‘We’re always trying to push ahead with a forward thinking music policy’: Big Top interview with Luca Pilato

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Junk Department are currently gearing up to unleash their Big Top: a circus tent packed full of globally renowned talent, including Jamie Jones, Maya Jane Coles and Ben Pearce. With an international reputation for some of the best underground music events, it looks like the team are clearly set to deliver on their promise to put on the biggest party Southampton has ever seen, as the 5000 person capacity day-festival is accompanied by not one, but three unique after-parties hosted at Southampton’s most renowned nightclubs, TRiPP, Voodoo Lounge and the Mo Club Warehouse.

In anticipation of the award winning brand’s biggest venture to date, The Edge was lucky enough to be offered the privilege of an exclusive interview with long serving resident Luca Pilato, who’s been heavily involved in shaping the brand’s identity and direction over the past years. As well as offering us a glimpse into his experiences working with Junk Department, Luca offers up his thoughts on the way club trends and youth culture have developed here on the South Coast.

Organising Big Top marks a significant moment for Junk Department as it steps onto the festival scene; it’s a bold move for a club brand, what motivated Junk to undertake this venture?

It’s something we’ve always wanted to do. We’re a very ambitious bunch and we’re always thinking up ideas of bigger and better parties. The big top concept was thought up a couple of years ago but it seemed like 2014 was the best time to launch as it was 10 years of Junk since its first conception and we’d just won the Best Small Club award from DJ Mag. It just felt right. People call us crazy… They’re not wrong.

What kind of impact do you think the one-day-festival will have on the south coast music scene?

It can only be a good thing for the South. To be honest a lot of the work we’ve done has put Southampton on the map as a clubbing destination. This is kind of the culmination of all that work but testament has to go to the crowds that make the scene down here so special. Without them none of this would be possible!

As a DJ playing at Big Top, what are you looking forward to the most about playing in a festival environment as opposed to the club format that you’re familiar with from your residency at Junk?

I actually love playing clubs and small intimate venues so it’s a bit daunting for me but saying that I’ve played at the Amsterdam Dance Event, Fly Bermuda, Exit Festival, Eastern Electrics Festival and Isle Of Wight last year so I’m not majorly scared. It’s always exciting playing in front of a huge crowd, it gets the heart pumping a little faster and means you have to be on point!

Last year Junk was named ‘Best Small Venue’, by DJ Mag, what does this kind of high profile recognition bring to the club?

Well I think it gives the brand the recognition it deserves. There aren’t many other club brands that have toured to Berlin, Amsterdam, Ibiza, numerous festivals through the summer, ran warehouse events in London and maintained a club running at 3-4 nights a week. I mean why would they it’s a stressful thing to try and pull off but somehow we managed to pull it all together.

How have you seen Junk’s music policy adapt over your tenancy, and what has stimulated the changes?

I guess we try not to follow trends and keep ahead of everyone else, I believe that’s a fair point. We booked Jamie Jones in 2008, Maya Jane Coles in 2011 – way before they blew up. We were doing Circo Loco events at the club before people really knew what Circo Loco was. We were just keeping ahead of the game. I guess this has given us a kind of trust with our crowd – they know if Junk has booked a DJ they’re going to be worth seeing.

Working with Junk department as Chief Artist Booker, what do you look for in an artist that you’re selecting?

We all make the decisions I’m just the one everyone points to when it goes badly! Ha! We try to bring in upcoming acts that maybe aren’t as well-known as they should be – like I said we’re always trying to push ahead with a forward thinking music policy so we like to try and educate a crowd as well as entertain. Of course we also bring in established acts from time to time. This contributes to a healthy balance between fresh acts and the current stars so everyone can be pleased.

Do feel that the club’s rebranding from Junk, to TRiPP has affected the club’s place within Southampton’s nightlife?

It’s certainly made the venue more accessible which was the idea. It’s now £5 for students on a Saturday / £7 for non-students whereas and we’re still booking quality DJs so it has probably opened up the club to the public a bit more. It’s still the best venue for our dance music by far though I’d say on the South Coast. The investment into sound/lighting has been staggering and we’re not changing that aspect at all.

Though DJs are often seen to be responsible for leading music trends, choosing the tracks and artists to support, are there often instances where you find the club scene has to adapt to follow trends set by youth culture?

The club scene is always adapting. For example most promoters in the town now are promoting house DJs as these are the popular ones, 2 years ago they were all over dubstep. For us our main focus has always been house / techno. Because we had the club we could offer other nights to cater for different music tastes but it was never our main focus.

Junk Department’s other ventures include curating acclaimed nights in London and further afield in Europe, such as its exchanges with Berlin’s famous Watergate club. What benefits do you experience from stimulating this interaction between different regions’ talent?

We’ve had a great relationship with the Germans and also the Dutch crew from Studio 80 for ages now. It’s good to keep the links alive with those guys and joint venture – we’re all on the same wavelength and in the industry for the same reasons so we’re all keen to help each other along the way.

More recently house music has been seeing frequent rotation and popular acclaim in the charts. Do you find yourself seeing new fans acquainting themselves with underground sounds or do you find that commercialised dance music and fans just remains within their own separate bubble?

Definitely more young people are into house music now which is great! I hope these new fans will start to get more into the underground because this phase won’t last forever and something new will come and replace it. I’m going to say indie / rock music is due a revival! I’ve put my neck out there. I’d hope people just discovering the chart house would gravitate towards the more underground stuff in the future but who can say… maybe Simon Cowell knows?

Big Top is not far away now, and thanks to its inspiring line-up is generating a lot of excitement; can we expect more events like this in the future?

Ask me on the Monday after this one! Haha, we’re actually planning some other exciting events in the future so watch this space! We’re also in talks about Ibiza residencies and more London events… All will be revealed soon.

Lastly, which artists are you personally most excited to see perform at Big Top?

I’m excited to see Laura Jones and Dyed Soundorom on the mainstage… They’ve both been huge supporters of the club in the past and we’re good friends. I’m also excited to hear Max Graef in the Future Garden tent. If it’s sunny (which it will be) and he’s playing it will be an excellent vibe!

With only a few days to go until electronic music fans from near and far descend on Stoneham Park this Saturday. With such clear passion and effort invested in making the event possible, I’m confident that Big Top will be a festival to remember.

Luca Pilato will be playing at Big Top in Stoneham Park, Saturday 3rd May, alongside Jamie Jones, Maya Jane Coles, Dyed Soundorom, Ben Pearce and Laura Jones. Big Top day and afterparty tickets are all available here, and are expected to sell out soon.

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Film and English student also into music and travelling.

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