It all began with one album. Disclosure’s debut LP 'Settle' provided the perfect antidote to the immature, florescent and increasingly irritating monstrosity that was EDM. While 'Settle' showcased nothing that hadn’t been seen before, its revival of immaculate production, driving bass rhythms and silky melodies took the then tainted dance world by storm, inspiring a host of imitators – good and bad.
“Yeah, I just landed in the UK from New York so I’m pretty jetlagged right now,” begins Rowan Harrington, aka Secondcity. Ostensibly, it seems that the Anglo-American is lapping up the wave of success that house’s newfound popularity has generated. Having scored a number one hit in the UK Singles Chart and second spot on the US Dance Club Chart last summer, Rowan’s stock rose from underground tech-house producer to mainstage performer at Ibiza’s Defected Festival, alongside house stalwarts Guti and Noir.
While Secondcity created one of last summer’s most distinct house sounds with I Wanna Feel, the producer is far from new to the scene, having actively witnessed the genre mushroom from underground Brighton clubbing, to mainstream radio over the years. It’s a phenomenon that he struggles to comprehended: “Its hard to say why there has been a migration from EDM and dubstep to house music. I really have no idea why it blew up on such a commercial level. I can only speak for myself, as I have always had a passion for house and its offshoots.”
Rowan seems nostalgic rather than embarrassed when asked to cast his mind back to his earliest DJ sets. “I remember my first set in Tunbridge Wells from when I about seventeen, I was shaking – not so sure if choosing an all vinyl set was the wisest choice."
“Having said that I always think of my first proper DJ set from when I switched to the SecondCity alias four years ago. Before that I was just playing small clubs. Nerves were always a problem, but I still loved doing it. In a odd way the nerves told me that DJing was what I had to do as a career.”
From that fateful night in Bristol, Secondcity became immersed in a community of likeminded producers who were creating a sound that sought to revive the glory days of house. Among those was producer and sometime Savoy Resident DJ - Route 94. “He and I became best friends. We’re always making music together.” One particular collaboration has since become a signature track for both DJ’s - a disco infused house rework of Adina Howards’ Freak Like Me, “We were immensely proud of that track. We tried to go for a disco vibe, I think there’s a real sense of old school disco in its DNA.”
Even the briefest of scans through Secondcity’s earliest cuts from the Saint & Sonnets imprint through to his most recent work with Ali Love reveals a shift towards a more commercial sound, but it’s a thought that he refutes, explaining that even I Wanna Feel was intended to be an underground release. “I really didn’t see it being the huge hit it became. I intended it to be something passed around among friends. It wasn’t until Ministry of Sound approached me to release it that I began to see how big it could become. While topping the charts was amazing, it’s not something that will become a trademark of my work."
Rowan’s reluctance in becoming a commercial artist reveals an evolving friction in the UK house scene, as producers balance the romantics of mixing their own blend of obscure cuts with the financial sensibility of radio airplay. For Secondcity, it seems that from here pop will take a back seat, “I still see myself as an underground producer - I really doubt that I’ll ever become a commercial artist as such."
It’s a sentiment that becomes obvious when I listen to his most recent EP, 'Technique,' which he advises I check out. It’s a two-track gem complete with driving tech-house rhythms and old school vocal samples. It’s resolutely uncommercial, destined for the beer soaked dance floor rather than the chart’s upper echelons.
While Secondcity’s musical palette is diverse, the equipment used to create it is rudimentary - “All I have in my studio right now is a pair of monitors, a midi keyboard, some sound cards and a computer. That’s it.” It seems an odd choice, but Rowan explains that his music feeds off its environment rather than expensive equipment. “I always seem to work best in the comfort of my home. It’s odd; anything that I’ve made outside my home studio has had this completely different sound. Its like it reveals a different side of me.”
Sensing a slip in slip in attentiveness, we move on to Rowan’s now renowned live sets to which he instantly livens, “My focus as a DJ has always been uncovering records that people have forgotten. The sets tend to go for a tribal sound - I really don’t play commercial music, though I still mix in my better known tracks.” It’s a move that serves to reveal his global passion for music where everything from Afrobeat to techno becomes an integral part of the DJ’s playlist.
“If you play a set that fails to opens peoples minds you’re doing something wrong. That’s why I get so much joy out playing obscure tracks - letting the crowd hear something they’ve never experienced before.”
Secondcity is playing the ultimate balancing act. Ever reluctant to be seen as that guy who topped the UK charts, it seems a state of Zen can only be sought by crawling back into the undergrowth; creating jolting house numbers to be appreciated by the select few. Though if Rowan struck pop-house gold once more would he release it to the world? Damn sure he would.