A Conversation with a Stranger, with Harri & Domenic

Harri & Domenic (James Harrigan and Domenic Cappello) are in uncharted territory and hold a position many of the world’s most successful DJs would certainly envy. They are a clubbing institution in their hometown Glasgow and their reputation precedes wherever they go as the residents of Sub Culture – a residency that’s been held every Saturday for the best part of Sub Club’s thirty year existence. They are the residents of arguably the most successful residency in the world, at one of its most successful clubs.

Sub Club’s biography moves perpendicular to House music’s history with its roots in the various precursors to the genre and an attitude rather than a style or trend. In the working class Scottish town Sub Club offered escape from the mundane through the dance floor. Starting out as club night, before moving in permanently into the premises in Jamaica street, Sub Club established itself as the pre-eminent House club in the summer of ‘89, the second summer of love.

A year later, Harri would join the ranks of Sub Club with a new residency called Atlantis., establishing a relationship with the club that lasts up to the present. Domenic joined the fray after playing a few warm up sets at Atlantis, and when Harri would part ways with the rest of the Atlantis crew, he and Domenic would create Subculture, a weekly residency that spans almost the entire existence of the club.

Harri & Domenic, Sub Club and Subculture have defied all odds to exist as long within this trend-informed industry and culture as they have done and they continue to remain on point. They’ve continually inspired and cultivated new talent through their ranks, with names like Optimo (JD Twitch & Jonnie Wilkes), Slam, Jackmaster and Numbers all passing through its ranks. It’s a legacy that endures today with Harri & Domenic and their Subculture residency leading the charge.

Their sets and bookings remain on cue, capturing the spirit of House installed all those years back, not as a genre but rather a mood or an attitude. Their sets wander through styles and eras with the weight of their extensive knowledge pulsing through their selections. They are the closest we get to possibly personify Sub Club and on one morning in September we called them up to ask some questions about it, and their enduring appeal.

 

You’re celebrating Thirty years of Sub Club this year, and I can’t even think of any bars that have been open that long. What has been the staying power behind the club in your opinion?

Domenic: Harri, you’ve been there long enough. (Laughs)

Harri: I have no idea; it just seems to have passed in a flash for me. It’s slightly surreal, but it’s all about people trying to do something that seems interesting and fun rather than being about making money.

Harri, I know your career started with Atlantis at Sub Club, but what was your introduction to the place before you held a residency there?

Harri: It was the strangest thing. My brother’s friend was a resident DJ at Sub Club in Jamaica street, and asked me to stand in for him one night. He took my phone number and started inviting me back.

Was it always a House club?

Harri: It was always kind of alternative. House music was coming through, with tracks like Colonel Abrams and proto-House records like Jack your Body. We also had James Brown rare groove, Soul and Funk playing there at the time.

 

Domenic, what was your introduction to the club?

Domenic: I did warm-ups with Slam for Atlantis. Harri and I played at an after-party together before and we started talking about music. Harri got me to do the warm-up and Harri and I just always musical cliqued.

What made you clique?

Domenic: What attracted me to Harri was that it was so bad it really sounded good. (Laughs) Seriously though, Harri came from a Reggae background and I was really into blues when I was younger, so we both came from black music, and went through tangents of of black music. We came from a similar place, but just had our own ideas of what we played. It wasn’t like we were playing the same records, but there was a foundation there.

Have you had any effect on the other’s playing through the 30 year evolution of subculture?

Domenic: It probably has subconsciously.

Harri: We join the dots in the middle somewhere.

Domenic: There are some records that overlap, and we usually argue about who’s going to play those records.

House music has gone through so many phases over the course of the thirty years of Sub Club. How do you adapt a residency through these phases?

Harri: You just play the records that you’ve found that week and you just trust those records. We have to make it up as we go along, because we’re there every week, and we have to go record shopping every week.

Domenic: The music is always moving forward, so you’re listening to new music all the time to keep it fresh. You’re looking for something new that’s new and different, but you’re also respectful of the stuff that sounded good in the past.

Do you play a lot of older tracks too?  

Harri: We often drop old tunes, but they are old tunes that would sound relevant, like a new record that reminds you of an old record. I’ve got a son who’s a DJ and he’s of the opinion, I waste my time looking for new music, when my old music is better than most of the new music coming out. I don’t really agree with it.

It seems that perhaps the younger generation isn’t motivated by their own generation as much as it was when you guys were starting your careers.

Harri: I don’t think a lot has changed, personally. Here in Glasgow, we’ve been fairly lucky that every few years a younger generation comes through and changes the landscape. For instance a lot of younger people today play African music. I love African music, but there’s people much younger than me that know a lot more about African music than I do.

Did you ever feel that you had to adapt to younger audiences for subculture?

Domenic: I think we can keep on doing what we’re doing. It’s still the same now as it was back when I was young. There are people that are into underground music, and then there are people that want the more popular stuff. The kids that want the more popular stuff, they read RA and are like: “I like that because I’ve been told to like that”. But then there are still people that will rebel against that and find their own individual tastes and DJs. There are still people that will look for something different and we don’t need to play to a young crowd, they come and find us. The popular thing isn’t always the popular thing young people will hear, you’ll always find that group that will splinter away.

Harri: I agree with Domenic. You’ll always find people that want to pursue their own avenue. I don’t necessarily feel that we have to adapt to other people. I suppose it seems a bit arrogant, but people adapt to us, because we’re looking forward all the time, and not getting stuck in a rut.

Domenic: And not falling for hype or fads. We’re not playing records because they are supposed to be popular, we’re playing records because we like them.

What exactly speaks to you on a record that you like?

Domenic: We both like melody in our tracks. I don’t like records that are just a drum track for 62 bars. I still like songs, music that has a beginning middle and end in terms of a story. It has to move, it has to have a story, and not just be a loop.

Harri: Yes, it has to have a narrative. It kind of takes you somewhere.

This harks back to your early influences listening to blues and reggae, where the music was so much more than just a functional track.

Harri: Yes.

Domenic: I think we still kind of look for that in new music.

Could give me an example of new music that speaks to you in this way?

Domenic: For me at the moment I like a lot of the new Electro, because it’s still sounds futuristic. When we first got into House and Techno it was regarded as futuristic music made by robots, and a lot of that’s been lost. I’m finding a lot of Electro I’m buying is giving me that feeling like it was made twenty years from now. Guys like Convextion/E.R.P, every record he makes has got that story, but it’s still got beats and it still makes you want to dance.

 

Harri: The new Innervisions, Toto Chiavetta stuff I really like. It’s not replicating something old, it’s taking us somewhere else. Sometimes you can get a new record, but it’s little more than a replica of an old style. I like something with a modern twist.

 

We’re hoping some of that stuff makes it into your set when you visit and that brings me to my next question; How do you compare playing a residency to playing abroad?

Domenic: You’ve got to watch crowds more when you play away and the reactions. You build on the information that you get from the floor, but when you’re at home you can just do your own thing and relax. When you’re playing away you’re more conscious, it’s like you are having a conversation with a stranger. You try to find a common ground so you can have a conversation.

Harri: It’s like Domenic says, you just need to be conscious of what’s happening in front of you.

Domenic: It’s funny when you play abroad and you play a track you’ve been playing at home that you’ve tried on the dance floor and people loved it and then you play it abroad and people haven’t heard and they’re looking at you confused. It’s a total different reaction. I know now that that even though something is popular with our crowd, it might not be the same abroad and you have to get used to that.

Subculture also do a lot of bookings. To what end do those booking serve a purpose at the residency?

Domenic: The reason we got guests was that it was something different; somebody we wanted to hear. Our first guest was Stacey Pullen, when he was seventeen – I had his first couple of records. The original idea was to hear somebody we wanted to hear, somebody new to us, but now it’s become something completely different. It’s more like, giving people a break from us. Booking is a whole new ball game today. Barry who does all the bookings asks us every month who want to book, and Harri and I will send a list and Barry will pick four off the list. The people we put on the list are people that we would’ve heard before and you have a similar ethos to what we do, similar but different again.

Do you find it entertaining and informative as DJs to hear these DJs?

Domenic: Yes, we play before them and we’re basically getting paid to hear them play. (Laughs) It’s a win-win situation.

Harri: And quite often you hear somebody play and you think; “that’s quite brilliant, I would’ve never thought to play that.”  

I want to ask you about your tour, because it’s billed as Sub Club XXX. Is there anything that you want to relay in your set that maybe encapsulates the ethos of Sub Club?

Harri: It might be billed as Sub Club XXX, but every set is different. It’s all about the night and what would work there; you can’t make any preconceived plans. Thinking about playing specific tracks because it’s thirty years, just sounds a bit contrived. Over the thirty years we’ve just been playing new music, so why not just do that.

I only have one more question. Out of the thirty years what have been some of your highlights?

Domenic: There’s been so many we always forget these anecdotes. I think we’ve forgotten more good nights than most people have good nights… definitely due to alcohol. (Laughs) There was one night that Harri was DJing the first time Roy Davis Jr DJ’d with us, and Roy was so inspired he wanted to sing. He’s got one of the most soulful voices you’ve ever heard and when he started singing it was a pure off the cuff moment. I talked to him afterword, and he said he didn’t know what came over him. That was one of those moments.

Harri: It’s those spontaneous moments that really stand out. It’s those rare moments when everybody starts reading off the same page and go; “wow this is amazing”. Most of the best stories are often unrepeatable anyway.

Domenic: I think another one that was a classic for me was when we did a string quartet on new year’s eve, way before Jeff Mills and Carl Craig started doing it. I got hold of the guys in the Scottish Orchestra and gave them four tracks and they did an amazing job of transcribing them. We mixed them in live and they played “knights of the jaguar” intro live and when the beat kicked in from the record, the whole club jumped ten feet in the air. It was such a beautiful, soulful moment.

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