come back, because they feel so welcome, and have a good time.
So let’s talk about the tour comin’ up… what’s in store for this year?
SF: It’s very big for us, this year. We’re kinda doubling up on the events and the cities that were successful last year, and we’ve taken into account new cities which we’re targeting this year, as well. And we’ve already started the events up, and they’re looking great. We’re going back to Manchester, we’ve got three shows in London, we’ve got Liverpool, Bournemouth, Glasgow, and there’s still more shows to be confirmed, so there’s a lot coming and everything’s taken to a new level – from the events side, the décor: we’re switching things up!
PS: This year, we’re trying to push a little bit outside of our ‘safety box’ so-to-speak. In terms of the décor especially, and how we approach the parties themselves, we’re trying to push ourselves a little bit further, because obviously we have a feel that we wanna continue with, but at the same time we don’t wanna bring the same product to the same people over and over again. To expand you have to play around with it, so we’re looking into innovating a bit more.
KL: And a great thing is that the excitement is really building up. Glasgow Live did a whole article on the upcoming show in September, and we didn’t know anything about that, and there’s been so many messages about that event.
Oh, really! Who from, punters?
KL: Punters, but also people wanting to work/dance, glitter artists, anyone.
SF: So, yeah, there’s a lot of build-up towards these things now, and it’s working really well. I think what we started in 2019 is finally shaping our 2020. The whole of 2019 was ‘work-in-progress’ towards what we were building. Even 2020 is a work-in-progress, because the finished product is gonna be something that will blow everyone’s minds, and 2020 is a massive part of it. We started in 2019 with the tour, and we’re just getting better and better at it.
PS: I would just build on that with, I don’t think we’ll ever have a finished product, we’ll keep pushing, keep innovating, challenging ourselves. Even with Secret Garden Rave itself, it will keep evolving, because that’s the whole idea – to keep doing what you’re doing, but better and better, and bigger, and more exciting. You have amazing promoters putting amazing shows on, but they’re mainly focused on getting a great line-up, and having a great light show. What we bring is this different feel to a room when you walk in and start to dance and have a good time. It’s an experience, it’s not just you go raving. You go in and interact in a different way with the environment that you’re in.
KL: I’ve had friends come to our show, and they don’t like House music, they hate it. They’re overly critical about it almost… and they came to one of the shows, and they said they had one of the best nights of their life, and it’s because it’s such a good experience they absolutely loved it.
SF: If you can inspire someone who doesn’t listen to House music into listening to House music through something like this, then why not!
PS: And we do bring a very specific kind of crowd… a very engaging, very open, friendly kind of crowd. Like, sometimes you can go to an event, and it’s a great event – great music, great lights – but everybody seems to be a little bit off in their own little groups. Whereas with our events, everybody seems to be doing it together, and everybody’s making new friends, looking after each other, and it’s all kinda bringing this very communal vibe, if that makes sense?
PS: Yeah, very much so! – the likes of which you’d be hard-pressed to find in any other sort of events.
KL: We get some great feedback on Skiddle, and they have actually gone into a bit of detail about how good their time was.
DL: From a headliner point of view, there’s a whole tour to organize for the year ahead, so we’re heavily ‘under construction’ with all the line-ups at the minute. Just trying to book as many headliners upfront as possible, so we get our pick of the bunch, basically – all the main ones on our wishlist. I mean, there’s not too much I can disclose about names at the minute – we’ve only just announced Manchester’s headliners Pirate Copy and Maxinne, it’s a double-bill for Manchester – but I can give you a couple of hints: we’re looking at having two of our more popular/favourite artists from 2019 back again to feature on the tour… and we also have one big name in particular who’s been on the scene for over a decade, which we’re really excited [about] if this goes through, but these are all under wraps at the minute, there’s lots of exciting headliners to announce.
Well, I don’t wanna get in your way, I feel like you guys have got so much work to do! I’m just gonna throw myself out the window, to be honest: get out of here as quick as I can! Thanks very much!
The 2020 Secret Garden Rave Tour starts on the 14th March at GORILLA in Manchester, CLICK HERE for tickets and more.