It’s an average Saturday night at Octagon, one of Gangnam’s most popular clubs. There’s enough bass to disrupt a pacemaker, enough strobes to constitute an epileptic’s nightmare and enough liquor to become drunk by proxy.
There’s even an indoor snowstorm; every few minutes, shards of something like dry ice shoot from a cannon and onto the dance floor. One woman raises her arms in celebration, wincing as she realizes that her mini-dress doesn’t protect her from ice burn.
But she keeps her hands up, and so does most of the crowd. Even the bartenders seem to be having fun; one has removed his shirt, displaying a chest tattoo that reads take these broken wings and learn to fly.
The fist pumping, the jumping, the swaying of hips and the touching of bodies — everyone seems unselfconscious in their enjoyment. This is in no small part because of the duo on the decks, Sunnery James & Ryan Marciano, who play the kind of big-room beats that keep people moving.
Originally from the Netherlands, Sunnery and Ryan have performed at just about every big club and festival in the past few years, including Pacha Ibiza, Hakkasan Vegas and multiple EDCs or UMFs. Most recently, they wrapped up a tour of East Asia with stops in Singapore, Hong Kong and Seoul. The next day, they’d make their way to Amsterdam, then Scotland to play with W&W and Oliver Heldens.
It was almost 4 a.m. by the time Chincha met them after their set. We sit in an unheated backroom, dimly lit and full of video cameras at all angles, which Ryan cheerfully describes as “something out of ‘Homeland.’” We talk about playing Asia, the difficulties of being married to a supermodel and how the only thing dead about dance music is the phrase “put your fucking hands up.”
How’s the Asia tour been going?
Sunnery James: Really good actually. We did Hong Kong, yesterday we did Singapore, and now we’re here — a crazy show today.
What’s been the highlight so far?
SJ: I think Zouk, Singapore, and here, Octagon.
Ryan Marciano: No, no — here was definitely the best. This was for sure the highlight.
SJ: We landed here and it was cold as fuck, but this was the warmest welcome ever. It’s our first time in Korea and we didn’t know what to expect … [But] it blew us away. We play a lot of clubs, but here it was all about the dancing. It reminded me of 10 years ago, when you’d go into a club and people would still dance and be jumping and join the music, and that was fun for us.
Has that attitude — the dancing — been true with the shows you’ve done in other parts of Asia?
SJ: The funny thing about that is, if you compare Hong Kong, Singapore, and Korea, it’s all Asia but it’s all so different. That’s funny to see now, because when you’re from Europe you think, “Oh, Asia’s all the same.” But the difference between China, Japan, Korea… it’s different vibes. I mean, Koreans are really emotional. They go wild. They go crazy.
Had you guys been exposed to much Korean music or culture before you came to Seoul?
RM: Korean food. That’s it. [Laughs]
There’s so much talent coming out of the Netherlands right now [with artists like Tiesto, Martin Garrix, Hardwell, Rehab and Laidback Luke]. Why?
SJ: It’s the culture, actually. Since we grew up, when we were 14 or 15 years old, every week you could go to parties, like 30 parties wherever you wanted — Rotterdam, Amsterdam, Den Haag, Eindhoven — and the parties needed DJs, so there was a lot of space for DJs.
The only thing is, you’d have to work your ass off to come to the top in Holland. That’s the hardest thing to do. You have to be lucky to make it to the top in Holland, and go out. But there’s a lot of great talent coming out from Holland
RM: But nowadays … in every house there’s a DJ booth. It’s crazy.
Is the culture more competitive or collaborative?
SJ: There’s a lot of competition, but its still collaborative. If you have a certain team that you’re into, you back each other up, so you have all those crews together. It’s more like a crew competition rather than a DJ competition, because DJs are backing each other up. There’s my crew and there’s your crew. [But] It’s not like, really violent or something [laughs].
I have a personal question for both of you. Sunnery, congratulations on the new baby [with Victoria’s Secret Angel and second-highest-paid model Doutzen Kroes]. What’s the hardest part about being married to a supermodel?
SJ: The hardest thing to being married to a supermodel is…
RM: Imagine you see your girlfriend’s pictures, naked pictures, all over the globe…
SJ: That’s not the hardest thing
RM: [cont.] every airport you walk into…
SJ: That’s it. Every time you go into an airport somewhere, she’s looking at you, and you’re like, “fuck!” You can’t do nothing. She’s just like, “I’m watching you.”
No, that’s not the hardest. I mean, we have a really nice understanding with each other. We see it as a tough life with working hard … [But my manager] is my best friend, and sometimes he’ll just tell me, “Sunnery, it’s time to take off.” And we don’t do shows, and that’s the best thing, you know? It’s work, but I still have time for my family and that’s the best thing for me.
I need to go out, I can’t imagine myself being like 24 hours in my house everyday. But when I’m on tour it’s really hard sometimes. When I go on FaceTime with my kids, and I’ve been away for a few days … Because one day away from home already feels like two weeks. Especially when you get pictures from the wifey… A lot [laughs]. Especially when you’re on tour, they send you pictures a lot. So that’s the hardest thing actually: to see pictures when you’re not at home.
Ryan, are you single right now?
RM: No, no, no. But I don’t see the pictures all over the airport and stuff. I just get them in my phone …Still naked, though [laughs]. But no kids, I’m just trying to keep it simple and easy.
What’s the reason behind keeping your own separate names [as DJs], as opposed to combining into one group, since you guys do so much work together?
SJ: The funny thing is, we were thinking about this to make one name and actually my dad said to us, like, “Just keep your own names.” And that’s, yeah, people think, “Oh that’s ‘Sunnery and Ryan’ now, it’s not even “Sunnery James and Ryan Marciano” … That’s how it grows. We never thought about, like, “Oh, we need to get it together.” [To Ryan] right?
RM: We should call ourselves the ‘Blackstreet Boys’ [laughs].
A lot of people are talking about where music is going, especially the evolution of big-room dance music. Where do you guys see it going, and how do you see yourselves evolving?
SJ: In our DJ sets, we always try to keep it very diverse. Today we did some big-room tracks, techno, funky stuff, you know? And that’s what we always do in our sets. So it’s not hard for us to adapt, to adjust to what’s going to happen. But it’s not going to change. It’s going to be more diverse, bigger. People will get more educated and, [if you want to think in terms of festivals] I think you’ll see more stages, with maybe trap, real house music, big-room sounds, you know? So it’s kind of… Everything’s going to stay, but it’s going to be more diverse. That’s what I think.
RM: Except one line: “Get your fucking hands up.” That’s going to leave. It has to leave.
SJ: Yeah. Really.
Interview by Josh