Not only are brothers Danny and Kieran Clancy the minds behind London's hugely respected Krankbrother parties, a string of top-notch house and techno releases and a label of the same name; they've also got a hand in the restaurant business. We sat down for brunch at their very well-respected establishment, Beagle, to hear about their 10 years throwing parties in a rapidly gentrifying city and making amends in a competitive fine dining industry...
WORDS: SIRIN KALE
Danny and Kieran Clancy, known to party-lovers across London as Krankbrother, are busy men. DJ Mag knows this because when I meet them for brunch at Beagle, their restaurant in a lovingly-restored Hoxton railway arch, they flit from table to table like debutantes working the room at their first dance. They show prospective wedding parties around the venue; they take business meetings; they answer phone calls.
Modern life places a high value on being busy: it’s seen as a thing of pride to fill every hour of your day with varied pursuits. Few people actually are as busy as they claim to be, but the Clancy brothers are the real deal. Pinning down a time when both of them were in the country for our meal together was hard.
In addition to running Beagle (which has won rave reviews, and I can vouch for their eggs), throwing monthly parties across the capital, organising an annual Shoreditch street party and producing music (which they put out on their own label), the Clancy brothers don’t seem to have a lot of free time. What do they do in their odd hours of free time? Kieran, the younger, dark-haired brother, grins. “Watch TV or hang out with my kid,” mostly.
Over Bloody Marys (theirs was virgin, mine was not) and scrambled eggs I ask them about some of the common questions they get asked in interviews. “Everyone’s always like, what’s it like working with your brother?” Danny, the older brother tells me. He pauses.
“We tell them it’s awful.” Any other questions I should avoid? “What’s the difference between running a restaurant and running a rave?” The answer? “People are a lot more forgiving in a nightclub. They don’t expect everything to be absolutely perfect, they don’t see themselves as amateur club promoters or DJs. Whereas when you come to a restaurant everyone thinks they’re a chef or a food writer, so you have to work really hard to satisfy everyone.”
It’s fair to say there were a few raised eyebrows when the Clancys announced they were getting into the restaurant industry. Running a restaurant is hard, particularly in London, with its super-abundance of eating options (more than a few of which go bust — it’s difficult to keep up standards while keeping things profitable). Beagle, to their credit, has been a resounding success — when I visit on a Saturday afternoon it’s packed, and they’ve won positive reviews from hard-to-please critics.
What made the Clancy brothers get into the food business? Kieran leans forward. “We always thought we’d probably open a venue of some sort – probably a bar or a club would have made sense. Then as we got older we realised we probably wouldn’t want to open a club, it was more likely to be a restaurant. But it’s the space here which informed what we did with the venue. It felt like it should be a modern place for all people, not concept-y but seasonal, produce-led eating.”
Would they never open a club, then? “I think if the right space came up in London”, Danny responds, “we would still open a club. But there’s not that many of those spaces left in London anymore.” We get onto the topic of London’s housing crisis, a crisis which extends to every corner of the city and which is steadily ossifying our capital’s nightlife.
“I used to own a warehousecalled Factory 7 in Shoreditch that we ran as an events space, but even that’s been knocked down. It’s just impossible to find spaces any more. The worst possible thing about London at the moment is that the residential value of everything is really threatening all the cultural spaces.”
Kieran chips in. “I read a frightening statistic that since 2008 35% of all music venues had closed down. Everything comes back to property prices really, because landlords realised they could make more money selling off the space for development.
It’s a tough time to be a club promoter in certain respects, because there’s much more competition for the venues. Most venues you speak to are heavily booked up months in advance.” I ask whether he thinks it’s a good time to be throwing parties. “There’s a massive interest in dance music in the charts now.”
When the Clancy brothers first started throwing parties in 2009, the London club scene was entering a new phase. The last of the legendary super-clubs had closed down (Turnmills shuttered in 2008) and a void existed for party-loving Londoners now their beloved clubbing institutions were no more.
As recession-struck twenty-somethings living for the weekend looked for new places to dance their cares away, innovative party promoters like Secret Sundaze, Krankbrother and Mulletover stepped up to the plate. The Clancys were at the vanguard of this, throwing parties for friends, and friends of friends in warehouses across London with questionable sanitation and ventilation systems to break a health and safety inspector out into cold sweats.
“There would be four speakers, some turntables, a fire exit, no toilet and a few security guards if you were lucky”, Danny recalls. “Everything kind of happened organically, it was just about good music and a good atmosphere and it grew from that”.
I ask the brothers whether they think things were ‘better’ back then. Across dance music culture, there’s a tendency to glorify the raves of past as a halcyon age, where the crowd was cooler and the pills were stronger and the music was better. Do the brothers think things were better way back when?
“I think it’s natural to reminisce about things being better back when. We're all probably guilty of it. But we did lots of warehouse events back then, and I love doing them, but it’s also great to go to an amazing club like Fabric where everything’s laid out and having a great experience”, Danny answers.
Kieran agrees that DIY clubbing can also have its pitfalls. “I remember going to one of the early Secretsundaze parties in a basement somewhere and just not being able to light a cigarette. And I knew that my lighter was working fine. I went outside and it lit straight away and I realised its because there was so little airflow in the club that the oxygen levels were too low. You’d never have that environment nowadays.”
Dangerously-low oxygen levels aside, I question the brothers about their biggest fuck-ups. “Our first ever event at Oval Space, we turned up on the day and they only had one toilet”, Danny tells me. “For a thousand people.” Kieran reminisces about an unusual problem-solving approach.
“We called a builder and he found a drain and sellotaped a bunch of plastic bottles together and connected it to the sewer. People had spent like twenty quid a ticket, and we just had a sign agains the wall saying ‘toilet’ and people pissing against a wall.”
We return to the topic of the brothers’ love for Fabric, and I ask them what they think about London’s shifting nightlife. In many ways Krankbrother has profited from this evolution away from established clubs where regulars would return week after week, to a more protean scene where it’s all about the promoter or the lineup, rather than the venue. Is it sad that there’s so few established dance music clubs left now in London, and that those which are left—like Dance Tunnel—are counting out their final days?
“Everything comes back to property prices really”, Danny explains, “and sadly so many clubs have to diversify into events spaces which is difficult because the rents are so high”. I ask whether they’re hopeful new mayor Sadiq Khan will be able to arrest the decline of London’s club scene and ‘save the rave’. “I’m delighted by a lot of the things Khan seems to be doing”, Kieran explains. “We can’t just have everything turning into high end residential flats, which is tragic. Hopefully he can stop that.”
I mention that it strikes me Danny and Kieran got into party promoting at exactly the right time. Do they think it’s harder to start out now? “When we started doing events you’d look at the listings and there would be three promoters running parties, alongside Fabric, so as long as you didn’t clash with any of them you’d be fine”, Danny says. “Now if you look at any weekend, there’s fifteen promoters with good lineups doing interesting things. So it probably is more difficult to do large scale parties now.”
Kieran explains that Krankbrother evolved in a much more organic, steady way. “You see new promoters turning up now and immediately booking quite big acts, because they’re happy to offer more money than anyone else”. I ask whether we focus too much on the lineup nowadays, at the expense of picking parties with overall good vibes.
“Thats how you sell tickets”, Danny responds, “by paying money for big acts, but I’d like to see people coming to us for the party”. Kieran mentions they’re starting new party series Never Be Found Out with the aim of hosting smaller capacity crowds in more intimate, unexpected locations. “We want it to be more about the party than the lineup.”
After having hosted parties for nearly the best part of a decade, how do you keep things fresh? “We try to innovate in what we do, so we throw a street party every summer which no one else does,” Kieran explains. Other than that? “Keep it varied in terms of numbers, program a bit more left field and do the smaller parties alongside the bigger ones”, Danny advises.
As delicately as I can put it, I ask whether the brothers are fearful about becoming a victim of their own success. How do you attract the right kind of crowd to your parties, now anyone can pick up a copy of Time Out and buy a ticket online?
“This is something we think about a lot,” Kieran responds, “and we’ve figured out that the acts we book have a bearing on who turns up. There’s certain acts we’d book before that we don’t book now. We try to pick the right acts, and we also have a door picker, so if someone’s got the wrong attitude they’re not coming in.”
They mention the importance of DJing at their parties as a way to read the atmosphere of the crowd. “We didn’t always play together, it kind of just evolved, but it’s nice DJing with someone. When you’re playing by yourself you have less time to think, but when Kieran plays something I can stand there and look at the crowd and read them and play something different”.
I ask about their path into music production. “We want to spend a couple of days in the studio a week and focus on the quality of the output”, Danny says. The ambition? “The main driver of it is really us just trying to make good music. As we don’t have a lot of time with it, we’re trying to make something really good and put it out on our own label so we don’t have to deal with A&Rs in Berlin or whatever.”
As veteran promoters, I wonder whether throwing parties ever gets a bit mundane. Do you ever get nervous before big events, I ask? “We get excited before parties, not nervous”, Danny responds. “A day like today, it’s great to watch people play music for ages.” Do you ever get panic nightmares that no-ones going to turn up? Danny laughs. “I definitely used to have stress dreams where we’d booked out Oval Space and no one turns up. When we started out, advance tickets didn’t really exist, so you’d be circling the venue at 11pm not knowing if ten people would show or if it would be a sell-out. That’s the old school form of promoting. Now it’s easy.”
Kieran chimes in good-humouredly. “We’ve had actual nightmares happen though! We’ve been shut down by the police. There were a thousand people in the venue with a police officer on stage turning off the music and making everyone leave. We had to refund everyone and lost a fortune.
Actual nightmares, you know”. They shake their heads. “The warehouses where we started out doing parties never really had enough power”, Danny goes on, “they’d always be shitty generators tacked into illegal power sources. The power would drop out and the sound would just go. That’s when your heart’s in your mouth. Even sometimes when there was just a drop in the music it would be enough to set your heart going.”
I ask about the highlights of the best part of a decade spent in clubbing. “We met a guy last time we were in Ibiza who came up to us at a party and he was with his missus, and they met at one of our parties”, Danny remembers. Kieran tells me of an actual Krankbrother-facilitated baby.
“One of my best mates met his wife at our party, and I’m the godfather to their baby now. But aside from that”, he responds with a laugh, “we’ve probably had quite a few breakups and a couple of unwanted pregnancies”. Danny interjects, “…and a few STDs”.
Kieran goes on, “but we’re giving people an opportunity to meet up and dance together, whether its Tinder first dates or teenagers having their first proper clubbing experience. I always love it when I see kids at our parties and they’re losing their shit and it’s so exciting for them to be there, it’s great. It’s a special thing to see.”
After an hour spent trading war stories and talking open sewers, poorly-oxygenated venues and possible STDs, its time for me to leave. As I walk back out into a slightly-less sunny Hoxton afternoon than before, it occurs to me that, busy as the Clancy brothers may be, they still seem to really care about the art of throwing a really good party. And what else is there, really?
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