New York’s Mister Saturday Night fever, all the way from Derry

Derry’s Eamon Harkin is half of NYC clubbing institution Mister Saturday Night. Ahead of DJing at the Beatyard, he tells of the trip from Northern indie-rock to the Big Apple

On the decks: Justin Carter and Eamon Harkin at their 100th Mister in Brooklyn in 2012

On the decks: Justin Carter and Eamon Harkin at their 100th Mister in Brooklyn in 2012

 

There are certain names that always feature in any narrative of New York’s clubland. It’s where back-in-the-day scenesetters, such as Paradise Garage, the Loft, the Gallery and Studio 54, nestle under the lights and mirrorballs alongside recent standouts, such as Twilo, Tunnel, and Body and Soul.

Every few years, a newcomer becomes the focus of attention in the city. Lately, Derry man Eamon Harkin and his Mister Saturday Night partner Justin Carter have been taking the plaudits and applause for their parties.

Be it their MSN club nights or their Mister Sunday all-age parties in various eclectic venues around the city, Harkin and Carter’s infectious soundtrack and desire to bring a community of likeminded souls together has proved hugely popular.

When Harkin was a teenager back in Derry, it was indie rock rather than house and techno that grabbed his attention.

“I’m a bit of a failed musician, to be honest,” he says. “I banged around in garage bands and played some small gigs around town as a teenager.”

Despite work experience during his schooldays in the Nerve Centre, with John O’Neill of The Undertones, and watching his friend Andrew Ferris blaze a trail with the Smalltown America label, Harkin went elsewhere. He moved to London, where he studied biochemical engineering by day and the city’s clubs by night.

“I was coming from an indie-rock background and I’d an initial fear of the house and techno world,” he says. “But I was really drawn to dance music that was focused on people coming together on a regular basis to enjoy music and have this experience on the dancefloor. That had a huge impact on me.

“Optimo were an entry point for me because they played a lot of guitar music. I’d listen to their sets and really get into how they went from guitars to house to disco to jazz to everything. I’d go to Fabric a lot, and dive into house and techno, and begin to understand that music.

“Trash had a huge effect on me; Erol Alkan on a Monday night. Again, it was indie music, but it was this community of people coming together and the same DJ every week who really understood the relationship he had with that crowd.”

During his four years in London, Harkin began to buy records and DJ at clubs and parties. He realised that biochemical engineering was not for him, so he began to do web programming and design work.

Listen up: Justin Carter and Eamon Harkin NYC, May 24th

New York chance

A chance came up to work in New York, and he went for it.

“I’d nothing to lose by coming here and having an adventure,” he says. “If it didn’t work out, I’d go home, but I didn’t have a vision of what working out could mean.”

Again, Harkin explored the city by going clubbing. “It was 2003, and it really struck me that it wasn’t a good time for dance music culture in New York. Where were all the good parties? Where were the legendary nights that New York was supposed to offer?”

However, the new arrival did find a few places he liked. “There were parties like Motherfucker, rooted in guitar music, which happened eight times a year in huge clubs like the Roxy and Limelight, clubs which were empty because [then New York mayor] Rudy Giuliani put them out of business.

“Then, there was APT in the Meatpacking District, this tiny club which did great house, techno and hip-hop nights. You’d have Carl Craig, Moodymann, Theo Parrish, Lovebug Starski and DJ Premier all playing there. It really showed that this world in New York had shrunk and it had gone underground, so to speak. Those guys would be playing big clubs or festivals in Europe and here they were in New York in this tiny club.”

Harkin dived in and got to know the city. He DJ-ed at Motherfucker and became a resident at the newly opened Studio B in Brooklyn. He met Justin Carter, then musical director at APT, and struck up a friendship and working relationship with him. At the end of 2008, they opened Mister Saturday Night at Manhattan’s Santos Party House.

“It wasn’t a success,” says Harkin. “We had a handful of amazing nights – Moodymann jamming with Egyptian Lover, for example – but we had a lot of duds, so we stopped and took a step back.

“At this stage, we’ve been working together for two years. We’ve been in New York a while, we’ve put a lot of energy into this world, we’ve decided that it’s what we want to do, and we have very fixed ideas about how to do it. We decided that we were going to do everything from front to back ourselves and we were going to go out there and create the type of party, the type of experience, the type of community we had in our heads.”

They bought a sound system, took over spaces in Brooklyn to ensure they had complete control, and restarted the club.

“It started to fall into place when people came in and felt a different kind of vibe and atmosphere,” Harkin says.“Dance music is about a community sharing an experience. Whether people know it explicitly or not, it’s what they want when they come out. If you understand that, and you can create the right conditions for that each and every week, it will happen.”

Recording label

Since then, they’ve added a few strings to their bow, such as the MSN recording label.

“There were kids coming to the parties who were making music and who were giving us demos, and we just developed that as something we naturally had to do,” Harkin says.

This summer, the duo also opened a new space in Queens, called Nowadays.

“The kind of spaces we’ve sought out and used for the Mister Sunday parties have always been these neglected secret spots in New York, which have a unique urban charm,” Harkin says. “They’re not easy to find, but when you find them and do a party there, it’s a magical thing.

“But the spaces we kept getting were very much on an ad-hoc basis and we were only getting them for a year at a time before a property developer moved in. We realised we had to get ahead of the game and get our very own space. It took us two years, but we eventually found this abandoned car park. We took a 10-year lease on it, and put all our savings into developing what is now Nowadays.

“People can go there and have some drinks and some great food and listen to some great background music. It’s in keeping with our ethos about community, but we’ve also built it as the future home of Mister Sunday. This year we’re in Industry City, but when our lease runs out, we have a readymade home for the party for the next nine years. There was a masterplan, you see.”

n Eamon Harkin DJs at the Beatyard festival in Dún Laoghaire, Co Dublin, on August 1st

 

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