Party Chat

The fashion line sneaks into Grand Theft Auto

October 9, 2020 / Interview by Jamin Warren | Photography courtesy of Party Chat

Started by old schoolmates James Sutherland and Jamie Mcintyre, Party Chat is a Glasgow-based unisex clothing brand inspired by the pulsating dance music scene and tight-knit club community in the Scottish city. 

To publicize their latest collection titled Work Force, Sutherland and Mcintyre enlisted new media artist Alfatih to ‘hack’ Grand Theft Auto with characters dressed in Party Chat garb. The result? A trio of promo films that operate as a virtual manifesto for the brand—an ode to the driving game’s dark and dreamy atmosphere and with an attitude that pokes fun at corporate culture through the imagined business empire, PC Corp.  

We spoke with Sutherland and Mcintyre about using GTA as a vessel for their brand, Party Chat’s origins in dance music and club culture, and the importance of not taking yourself too seriously.

Still from PC Corp promotional video, Party Chat x Alfatih.


Could you talk a bit about the origin story of Party Chat?

James Sutherland (JS): Jamie was in the year below me in school. We didn’t hang out that much, to be honest—we were different people back then, but we shared the same ideas. Then I moved out to London and worked in marketing and management for experiential events. I’ve been involved with dance music—club nights, warehouse raves, you name it, that’s predominantly my area. But we reconnected in London because we were living in the same area. It’s just this natural way when you get down to London that Scottish people—if you haven’t seen them in years—you reconnect. 

We were just having a beer one day, talking about this concept. With my music background and my love for clothing and apparel, I thought we could take advantage of a particular market.

Jamie Mcintyre (JM): I have a design background and worked for six and a half years at It’s Nice That—I started there as an intern and left as Head of Creative there. When James and I connected in London, there was this lovely crossover of creative minds. James was very artistic, and I’m a big dance music lover, so this nice hybrid became Party Chat quite quickly overnight. 

We talked a lot about the creative makeup of Party Chat—how do we create a point of view that’s different from any other streetwear label out there? That was something we were conscious of, making sure we had right before we kicked off. There are so many streetwear labels left, right and center, does the world need another one [laughs]? For us, when it came to music, what kicked us off was this space that we felt could be tapped into—for instance, when you go into a record store, and they have some t-shirts hanging, and they’re not given much love or craft.

Stills from PC Corp promotional video, Party Chat x Alfatih.

For us, there was quite a big gap between High Street fast fashion—like when people put an old Rolling Stones flyer on a t-shirt and selling it, or Nirvana, all of that. Then there’s the other end, the top end, like when Virgil Abloh or Christopher Kane will have a dance-inspired collection once a season. There’s a lovely space between these two ends, like OK, how can we give more craft and love to the subcultures and communities around dance music? We want what we make to be highly produced but come at affordable price points. 

So that was the birth of us from a strategy point of view. I guess there’s the part of us, which is very “Let’s just fuck it and try it.” It sounds very calculated, but we told ourselves, Let’s try a couple of things, pass them onto our mates, and see how people respond. It grew quite quickly, the response, didn’t it, James?

JS: It noticeably grew, especially with where we wanted to take it. We realized that there was more to it than just the music and design. We very much wanted to keep it quite punk. One of Glasgow’s most significant exports is actually music—if you look into many other artists, like Hudson Mohawke, he lived down the street from me. He produced Yeezus; he’s fantastic. Even though many exports are known from this little setting in Glasgow that support this scene, we wanted to fill that void while being forward-thinking. 

JM: Where we started to stretch our legs creatively—not just through what we want to put on a garment, but how we document or capture it—we wanted to make sure that we could produce 10-12 items, and not just churn it out. In terms of our backgrounds in music appreciation and creative work, we care about the craft. Probably our most significant weakness is that we’re not marketers that just want to churn it out.

We actually live and breathe the culture that what we’re making is about. The care-taking has a concept to it and has an experimental attitude as well. We wanted to make sure that we were challenging ourselves creatively.

Stills from PC Corp promotional video, Party Chat x Alfatih.

Finding inspiration in the Glaswegian scene

Was there a particular artist, sound, or club that are touchstones for Party Chat?

JS: There’s always been a subculture in Glasgow for dance music—one of the oldest clubs, the most underground dance club called Sub Club has had pretty much everyone you can think of play through there, and has the oldest residency in the world as well. So it just shows the passion in that dance music scene. When it comes to dance music, it’s very much about the underground side of things. I like the comparison between Detroit music—Detroit music is so big—and there is a comparison between Detroit and Glasgow because we’re both industrial cities. The focus on that music style was essential to people. We’ve had lots of people from Detroit come over. Stuart Cosgrove did the very first article on Detroit techno, and he’s a Scotsman! He went over there, and interviewed big players like Derrick May, Juan Atkins, Jeff Mills in 1989. That level of dance music is what we’re interested in, it’s not that EDM sort of side of things. 

JM: Glasgow definitely has a sound, but there’s also a community side of Glasgow.

JS: Some of the biggest DJs on Resident Advisor started working at this record store [called] Rubadub, which is right next door to the Sub Club.

JM: Whenever Boiler Room or someone similar does a doc about Glasgow, they’re like, oh, let’s go to Sub Club [laughs]. It’s the truest and purest source of many people’s inspiration and where they started their career—maybe not on paper, but in terms of a creative space. 

JS: Friendships as well, that’s what the whole Party Chat element is too. We’re tongue-in-cheek! We don’t take ourselves too seriously, but we take ourselves very seriously. It’s just a Scottish thing [laughs]. Dance music was something that very much created communities, and it wasn’t only at the club—it was the after-party, and other places, too. You could be hanging around with someone that’s now, for instance, Hudson Mohawke. 

JM: It’s not that table service, fireworks, EDM kind of backstage. Glasgow is very pure. 

Stills from PC Corp promotional video, Party Chat x Alfatih.

On hacking GTA

The decision to use GTA as a vehicle for your brand—that’s really uncommon. How did you decide on that approach?

JS: GTA was developed and created in Scotland—not far from Glasgow, in Dundee. The 2D format, top-down… we both grew up with it. Though it’s this billion-dollar franchise now, there’s still that noticeable property that remains throughout; that tongue-in-cheekness. There’s the pop culture references we know so well, and also the soundtracks… I worked with some people that have curated the soundtracks or people we know who’ve been [featured] on them. As a vessel, PC Corp was in itself a Glasgow satire.

JM: We had this fantasy of corporate culture. We’re two guys in Glasgow packing up our garments, shipping them off by hand, walking to the post office—for us, it was this fantasy of what if PC Corp had an office in every city? We really got down to the details, like what do the employee’s ID cards look like? We began fantasizing about how many floors does the high rise have? Again, it comes back to the irony of Party Chat, and our space and the fashion world. You know, we’re not fashion people, but we like to poke fun at the corporate culture. We created eight different fantasy departments of the company that we then would be translated into a workers’ uniform that they would then wear back in this world. GTA felt like a sweet spot for us to explore when we thought about gaming, fantasy, pop culture, and music. We definitely can’t take the credit for the artistic license of that.

Something we often do is connect with experimental fields in art schools. There are some fantastic programs—some people here in Amsterdam doing some mad shit. James and I talk a lot about experiences and digital experiences—how we can influence culture or even an online shopping experience.

So we got in touch with Alfatih, who is a fucking amazing artist. We went to his degree show in Switzerland—there’s an art school there called ECAL, they have some fantastic and quite progressive courses there. Often, they bring in people from industry to do workshops every week, they have the luxury to do it quite well. At the degree show, Alfatih had taken some high couture items from Commes des Garçons, and he modeled them onto himself and put himself into GTA and drove around, did some naughty things [laughs].

We treated the development process like how a feature film lookbook would be treated in the real world. We didn’t want to do a whole Hey, we’re in Glasgow, we could go around and cause some trouble. We really wanted to have this eerie, moody, atmospheric lookbook cut together scene-by-scene, which we had a storyboard for, and we wrote the kind of language that’s read by AI-type voiceover. That’s [read] by a poet we know from Glasgow, and all that copy she reads out is actually printed on the garment herself. We wanted to tie that loop back to something existing physically—and down to the details of how we wanted it to be read out and augmented into AI-type VO. To translate that story is something we really wanted to do—we imagined these videos in the hypothetical foyer of PC corp—you know, you go in, you tap in your little ID card. So in a way, we put ourselves back into GTA.

Stills from PC Corp promotional video, Party Chat x Alfatih.

The sonic worlds of GTA

There are these roleplaying servers called “GTA RP” where people get together, and they act out a universe of the story—for example, there’s one guy, and he pulls people over and gives them tickets. It sounds like you’re tapping into this much larger tradition in gaming.

JM: Down to character development, we developed a gender-neutral character with Alfatih. We could’ve stuck with a hoodie on a butch guy, which would’ve wholly been the wrong kind of space for us—so we’re really super happy with the outcome. Having this anonymous identity allows you to take more notice of the type of narrative that we’ve tried to build.

That’s the kind of thing that excited us. We’re not in that world but one influenced by our background. One of James’ good friends Big Miz, a musician—we used one of these tracks, sounds like it could be from GTA, it’s kind of dreamy…

JS: Dreaminess, too—most of it was set in the dark, and obviously GTA has gone so far beyond, it’s so beautiful now with all that ambient sound. He knew exactly what to do–goes back to that Glasgow community thing, too. He was like, I’ve got this ambient track’ that would work perfectly with the storyboard you’ve got, and on GTA

JM: Often, with a game, you can put down and pick up again. You can start where you left off, and for us, what we love about these three films we created is that they’re nondescript as well. Though we have a voiceover and mini-narratives, it’s up to the viewer to make up their own mind about who this person is and the journey they’re on. Are they going to work? Are they going to a party? There are different props in each, too—there’s a phone in one, there’s a helicopter and a motorcycle in another. So it’s like, Are they commuting? Are they being chased? You just don’t know. And that’s quite nice, to not have access to be able to see what’s the other side of this. It’s a little bubble in a moment of time, which we really love about [the films we made]. 

Ivan [Pavlovich, who is the soundtrack supervisor for the GTA franchise], actually ran a Chicago house label before taking the job at GTA. It’s cool that he’s bringing that dance music sensibility to GTA.  

JS: The audio experience with GTA is so integral to the actual gaming experience itself. And the curation of each radio station [in the game] is great. That’s another important thing we loved about using GTA as a vessel. 

JM: Last year, some big DJs were stuck in the game, and had a ‘club night’—Black Madonna was one of them. With Party Chat, there’s a level of expectation—we could’ve gone to a club and had a dance—but that would’ve been so expected. So we were delighted with this interactive space here, and doing our own thing. We love music appreciation and curation but didn’t want to get caught up in that space because it’s been done.

Stills from PC Corp promotional video, Party Chat x Alfatih.

What do you have planned next? Dance music and dance culture are in an interesting spot right now, and so in some ways, it’s a challenging and unique time to be talking about these things. 

JM: We’ve had to put some things on pause, manufacturing-wise. We’re working closely with a designer who helped with the PC Corp line. He’s creating a logotype for us—which we’ve never had—and kind of a visual language around our identity, which we’re really stoked about launching in the next few weeks. Beyond that, we’re getting more into manufacturing our own stuff from scratch. In making clothes, we’ve been printing on blanks, embroidering on blanks up to this point. Still, we’re really excited about this next stage of production and exploration, seeing what’s possible. 

JS: Tech is critical. Technology now with materials and experiences drawn from it—that is really important to us. We’re constantly wanting to evolve with technology and bringing out more things, especially animation. 

JM: Our new icon is a key. For us, we’ve already planted some seeds with our network—Hey, our new icon is this, take it and mess it up! Someone said the other day that they wanted to create an AR key that they could open some things with. Maybe it unlocks in due course, secret stuff that certain customers can get access to… otherwise, it’s a metaphor for many things, like a journey.

JS: A skeleton key that unlocked everything. Or nothing at all [laughs]. 

JM: We talked about community at the start here. With a key, you can add things onto it—it really sums up our approach to this whole project. We want to add people to that journey, whether that’s a one-off collaboration or not. We definitely want to include community and friendship as the way we want to move forward with projects and work with people who are just, like, good people.