ATH Interview: Learning Secrets @ 10 Years
Learning Secrets is turning ten. They are having a party. Given that the guys behind Learning Secrets, Jeramy Neugent and Ian Orth, are in one of our local favorite bands, Orthy, we see these gents on a regular basis DJing to fill the pre and post-show earspace. We all wonder what all the fuss is about being a DJ. What happens behind the wheels? How do two guys end up spinning records together? How can you make a relationship last? Ian was able to take the time to answer a few questions on those topics and more. Read on for the low down…
ATH: Let’s start with a few get to know you questions, because ya know, you guys are new to the scene. Learning Secrets, origin of the name? How did you start? College parties?
Ian: The original idea started in 2002/2003 while I was going to school at Rutgers in New Brunswick, NJ. I was working at the college radio station there, WRSU 88.7FM as the promotions director, and each semester I was given a budget to do promotional sort of things for the station, so I decided I’d put that money towards booking shows that would showcase the bands coming up in the tri-state area. It was a really incredible time for music, and we were fortunate enough to be in a situation where we essentially had endless funds to do cool stuff, like The Rapture and Her Space Holiday in a tiny coffee shop inside the student union, or booking one of Yeah Yeah Yeahs first shows ever, with a Karen O who was still getting her stage legs, so much so that she tripped a few over the monitors a few times. Where Learning Secrets was actually born was as a free, day-long festival at the end of the Spring semester. The idea was to have bands like Trans Am, French Kicks, Q and not U, Ted Leo, Minus the Bear, and so and so on play a huge free festival that anyone could come to. The whole idea, the mission statement of Learning Secrets started there. It’s never been about being cool, or hoarding music for yourself, it’s always been about this idea of, hey, this is some rad music, you might not know it, why not come and check it out.
The party in Austin started on a cold Sunday night in 2004 at The Whiskey Bar. Jeramy and I were in town for the holidays, and the GM, a guy I owe a lot to, Bart Butler, let us come in and play some records. The night ended up being a lot of fun, and Bart let me stick around and gave me the Sunday night slot. From there, things progressed, crowds grew, and Bart bumped me up the coveted Thursday night slot DJing in the front room, and that’s when the party really took off. I modeled it after legendary party’s I had been to like Trash, and Optimo. Early in the night anything goes musically, around midnight we’d showcase an Austin band, and from 12:30 on I’d play dance music. In 2005 I decided I wanted to start flying in DJs, and the very first guest ever was Tim Sweeney from Beats In Space, followed by Optimo shortly after, and it’s been none stop ever since.
ATH: It is easy to pin down a band’s influences, who influenced your sets in the past and who is innovating now?
Ian: In the beginning the idea was just to play whatever we thought was a rad song that seemed remotely danceable. It was all about putting it all together and just having a party. Jeramy and I always like to say that our thesis statement for the party back then was bringing dance music to rock kids, and rock music to dance kids. You know, back in 2004 the Austin party scene was a completely different landscape, and it took some creative thinking and open mindedness on everyone’s part; the crowd, the venue, and us, to make a night really amazing. It was about creating that space where we could play things like Belle & Sebastien’s “Electronic Renaissance” or Delta 5’s “Mind Your Own Business” but then sneak in Marshall Jefferson’s “House Music” or some weird Kompakt single. One of my favorite mixing combinations back then was starting with Prince “Erotic City” into Laid Back “White Horse” into Hot Chip’s “Over and Over” into Audion’s “Kisses.” Now a days Jeramy and I are a bit more streamlined in what we’ve been playing, though we still tend to lean towards the slightly left field weird stuff, and still always sneak something unexpected in there. Lately one of my favorite things to do is drop Stealer Wheels “Stuck In The Middle With You” after a long run of House and Disco edits. Watching the crowd every time we do that is awesome. I think that may be what our biggest influence has always been actually, Austin crowds. They’re smart, they know music, and more then anything they’ve stuck with us. At the end of the day that’s what we’re most thankful for, cause ultimately, if there isn’t a crowd, there isn’t a party.
ATH: Would you explain to the audience at home what is happening with all the knobs? What makes it an art?
Ian: You know, we have no idea either. We’re still trying to figure that part out.
Jeramy: Part of the art is the vibe you set; how it changes throughout the evening, song choice, how the set flows, and how you work the crowd. I mean, we never have sets worked out beforehand; we’re picking and choosing songs depending how we’re feeling at the moment while paying attention to the crowd in front of us. That’s art. Right? Shit, I don’t know.
ATH: So, you guys have worked with some big names, most notably for me is James Murphy. Does he cry in private about ending LCD Soundsystem every time you see him?
Ian: Ha. No comment.
Jeramy: What about Papa Murphy’s?
ATH: Kidding. We spoke at the Red7 DJ set about how he can feel out setting up a room. How have you applied what you saw and heard? How much influence “on the room” can you have with set PA or portable PA?
Ian: Yeah, first and foremost the sound HAS to be right or else everything else fails. You can ask any venue or sound guy we’ve worked with in Austin over the last 10 years and they’ll probably all agree that we’re sort of dicks when it comes to that. Haha. We’re open about it, we know it. Ha. Every time we have a party we make sure we’re able to get in the room early in the day and work out any issues what-so-ever and transform the space into our home for the night. One of my biggest pet peeves is when I show up to a venue, and the venue staff or sound guy treats the DJ as a lesser talent then the band, when in fact, the DJ sometimes needs more attention then the band. At the very least, in the year 2014 every venue and sound guy should know, DJs need monitors, there’s no ifs, ands, or buts about it. More to the point though, if the vibe of the room is right, if the sound is right, if the DJ is happy, then your crowd will be happy, your crowd feel that vibe, and your crowd will stick around and drink from your bar. A proper night out, a proper “party,” needs to feel unique, it needs to feel special. If you’re the team working together to throw the party that night, this means the event promoter, venue manager, bar manager, sound guy, door staff, and talent, everyone needs to be on the same page and understand that this is not just another night, for some people this might be their only night out all month, so you gotta work hard and be passionate about making sure that that night, and each party feels unique and timeless.
ATH: Would you guys like to design a space? Perhaps call it the Learning Center… You can have that.
Ian: The idea of owning a club sounds terribly frightening, but I can’t say that I don’t have sketches and notes and ideas on having a place of our own one day.
Jeramy: Yeah, it’s a sweet dream/nightmare of ours. We’ll be calling it Tig Ol’ Secrets.
ATH: I watch Boiler Room sets every now and again. Any favorite DJ sets you would like to point readers towards?
Jeramy: DJ Kicks and BIS are def staples. I’ve also really been into Rocco Raimundo’s mixes lately. But two of my favorite DJ sets, at least live, have been from our buds Simon James who goes by Woolfy and Juan Maclean. Those dudes are on another level.
Ian: The John Talabot entry into !K7’s DJ Kicks series is incredible, same goes for Erlend Oye’s mix for that series as well. I think that came out in like 2003 or something, but I still listen to it. Same goes for Michael Mayer’s “Immer” mix. I also stream Tim Sweeney’s Beats In Space show weekly. It’s always on point.
ATH IT Department Note: I will vouch for the DJ-Kicks series. The volumes from Photek, Apparat, James Holden and Juan Maclean are also solid selections.
ATH: Marry/Fuck/Kill – Depeche Mode, New Order, Erasure
Ian: Oh man…Marry New Order because at the end of the day you want something truly faithful, I’d definitely like to fuck Depeche Mode because you know they’re going to be outstanding in bed, and won’t be bashful about trying that thing you saw on xhamster, plus they’re still in great shape, and kill Erasure because you just do.
Jeramy: Since i’m a polygamist i’d probably marry New Order and Depeche Mode and just tell Erasure to fuck off. I’d save my kill for Midnight Oil.
ATH: How do you two differ in musical selections? What can you just not agree on?
Ian: Haha, well, when it comes to DJing, lately I’ve been getting into really weird, dark, and druggy stuff, and Jeramy is always on point with some sort of happy boogie inspired number. But we agree mostly on everything.
Jeramy: Man, honestly I feel like we meet pretty eye to eye. We even both love Taylor Swift; probably because we grew up listening to Jimmy Eat World who we think is secretly writing her songs… But yeah, I agree with Ian that my taste can be very funk influenced. The only thing I can think of that Ian is a huge fan of that i’m not so much a fan of is Talking Heads, but i’m clearly the minority there.
ATH: Music discovery, best new thing in 2013?
Jeramy: Sites like Rdio and Spotify play such a small roll for me. Most of it comes from listening to DJ mixes and just browsing various websites and blogs. There are some great ones out there dedicated to the old shit and of course even more dedicated to the new. My favorite ’13 record is Apar by Delorean who just so happens to be playing our Anniversary this Friday! Shameless plug, I know. They’re even better live! HBDLS!
Ian: I talk about them all the time, it’s not surprise to anyone who knows me, but Jagwar Ma is hands down the best thing to happen to my music library in a long time.
So as a special treat for getting this far down the page, you get a chance to win a set of tickets! Just answer the MFK in the comments and you have a shot at it.