Five years ago, after a number of events at DIY spaces: lounges, bars & a hair salon converted into a speakeasy, Forward Disco was given an opportunity to host an event at New York City’s most coveted venue for house music. Little did they know at the time, but this would become their home and that in 2017 they would still be going strong at Cielo.
Leading up to the five year anniversary at Cielo this Saturday July 15, Sean & Chili sat down with each other to recap the last five years.
Chili: As someone who has held a number of successful NYC nights (Stimulus Response, Re:Fuge) tell me a bit about what you think is the secret recipe to holding the pulse of this city.
Sean: Wow… they have all been such different entities but what they all had/have in common is a group of people that genuinely love music and love working together. They all were family oriented – and like all families – they were dysfunctional. I think more than worrying about satsfying everyone, all these events worked towards what we loved as a group. I think that passion always translates better than chasing something. I also think that each one of these parties became a brand along the way due to the care that went into them.
Chili: So much more goes into an event other than just showing up and playing music. One of those key (and often overlooked) items, is the art ethos. As the art director for Forward Disco, how would you describe the artistic direction and how did you select this style?
Sean: It’s been an evolving process. I knew I wanted keep to an aesthetic that was artistically based and not like your typical “night club flyers” (I cringe even typing those words) . Besides the obvious benefit of having a look that is inherently your own, I think if you put out something different and appealing, you’re more apt to have that crowd find your event and have an idea of what they may be in for.
Chili: Five years is a long run for anything in NYC. But to hold a residency at one of the city’s premier establishments is something to be proud of. What is it about Cielo that is special to you?
Sean: Sound. Staff. Intimacy. Pedigree.
The sound: Cielo is renowned for it’s sound and for good reason.
The staff: The people who make Cielo what it is – from the owner down throughout – are excellent. We’ve been made to feel welcome and encouraged to grow our brand by everyone at Cielo.
The intimacy: Cielo is the perfect intimate size.
The pedigree: Cielo has been the home to some of the most amazing events in New York City for a LONG time. To be even a small part of a venue like that is an honor and something we take very seriously.
Chili: In the DJ booth, you are someone that I have looked up to for some time now. Over these 5 years, I have learned more from you in how to read a crowd, pick the record and blend than I have in all of my other years in clubs combined – how would you describe your style to someone that has not heard you before?
Sean: That’s a tough one – every night and every crowd is different. The way I tend to play when Forward Disco is at Cielo is really vocal-lead… not la-di-da records but vocals enough to engage people who aren’t necessarily the house-heads in the room. Once you stick your hooks into them, then you can start to go to more places. At my core, I am a drum junkie. I love drums and movement. As for mixing, I try keep as much energy in the records I choose as the time slot allows. I love a bit of drama and tension in my sets too.
Chili: Two part question to close things out. a) what records over the last 5 years would you say the Forward Disco community identify with the most? and b) (its a long list) but can you list three of your favorite memories at Cielo?
Sean: 3 records that have worked very well over past couple years at FD:
1. For Those We Love – Marc Cotterell (Leigh D Oliver Mix) [Plastik People Digital]
– this is one of my favorite records in the past couple years and always works. It’s got a super-engaging melody, the vocal is great and the long breakdown is just a perfect build-up.
2. Beautiful People – Barbara Tucker (Charles Webster’s Old Skoolish Remix) [Strictly Rhythm]
– I have to stop myself from bringing this record with me because I could play it every night. It’s no surprise that we love the classics at Forward Disco but Charles Webster’s remix is a moody masterpiece featuring one of THE most iconic voices and vocals. Few records can strike a balance like this – equal parts sing-a-long and mood.
3. Henry Street Hustle – Furious George [Henry Street]
– this record is simply a block party in a record. It’s a record that blows the doors off of the right crowd. It’s not for every night.
3 of (a lot of) my favorite memories:
1. Spending about an hour in the booth after Tony Humphries played and him talking about records and the producers and the processes… it was like being a kid in a candy store. Tony Humphries just finished playing FD and now he’s discussing history. I love to learn and I love the history of this music and this culture and that was a priceless experience.
2. Our Night with Def Mix w/ David Morales, Hector Romero & a live performance by Janice Robinson was unreal. The energy was so insane that night. There was no room to move but every one was moving all night. That night felt exactly like what you want from your nights.
3. I’m going to cheat and go with a three way tie for 3rd… having Franck Roger, Onionz & Saliva Commandos play with us was a real treat for me personally. I’ve loved the physicality of these three guys as producers and djs for years and to get to watch them up and close was special for me. They’re all amazing producers but probably even better djs. They play in a manner where you’re convinced at some point they’re no longer playing records, they’re just controlling musical molecules.
To be honest, I could have named almost every night and every artist that has played with us. We’ve been fortunate to have such talented people join us every month. I think the hardest thing about doing a monthly is only having a couple slots a year to plug people in to.
Sean: Someone has never heard you play – describe your style and approach.
Chili: Wait, there is someone that has never heard me play?! (Clearly, joking) My approach is definitely tailored to the night. If I am opening, I am looking to set an inviting environment to people walking into the club. Enough has been written about the art of opening, but it is something that I take very seriously, I enjoy opening a party with some downtempo beats before moving to some funkier stuff to get some asses moving towards the dance floor. If I am playing a more peak hour set, my style is geared towards a raw house sound, always armed with some vocals and classics. I spend a ton of time digging before a party, I love being able to educate a crowd with something new (or old!) all while keeping people engaged and dancing
Sean: Tell me three formative experiences that molded what you consider a successful night.
Chili: This is not an easy call, but I will give it a go. I always viewed Roger Sanchez’s ‘Release Yourself’ residency at Pacha in Ibiza as one of my favorite nights. Roger has long been one of my favorite DJs but I loved the journey that he would go on at Pacha, just him open to close. Another one of my favorite nights that I became a regular at was Subliminal Sessions at Centro Fly (and then at Discotheque) in the early 2000’s. This was a time that Eric Morillo was at the top of his game, and to be able to capture him in an intimate, sexy environment with like minded people was always a great time. Lastly, I would say its the Mr Saturday Night party. You might be noticing a theme here….but I love how Justin and Eamon play their whole event. Its always interesting to see someone take the night (or day) from start to finish. But beyond the tunes, they have really built a grass roots, DIY community that I am happy to be a part of (as well as my kids!)
Sean: Three fond memories of our Forward Disco nights at Cielo. I won’t say fondest or favorite because there’s too many (*hazy) memories and too many talented people to put anything into a “more” or “most” title.
Chili: Well put on not shaping this with a ‘most’ title. The last five years have provided a ton of fond memories. Just the opportunity to work with some of my idols has been incredible, and to add in that everyone that we have worked with has been so humble & genuinely good people. But if I had to list three, they would be (in no particular order) our first event with Hector Romero back in 2013. Hec is someone that I have idolized for years, and I was super nervous to be playing before him. He was incredibly cool with us….so much so that he has become a very close friend and mentor, our Forward Disco consigliere. Our Tribute to the 90s with Danny Krivit and Rissa Garcia was another master class. Danny worked records that I would never think of placing together and did with such ease and flawlessness. We went super late that night, and the moment of the FD community rocking to Janet Jackson at 430am is one that I hope never leaves the memory bank. The third (and again – I could have listed a dozen more easily) would be Honey Dijon & Phil Moffa. Honey is as forward thinking as you could imagine, and she delivered an amazing set, and then Phil took us on a journey that I didn’t expect, laying down some unreal funk. I think that we need them back soon!
Sean: You’re one of the hardest working people I’ve ever worked with when it comes to digging for records. I don’t think I ever felt outworked before now… name three go-to records for you over past 5 years. (Why they work too)
Chili: Thanks for the compliment – although I am no sure that either one of us ‘outworks’ the other!
I wanted to answer this question with ‘the catalogues of David Morales, Adesse Versions and Cabin Fever – but because you asked for three specific records, so I will choose one from each:
David Morales – Shelter Me: This one works at any point in the night. The unmistakable Sade vocal, coupled with David’s unparalleled drum work, make this the perfect record to drop anytime.
Adesse Versions – Pressured: Another vocal track that always gets a reaction. This one was released in 2013, put Adesse on the map for me and despite playing everything in his repertoire ever since, this is the one that I always come back to. Late night, sexy and sleazy sub bass gives way to a classic vocal hook reimagined and perfected in a way that only Adesse can.
Cabin Fever – For Spencer: Peak hour raw house tool. Cabin Fever maintains anonymity of the artists on the label, I always assumed that this one was Spencer Parker – however, after interviewing him we found out that he was not the one behind this track but it was made with him in mind. This one is as in your face as it gets – one of my favorite FD memories was playing this track and seeing both Gladys Pizarro and Manny Ward come darting into the booth to jam.
Sean: Tell me the best thing and the toughest thing about doing a monthly event.
Chili: The answer to both, is ‘working with Sean’ – ha! The toughest thing is keeping things fresh. There is no shortage of events in this city and no shortage of DJs both local, and passing through. So maintaining an event that people want to frequent over and over is a challenge and are waters that we have done a good job of navigating for the past 5 years. This might sound odd, but I really enjoy all of the logistics that go into an event – from booking our artists, setting the visuals in the club, working on riders, even managing guest lists and social media – I genuinely enjoy (almost) all of it. But the absolute best part is of course the party, and seeing the same faces over and over again jamming out to our party – and meeting new faces who quickly become old friends has been super rewarding