A quick chat with Half Baked's Bruno Cabral
It almost goes without saying at this point, but Half Baked is without doubt one of our favourite parties. Helmed by promoter Bruno Cabral, the party - alongside the likes of Secretsundaze - have virtually defined London's clubbing scene over the past decade plus. Indeed, their guests - always expertly chosen - read like a who's who of discerning electronic music acts. Their residents are just as brilliantly chosen, and in just a few years the likes of Robin Ordell, Greg Brockmann and Sam Bargura have rightfully seen their own statures grow alongside the party. At the core of all this success is Cabral's relentless work ethic and positive mindset. With the party's accompanying label recently toasting their 20th release (a killer four tracker from a one Margaret Dygas), we checked in with Cabral as he talked to us a bit about the story so far, including his highlights and what's to come...
Tell us a bit about your own history in electronic music? And when did you move to London?
I went to my first rave when I was 15 years old, where Jungle / Drum & Bass/ Hard Techno was the sound at the time, and everyone was talking about London being the place to be for electronic music. I moved to London from Brazil by myself at around 18/19, which was about 18 years ago. I couldn’t speak a word of English at the time… A friend of mine who was a manager at Egg Club offered me a job as a bar back, but it was impossible for me to do as I couldn’t understand anything. Then, they offered me a job to clean the toilets instead, which I did for six months or so, and then when my English was better, I went up to barback, then bartender and then bar supervisor. I was working at Egg for two years or so. By then, I knew so many customers in the club that John Duckett and Jake Guardian offered me a job to do promotion with them at A-list Event & Promotion, which used to run weekly events at Egg Club, The Cross, The Key, Pacha and The End. John and Jake taught me everything I know about organising & promoting an event.
While working with John Duckett part-time, my friend Juan Leal introduced me to Chris from Organise Booking agency, who hired me as an intern to help out with DJ bookings. This internship helped me understand the side of the booking agency when it comes to DJs bookings. From there, I worked in promotion with Hans, Rory, and Christa at Egg, and then I was a tour manager for three months, alongside doing artist liaison at all different kinds of events.
What were the big parties and clubs back then? I’m guessing the likes of fabric, T Bar etc? Was there one party or club that really motivated you to start promoting events?
Some big parties back then were definitely Egg Club (which is still going stronger than ever), T-Bar, The Cross, Sosho, Fabric and The End. In South America, I was already organising small events and working in music. Still, as I mentioned in the previous question - John Duckett and many others were the ones who really motivated me to start doing what I do nowadays.
Let’s start by talking about your year so far, where you’ve been to Gottwood and Barcelona already. How’s it been? What have been the highlights?
Yes, 2022 is on fire for Half Baked. We started our world tour at the end of May at Club Der Visionaere in Berlin, and then headed straight to Lisbon for a party in an Olympic swimming pool with Bloop before a wicked afters at Ministerium club. The week after, we hosted a stage at Unum Festival and then following that we had Gottwood. From there, we went to Barcelona for Off Week, where we did the release party for Margaret Dygas EP, and now we’re doing a USA Tour with NYC, Miami and Washington DC. We had Manchester on 2nd July, and next up, we’ve got Amsterdam on the 5th August at Shelter before finally coming back to London on the 27th August at Studio 9294 with Raresh and our good friends from Resolute in NYC.
It’s tough to tell you highlights, to be honest, as it’s all been such an amazing whirlwind. However, if I had to choose a couple, I’d definitely say CDV like always. The swimming pool party in Lisbon with Bloop was also pretty special - 1500 people in an emptied open-air Olympic-sized swimming pool, insane!
Unlike many other parties - particularly in London - Half Baked seems to have evolved, and even increased in popularity since it first arrived over a decade ago. What do you attribute this to?
I’d say just continuing to innovate whilst sticking to our beliefs and ensuring everyone is having the best time possible, from the crowd right through to the DJs.
Has widening your sound played a critical role in your newfound popularity do you think? ie. moving away from just minimal sounds?
I wouldn’t say we’ve particularly ‘widened our sound’ over the years. If you look back at our lineups since the beginning, we’ve always been very varied in the artists we’ve brought to play for us. We may have had a few mainstays over the years, but on the whole, I think our lineups have reached many different corners of house and techno, and I wouldn’t want us to be branded as a “minimal” party solely… Similarly, in terms of the ‘newfound popularity’ part, I wouldn’t say this is particularly correct either. We’re now into our thirteenth year, and as you can imagine, there are quite a few generations of partygoers that we’ve been through. Many of the people coming to Half Baked when we first started now have children and families and no longer party and have been replaced by a new, younger generation. Keeping relevant with the people who want to come and dance is, of course, vital if you want to have some longevity in this game.
What’s been your most momentous party over the years? Was there one when you really thought you were onto something special?
For me, it’s definitely when we first did an open-air party twelve years ago. We had 1200 people there, and the vibe was absolutely insane! I think when I first thought we were onto something special was after about eight months of doing Half Baked; we got offered to do South America and USA tour, and I was like, “wow, this has some serious potential”.
You’ve also got a really solid lineup of residents these days. Can you talk about who’s involved and their roles at the party?
At the moment, it’s only Sam Bangura and I running the events, the label, doing the bookings, and Masha Nieborg is looking after our showcases. Our core residents are Robin Ordell, Greg Brockmann and Sam, but we have the artists who’ve released on the label that take part in our label showcases as well.
Aside from the residents, you’ve got a bunch of DJs and producers who’ve become really close with the party and who regularly return - I’m thinking the likes of Sonja Mooneer, Mathew Jonson etc. Is the community aspect really important to what you guys do? How did you foster this in the first place?
Yeah, the community aspect is crucial to us. We want things to feel like a family and our DJs to feel right at home each and every time they come back to us. I make sure to take care of them properly, and building a long relationship with those artists over the years really helps that feeling.
You’ve almost become a permanent fixture in Hackney Wick these days. What is it about Number 90 and Studio 9294 in particular that makes it such a great space for Half Baked parties?
Several things make these spaces so great for Half Baked, from being allowed the flexibility to do different rooms, each room with a different feeling and great sound, but being next to a canal means we have the option of having a boat as the backstage or as a fourth room; which is always great fun!
You’ve got Margaret Dygas on the latest release and we’re really feeling it. How did that release come about? And why do you think running a label is so important for the party these days?
I have been talking to Margaret over the years about this release, so we’ve been planning this for quite a while, haha. But it’s super special to both Margaret and us as a result. The label is extremely important for the party as it allows us to showcase the sound of Half Baked to a wider audience who may not have access to or be able to attend our parties. We’re releasing the music we love from the artists we love, and it’s also great to be able to give a platform to upcoming artists to release their music.
After years of promoting your events, have you ever been tempted to jump behind the decks yourself?
Haha, yes, I used to be into hard techno 15 years ago, and I used to play at home but never in clubs. However, I have a massive passion for organising events, hosting people and seeing friends having fun, so for me, it doesn’t appeal to me all that much. I’m much happier being the one running events.
Pandemic aside, what’s been the most stressful aspect of running parties in London over the last while? Has it become more difficult? Do you need to be more creative with your promotion, for example?
From June last year here in the UK, we were fully open, and all events were selling out within minutes of going on sale. People had such high energy, and everyone was partying none stop! In the more recent months, however, it’s been extremely difficult to sell out events. I keep seeing many events & festivals struggling to sell tickets and others cancelling events with massive lineups. Looking at how things are going, not just in the UK, I can see that it’s not only here this is happening. Everything is more expensive right now, the cost of living has gone right up, and when you couple this with other factors like the fact people haven’t been on holidays for however long and some over-saturation in the market, choices have to be made, meaning everyone is feeling the struggle right now. It forces us all to just think that little more creatively, not only about our promotion but also about budgets and all our planning too.
Do you ever get to let your hair down in the summer? Or is it just go go go all the time? What do you do to relax in your spare time?
Hmmm, thinking about this question now... actually, I don’t! Every year since I started Half Baked, I have not stopped over the summer. Yes, relaxation has to be done - it’s part of the balance. When I do get free time, I love skateboarding, surfing and swimming. These are my ways to relax and get the tension out of my body. I don’t see work as work anymore - it’s become my lifestyle.
If you could sum up Half Baked in three records, what would they be?
Mike Huckaby HB 008, Mike Shannon HB 006 and Margaret Dygas HB 020
also wanted to ask before you go - where did the motivation to put a bike on the wall come from?
When we started Half Baked, we were doing it in a car park named Fair Child in Old Street, London. It was a super dark railway arch with no light or any facilities to do a party. The first party was my 25th birthday party, and it wasn’t a pleasant party, to be honest, because nobody could see each other. After that one, one of our friends gave us an idea to do an art installation on the ceiling of the arches, which was going to be a bike with rope light around it and a disco ball underneath, and that was the only light in the whole space. The idea stuck from that day on, and that is how the Half Baked bike was created.