With such an active scene, London might seem like an obvious place to move to get into music in some form, although that wasn’t the first motive for Thomas Roland Rene (aka Thomas Roland) and Stephane Ghenacia, the French duo we’re preparing to host in Room One on 17th March.
Having lived in Paris, where he’d forged a career as a fashion photographer, Ghenacia was keen to push his art by finding more contacts in the industry outside of France. Roland, meanwhile, wanted a change from the French lifestyle, with London providing the perfect chance to improve his English too.
This pairing doesn’t necessarily sound like an obvious one, although in a way it was always inevitable they’d cross paths. This is mainly due to their relationship with French house trio Apollonia – Dyed Soundorom and Dan Ghenacia, 2 of Apollonia’s founders, are Thomas and Stephane’s brothers respectively (following their upcoming set in the club, Apollonia will take over from their brothers in the booth to close out Room One).
The pair initially crossed paths at Rex Club in Paris, although their first meeting proper would be at a party for Ghenacia’s birthday in 2013. The full story on this night is unclear – Roland says he was invited to play, while Ghenacia recalls another friend, Mikolaï, arriving to play and inviting Roland to join in a back-to-back. Invitation lists aside, their first meeting was a success as Ghenacia became impressed by Roland’s skills behind the decks. They agreed to stay in contact, which is where their friendship properly started. It was around the time that Ghenacia had launched his own party alongside Guilhem Monin, where before long Roland was invited into the fold to play as a resident.
“Without Hackney Wick and the possibilities it gave us, we never would have built things up so easily.” – Stephane Ghenacia
It would have the namesake Colors, with the concept kept simple – every night would be themed with a different colour, which guests were instructed to wear exclusively on arrival. With the concept firmly in place for each edition, each event was centred on the focal point of East London bursting arts scene: Hackney Wick.
“It was a really important scene for us. Because without this area and the possibilities it gave us, we would never have built things up so easily.” Ghenacia says.
With Ghenacia living in Fish Island and Roland only on the other side of the river, the area’s wealth of warehouse spaces lent them the opportunity to build the Colors brand alongside Monin.
“I was living in Brixton at the time, but it was the only place I’d go out in,” explains Roland. “We’d have one party and then organise another 2 weeks after – finding a venue back then was a lot easier than it is now.”
In the same way party lines were used to promote the country’s first warehouse raves in the 90s, they avoided overt promotion, instead relying on word of mouth to advertise their nights. There are a couple in particular that stick in memory, including a New Years’ Day session in 2014 where Chez Damier headlined that they describe as the best they ever threw. Another was when they’d organised a night for 700 people as part of Hackney WickED, only for the council to arrive a few hours before kick-off to pull the plug on the event. Not wanting to let people down, they opted to throw a smaller event round the corner.
“We did it just by telling a few people and saying to spread the word”, Ghenacia explains. “It was supposed to be this big thing, and we had to cancel it. So we said it was next door – 2 hours later, 250 people appear.”
“Stephane and Guilhem didn’t want to let anyone down,” Roland continues. “They lost money, but actually it was a great night and a good memory.”
Hackney Wick would serve as their home base for the next few years, where Colors gradually became one of east London’s key parties (Ghenacia would later also release a track called Hackney Wick). As well as the concept, their music policy was always laid-back, ranging from disco to house to techno, with guests like Craig Richards, Ivan Smagghe, Boo Williams, as well as their own brothers.
While they became an integral part of east London’s underground scene through their own parties in Hackney Wick, the pair were also heavily involved in one building that acted as a lifeblood at the centre of it all – the same spot their relationship with Craig Richards naturally started.
“Going to Ricardo Sundays is like going to church for us.” – Thomas Roland
“It’s our home.” Ghenacia says.
“Every time is amazing.” says Roland.
Of all the times spent deep in the depths of Farringdon right here at fabric, there was one night the pair always favoured, which is still a ritual for them and many of east London’s regulars.
“I discovered fabric with Dyed [Soundorom] 12 years ago.” Ghenacia says, recalling his first night here. “It was our thing to go together when Ricardo [Villalobos] was playing. We’d get up at 5am, run to fabric, and stay on the dance floor till the end.”
“Always.” Roland continues. “Going to Ricardo Sundays is like going to church for us.”
It’s a tradition that’s seen their relationship with the club blossom since first visiting all those years ago, with Ghenacia taking several trips on the Eurostar from Paris just to come to the club whilst he still lived in France. Fast forward to today, and their most recent memory comes deep into a Monday morning following last year’s birthday when they were invited to play at the club’s unofficial after party.
“Judy [Griffith, fabric promotions manager] said to go to Room 3 to open it, so I started to play. Thomas and Guilhem were there, I asked them if they felt good enough to play because I was in a good mood. And they were pretty up for it, like ‘yeah… sure’.” Ghenacia laughs.
“So we jumped on, we played for 4 or 5 hours and in the end it was amazing.” says Roland, beaming to himself.
While fabric is still home to them, the difficulty in finding suitable venues and changing musical directions meant that earlier this year Colors had eventually run its course.
“It stopped because our vision had changed, and because we felt it was the time to be producers rather than promoters.” Ghenacia explains.
It meant that they could return to their musical roots, with Ghenacia having a background in house and techno, and Roland favouring more of a deep house sound. As Monin started to work on his own productions too, Ghenacia and Roland began playing and collaborating whenever possible, receiving the guidance of their Apollonia brothers along to the way.
“They put a LOT of pressure on us. All the time.” Ghenacia says. “They’re really always pushing for us to produce something. But I know it’s because they care.”
“We have to work towards many things. You know, even subconsciously, everything with them can help inspire us.” continues Roland sincerely.
With Ghenacia relocating to Ibiza last summer and Roland fixed in London, it’s meant that their time together has become more limited. Operating out of Roland’s home studio, the pair work together whenever Ghenacia returns to London, where he extends his stay specifically to work on making new music.
“We make music until 5 or 6am, we sleep for 5 hours, and then the loop starts again. We fit very well together – the character, the ideas, everything.” says Ghenacia.
“When one is tired, the other one is awake. It’s always like that.” adds Roland.
Ghenacia laughs to himself as he offers up one final insight into their schedule:
“It’s like when we DJ. Once one of us starts, the other joins as he’s never far away.”