A rave in a bank? A gig in a bakery? A club night in a cinema?
We sit down with Mike Gyi, co-founder of Mixmotel to talk about his experiential music night built on a sense of community, a love of unique venues, and, of course, great music.
Dalston, east London. Friday night. While most people were heading to the nearest hipster-filled joint for a pint of pretentious (but probably delicious) craft ale, we strolled up to Fanny’s, an unsuspecting kebab shop at the upper end of Stoke Newington High Street to begin our night.
The smell of doner meat wafted past as we went downstairs to a pulsating basement room with nothing more than a pair of speakers, a DJ stood playing, a crowd and an eye-catching Mixmotel neon sign.
The night was unlike anything we’d experienced before: DJs played sets that were met with appreciative applause; the crowd noticeably connected with the music in a genuine way; and there was a sense of togetherness that always seem to be lacking at normal club nights.
We wanted to know more, so a few weeks later we sat down with Mike and he revealed how it all started.
Evolution in the making: Mixmotel was formerly known at Beatmotel
Mixmotel began in 2016 from a desire to bring DJs and electronic music fans together in a unique environment less money-driven than your average club night.
Like all major Northern English cities, Newcastle has a strong clubbing scene among young adults, and when he wasn’t studying for his architecture degree there, Mike was going out and learning about the promotion industry at the same time.
‘I had a guy on my course who was a big promoter’, explains Mike, ‘And it gave me a window into that scene. I just hated it. It really confirmed to me that those club nights are all about sales.’
So after finishing his degree, he left the music scene in the North behind and moved to London where he met Chris Allen, the other co-founder of Mixmotel, on the first day of his new job at an architecture firm.
Many pints and months later, they were both at a stage called Beat Hotel at Glastonbury 2015, known for its laid-back, surreal atmosphere. ‘There was just a vibe in there that made Chris and I realise we want to bring this atmosphere to London. Somehow.’
After a slight diversion with an unsuccessful attempt to get a self-made electronic music app called Beat Motel (can you see where this is going?) off the ground, they decided to go back to their original idea from Glastonbury. ‘I’ve always had this Sofar Sounds/Boiler Room/anti-promoter idea in my head.’ Mike remarked, ‘And London has got so many spaces to explore.’ So where next?
Getting the beats rolling
House party vibes: one of Mixmotel’s first events in Morden.
Mike utilised his architecture connections to bring the first Mixmotel night to fruition and managed to secure a disused HSBC bank in south London. ‘It was a huge, stripped out concrete space, there was a bank vault — and we didn’t really know what we were doing.’
Suffice to say, Mike and his small team of friends managed to get 100 people to the first event on a relatively early Thursday evening, and was an impressive feat by anyone’s standards. But to Mike it meant more. ‘It was about taking the focus away from getting people drunk and instead making the music, the DJ’s experience and the unique setting essential to everyone there.’
Since then, Mixmotel revellers have found themselves in the most weird and wonderful venues across London, courtesy of the Mixmotel team’s dedication to picking out quirky spaces. ‘There’s moments when I walk into new venues and I think “I’d love to do an event in there” — just because it seems so stupid, I can imagine it.’
Wrapped up in music: Mixmotel at Pure Records in Brixton
Don’t rock the boat: Mixmotel onboard Tamesis Dock in Vauxhall
‘It’s all about the music and the space, not the ticket sales.’ — Mike
Hoppin’ to the hops. Mixmotel at Canopy Beer Company, Herne Hill
Mike has since moved on from the architecture firm and now works as an experience designer in the tech world — and his devotion to this industry seeps into the work of Mixmotel.
‘We’re always thinking about the experience of our audience — not just on the night, but also leading up to it’, says Mike, which explains why the same familiar faces seem to pop up at each Mixmotel event. But unlike the growth-driven tech companies, Mike is prepared to build Mixmotel’s community slowly.
‘If you look at Silicon Valley, there’s lots of people in start-ups wanting exponential growth. They want everything and they want it now. I’m more Italian about it’, he chuckles. ‘It’s all about slow, linear growth, keeping it constrained and doing it when it works for you.’
One community. One neon sign.
On the dancefloor, this strong sense of a close-knit community is evident. Strangers come together and dance and listen to music underneath the neon Mixmotel sign, which appears at every single one of their events.
Designed by Mike and Chris, the Mixmotel logo is arguably one of the most powerful and iconic aspects of the brand. ‘It’s great because it evokes that sense of belonging in the space, which derives from mine and Chris’ love for architecture. It’s such an identity as well,’ says Mike.
A platform for DJs
London is packed with big, branded club nights that are played by the same resident DJs every weekend, and Mike was aware of this when booking DJs for Mixmotel.
‘I’ve had friends who in the past DJ’ed regularly in the North, but when they came down to London to continue their careers they hit a stumbling block — they just can’t get a gig.’ Mike’s idea for Mixmotel is to create a platform for DJs to get those all-important first gigs under their belt and to build up confidence while playing to as many people as possible in the UK’s capital.
A platform for DJs built on equality
DJs fill out a form on the website and the Mixmotel team listens to their mixes while reading about their background and tastes. ‘It’s a nice way to sift through people, instead of paying attention to the amount of likes a DJ’s social media channel has.’
Inspired by the Guerilla Girls exhibition at the Whitechapel gallery, Mixmotel is inclusive when it comes to the gender balance of DJs playing at their events. The electronic music industry is infamous for its gender bias against women, something Mixmotel is keen to eradicate. ‘When I saw the exhibition, I wanted to implement a policy with Mixmotel to make sure the issue of gender equality was at the forefront of our decision-making when booking DJs, so we now have at least one female on the bill. At times we’ve had a line-up of all women, which has been brilliant.’
As well as creating a space for electronic music fans to come together and enjoy music, Mixmotel is committed to use its platform as a space to nurture and develop new talent. ‘We have a funnel system where the best DJs move to play 2-hour slots. And we want to have that our DJs go onto perform at festivals, which is something we’re working on right now.’
So what’s next for Mike and Mixmotel? He’s already thinking about branching out to other countries. ‘I have an urge to move away to Sao Paulo or Barcelona and continue it from there as well as London. It’s so good to explore a new city from my side and from a customer’s perspective.’
Mixmotel feels so very different to all the other nights and events out there. Its anti-promoter philosophy and community spirit are heart-warming to see, especially in a world dictated by growth and data.
Throughout our conversation, we could tell that Mike and the team get the most satisfaction from running more low key nights in intimate venues. ‘Our priority for our audience will always be running the smallest parties possible. It’s all about the music and the space, not the ticket sales.’
You get the feeling that Mixmotel are recapturing, reinventing and crafting a new music scene that feels miles away from interacting with music fans on internet forums and on social media. And while the latter may be no bad thing, in this day and age it’s refreshing to actually experience something happening right before your eyes. It’s real. And we get the feeling Mixmotel are just getting started.
Mixmotel’s next event finds Mike and the team at arguably their most outlandish setting yet, in the taxidermy-filled King’s Head Members Club in Hoxton on Friday June 14th.
Find out more, join their community on Instagram and sign up the newsletter at mixmotel.com to be the first to know about events and listen to recent live recordings. Oh, and buy tickets here. Obvs. We’ll see you there.