Mister Saturday Night's First LP Cements the Dance Party's Community

Justin Carter and Eamon Harkin of Mister Saturday Night.

Photo credit: Natalie Keyssar

"Brothers and Sisters," the debut full-length from Brooklyn dance party collective and record label Mister Saturday Night, is first and foremost, not a lot of things. "It's not a techno party, not a throwback party, or a funk and soul party," says Eamon Harkin, co-founder, alongside friend and business partner Justin Carter, of the Mister, as it's nicknamed. "Even by dance music standards, they're not commercial records. They're not standard fare you put on a turntable and throw your hands in the air."

Anyone who's rocked out until the small hours of the morning at Harkin and Carter's Saturday night events -- or 'til dusk on Sunday afternoons, when they hold the all-ages, outdoor Mister Sunday -- knows this to be true. "Brothers and Sisters," which arrives today, June 24, plays like one of Carter and Harkin's adventurous DJ sets; the industrial funk of Dark Sky's "IYP" eventually gives way to Archie Pelago's saxophone slow jam "Frederyck Swerl," followed by Anthony Naples' house-informed lounger "Mad Disrespect." 

"They play such a variety of different music, from jazz to Hank Jackson to bangers to off-kilter, psychedelic, heady stuff," says DJ and producer Alex Burkat, whose string-laced "Shower Scene" appears at the end of "Brothers and Sisters"' second disc (13 tracks long to the first's 12, possibly a sly reference to the beloved, now-shuttered venue 12-Turn-13, where the Mister often hosted events and where Burkat met Carter and Eamon). Besides indulging in its curators' eclectic tastes, "Brothers and Sisters" has a bigger mission: bringing New York's evolving dance culture to a broader audience, by making many of the label's 12-inch releases available digitally and on CD for the first time.

"If you want to reach this next audience, you gotta repackage the music and say, 'Hey, you've maybe thought the label is this vinyl-only DJ thing -- but it's not,'" says Harkin. "Here's a package you can consume on a CD, on streaming services, and it has a narrative. It tells a story that's a listening experience from beginning to end."

Mister Saturday Night's story begins in 2007, when Harkin met Carter. The latter was musical director at APT, a club in the Meatpacking District notorious for hosting "the best DJs in the city," according to Harkin, who at the same time was the resident DJ at Greenpoint's Studio B, where he also took charge of booking and programming. Working in the same industry in the same city, it was inevitable the two would cross paths. "We shared a lot of perspectives on what made a good party," says Harkin. "So we just decided to start a party." 

Starting in 2009, they spun all over the borough, from now-defunct underground staple House of Yes to the Bell House, a multipurpose bar that also hosts varied events. Mister Sunday, which began a little later, took place in a tree-lined lot on the banks of the Gowanus Canal. Recently, however, Harkin and Carter were informed they had to move due to imminent construction on the plot of land. 

Though Harkin admits the setback was "challenging," he also sees it as an opportunity to establish a more permanent location for the Mister. "How can you take everything that's exciting and raw and unadulterated about the DIY scene," he asks, "but do it where you can actually made a genuine business, and look beyond the next event, or the next party, or the next six months?"

From a business perspective, Mister Saturday Night has figured out what works for them in an adapt-or-perish environment, with venues shuttering under the weight gentrification. Harkin and Carter spent the first year of the Mister Saturday Night label launch in 2012 learning the basics -- deal negotiations, A&R, signing artists, and mastering music -- by trial and error. "We wanted to be hands-on with everything," he says. "Putting records out and realizing we underestimated the lead time for production, or this pressing plant wasn't reliable so we switched to another, or the cardboard stock we used for the sleeves wasn't what we thought it would be." 

It helps that, by that point, they had built Mister Saturday Night into a familiar brand. Tickets -- which fluctuate based on venue, with capacity generally capping out at 500 to 600 for somewhere like the Bell House -- were consistently selling out. (For May's Red Bull Music Academy Festival, tickets to the Mister's Manhattan "house party" of intimate dinner and dancing sold so fast they added a second night.) Carter and Harkin maintain such a following without sponsorships, buying all the beer and food for their events and tightly controlling their aesthetic.

Recently, Mister Saturday Night has had to differentiate itself from other, larger-scale Brooklyn dance ventures in "megaclubs" like Output and Verboten on Williamsburg's Wythe Avenue. While those venues book some of the same artists and dispense with similar markers of exclusivity that inspired Harkin and Carter to strike out on their own in the first place -- bottle service and velvet ropes -- the Mister still strives to avoid those outlets' $25 ticket prices and overpriced beverages. "That doesn’t vibe with what we're about," says Harkin. "Where we come from, it's about building a community and providing an experience that's special and not remotely corporate, that feels like you're surrounded by your friends, your people, and you can just relax and have a good time."

Their commitment to building community through positive grooves is philanthropic as well. Following the New York Times' 2013 chronicle of Dasani, a homeless child in Brooklyn, Mister Saturday Night announced that they would donate 10 percent of all their proceeds to the Robin Hood Foundation, which combats poverty in New York City. For Brooklyn Pride Week in early June, the Mister donated $1 from every ticket sold to the Saturday, June 14 dance party. 

"We feel an obligation to do something about that," says Harkin, citing Mister Saturday Night's devoted (if hyper-local) fanbase as a platform to gain attention to the charity. "At the end of the day, dance music has been about communities," he adds. It's about people coming together to feel connected. There's nothing if you don't have that."

"They bring the utmost professionalism to all aspects of the processes they're involved in," says Greg Heffernan of avant-jazz electronic trio Archie Pelago, who also contributed a few tracks to "Brothers and Sisters." "If we're doing a show with them, we can rely on them to provide good soundcheck. The vinyl we did for them in 2012, they hand-stamped it, got the art a certain way -- they're very good at seeing their vision through."