Heroes: Interview with Dan Mitchell (Island Of The Gods, LN-CC, Bali)

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Dan is a self-made man. He’s one of the creators of LN-CC, legendary clothing store, book and record shop, bar, club, online store, record label… Late Night Chameleon Cafe was named “best store of the year” and if you were at that space at Dalston or at least on ln-cc.com you know what it means. We talked with Dan about his roots, living on Bali, his new project Island Of The Gods, LN-CC soundsystem, parties and records, and what it means to sell best products in the world.

Dan, please tell us about your youth, where are you from? Was there a place for a music in your childhood? Who did you want to become in a childhood?

I grew up in Newcastle upon Tyne, which is a city in the North East of England. My childhood was spent skateboarding. Being a skater I always hung out with people much older than me all my life, so when you are a kid this is super inspirational as you get introduced to things way ahead of your time. I remember being 10 or 11 and hanging out with other skaters who were in their late teens, 20’s, or 30’s. That introduced me to a wide range of music. I remember making skate videos and looking for cool tracks for the edit, ranging from hip-hop records, to old soul or disco records and any wired stuff we could find for the edit.

Early on in my life I was introduced to a lot of 1950’s music as I lived my grandfather growing up, and he would play a lot of 50’s stuff such as Buddy Holly etc. My granddad had MS so he was unable to look after himself or leave his bed. From around the age of 8 or 9 I would do all his shopping for him, feed him and generally look out for him on a daily basis. I think doing all this as such an early age really shaped who I am today. Looking back now it was astonishing how independent I became so early on in my life. Some of the things I would do were pretty funny now looking back. I remember he had heard from someone that he could get some “herbal medicine” to ease his pain. So off he sent me to meet Freddie on the estate to pick up a “package”. He got me to chuck it into his yoghurt when I brought it back.. I was about 10 years old and had no idea until a few years later what his special medicine actually was. Haha

My granddad had been in the army all his life so he was tough as old boots and told me the ways of the world. It was miraculous that he stayed alive for so long, doctors kept writing him off and I watched him slowly waste away for 16 years. He always said he would stay alive to watch me grow up, and sure enough he hung on till my 16th birthday and sadly passed away. An inspiration and I owe him everything. So he was my childhood inspiration.

What was your first club experience like? Who or what did form your taste in music?

My first club experience was probably at the age of 15 when we used to sneak into clubs, either through the side door or with fake I-Ds in Newcastle. My uncle was into his scooters so he would talk about some of the 60’s soul and psych do’s. So I would go there and that was my first experience of going out dancing. I stuck out like a sore thumb sneaking into all these clubs as I was this tiny kid (who looked young for my age) wearing bright jackets, and then I met a lot of people who where DJing in those clubs or in bands. They were all a lot older than me and took me under their wing.

I remember leaving school at 16 in 2002 and it was the greatest feeling ever. I felt free and was on a mission of discovery. Everything was new and it was a really explosive and exciting time for me. I’d then start going down to London with them, where they would be playing in clubs and DJs like Andrew Weatherall would be DJing in weird strip clubs in East London. Musically I remember really enjoying Andrew’s outlook and style of DJing, it felt like such an honest expression of his musical mind and he would play a very wide range of music, which really appealed to me. Also there’s a great guy in Newcastle that goes by the name of Antony Daly. He was always making mixes and giving me stuff, so at 16 and 17 that really opened my mind up to a lot of great music.

Where you were involved before opening LN-CC and how has this idea was born about such ambitious project? We know you opened it with friends, tell us about them.

Yes I was the original co-founder of LN-CC. It was the brainchild of myself and John Skelton. I had met John briefly in Newcastle when I was around 15 or 16. He then moved to London where he quickly established himself as the best fashion buyer in the world and he was only in his early 20’s. When I moved to London I worked my way up into buying. I was going into showrooms in Paris and Milan, such as Prada, Dris van Noten, Margiela, Jil Sander etc and the sales guys would pick up on my northern accent and ask me if I knew John. He was and still is the most respected buyer in the industry. In around 2006 or 2007 John then went to Oki-ni, an online store. At that time Oki-ni was nothing more than a failing sale shop selling Evisu and a few other brands I can’t even remember. It did some interesting collabs with Adidas in 2001, which was a very early for an online concept, but it lost its way. John was brought in and was getting brands such as Rick Owens, Margiela, Raf Simons to sell to this independent online platform, which at that time was unheard of. With his buying style it was very exciting. Like me John wasn’t really that into fashion, we both just loved product so we had a very different outlook to other buyers around the world. He then offered me a job doing the buying alongside him.

I added the more street aspect of Oki-ni bringing many Japanese brands outside of Japan for the first time, and our brand mix become totally unique and at that time way ahead of what anyone else was doing. These days every online store mixes mainline brands with oddball brands from Japan etc, nobody was doing this back then. We mixed it up like we play records, all ends of the spectrum. We were the first online retailer to operate like a brand, doing the styling, videos, campaigns and so on. No retailer was doing this at that time, certainly not in menswear.

I also introduced the music section at Oki-ni and we were doing parties and events all over the world. We were doing a lot of special projects with people such as A Mountain Of One, Claremont 56, Mule music, Mark Seven, Theo Parrish etc. We then also brought in Jonny Nash into the family. Jonny is a super cool lovely guy and unbelievable producer, he had just moved back from Japan at the time, so we started working on special projects with Crue-L recordings, Mule Music, Cos/Mes, and many of the guys in Japan. Oki-ni really took off and the turnover increased ten fold from when we started it. We realized we could take this to the next level and do it ourselves, so we left Oki-ni and LN-CC was born.

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LN-CC was founded in 2010. We had been flying all over the world and we were becoming increasingly bored of what was out there in terms of stores or product selections. All the stores with the best reputations just weren’t doing anything interesting. There was no culture or excitement. So we went out to create something unique to try and push retail to the next level on a worldwide scale. I’d always had an idea in my head of what I would want my store to look and feel like. I had a picture of walking into a forest like space, then into a tunnel, which leads you into a world of rooms with different feelings. And of course the dream was to have a club in there also.

So this is what we decided to do with the store space. We approached it more like an exhibition space rather than a traditional store fit, creating more of an experience and an expression rather than just a space with rails of clothing and product. We got our hands on a 5500 sq ft space in Dalston, East London. It was an old boxing gym. At that time nobody wanted to be in Dalston and the rent was super cheap, so it enabled us to really go all out with a big space. We got Gary Card involved on the design with us. Gary is a set designer so he put our ideas in reality with the help of his dad who is a builder. The store became the hub of what we were doing; we created several rooms that were all accessed through an octagon tunnel that ran through the store. Including a record store, bar, club and four product rooms for clothing and shoes.

We also had the online arm, which showcased our offer to the world. The thing very quickly took off and we were turning over millions of pounds. The store gained a cult following and people such as Zaha Hadid was labeling it as her favorite store in the world, considering she has built some of the world’s greatest buildings it was really nice for her to support us so heavily in the press. We won best store of the year award two years running, got nominated for the Design Museums ‘Design of the Year’ award of the year award alongside the world’s greatest innovative designs. The BBC did a documentary on the store and we were in every magazine in the world. It really started happening. And were just having a good time throwing private parties in the store, working on special music projects, running the record label, and flying around the world buying what we considered to be greatest product on the planet. We had a great run for a few years.

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After a while the rapid expansion took its toll and with it came complications. All of a sudden we had 70 staff and the whole thing got out of hand. I felt like the direction things were going in was not a true expression for some time, and the party ended. I jumped ship earlier this year, and that was the end of LN-CC for me.

Did you change your opinion about fashion business before and after LN-CC?

Not really. I’ve never really been into this for the fashion business. I came into it from a product angle. I like good product and I’ve been into clothes and music since i was a kid… I’ve been a buyer since I was 20 year old however; I’m not interested in the fashion industry at all and never have been. I kind of ended up right in the middle of it but I was never part of it if that makes sense. I much preferred hanging out in Tokyo over Paris or Milan as it’s way less FASH. Haha. And the music scene in Tokyo is fantastic so it would make the long buying trips a lot easier!

Were you more into musical side of LN-CC and your partner more into clothing?

Yeah I was definitely more into the music side but we were all into music and the clothing aspect of it. It was all part of our expression and our vision for where we wanted to take the store. But it’s always been about the music for me all my life, everything else stemmed from that.

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Were you a buyer at LN-CC record shop? I heard somewhere that Tako did also some digging for you…

Jonny Nash bought all the new weekly vinyl releases; he did a great job curating it. I worked more on the special and exclusive releases and equipment side of things. And we worked with who we consider to be the world’s ultimate diggers on the used records side of it… Tako Reyenga, Chee Shimizu, Basso, and we did some in-store record events with Nick The Record and Mark Seven.

Tell us about the LN-CC club space?

We turned the back section of our store into a private club space. It was a dark blacked out room with only a disco ball and a custom made DJ booth . A very good friend of mine Micky Boyle installed the sound for us and worked tirelessly on the system. Lovely custom ATC monitors made by Roger Quested. On their day they sounded immense. Mickey cut his teeth doing a lot of the best parties back in London back in 88 / 89, as well as some of the big reggae systems. He then started working with DJ Harvey on his now legendary Moist parties in London. Unfortunately this was all way before my time but there are some great stories of these parties, bringing Larry Leven to play is one of them!

Our club space was used to throw parties in connection to either a special release we were doing, or just a nice space for DJs to come in and spin whist they were in Europe. There was a lack of good spaces with good sound in London, so we got a lot of support form the global DJ community. And because we were privately operated we could get away with a lot of things.

We also did a lot of Ensemble jams down there. These were live improvised jam sessions. We would all sit on the floor with instruments and the audience would stand and gather around the circle. The audiences were given percussion and weird instruments and were encouraged to participate. It was all recorded. We did a couple of epic sessions with Thomas Bullocks, Spirit Bear Mezcals. The Agave plant has magical qualities and its force could definitely be heard in the sessions. One of the SPIRIT BEAR MEZCAL ENSEMBLE live recordings actually made it out on 12” on LN-CC Recordings. The last one we did with the guys from Soulwax, Zongamin, Fergadelic, Merrick Adams, Kyle Martin, Jonny Nash and myself. There are some amazing sections in the recordings… Maybe one day it will see the light of day.

What records you especially remember heard at the shop on your great sound system?

So many, but I remember Nick the Record dropping a private pressing theatre production titled ‘Horizons’ at the end of his 12 hour set… I was in tears literally. Also Chee Shimizu playing a John Hassell record which definitely transported us to a far away place.

Last records you bought? And what’s interesting is going on in music at the moment from your point of view?

Last record I bought was from Tako’s Music From Memory label, a Black Merlin 12’ . the new Montezumas Rache 12”, and Jonny Nash new EP, Phantom Actors. There’s so much good new music out there at the moment. I think this period will be looked upon as a very interesting time for new music.

What was the best party in LN-CC club?

Again so many… But the highlights were First Spirit Bear Mezcal Ensemble jam (Thomas Bullock, Jonny Nash, Tiago, Kyle Martin, Vasilis), Cave Slave film and record launch with Thomas Bullock and Misha Hollenbach (also included live improvised jam with Merrick Adams, Zongamin and Jonny Nash) , Nick the Record 12 hour DJ sets, Land of Light live, ZSOU live, Chameleon Analogue Ansemble live (Black Merlin, Jonny Nash and Kyle Martin), West Side Renezvouse book launch. And DJ sets from Chris Kontos, Chee Shimizu, Jonny Nash, Danielle Baldelli, Phil Mison, Joe Claussel, Floating Points, Paul “Mudd” Murphy, Matt Edwards, Felix Dickinson, Idjut Boys, Gerry Rooney and Joel Martin, Cos/Mes and Chida, Bad Passion, Lovefingers and Soft Rocks, Jamie Tiller, Mark Seven, Horse Meat Disco, Trevor Jackson, Rick Whilhite, Vakula, Lord Of The Isles, Crimes Of The Future… The list goes on!

What is happening with LN-CC at the moment?

The business got sold to an Italian company. They are keeping it going strong and have been plans for what they want to do with it. I wish them the very best of luck, they have a fantastic brand on their hands with LN-CC.

When did you move to Bali?

I have just moved to Bali this year. I first came here almost 8 years ago, as my wife is Indonesian, so that is the connection with it for me.

Bali is a super magical and spiritual island. One thing you instantly notice is how deeply music and dancing is embedded in everyday life here. Even though certain areas of Bali are over run with tourism, it has really held on to its ancient traditions, rituals and tribe like qualities. In today’s modern world, this is beautiful to see and be apart of. You travel a couple of hours north into the mainland and it’s old world untouched paradise.

The Island life of sun, surf, good food, and the ancient music culture here makes it a pretty perfect place for me to be living right now.

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Are you moved on Bali without your record collection? how do you feel about it?

Yes I did. I’m regretting not bringing more records out here with me now. I brought a small bag of down tempo stuff for when I’m sitting in a rice field or up a coconut tree… But I’m missing my jams! I got rid of 95% of my possessions when I moved over here. But I couldn’t let go of my records which are in storage in the UK. Shipping over thousands of records just wasn’t going to be easy. I’m trying to get my head into the digital world now, so if anyone has any cool new jams they want to share, then brothers and sisters please send them to IOTG@MAIL.COM! haha :)

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Tell us about Island of The Gods label? What’s the concept?

Island of the Gods is a label I’m running here form Bali. The first release is ZSOU — Admiral Byrd 12”, which has just been released this week. ZSOU is the work of Mo Morris and Merrick Adams, (previously of A Mountain Of One). The single features beautiful vocals from Javanese spiritual sinden singer Endah Laras. These recordings were all recording in the jungles of Java, here in Indonesia.

There will also be a series of concept LPs coming out on the label. I have invited a number of artists from Europe, the States and Japan to come to the Island. Recording Gamelan, Gong, bamboo instrumensts as well as field recordings from the island. These recording will then act as a base for an LP, which will essentially be made from the experience of being on the island, I’m really exited to see what comes out of this.

The ethos of the label is to fuse the old world musicians of Bali and Indonesia with our modern musical output. Since first visited Bali I have been fascinated with Gamelan and Gong, listening to the players gave me lots of ideas of what I could do with certain elements of it. Also the attraction of working with these amazing unknown, unrecognized old world musicians who had been playing in their village gamelan group for 60 years, and putting them on a record to be sold all over the world seemed like a great thing to do.

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This essentially is what made me want to start the label – to fuse the old world with the new and see what comes out of it. Many of the musician’s I’m recording at the moment have been playing for 60 odd years and tell me stories of their great grandfather and how they used to play. They play for the gods!

Who are doing artwork for IOTG? Is it the same person who did it in LN-CC?

I’m doing the artwork for IOTG myself, although the new ZSOU — Admiral Byrd single cover art was created by Adia Sapto Morris who is the wife of Mo from ZSOU. Adia is a great designer who also runs a fashion label named POW WOW.

The ZSOU promo video was made by Stevie Anderson who works at LN-CC. Stevie did a lot of the artwork in the later period of LN-CC such as the Black Merlin 12” and the Sketches from an Island special 12” with International Feel. Stevie is definitely onto something with his video skills.

Can you name the most creative man you worked with and why?

At the moment it’s probably Ketut my Gamelan teacher, he is 90 year old and has never left Bali. Give him any instrument he will pick it up and play like no one else. Really amazing to see. He’s totally got his own style of playing like I’ve never seen. Also give him a couple of bamboo leaves and he can make anything you want out of it. Super resourceful, good design at its very core. His life is simple and uncomplicated. For me personally this is how life should be. Hence why I’m sitting on an Island.

Check LN-CC online store
Check Island Of The Gods on Facebook
Buy the first 12” of IOTG here

Words by Sasha Tessio & Artem Super Ikra.
Cover drawing by Sasha Tessio.