Sunnery James & Ryan Marciano (Part 1)

Deemed the Dutch version of Swedish House Mafia by Axwell is DJ/producer duo Sunnery James and Ryan Marciano. Since their start in Holland about seven years ago, the guys have dominated dance floors and festivals worldwide. After missing them at Royale last year, we finally got the chance to meet them as they returned to the city for a show at Bijou last week. This interview shares their opinions on the US scene and its evolution, the artist they recommend everyone keeps an eye on, and their production thought process.

Describe your style with three adjectives.
Sexy, energy, danceable.

Your Facebook bio refers to you guys as “relative newcomers.” Do you still consider yourselves that?
Sunnery James: I think as an artist, you always need to see yourself as a newcomer to keep yourself focused and fresh. If you get lazy, your focus will be lost. You also need to see yourself as a newcomer because everything is changing all the time with music and styles. People always like different music and you need to adapt all the time.
►Ryan Marciano: And you want to deliver and do better things.

Speaking of newcomers, is there one you have your eye on?
►Sunnery: Jaz Von D. We just did “Firefaces” with him. He is also like us, being a DJ in the first place then started producing. His tracks are refreshing and he has a lot of potential to be a big artist. He’s a guy to follow.
►Ryan: [Jaz] does what he thinks fits him. He doesn’t copy anyone.
►Sunnery: I must say, he’s not a newcomer but I think he can get more of a commission with his music. This guy is a beast in the studio, we love all his tracks and play everything he puts out. I respect him, he’s a big artist.

How did you start as a duo?
Sunnery: We started as best friends, we didn’t even plan to be DJs. The only thing we wanted to do was be successful together by starting a company or doing something. We loved music, it was just part of our life to make music and mixtapes. It wasn’t a competition, we were always doing it together. I think [Ryan] is the guy who likes to keep the set stable and I like to throw tracks in and figure out what to do with it. But it’s always balanced and we have nice teamwork.

Can you pinpoint a time when you realized this was going to be a career and not a hobby?
►Sunnery: About seven or eight years ago…
►Ryan: When we had to start paying taxes…
►Sunnery: I was working and studying when all of a sudden one day I was sitting in the back on the phone doing gigs, talking to promoters who were like, “I want to book you.” I realized I should stop [working] and focus on the DJ stuff because it kept getting bigger and bigger. We had to do that seven years ago.
►Ryan: Back then, we only played the clubs in Holland and didn’t have the intention to travel the world and do all the big festivals.
►Sunnery: We put a lot of work into it, we work hard, but never had the intention to be the biggest superstar DJs. We have fun with what we’re doing and it doesn’t feel like a pressure thing where we have to do this and that.

When was your first time in the US, whether is was to play or just visit?
►Sunnery: Six years ago in New York. We had some time off and took our tour manager with us to have some fun in the States. We stayed for five days in th worst hotel ever.
►Ryan: We got off the plane and were like, “Yeah, we’re gonna conquer this.”
►Sunnery: The first thing we noticed was the energy in the city. We feel everything in America holds the passion for the “American Dream,” being something and working fr it. We really felt it and it feels really good. You can achieve what you want here if you work for it. Our first gig here was like heaven.
►Ryan: It was a small club in New York with a VIP crowd. It was kind of weird to us because we were playing in Europe a lot where you only have big clubs with dance floors and no tables; we came into this club and it was all tables and we were like, “Is this a restaurant?”
►Sunnery: Then we played the Beyond Wonderland festival and got the shock.
►Ryan: We didn’t know what to expect and felt like nobody knew us here.
►Sunnery: We played big festivals in Holland, but the amount of people at festivals in the US is so much different. There were people all over the place and the energy was overwhelming. It was really nice.

As you know, the electronic music scene in America has exploded over the past few years. It’s been here, but the growth is rapidly increasing. As Americans, we see videos from things like Tomorrowland and wanted to ask you how you feel about the crowds here versus that at home?
►Sunnery: There’s a culture difference. It’s the same thing, but the energy here is overwhelming. The people [in Holland] have fun and are dancing, but they don’t have that passion like here in America. The energy is different, you get so much energy from a crowd in America; it gets you pumped. It’s really good though and we love it.
►Ryan: The US people are very open-minded. There is the more mainstream side here, but it’s good to see people wanting to get to know the more techno side. What I like the most is that some people can go to Armin van Buuren and come to us as well even though we have a totally different sound. They don’t mind, they just love the music.
►Sunnery: It’s different in Holland. You have your techno scene, trance scene… you ca’t go to a house-y thing if you’re trance. Everyone here is open to new things.

What’s your thought process, production-wise?
Ryan: We make tracks for our sets, not to just give people music.
►Sunnery: As a producer, when you play all your tracks in a set, you don’t want it to all sound the same. We want to make records so that we can build a whole set with our own records. Our direction is to make what we love and surprise people as well.

How do you feel about the connotation of Sunnery James & Ryan Marciano as the Dutch version of Swedish House Mafia?
Sunnery: That’s a big honor. Those guys are one of our heroes. They’ve worked very hard to get where they are now, starting in Sweden and nobody knew them. On a production level, those guys are the professors of the whole dance scene. Their sound is quality. It’s a big honor that people compare us to [SHM] like that.

What’s the best part about performing?
►Sunnery: Being creative with tracks. You can play one like normal or do things to it with effects and adding beats. We love to play with the music. You can play someone else’s track but make it different with loops and effects. Our fans say we make things sound different, and as DJs, that’s what we like to hear.
►Ryan: When playing live, we can adjust the vocals and play four tracks at a time and change things over and over again. We should always record it because sometimes people ask and we’re like, “What did we do?”
►Sunnery: We’re not afraid to make mistakes because we can get better by trying everything.

You played Electric Daisy Carnival in Las Vegas and Orlando. Did you do anything differently from one to the other?
►Ryan: We wanted to change the vibe a bit when building our set.
►Sunnery: Vegas, the main stage, was crazy. Orlando was crazy too but we tried to do something different; we started really deep and funky with no big synths and stuff. It was a risk. At the end, people were bouncing and moving, then went nuts. We got a great reaction form that set.

What’s the most difficult part about traveling?
Sunnery: Waiting. And of course missing family, I have a wife and kids. We have a rule where we can’t go longer than five days without seeing each other.
Ryan: We work big holidays when you want to be with family, like Christmas and New year’s Eve. Also, no sleep. People think it’s all about partying and fun, but it’s also really heavy. Sometimes you’re in and out of the hotel with two hours of sleep and sleeping on the plane.

What advice would you offer an upcomer?
►Sunnery: Stay close to yourself and believe in your own thing. Don’t copy things because in the end, you need to express yourself in the DJ booth and feel those things by yourself. When you copy things, that doesn’t work. We could play all the big things that are hot, but if we don’t feel it, the people won’t believe us. Stay close to yourself and know what you want to do.

Check out SJ&RM interview #2 here.