We catch up with the prolific and highly versatile D&B producer as he prepares to release his debut album
Stick to the path: if there’s one adage that could sum up the last eight years of Phil Robinson’s career in D&B, it’s that. A doggedly persistent individual based out of west London, he’s consistently stayed true to his lane, fusing a singular style that resonates with all corners of the D&Bosphere and releasing his creations at an alarmingly consistent rate.
He’s never once kowtowed to trend: Philth’s style is a timeless take on a wide range of styles. It owes just as much to deep soul as it does dark tech and sits just as comfortably on Dispatch as it does CIA, Metalheadz, Renegade Hardware or Integral.
He’s never once kowtowed to tradition: while many producers of his stature slave fastidiously over mixdown elements to the extent they find it hard to release more than an EP a year, he’s released over 100 tunes since 2011 and he’s proud of every single track. And while many artists leave the labels that gave them their breakthrough release and move on to bigger imprints, he now runs the label that gave him his debut: the once US-based but now UK label Peer Pressure Records (with fellow artist and long-time jungle cohort turned best mate Facing Jinx). The label has never been more consistent with its innovative releases and fresh talent than it is right now, with a new waves of recruits coming through in 2018.
Philth’s latest release, however, comes courtesy of Flexout Audio, a label he’s worked closely with since their earliest chapters. A chop-slapping four-piece with Belgian kindred spirits Bredren entitled Babylon Sound, as you’ll read below it’s another example of Phil’s adherence to the path: having a vision, sticking to it, realising it.
This year there have been many other examples of Phil’s resolute approach to the game. His Synapses 1 EP is a full-flavoured assault from all sides of the genre that stretches from rolling orchestral drama (Unstable with Wreckless) to Fats-adorned sci-fi machine soul while his second Phil:osophy EP (with Phil Tangent) dives deep into the most emotional corners of the D&B cosmos. He’s also made cameos on Metalheadz, Fokuz, Dispatch, Soul Trader and Lifestyle and he's also - we can exclusively reveal - been busy working on his debut album, due late 2018/early 2019 on Dispatch.
Somewhere amid all this he’s also taken the time to cook up an exclusive mix for iDJ. Once again resonating with all corners of the D&Bosphere, a timeless take on a wide range of styles, it’s the sound of a man who’s had a plan, stuck to and is enjoying the fruits of his labour more than ever. Press play and get to know just how he got here…
I understand you got sunburnt in the studio at 6am doing this mix?
"Ha! Yeah I did. I do regularly this time of year. I find at night I’m able to concentrate better. The music we’re making is made to be played at night, and it feels a lot more natural making it in those hours. I don’t get bogged down with mixdown details, I just get them to an approximate level and concentrate on writing music. Trying to get the snare or kick perfect when you haven’t even got anything decent down musically, is counter-productive, so I crack on through the night with the speakers low and the sunrise is a sign I need to go to bed.
Yeah I can imagine that’s a beautiful moment. There’s a tranquillity to working in those hours, right?
"It’s so calming, it’s almost like meditation. Everything stops bleeping and I feel I’ve got more headspace. there’s nothing in my way, I can just sit down and focus."
I want to focus on your history a second. Your first ever tune was Obsession….
"Close. The first things I did were actually tracks called Miss Understanding and Hidden Beauty, with Facing Jinx on Peer Pressure, the label we've eventually go on to run. Obsession was my first solo track, though."
I was going to say that 'obsession' kinda sums up your relationship with D&B, correct?
"It is a bit like that. The tracks that followed were Addiction and Attraction and, like Obsession, they were very much about having to do music as much as enjoying doing it.
"If I’m not writing music for a long period of time - okay, about a week - I get really cranky. It’s therapeutic. It’s part of what makes me ‘me’ and helps me get into my headspace. Those titles don’t suggest it’s very healthy but it seems to work okay for me."
Dispatch picked up on you very quickly after those tracks. How did that link happen so quickly in your career?
"They did a sample competition where Octane & DLR put a bundle of elements together which you had to create a tune from. Like a twist on the classic remix competition. I entered it and they didn’t just pick one winner, they picked four. Three of those winners were myself, Hyroglifics and Arkaik. That’s testament to [Dispatch label boss] Ant TC1’s A&R skills. I’ve not stopped hassling him ever since!"
How did you end up running Peer Pressure?
"The original owner of the label was Matt Beebe from California. He picked up on what me and Facing Jinx were doing, gave us our first releases and asked if we’d be able to help him find more artists and do a bit of A&Ring. We got Wreckless, Hyroglifics and various other guys on the label and it seemed to work well. Then he asked if we’d be up for managing the label because he had a lot of commitments and couldn’t give it the time it needed, so we managed it, and eventually Facing Jinx bought it off him.
"We never actually met him in person until a few years later, when I had a gig in LA. He couldn’t make the gig but he visited me the next morning with a load of food. He used to be a chef and he cooked this amazing breakfast and we got to talk music and life. I gave him my Peer Pressure T-shirt I’d worn to play at Respect the night before."
He must be proud of where you guys have taken the label?
"Yeah, he was happy with our stewardship and loves how we’ve taken it forward. It’s so nice to have that platform that gave us our first break, develop it and maintain the ethos of helping new artists breakthrough because that how we came through. Continuing the cycle and refreshing the scene.:
You’ve released over 100 tracks since breaking through. That was last year, so it’s probably more like 120 now.
"There’s been a fair few since, yeah. I’d never throw stuff out for the sake of it, but having a goal makes you take your tracks over the line. Otherwise you do a track, it’s 80 per cent there but you think, 'No, I want to write a better one’ and it gets lost. I’ve pushed myself to get music out.
"Sure, I listen back to some of them and think the mixdown could be better, but I’m glad I didn’t get tangled up trying to make the best tune ever. It’s important to have regular releases for your profile... and also I just make a hell of a lot of music and explore a lot of styles within drum & bass."
Good point on getting tangled. I think it’s quite detrimental for developing artists to get stuck in that loop where they’re endless tweaking their tunes in pursuit of an imagined perfection...
"Massively! New artists compare themselves to the top guys like Alix Perez and Skeptical and try to instantly sound as good as them. You need to just appreciate each tune as its own story. Because drum & bass is so technical, sometimes people forget that each tune is a very personal moment in time.
"Wreckless once said something to me that really stuck; his discography is a diary of his life. All these tunes in your discography are just moments in time and your life, and not every moment is perfect. Trying to make every tune the best tune of the year isn’t healthy.
Plus it takes time! Your career is proof - years of diligence and sticking tn the path...
"Yeah man... that and I’m too stupid to ever quit! But yeah, this music means everything to me. I would be writing D&B if no one was picking my tunes up. Enjoying the process is the most important thing. Aiming for your first release to be a Headz release or something ridiculously aspirational isn’t going to help you enjoy the process. You’re putting yourself up to this scrutiny which doesn’t even exist because you’ve made it all up in your head.
"Sure, I’ve learned my trade in the public eye, putting out releases as I’ve been developing, but I’m happy I’ve put out all those tunes because they say something about me; how I was feeling, what I was doing, what music I was DJing, which artists I was feeling. That’s really important."
A lot of artists would happily scrap their first few releases from history, but you seem to have a healthy relationship with your back cat?
"I do. Everything I’ve done I’ve believed in 100 per cent at the time and I’m still proud of the music. There are loads of little technical things I could have done better but the fact is that most listeners don’t give a shit about how bright the snare is. I have no regrets: I look back and remember when things were a bit fresher and wide-eyed. Doing those late night sessions with Facing Jinx and feeling so excited about everything. That’s kinda where I’m back at now."
How about gamechanging releases?
"That’s got to be Your Love on Dispatch. Ant asked for some tunes and I sent him seven gargly gnarly rollers and Your Love, which is much more minimal and vocal. I included it to show I could do other styles and that’s the tune he signed. It was actually my birthday when I got the email saying he wanted to sign it. It showed me Ant would be open to anything I send him. That’s shaped my attitude with how I work with Dispatch, and Your Love and the sick Scar remix have become my signature tunes. I still play them at most of my shows."
Word on the street is you’ve got an album coming on Dispatch?
"I have indeed! After my two EPs I sent a load more demos and then we had dinner before a gig together and he said, 'Let’s not do another EP, let’s do an album’. I was super happy to hear that. It’s what I was always working towards and I know I’ve got the freedom to do anything on it.
"It’s got a way to go to release yet but the music is ready and the only way you can hear it is if you come and see me or Ant, basically. We’re keeping it super tight so it stays fresh. A few select DJs have some of the tunes but the only people who have everything is me and Ant."
Yet another big milestone in an ever-accelerating career...
"I think it’s the result of quite a few years slaving away. I remember having a conversation with Survival and he said before he did Masterchef he’d written a whole year of releases. If he didn’t get round to writing any music for a year then no one would notice. That made me realise just how far ahead of itself this music is.
"Before, I used to hurry to get tunes out but now I’ll make big batches and carefully line things up for release with the right people. All of this year’s releases so far were written last year, for example. I think it’s important to not rush things out and plan ahead; be diligent instead of thinking everything is going to happen overnight. So what if a release is actually two years old from your perspective? To the listener it’s brand new."
D&B moves very quickly, so you have to make things sound like you and not what’s actually happening at the time.
"Completely. You can delete the rest of the interview and sum up my whole ethos in that question. If you just write music you honestly believe in, it doesn’t sound like a particular time or era, it sounds like you. If you don’t develop your own sound and constantly compare yourself to other artists, then you will sound dated in a year’s time. If you write what you believe in it doesn’t matter how old it is. It just sounds like you."
Or like you and Bredren, in the case of Babylon Sound...
"I’m so happy about that EP. Bredren are very close, very dear friends of mine. We’ve come through at the same time and have supported each other’s music for years. We did a gig together last November and the first time I saw Dieter we hugged for 10 minutes because we hadn’t seen each other for a few years.
"By the time we stopped hugging we’d already decided they were coming to my studio and we were writing an EP for Flexout. They came over in December, we went to a few gigs and soaked up some vibes, had a real inspiration buzz then got down a load of ideas. Again, nothing technical. Just capturing the vibe. One of the raves we went to was Alix Perez’s 1985 at Five Miles. I remember saying on the way home, ‘If we could do a party here it would be sick’. Six months later we launched the EP at the venue that inspired us."
Five Miles is a great venue...
"Yeah it’s loud, it’s dark, it’s got a great soundsystem and people just go for it. The energy of the reaction to Alix and Skeptical’s B2B was even more inspiring than the music. I just love how we had an idea, followed it through and eventually held a release party at the same place that inspired it. Like you said: stick to the path. That’s a very important theme to me and the Bredren guys: do your own thing, stay true to your sound, work hard and good things will happen."
So what’s next?
"There’s another Wreckless collab EP coming on Dispatch, there’s more Phil:osophy stuff coming, more Synapses, and, of course, the album. There’s loads of stuff lined up and I also want to get over to Belgium and do the second Flexout EP with Bredren. We’re booked to play B2B at Headz in Egg next month. I want to do many more B2Bs with them - which is unusual because I don’t usually enjoy B2Bs. I love to mix really fast and blend things up a lot, but they do that even faster than me. I couldn’t keep up! And Adrien’s headbanging takes the set to another level..."
Words: Dave Jenkins
Tags: Philth, Phil Robinson, D&B, DnB, D+B, drum & bass, Peer Pressure Records, Facing Jinx, Flexout Audio, Bredren, Wreckles, Phil Tangent, Metalheadz, Dispatch, Sout Trader, Lifestlye, Octane & DLR, Ant TC1, Matt Beebe, Hyroglifics, Survival