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Music by VICE

How Eton Messy Conquered YouTube

The future garage kings redefined what a music channel should look like. Now they're headed back to the studio.

by Ally Byers
Mar 6 2014, 1:00am

One of the signature artworks—usually featuring some combination of babes and weed—from the group's Youtube channel

It's been called future garage, bass music, and even nostalgic-urban-flavored-house. Disclosure, De$ignated, Bondax, Shadowchild, and Devolution are all riding the wave of its recent popularity. But the real princes of UK garage are Eton Messy: the trio behind a wildly successful YouTube music channel that dishes out velvety smooth, retro-tinted garage carefully curated for popular consumption. 

Started in 2011, the Eton Messy YouTube channel was originally conceived as an outlet for a university student named Adam Englefield to share tunes he liked so his friends could play them at house parties. Adam was soon joined by Charlie Wedd, who'd run some club nights with him in their university hometown of Bristol, and Ed Byass, the "third ear" of the group.

Charlie Wedd (left) and Adam Englefield (right)

Three years later, the channel is now one of the foremost authorities on UK-based future garage. 218,100 subscribers eagerly gobble up the steady stream of tracks Eton Messy cherrypicks and uploads to their channel every day. On top of that, almost every club night they've thrown since 2011 has completely sold out.

So how did Eton Messy manage to distinguish themselves from the thousands of other music channels that crowd the internet? Last week, I met Charlie in a greasy spoon in Central London to find out exactly that.

But my first question was how their rather peculiar name—which references a dessert served at one of Britain's elite boarding schools—came about. "Yeah, that one was completely unplanned," says Charlie, whose football player build, East London denim jacket, and refined accent make him impossible to typecast. "I seem to recall we were sitting watching some daytime cooking show the morning after the night before, and just thought it was a funny name, really." 

Back in the summer of 2011, mainstream dance music was in the throes of EDM demigods like Kaskade and Avicii ("Levels" had just came out, as hard as that is to imagine), or drenched in dubstep basslines, vis–à–vis Nero and Skrillex. 

Eton Messy saw the world differently, and began searching for slowed-up, bassy tracks with yesteryear samples and garage-influenced drums. "There was never a strategy in place," Charlie admits. "We just couldn't find the sound we liked as student DJs elsewhere on YouTube, so we began putting 'em up there ourselves." 

The Eton Messy YouTube channel caught on in spectacular fashion, and as a direct result, their parties started picking up, too. While the first "Eton Messy Presents" show happened in a modest 150-capacity bar in the Bristol city center, Charlie and Adam have now hosted their own stages at both the cult promoter birthing pool Gottwood and Brit mainstream bastion Bestival festivals. 

The scene at Eton Messy's Outlook Festival boat party

"I have tried, for so long, to have a media-ready answer for all this," says Charlie when I ask him to contextualize Eton Messy's apparent overnight success. "There's undoubtedly a subliminal element when it comes to the music. Garage was big when we were about 12 years old, just getting into music. So for us, and a good proportion of our crowd, there's a kind of positive association at hearing a kind of 90s RnB beat." 

Further, much like the slow but steady evolution of mainstream EDM, social media's contribution to music marketing over time has gone from "all noise is good noise" to a more complex affair. Riding the bumpy wave from the start has given Eton Messy some interesting questions to ponder. At the start of the quest, "we'd seen the success of the UKF channel with dubstep, and that definitely spurred us on to do the same with our sound," says Charlie. 

What's even more interesting than the channel's mysterious success is the revival of a market long thought to have gone the way of vinyl: EP artwork. Unlike the channel's name, this aspect was planned: as Eton Messy picked up pace, producers began sending in their own tracks for review. Then, something else happened. Photographers and graphic designers began sending in their artwork to appear alongside the tracks.

The group decided they wanted to make the art element almost as important as the music. "Now, we'll sit and listen to a planned upload over and over again, until we pick the photograph that we feel fits the vibe," says Charlie. "We would've loved to have done a lot more moving imagery and video work too, but to physically to do that for every single post would've been difficult." Still, Eton Messy's artwork and music sit on the same harmonic, the images of good looking girls frolicking in the sea complementing the music's feel-good nostalgia. This sort of synergy, rarely seen in other music channels, distinguishes them from the rest. 

Now, with a quarter million followers amassed and counting, Eton Messy could keep driving towards their goal of becoming the biggest YouTube music channel of them all. But instead, their focus has shifted back to the decks. Charlie looks up from his coffee with a big grin. "DJing and hosting other DJs remains the best thing for me. Being on stage in a rammed arena with 200 people queueing outside to get in, that's when those online stats show their physical form." 

The next phase of Eton Messy's development is big, and already in the works. "Since before we started this, Adam and I both wanted to one day run a record label," Charlie says. Now, they've got the platform to do that. "We've always wanted to make everything—our channel, our nights, our DJing—as tight as a drum before we move to the next stage. Now, we're ready," he says. 

So on March 21, Eton Messy's pipe dream will become a reality: the boys will be celebrating their self-titled label launch at London's XOYO club with a first release by Jack Bandit of UK-smashing Clean Bandit. What else will that phase involve? "We have a running joke that we want to be the first DJs on Mars," laughs Charlie, before quietly, stating a truth closer to home. "But the US would be pretty good, too..."

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