Promoter Interview: Andy Peyton (XOYO)
XOYO is one of the best medium-sized venues in London, without a doubt. Every weekend they present a superb selection of well-programmed line-ups, with an emphasis on diversity, fun and spot on sound. Over the years they have developed a strong following within the party-going community and they’ve dedicated a hell of a lot of time and energy into their marketing campaigns, party concepts and booking policy to give their clientele the best experience possible. We recently sat down for a chat with one of the owners of the venue, Andy Peyton, who gave a great interview, which you can read below… enjoy.
To begin with could you just give us a brief bit about yourself and how you came to be with XOYO and The Nest?
Well, I came to London for uni when I was 18, and while I was studying I was working at a bar-cum-club called The Elbow Room. When I graduated I went full-time, but kind of got a bit bored in the job – it was a lot more exciting while I was doing it part-time. So, I asked if I could start doing some events on Sundays. I started putting on bands and rappers, beatboxers and all sorts of live acts – kind of like a hobby within my job. It was good because, for the whole six months, I was learning. I really enjoyed it, did a couple of other events outside of work and ended up making more money from that than my actual job. So, I ended up quitting my job to become a promoter. However, the first event I did lost loads of money. It was like ‘oh, sh*t.. panic stations!’
What happened after that?
So, following that, I spent more time learning, doing more events, a lot of band-led stuff, quite indie at the time. Shortly after, Turnmills put an ad in NME saying, ‘Promoters Wanted’. So I went down and did a night on a Thursday and got to know Danny Hugh who owned it, and he was just organizing the first year of Get Loaded festival. It was the Happy Mondays reunion on the Sunday, which was the alternative to the SW4 on the Saturday which he wasn’t involved in at the time. I interned for that, worked a stage for free. The following year they asked me to help book the bands for Get Loaded. Eventually Get Loaded morphed into SW4 and it was much easier to do the dance music side. So we made SW4 a two-day event and I became Danny’s right-hand man in terms of booking for it, whilst at the same time doing a load of events myself. My own events were getting bigger and I was doing some band consultancy for brands like Ray Ban, Bacardi and Puma. I’d always stayed friendly with Steve Blonde and Riz from the days when I was at The Elbow Room. Steve left Fabric to do the Old Queen’s Head and a good friend of mine, who I lived with, was the manager there so I got to know those guys really well. Steve was always on at me to come and be the promo manager but I liked doing my own thing. I did a monthly night there called Scandalism which ended up being their best night, their busiest night anyway. Then after about a year of him asking, we did a deal where I’d take a percentage of the club as an owner in exchange for running it but while still being able to do my own thing alongside. So I was doing that, being in and out of the office – one foot in each, doing my own thing, and part of me doing my own thing was doing my nights at XOYO.
So how did you end up buying the place?
I always thought the club was quite badly laid out – it was nowhere near its potential. I’m quite obsessed with lights and how the lighting in a club should be. I’m quite a perfectionist (like I’ll go down to nights at The Nest and put red gel over the till lights so there are no white lights in the venue – just constantly trying to improve the club).
Once a month I’d go into XOYO where I’d see a million things wrong and nobody really caring. So I was chewing Steve’s ear off for a few months saying ‘we should buy XOYO. If we buy XOYO I’ll come in and drop everything else, all my freelance stuff. We’ll do it, we’ll do it together.’ We put in a bid, they said no. That was in September four years ago. They came back to us the following March saying, ‘maybe’…. So we negotiated and finally got there. We bought it in June-time, three years ago now, did a crazy refurb – 70 builders in three teams doing eight hour shifts for seven weeks. We opened in the September that same year. And since then, I’ve just been running the team for both XOYO and The Nest. I took over the music for the Old Queen’s Head, too.
So would you say that your background is more band-based, and as time has gone on you’ve moved into the more electronic stuff?
Yeah, definitely. I used be a real indie kid. All that little scene, you know The Paddingtons, Les Incompetents – I was really in all that. Then I lived above a pub in Archway for a year or two. About 10 people lived above it, the Mean Fiddler guys, Ally Wolf, another promoter, a load of bands and promoters – all indie kids. I was doing loads of nights all over London, Koko once a month, The Rhythm Factory.
What happened was – you remember those bands that came out that were a bit more electronic sounding, like The Klaxons and Shitdisco? – people started talking about ‘Nu Rave’. At the time Caius from Young Turks and Blaise Belville (Boiler Room) were doing a night similar to ours and we were quite competitive. They were doing like Jamie T in one room and Luck & Neat in another, bands like Jack Peñate. I was doing a similar thing, Professor Green and DJ Medhi on the top floor and someone like Jamie in the basement. The impetus was starting to listen to different stuff; be it garage or grime or house. Around the same time as all the nu rave was happening, when Ed Banger blew up – there were a lot of indie kids like me who then got into all that. Me and Caius got to know each other and said, ‘Why don’t we do a night together?’…it was called, Chalk which we did at Scala on Saturdays. Seems crazy looking at the lineups now, but we had Calvin Harris’ first show, Mark Ronson, Diplo. Then we had the first ever Ed Banger party, we had rappers, we had Hot Chip, Mystery Jets, Friendly Fires, Foals – loads of bands, DJs, MCs – we were really flexible, it was a really exciting time. Me and all these other kids got swept along listening to all this new music. Certainly a lot of dance music fans were born out of that time.
How much of an affect would you say that’s had on your current take on XOYO and The Nest, and your approach to bookings?
It had a lot of an affect at the start because when I was first promoting so I was doing stuff like The 2 Bears and Hot Chip, Aeroplane, Friendly Fires – I knew that world inside out. I was good friends with Mylo, who’s actually one of the owners/investors in XOYO. I was promoting a disco night of his at Dalston Superstore. So when we first started booking for XOYO I was booking what I knew. So, if you look at the first few months, it was very much in that vein. Then we got onto booking acts like Jacques Greene and Rustie, Frankie Knuckles and the more I started to see of that, the more I liked it, and I think that’s apparent if you look at the programming now compared to, say, two years ago. There’s maybe not as much disco even though I still love that stuff. Tastes develop; I’ve been in the club every Friday and Saturday since we opened, I can only have missed handful of nights. We’ve certainly moved more towards house and techno. But we still do trap for example, we’re still quite eclectic I think.
And how important is it for you on a personal level and business-wise having nights that veer away from house and techno and maybe dip into other genres?
It’s important for a lot of reasons. Musical consistency is important. Like Saturdays at The Nest is always house music, it’s always busy, so there’s an argument for that. But I don’t want to be stuck on a carousel like, ‘Okay, this is the act Annie Mac’s playing at the moment’ or ‘This is what’s hot on RA, so let’s fight with 30 promoters to book them’. Try booking Dixon now, it’s impossible. Or Mano Le Tough. There are 50 promoters in London trying to book Mano Le Tough. So, from a business point of view it’s good to mix it up but it’s just a bit boring fighting everyone else for the same thing. I’m always trying to do something a little bit different.
Have you had many occasions where you’ve had to either fight with other promoter or had someone step on your toes? Have you had much friction with other clubs or has it been pretty smooth?
When I was a promoter it was very hard because the bigger clubs controlled the lot. There were many occasions where the bigger clubs would see what we were doing and squash it. They’d tell artists, ‘If you play that then you’ll never play our club again’. But it was era when there were super clubs and they wielded a lot of power. That’s why Chalk stopped – the bigger clubs saw we were pulling in 1500 kids every weekend and were like, ‘We have to stop this, it’s taking away from what we do.’ Obviously there’s always going to be competition. But I’ve got a good relationship with Sean and Andy at Fabric. For example we announced Novelist for May, and they had him booked in April, which I didn’t know. As soon as I found out, I contacted Sean and took it down, and they’ve extended me the same courtesy before. Everyone’s fighting for the same acts but I think there’s still a lot of cooperation. I don’t see as many people throwing their weight around the way they used to.
That’s good. It’s good for everyone isn’t it? It’s such a small business that we work in, you don’t want to feel like you’re rubbing against someone in a bad way, your bound to see them in person and it’s bound to make everything that bit more difficult than it needs to be, a bit unnecessary.
Yeah man, and do you know what? It’s nice to be able to go all these other clubs, and have a good time with the people from these other clubs, or if those people want to come to XOYO or The Nest; it’s why we always try to extend a warm hand. It’s not a war, it should be fun!
Definitely. So, you guys managed to put out quite a high-impact marketing campaign behind Skream’s residency. Are you looking to do something similar in the future? Is it something that’s quite important to you and your team?
100%. When I started, when we bought XOYO, 90% of my time was spent looking at line-ups, emailing agents trying to book DJs. Now, that’s probably 20% of my time. I don’t want to book a DJ for a Friday in a certain month and be like, ‘Right, that’s a cool line-up, next!’. Because that makes my job boring and it also makes people’s lives boring. And every time we book a line-up and we’re like, ‘Yeah, that’s a solid line-up’, there’s a story behind, there’s a reason for it. Not just a bunch of DJs in a club. That doesn’t sell as well as if there’s an idea behind it. The residency series is obviously the thing that most people come back to, but that in itself – people always ask me who’s next. We always try and do something different. The Benji B lineups for example, the Room 2 stuff is all from different clubs. We’ve got Goldie doing Metalheadz; Plastic People with Four Tet and Floating Points, always something different. The next two residencies are different be it the marketing campaign or the programming, and that’s always the best thing. Look at what Artwork did.
The house party?
Yeah, we helped with that. We brought decks, booze… He’s a great friend of the club and an amazing DJ. Highly underrated too! So we invited him to do these Art’s House parties with us at the Nest in June. June’s the toughest month of the year for clubs. But, with this, no artists are announced yet they’re all almost sold out and that’s unheard of. And that’s testament to a concept. Ideas and concepts are way more valuable than just booking DJs.
For sure, and as you say, just booking a load of DJs on a Friday and Saturday is okay, but when you package it in something that’s more of a concept or experience for both the host and the partygoers themselves, it makes it more memorable for everyone.
100%. Like the Skream 2001 dubstep thing, we didn’t announce any acts until the day. It was such an amazing night for everyone that was there.
In respect to that kind of thing – are there any concept-based nights you can reveal? Is there anything you’re working on that you’re really excited about?
We’ve got something coming which I’m very excited about – that will start in September. I can’t tell you what – but I think people will be very into it. I’m very into it.
Can you give us any kind of hint?
Not really no! [laughing] We can reveal more in a couple of months.
How about yourself anyway? On a more personal level – you’ve been involved with both clubs or a few years now, and it’s clear from the way you talk about that you’re still very much enjoying what you’re doing and finding it exciting and also making it exciting for yourself rather than just resting on your laurels. How does it affect your day-to-day life?
It’s fun man! Crazy. 10-7 in the office then I’ll do ’til 3 or 4 in the club on a Friday or Saturday. But I love it. I wouldn’t want to be doing anything else.
Talking about the closing time, have you had any thoughts about getting your licence extended?
Well it was 3am when we bought it and it took us nine months to get it extended. But it’s a 5am licence now, and I’m happy with that. I know sometimes it’s good to be able to go through midday the next day, obviously they love that on the continent. But when people talk about the licensing problems that clubs have and the issues with regard to people going to hospital etc, I’m not sad that we stop serving alcohol at 4am and people leave by 5. That saves us a lot of potential issues. I know a lot of people go on to other venues after us, which I’m happy with. I’d rather have those people first than second.
Have you had much in the way of grief or issues recently?
I don’t think we’ve had a fight since we started. I think it’s maybe to do with the music we play; also our door staff are really friendly, our bar staff are really friendly, our manager’s too. From the day we bought it I was like, ‘I want a nice club. I want everybody to be nice. Smiling on the front door. Smiling at the cashier’s desk.’ It’s supposed to be a fun night.
When we bought the club we had bouncers all round the club saying, ‘You can’t stand here, you can’t stand there’. I was like what good is this doing the club, what good is it doing for people’s nights out? Just leave people be, and it makes people happy. We’ve got a really friendly club now, we’re lucky in that sense.
Do you still have to meet up with people from the council on a regular basis?
Yeah. I mean I don’t tend to deal with that side of things. But there’s an awful lot of pressure and regulation for licensed venues, particularly late-licensed venues in London. The biggest problem at the moment I think is balloon sellers. It’s technically not illegal to sell laughing gas. But if any venue was to do it they would probably lose their license. So you have these guys stood outside the club or nearby, selling them for cash. The behaviour is anti-social.There’s a guy that walks around playing music too and the neighbours are going crazy about it, and we want the police to come and arrest him but they can’t, because it’s not illegal. It’s a legal grey area that needs cleaning up.
So, to finish up then. You’ve been involved in promoting and nightlife for quite some time in London. Where do you see things going? There have been quite a few ups and down particularly over the last few years. I just wanted to gauge from your perspective where you might imagine things might be going? Is there room for new clubs/venues to pop up? What’s your take?
I feel like the number of articles I’ve seen about the pressure on venues in London must have an affect. But Boris recently came out and said something positive about nightlife – so there’s some pressure the other way. Maybe people are starting to realise that nightlife is a good thing for the economy. It’s a positive thing for a city. I hope it’s gonna swing back the other way, that people are going to be a bit more understanding of it. There’s certainly scope for new clubs, for existing venues to be better, for existing spaces to be utilised better. I feel like XOYO, since we bought it at least, has made a real contribution to London’s nightlife.