A little while ago i was interviewed by the journalist Toby Bourne who had been commissioned to write a piece called ‘Life After DJing‘ for the new website of the leading brand of DJ equipment and software. Initially the piece focused on 4 DJs – Todd Terry, Rob Wood, Nancy Noise and myself. But the brand were so intrigued by our story that it evolved into a separate piece in its own right. However, the plans for the new website then took a change in direction, sadly, and the blog articles that had been commissioned were shelved. Rather than leave it gathering virtual dust, we thought it would be nice to publish it here instead!
Despite or perhaps because of this, from the early ‘00s Duncan and his DJ partner Jonny Bain were, as the Sombrero Sound System, fixtures at events across London and on the festival circuit, including an 11-year unbroken run at Austria’s Snowbombing. But four years ago, he left the UK for Spain.
Drive north-west for about an hour from Barcelona and there, just outside the Catalan town of Moià, you’ll find Mas Casamitjana, where Duncan and his partner Jo have set up their own business. As you might expect, it draws on the many things they’ve done before; Duncan’s adventures in DJing, the record industry, parties and festivals, Jo’s time in film production and the 10 years she spent living in Spain before the couple met.
“This Must Be The Place is a wedding and events venue,” says Duncan. “We bought a centuries-old Catalan farmhouse. It’s our home but it also had some run-down barns we refurbished and converted into a venue space… We have weddings most weekends from April through to October. Then we’re also available for corporate events, away-days, yoga retreats and things like that.”
The couple worked on the property for a year before opening for bookings, giving themselves the time to create something that very much had their personal stamp upon it. “The overall design was actually a very fluid creative process,” Duncan says. “We had a philosophy from very early on that we should respect and carefully restore anything that was old; re-use as many original materials as possible, then add complimentary modern touches in place… I guess you could call the style modern rustic. But I don’t think we really looked to anything in particular as inspiration for our overall style. We wanted to be unique.
“Working with the local community in Moià was another core philosophy or ours. We lucked out with an excellent local builder and an architect, both of who had experience of using local materials and restoring old buildings made from stone.” While he admits this led to some comical scenes as Jo, fluent in Spanish and the local Catalan, left Duncan to communicate with the professionals via hand signals and slow, heavily accented Catalan-ish, the end result is accomplished and impressive. You might even think they’d done it before.
“There are touches of my music and festival background,” explains Duncan, drawing attention to some of the venue’s more modern features. “The pink This Must Be The Place neon sign is an homage to the Sunday Best record label neon sign I carted to many parties over the years. Also… Jo’s family’s business is in tiles, so we started with a good understanding of what was out there in this field and some great contacts. That led us to eventually choosing our distinctive porcelain flooring and the person who could make us the modern-coloured traditional Catalan tiles. Jo is also a whizz with all things floral – working with a local landscape gardener on the choice of plants and flowers, then extending their lives by being incredibly creative with dried flowers. Plus, we named our guest bedrooms after jazz legends – Ella, Louis, Duke and Nina – as a nod to Jo’s love of jazz, passed down by her Grandad.
“We wanted to create something unique. And in a way, it was always going to be,” Duncan adds. “We started the project with some fantastic original building blocks that had themselves had evolved through farming necessity over hundreds of years. These gave us three conjoined barns that each had a different roof construction. With the amazing main house, its distinctive chimney and the jaw-droppingly beautiful view beyond it, well, we can only thank the previous owners over the centuries for that!
Duncan also takes time to explain how what he learned as a DJ in particular informs what he and Jo are doing with This Must Be The Place. “I’m really keen on attention to detail,” he says. “I think it’s really important to look at the finer details, at timings and how it’s all going to flow. That partly comes from making record choices when DJing.
“We’ve created a great dance floor area with a large mirror ball. The acoustics in there are great. There are all these old, thick stone walls that absorb the sound really well. We always wanted to make sure we had a place with good sound so I’m very pleased that that has worked. It’s a good dance floor.
“But I’ve learned that having a great party isn’t just about creating a good dance floor or playing the right music. It’s also about creating the right kind of space around it – where the bar’s placed, the ability to have a smoking area nearby – the sort of things that sometimes can make a crowd disperse if you don’t do it right. We’re all about getting that balance right.”
Coming back to that idea of making the right record choice at the right time, Duncan says he leans heavily on the twin DJing skills of flexibility and readiness. “You need to be in that moment and know what the right thing to play is. But you still need to be organised and prepared for it all.”
With all that’s been going on with This Must Be The Place, it’s been some time since Duncan did any paid DJ work. But he’s reluctant to say he’s retired. “Obviously, it’s slowed down,” he says “You have children. You stop going out so much. I’ve moved to Spain.”
Pushed on how often he plays out now, Duncan admits, “It’s only a few times a year, really… It’s not very often but I still like to keep my hand in.
“Your love of music doesn’t ever really die. Even if you’re not looking for new music you’ve still got a very strong bond with the music you used to play and the memories that it evokes. In a way I’m still looking for new music but nowhere near as much as I used to.”