I caught up with RORY PHILLIPS early last week. Rory is someone I’ve been a big fan of for a very long time. An integral member of the legendary Trash night with Erol Alkan (and its successor Durrr), Rory introduced The End to some of the most exciting mutant-disco-new-wave-post-punk-obscuro-pop imaginable as well as showing off another side at the equally as vital Our Disco. This man continues to shape a corner of London clubland with his new project Say Yes. Oh, and his productions are some of the best around too as can be heard on his new 12” featuring his four favourite remixes from last year. We sat down for a chat in East London’s rather great The Book Club, surrounded by furrowed brows buried deep in their laptops.
Dan: So, what you drinking at 12pm on Monday afternoon?
Rory: Usually a coffee…
You’re partial to a bloody mary though, right?
Anytime of day? Mornings?
Strictly at weekends…
Or at airport bars?
Ha, yeah. Big fan of the pre-flight drink.
Can you DJ drunk, by the way? I always used to drink quite a lot up until quite recently when I played sober and realised I was about 78 times better.
I think I’m probably better when I’m drunk but I try not to be. It’s like playing darts. Some people swear that I’m better drunk.
So, first up: Rory Phillips the DJ. You built your name as a warm-up DJ at Trash – a really important role to play in any night but not too many people seem to be able to do it. Finding records to make people start dancing is a fun pastime right?
I don’t think it’s a particularly hard thing to do it’s just people really don’t seem that interested in it anymore. They want to skip that whole part of the evening and go straight to peak time DJing. But it’s very rewarding. If you’re someone who does consume a lot of music, a lot of the time you think ‘I really love this record but I could never play it out in a set’ and warm-ups are ideal for expressing that part of your music tastes.
Obviously you can smash a club as a headline DJ as well and it’s admirable that you always do it in your own style but here’s an idea I want to put to you. OK… So, over the past year you’ve had of your remixes appear on two Mixmag covermount CDs?
Yeah, I hadn’t really thought of that but yes…
Pretty big stuff, widespread audiences – that magazine reaches a lot of quite hardcore clubbers. But I think you’ll agree that you inhabit a DJ world that is never going to going to be as big as certain mainstream Dutch house producers, for instance. In a set, a nu-disco record is never going to gain as mental a reaction as say a Laidback Luke record or a Proxy track. Does the thought ever cross your mind that, if you were to go for ‘the jugular’ of that mainstream crowd a bit more then your position might be made a little easier? And I’m not questioning your integrity at all (I’m praising it) but say you were to bypass the warm-up DJ side of your brain…
I know what you’re saying and I’m not averse to that kind of thing but it’s never been the appropriate reaction to the songs I’ve been remixing. I try and put a bit of my own personality into my work and if I was to remix something where that was the best solution I’d have no problem with it but I can’t see it happening anytime soon.
This is a broad question but what’s your take on the current state of club music? We chatted recently about how the world of blogs changed things drastically. Obviously they’ve had a positive in some areas as so many more people can hear new music but how do you feel generally, playing to a crowd now?
It’s a double edged thing in that music is more accessible than ever but, as a result of that, everyone’s an expert now. The internet is the main avenue for discovering music which seems strange to me and it’s probably the first generation of DJs there have been who don’t have any kind of physical record collection.
Yeah very true. My fear with certain young clubbers is that they only listen to a certain type of music and are gagging for a certain (very heavy) sound all the time…
Well, everyone is so clued up now. If you went to a club ten, fifteen years ago you’d only know two or three songs and that would only be if you spent your time going through all the import 12“s.
For me, my favourite thing about club music is going out and NOT knowing the records you hear.
Yeah – that moment of asking “WHAT is this record?”
I find it weird when certain people stop dancing when they don’t know a track. But it’s certainly not all doom and gloom right now – there are more people than ever wanting to dance.
I mean, it would be arrogant as a DJ to criticise people for finding more music and digging deeper but the dynamics have definitely changed. I think the DJs who were here five, six years ago…. ten, twenty years ago are people who have adapted and have stepped up to the new challenge.
So, your night Say Yes clearly takes a lot of influence from early clubland, the New York scene.
Yes, things like The Paradise Garage. It was just an excuse to go through the dustier ends of our record collections. It’s a small club, the kind of ‘hands-in-the-air’ factor you only get by playing the music you really love in a small room.
The thing I’ve always liked about the nights you’ve been involved with, whether it was Our Disco, Trash, Durrr or Say Yes, is the idea of a DJ set with many different kinds of music in it without just throwing it into the saucepan.
One of the things I like to do is find the similarities in lots of disparate bits.
Why is this notion met with a fair degree of snobbery in certain circles?
Well, ‘eclecticism’ is considered a dirty word and not actually something I would used to describe myself but as I said I like to see the similarities in things, rather than the differences. It’s finding those threads that can bring you from one place to a different point but always taking small steps.
I’ve always liked your remix style but over the past year it really seems to have come into its own. Was there a conscious decision to put more focus on it?
I think I’m just a lot more comfortable in the studio – I’ve been in the same space for the best part of three years now. I treat it like a job, going to work everyday, even if I don’t have anything in particular to work on I still try and get my hands dirty. I’m there five days a week, clocking in and out. I’m not a natural musician at all. I find remixing very difficult but I get there in the end.
It’s an obvious question but why now decide to start releasing original material under your own name? Is it all to do with feeling more comfortable in the studio?
There’s that and, well, Solar Breakfast just came out of a jam session with In Flagranti. I submitted it and then got a phone call saying they wanted to put it out so it’s kind of a ‘soft release’ for me. I have a lot of stuff I’m working on but I usually end up getting distracted by remix work.
You’ve started your own label to put out a 12 of four of your remixes from last year. Do you have any more plans for the label?
I’m talking to some acts now about releasing them and I also want to do some of my own stuff.
How often do you go record shopping?
It really varies. I go second-hand record shopping every week. I find I buy more used records than new stuff.
Well, here is something I’ve found I don’t know if you agree with me. Even just a few years ago, I guess when you were still doing Trash every week, there were a lot of little oddball singles on tiny labels which probably only lasted for one release. There was loads of weird, interesting poppy stuff. I’ve found that there maybe just aren’t quite so many of those at the moment…
I think a lot of that culture has been given less importance because of the rise of Myspace and so on. Exporting your 7” was the only way you got your record heard. It’s still there but you’re right: it’s not as present as it used to be. Also, there’s no John Peel anymore to shed light on them. I think a lot of it died with John Peel which is sad. Plus, a myspace page will get you a lot more listens more quickly so things have just changed.
If Trash or Durrr were to start again next week, what would you play? Who are you really excited by now?
I’m really enjoying Factory Floor from London – they’re somewhere between DAF and Silver Apples. Just a massive, glorious noise. Your Twenties who make pretty perfect pop music – I’ve heard a couple of tracks from the album and it really sounds amazing. And Veronica Falls – another great, reverb-drenched British band.
What live acts are you most proud of putting on in clubs? When have you stood back and been really happy that this is your night?
We did a band at Trash called Zeigenbock Kopf with John Dwyer from Coachwhips. His tribute to dark, very gay club music. He didn’t play to the largest crowd but it was this overwhelming live PA, two of them dressed as leather daddies with just a strobe light. I couldn’t help but think ‘where else could you see this in a nightclub?’ but that was sadly their last ever show as one of them impaled himself on glass and they cancelled the rest of their European tour. I don’t see why that one sticks out particularly…
I can see why! Would you say that you have a DJ hero?
Just John Peel. Did you see when he played at Fabric?
I wasn’t there, no…
No fancy beat juggling but he just had everybody in a frenzy. It was just music. Overpowering music. I don’t think I would have started DJing if I had never listened to John Peel.
I always loved the radio shows you used to do with Erol. It was a great way of spreading excitement about the club. Even before I had ever been to Trash, living in small-town Bournemouth, there was an episode where you played Scout Niblett’s ‘Kidnapped By Neptune’ and happily described it as an ‘unlikely club banger’ at Trash. I immediately thought ‘I need to go to this club!’ Anywhere where this record can work on a dancefloor!
Ha yeah! Even though it was an indie night we still got a chance to play some bits that represented the club but we could never actually play in there. It was also done in the style of a lot of radio shows were grew up loving. John Peel’s name comes up again.
So there was a time when you were doing Trash and Our Disco every week, playing different things. Do you miss being able to get it out your system that much on such a regular basis?
In a way, yes. It was good that they were both very different. At Trash I only played new stuff. It was a really interesting to play the new bands on a Monday night and then on the Friday play the bands that influenced those bands.
And these are the links you like to get across in your sets and podcasts?
Yeah, I hope so. I hope you can hear some different styles in there. We’ve found a new venue for Say Yes which will for the same amount of people but in a more compact space which will be really fun. Plus, there’s loads of Durrr parties we have planned all over the place this year so it’s going to be a really exciting time.
Plus why not check out the very first Dummy Mix that Dan did for us last year. Listen/download Dummy Mix 01 // Stopmakingme.