One of my favorite things about being involved in the music world is noticing how everyone is connected, how each label has its own unique story and community around it. I'm fortunate enough to have fallen into a scene where people come together to work hard and make things happen, even without major funding driving it. DIY ethics are alive and well, especially in the Williamsburg area of Brooklyn where Nik Mercer andJacques Renault operateLets Play House. Even though Lets Play House is a relatively fresh record label (yes, actual vinyl records), Nik and Jacques aren't new names within our bubble of dance music and beyond. I won't spill any details though, as the boys walked me through their history from the start until now, and also looked toward times to come. Before house can be played, it must be built. So let's start from the beginning, shall we?
Hey guys how’s it going? Please take a second to introduce yourselves and explain what you do.
N.M.: Not too bad at all—just keeping busy as usual! I'm Nik Mercer and half of Let's Play House, though my background is in journalism (I'm the senior editor at Anthemmagazine) and marketing (I'm an account manager at a fashion-focused firm called You Are Here). What else? I live right on the Williamsburg-Bushwick border in Brooklyn.
J.R.: My name is Jacques Renault and I'm a producer and DJ based in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, as well the other half of LPH. I’m also one half of Runaway, the production/DJ duo I share with my friend Marcos Cabral. We also run On The Prowl Records.
How, when, and where did you meet? How did Lets Play House begin its original formation?
N.M.: We knew of each other through my magazine work and might've corresponded when I was still living in L.A., but it wasn't until I moved to NYC in '09 that we met. For some reason, I was on Jacques' mailing list at the time and got notified of a party he was playing at Blackout Bar in Greenpoint, which is still around, I think, but not really the same. I was having a not-so-good time personally and went there on a whim. If memory serves, I introduced myself and we got coffee the next day at Marlow & Sons, which has become our default meeting spot. The rest is history!
Did you have any specific goals or concepts in mind when beginning the label? Or was it a natural result of collaboration?
N.M.: Well, the label came about pretty spontaneously. Our good friend and the man behind Throne of Blood, James Friedman, had agreed to drive me to JFK to pick up the Horse Meat Disco guys. We got stuck in gnarly traffic and found ourselves talking a lot about the LPH parties and how they could continue to expand. The original idea I proposed during that ride was to make an imprint on TOB that represented the opposite of our parties: instead of inviting DJs and producers to come play records, I figured it'd be neat to reverse the equation and invite those guests to make music for records that LPH would release. That was the case with the Runaway 12”, which came out a few months after that conversation, but we almost immediately stopped adhering to that “rule,” mostly because it was limiting.
I've never owned a label and Jacques already had On the Prowl and OTP Party Breaks, so I knew that for LPH to properly start putting out singles, we'd need to work with not only a friend but someone who had the acumen and background knowledge to help out. James made complete and utter sense—I wouldn't've ever thought to do it with anyone else.
At what point did you decide to take LPH from just a party series to an actual record label?
N.M.: So, it wasn't totally a “whim,” the idea of starting a label. We were in this weird place in that the parties started getting really big really fast. Our friends John Barclay and Josh Novicki found a warehouse on the Williamsburg waterfront that could fit around 300 people and they offered us a really good deal to incentivize us to start doing stuff there. Earlier that year—2010—we were doing smallish things at random locations, most of which were in Manhattan, and while we were getting attention and promoting everything well, it was obvious we needed to start taking risks and pushing the envelope more in order to get LPH fully off the ground. When John and Josh pitched the idea, we felt comfortable enough with producing and promoting events on a smaller scale that we said, Sure—fuck it... let's just take a leap of faith and go big!
The first party was with Morgan Geist and Jason Drummond a.k.a. DJ Spun, Farkia Joyce, and Jacques and was a tremendous success. So... we kept doing those warehouse bashes on basically a biweekly basis until the space shut down (after the HMD party). Jacques and I knew that essentially doing raves wasn't a smart way to grow a sustainable business, though, so we found ourselves always thinking, “what next, what next, what next?” The label idea seemed like a smart one in that sense because it would allow us to keep doing stuff however frequently we wanted to while removing the pressure of feeling we always had to one-up ourselves with each party. It diversified things and got us thinking on a bigger-picture scale, which was tremendously helpful.
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Nik, you came from Cleveland. What was it like forming your interest in music and the writing world during your beginnings? When did you move to LA and eventually NYC?
Cleveland's a bit of an odd city—it's like Detroit, Buffalo, Pittsburgh, and so on in that it's a post-industrial place that's on the down and out. That said, it's right in-between a lot of larger metropolitan areas (like New York, Philadelphia, Chicago) and not really Midwestern in the traditional sense. So, growing up, there were always loads of bands coming through Cleveland, most of which played at this janky club called the Grog Shop, which has since moved to a slightly nicer location down the street from where it used to be. My dad and I would go to a concert or two every week, but that was all indie music stuff for the most part. My dad was a big, big part of my musical upbringing, though—he had a pretty decent collection of 70s and 80s post-punk and New Wave stuff that I went through incessantly. He also had a few of those old index volumes like The Trouser Press's annual guides to music or whatever they were called. I pored myself into that stuff and wound up with a pretty encyclopedic knowledge of music from, say, '75 to '90 or thereabouts. I also played piano for 12 or 13 years—maybe more—studied jazz, and picked up the French horn in middle school and high school, so I had a pretty solid understanding of pop music and classical music and the music theory that brings it all together.
I really liked writing and wasn't the coolest kid around, so I looked to journalism as a sort of mode of communicating my love and appreciation for music without having to actually put myself out there all that much or get involved with bands and artists I thought were sort of out of my league, if that makes any sense.
I left Cleveland after high school and moved to Japan for a year, which is part of what brought me to L.A.—I thought I was going to do something with Japanese. Shortly after moving to L.A., though, I got pretty deep into the music scene there and started putting myself forward a lot more than I thought I'd ever be able to... that led me to meeting a lot of incredible people who sort of folded me into the dance music stuff there, which is, I suppose, where I've been ever since.
I moved from L.A. to NYC three years ago for professional reasons, and couldn't be happier about it. Moving to New York was a sort of catalytic experience: it helped me distill and process everything I'd been thinking and going through in a very fluid and simple fashion—life seemed to make more sense than ever.
Is it safe to assume that your years spent in LA played a role in forming your taste and relationships in this funny music world of ours?
Absolutely. I won't be shy about it, either. In L.A., I met Loren Granic, one of the founders of the A Club Called Rhonda parties, who became my closest friend under the most unusual and bizarre circumstances. I wound up spending a lot of time with him and really enjoyed seeing him do his thing within the L.A. house and disco scene. At the time, I didn't think it was for me, but, again, that was sort of one of the unseen benefits of moving to New York—things I hadn't been aware of while in L.A. presented themselves when I got to the East Coast.
Taking both of your tastes into consideration as well as running a label, who are some influences you guys are inspired by from the past and present?
N.M.: I most admire labels that have a really solid and unified roster and catalog, one that sort of tells a story or at least paints a picture of what the people behind it are all about. Presently, Editainment and Permanent Vacation are favorites. All the Mule Musiq stuff is great, too. We're both big fans of Morgan Geist and Environ, so that's up there as well. On a different tip, I love Matt Werth's Rvng Intl. and am really curious to see what he does with Tim Sweeney and Beats In Space in 2012 and beyond. I used to be totally nuts for Gomma, though that's sort of faded. And the DFA of yesteryear still had one of the greatest runs ever.
J.R.: I’ll just end up echoing a few things Nik has already mentioned, but it’s true that there are a few labels that continue to keep my attention and some that have faded only to bring me back with surprises. I think it’s just important to try to keep everything as fresh as possible. I feel lucky that I’ve worked with so many labels and have done different events all over that I’ve seen a bit of everything you should and shouldn’t do. I would like to think that Nik and I are trying to contribute to our city from our past experiences and be a part of the future.
How did your relationship with Throne Of Blood develop? Did you already know those guys from before or did you approach them with some ideas?
J.R.: James and I have been friends for a few years now; we were neighbors at one point, which was pretty funny. We’ve done a lot of music stuff together both in terms of gigs and his label. Like Nik said before, it’s great to do this project with him and Kompakt.
What’s been the most challenging part of operating a label/party so far, and what keeps it rewarding to you guys?
N.M.: I'd say the most frustrating part is finding venues to work at. Since we have always set out to be a moving party, we can't occupy the same space for too long. The Le Bain monthly is the exception to the rule, but, otherwise, we try to keep ourselves on a good rotation, which is rewarding since we get to keep trying out new things and surprising our audience, but tough because we need to always have our eyes peeled. Also, budgeting these things tends to be a bit rough since we aim to treat everyone fairly, but money can be a hurdle in a city like New York where a lot of people are either used to not getting paid or not used to paying people out properly.
J.R.: For me it’s just keeping up with the pace! We are constantly talking to booking agents, partners, listening to demos, speaking to friends… the list goes on. Sometimes you miss something or don’t respond quickly enough. It’s good to work with people that keep you on your toes.
LPH as a label is still a pretty new project. What were the first releases?
N.M.: It is indeed! The first release was Runaway's “Indoor Pool.” As an aside, the photo we used was shot by our dear friend Ruvan Wijesooriya in Le Bain at the Standard. Ruvan, Jacques, and I set up a little covert photo shoot during one of our parties there and what you see on the sleeve is our favorite picture from the night!
Anyway—we thought we'd only be doing about two or three records every year, but we really got into it around December of 2011 and decided to just go for it. Now we have a 12” by the M.E.B. out with a Dead Rose Music Company one hitting in March. That'll be followed by a Naum Gabo single with two Tevo Howard remixes, a Toby Tobias release, and a few other things I should probably not talk about quite yet. Know that we're aiming to do one record every month, though!
Vinyl releases are obviously tradition and embraced within the kinds of music LPH represents. Is this something you guys will continue to push into the future years to come? Do you think maintaining that element is even more important today?
N.M.: It's important to us to release physical records, though we are very aware of the expense doing so incurs. We've been fortunate to be able to not have to worry about it all that much, though, thanks to the fact that Kompakt handles our production and distribution. That said, yes—I don't think either of us would be keen on only putting our MP3s and WAVs; vinyl records still connote an air of professionalism and seriousness, which we embrace and don't want to let go.
J.R.: Yes, I agree that vinyl production is important. For me vinyl has been my timeline; it marks my history and I don’t want to loose that. It’s tough for me to get rid of records for this reason, but I try to trim the fat as often as I can.
So far 2012 has been off to an excellent start for you guys with releases lined up and some more events. What’s next on the calendar for Lets Play House? I heard you’re bringing
back to NYC.
N.M.: We just had an absolutely blast at our party with Verboten at the Morgan in Bushwick over the weekend. That was a crazy night with DJ Hell, Rub 'N' Tug, Brennan Green, and Jacques. RNT played from 2 to 6 AM and Hell was on from something like 4 to 8 AM! We've got a good number of smaller and medium-sized parties coming up and then, yeah, we're bringing Tiger & Woods back in April—can't wait for that one! Beyond that, we're working on our second annual boat party, which will feature the Revenge and the Dead Rose Music Company. Once again, we're teaming up with our friends at Global Frequencies to make that happen!
Nik, you were saying there’s some bigger things lined up to look forward to in the summer. What exactly is going down in August? You’ve been keeping this one a secret for a while…
Well, we tend to book three or four months in advance, which is about right for us. LPH takes a lot of time on its own and we both are busy men to begin with! If we go much further than three months down, we just get overwhelmed and things fall apart a bit.
That said, when it comes to really special stuff, we find it really important to plan four, five, or six months in advance, which is why we know what's happening in August! We're teaming up with Global Frequencies once again for a huge boat party (three levels!) that will be headlined by The Revenge and the Dead Rose Music Company. Jacques will play that one, too, though we don't know the rest of the lineup. Last year's was awesome—we had Metro Area headline.
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Looking toward the future, what are some of your ultimate goals with the label? Any other crazy ideas you’d like to connect with it one day?
N.M.: It's really important to us that we continue to view LPH as a sort of service-focused entity. I don't mean to get too conceptual or anything here, but, from the get-go, we've been especially driven to present ourselves as a solution to a problem or an alternative to what's our there (which is the main reason we kept our names off LPH for so long and why Jacques will never be dubbed our “resident”). This isn't about us trying to get something for ourselves, but, rather, about sharing what we love and admire with our friends, the communities we're tied to, and the world at large.
That said, we don't think we're done expanding, so now we're pursuing projects that don't simply involve 10 PM – 4 AM parties—stuff that requires a larger team and more resources and a bigger network of attendees, fans, supporters. I can't go into too much detail now because nothing's set in stone yet and I don't want to jinx things, but note that we are pushing ourselves again as we did in 2010 with our dive into the bigger warehouse stuff.
What are some of the biggest differences between doing your thing in LA and NYC? Is there really that much contrast regarding nightlife?
N.M.: Tough one. I think New York's blessing and curse is the fact that the city is supersaturated with options, all of which are roughly of equal convenience. There's never a dull weekend and so many friends put things on at the same time, which is exciting—loads of choices!—but also sort of counterproductive—too many choices! I find that in L.A., there're less options and there's more of a transportation and time problem, so larger groups of people instinctively congregate at one location, which always makes for a killer night. Here, things are a lot more scattered, so you need to really make a push to sell people on what you're doing. I think we accomplish that pretty well with LPH since it's not simply a DJ night, but, rather, a serialized night that we hope people feel compelled to come to, no questions asked. Creating that sense of a continuum if integral to what we do and a big factor, I believe, in why we tend to always draw large crowds.
Out of all the events you guys have produced in the past, which ones have been most memorable/fun? Any notable guests that were a big deal to you?
N.M.: I'd say my favorites are (in no particular order) the first warehouse night with Morgan, the Rub 'n' Tug party we did the following month, and the Horse Meat Disco one, too. I also loved the boat party and the Tiger & Woods event.
That said, we had a wonderful run at the beginning, too... I really appreciate the formative days and all the support we got from our friends and colleagues. There's something about those basement parties that I miss a lot since LPH was simpler and a little more of an anomaly then.
J.R.: Those are certainly standouts; there definitely is something special aboutdoing things on Kent Ave. This has been difficult to not repeat Nik all the time here, but I will bring up again how it has been great to do these collaborative projects with fellow New Yorkers. It makes a difference to team up and really pull together sometimes.
Would you say that the relationship of all the like-minded artists in NYC and the rest of America is an essential element of success these days? Is this an important factor within LPH?
N.M.: With the industry becoming as weird and difficult to work within as it is today, yeah, I think a heightened sense of community and camaraderie is very important—it's a defense mechanism in a way... since we're all in this mess together, we need to support one another, team up, etc. I'm also constantly surprised by how tight-knit the global stage is... how I feel like a neighbor to someone who lives in London or Rome or Berlin simply because we correspond and share music or because that person came to play our party or dropped a remix on the label. It's really difficult, I imagine, to try embarking on your own without the backing of your peers and friends—those are the people who can make or break you within the smaller niches and enclaves of dance music today.
How do you prevent music and label work from feeling like a 9 – 5 desk job? I’m sure it feels that way often, but what does LPH do to keep things fresh at work?
N.M.: Well, like I said before, I do technically have a 9 – 5, though it is one I do from home and it does require the wearing of many hats, so, in a way, I'm pretty predisposed for this sort of thing to begin with. I've had to micromanage parts of a publication and parts of a marketing firm for years now... adding a record label and party to the mix isn't as tough as it might've been had I not had that experience. That said, I think we keep things fresh by maintaining a pretty rigid yet simple schedule—we do no more than two parties a month and probably won't start releasing more than one record a month. Forcing ourselves to stick to those “rules” helps us stay enthusiastic about everything since we never feel that overworked or like everything's operating like clockwork, a machine.
J.R.: Music has become my fulltime job over the past several years, and in an effort to make that fun and not stagnant, I’ve involved myself in a diversity of projects, from original work and remixes I do on my own to the Runaway stuff to, most recently, curatorial endeavors. That way, I never feel like I’m tied to one single thing. The record labels I’m behind also help: I get to play the role of editor instead of artist, which comes from all of my travels and the numerous imprints I’ve been fortunate enough to work with. So, like Nik said, wearing different hats keeps things exciting and encourages me to keep pushing the envelope.
It seems like a nice balance to have someone who comes from a business background working with a well-connected DJ/producer on a label project. What are your working relationships like? Is it easier to work with each other since you guys were already friends to begin with?
N.M.: You nailed it, Cooper. I love working with Jacques because we both really understand one another yet never feel the urge to compete on any level since our skillsets are pretty different. I basically handle all things managerial and logistical. Jacques provides a lot of guidance and insight when it comes to bookings, releases, and so on. Together, we team up on stuff pertinent to the aesthetic of LPH, whether it be design stuff, which we do with the incredible Drew Heffron, or ambiance (like, say, venue choices). We keep things simple and always put everything to a vote, which basically means any idea either of us brings up has to be approved by both parties or else it dies. It's really, really nice, though, to not have to involve myself in the DJ world through my art, though—it keeps everything straightforward and clear.
J.R.: Nik said it very well… I like how we’re both very passionate about what we do, but can approach these things in a pretty pragmatic and objective fashion.
Alright, before we wrap this up, is there anything else you’d like to share with us? What are your individual plans for the coming months?
N.M.: Not too much from me! I'm going to L.A. soon, which will be really nice since I've not truly been back since I moved to New York and I miss it very much. I hope to get out of the city here and there over the coming months, too, since I'm pretty swamped with work and could certainly use a little breath of fresh air to balance things out.
J.R.: I’m constantly on tour and will be in Europe for all of March, so come out and see me if you live there—final dates will be announced soon. In between traveling, I’ve been enjoying my time in New York, making music as well as spending it with family and friends. One of the perks of being on the road so much is coming home—I never take my city for granted.
And lastly, the best post-party night meal is...
N.M.: I'd say pizza or tacos, though I recall a certain night involving a homemade grilled cheese sandwich that was particularly delicious...
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Big thanks goes out to Jacques and Nik for sharing their Lets Play House story thus far, hopefully I'll be able to share a grilled cheese with them soon! Be sure to stay posted with LPH for future events and releases. As their tale is unravelling, it certainly isn't ending anytime soon. In a time where trends come and go at a rapid pace, timeless and unique music outlasts the rest, which is why we can expect Lets Play House to remain a steady force in dance music for years to come. Keep your friends + family close and don't let those records stop spinning, folks.