Conversations In Text: Phil Mison

Phil Mison is a dj and producer from London. He is noted for is dj sets at Cafe Del Mar during the early days of Ibiza. Currently, he is producing under the alias, Frontera, Cantoma, and Reverso 68. I met him at a bar in Venice Beach the Monday after he played one of our Adventures In Flight events at Music For Dancers. We drank Sculpin on tap. I winced from the sun. Phil spoke on topics concerning artistry, performance, and Ibiza.

Q: How does the relationship between the dj and the dancer work for you?

A: You can just test the water. You just kind of know. When straight people react to records, I don’t mean straight people, I mean non-music lovers, when you play something that they react to then you think, “Yeah, this is great.” It doesn’t have to be that formulaic boom boom, bleep bleep, and breakdown. There’s a whole other level of reacting to music. You know the Pavlovian experiment? They rang a bell every time they were about to feed the dogs then once the dogs heard the bell then they started salivating. They hear the bell and they know that it’s time for dinner. I think when people go out clubbing to places like, I don’t know, Las Vegas, they need to have that Pavlovian experience. They need that boom boom bleep bleep, otherwise they think, I don’t like it. I might have talked absolute bollucks there, I don’t know if his name is Dr. Pavlov or what but I’ve read much on it. In Las Vegas they want that boom boom and big champagne bottles blasting, it’s like someone trying to force you to eat 100 hamburgers. It makes me feel sick. But they love it and who’s to say they’re wrong. It’s just other people enjoying music in a different way. Who’s to say they’re wrong. It’s just a different shit. But not for me.

After playing on Saturday at Music For Dancers, early in the night I was finding it hard to get going because no one was really liking it and I didn’t really know what to play. What do you do? I don’t know? So I kind of did my thing and then sat down and actually fell asleep for ten odd minutes. Juan Nunez woke me and said, “Come on, come on. You’ve got to do it again. There are people here to see you.” And I replied, “No they’re not. They’re just here because this is the last party going.” But I got back on the turntables and I’m very glad I did.

It’s about selecting the records. Anyone can learn to mix. It’s not that hard really. Some people are brilliant at it. I’m ok. I can do it. I’m not outstanding. But, when you forget about that and you just play the music then you see that it’s more important to play the music than to just have technical skills. But there’s also a way of putting records together so that you can’t even tell if the dj is mixing. Like the way David Mancuso does it. You don’t even notice. Some records do need to be mixed, like house music because it’s boring.

Q: When was the first time you felt that connection and energy, as mentioned before?

A: Primarily as a dancer, rather than a dj. Danny Rampling was the first person to make me think, “Wow, this is a lift-off, this is bonkers.” I think I’ve always been someone who appreciates a good party more so than djing. If it’s great music, great people, and a great atmosphere then that’s enough for me. That’s where I learned to dj. When I did the Milk Bar, the reason I did the gig, well, was through my friend Joem who was a big wild child. I used to hang and go clubbing with her in 1989. She had decks. I didn’t have decks back then. I’d make these tapes over at her house. Then I gave a few to my friend Tony, who was a friend of Darren Emerson from Underworld. Darren was a resident at Nicky Holloway’s club, The Milk Bar. Tony asked if I wanted to play this music at the beginning of the night. Usually, no warm up dj comes and plays weird, Balearic, ambient music. Everyone thinks it’s their chance to play their big records before the main dj. Danny Rampling had his night on Wednesday at The Milk Bar. The Milk Bar was tiny. I think it held 250 people. The first time I went there were about 600 people outside. It was absolutely insane. I went down with Joem, and we got in, unbelievable. The lights were quite high and the music super soft. Everyone was just kind of getting in there. Everyone knew, they didn’t have to guess, it was going to be a great night. I think someone was playing a tape or something, a cassette, I don’t know. More people came in, the lights went down, and the music got louder, louder, louder, and it picked up. Then when he came on everyone was just, the kettle was about ready to blow over, everyone went nuts. I took that as the template for doing The Milk Bar on Monday. I would play very mellow music, then pick it up, then the next dj would get on. Then, the manager Chris, he hated everyone, he was a surly, miserable man. He hated everyone in the club. You couldn’t talk to him. He didn’t want to be your mate. He’d just tell you to fuck off. He came up to me and said, No one’s ever done this. No one has come in and just played mellow music, in general, apart from the other night, but he said, do you want to come in and do it next week? I said, “Sure, Why not?” If I didn’t have that Milk Bar gig then I’d never have gotten the Cafe Del Mar gig. I think I was getting 50 quid every Monday at Milk Bar. It was all totally random. It’s those random elements that are important.

Things are different now with the Internet. How did you meet people before the Internet? Randomly. Someone knew someone in this place who knew someone. It was completely random. Wonderful, really. In one of the first Cafe Del Mar tapes there was this track called The Penguin Cafe. It was based on this fictitious cafe, The Penguin Cafe, where all of these weird things happened. It was chamber music, but their music was played in Ibiza a lot. It was called, Music For Found Harmonium. We went to a club called Lola’s in Ibiza town, which was one of the very first night clubs in Ibiza, it had been there for years. It was in this cave there in town. It was one of the first records that people would take ecstasy and dance to . Jose told me that this woman came up to him, and I met her years later, and I remember her dancing like crazy to Music For Found Harmonium. It was random. Finding the music and finding those people. In those completely random moments is where you really find that energy.

Q: Where do you see yourself in the future? Goals? Direction?

A: Driving a bus! That’s a good question. I, like all of my dj brothers, have put all my eggs in one basket. I’m not trained to do anything. If it’s not working out I can’t just go and be a graphic designer or a dentist. I’ve been doing this for 20 yrs. It’s all I’ve been doing. With the way the music business is, it’s tough. I just keep on making music. This year I’ve been busier than ever and I don’t know why. I think you have to have a bit of self-belief. It takes some self realization. You must say to yourself, I can do it,  I do deserve it. I’m just the worst person in the world for being a bit self-deprecating. I’ll think, “What me? No.” I never wanted to come across as an arogant guy. I don’t say to myself, I’m brilliant, I’m the shit.

Q: When you played at Music For Dancers, yesterday, did you play any records that you normally would not play for a gig?

A: At Music For Dancers the other morning there’s a record I played by a member of Leftfield. Djum Djum – Difference. It’s almost slightly ravey, this record. I’ve never played it out but I brought it. I told myself that I’d only play it if the mood was right. I played that record and it was the only one that people really reacted to. I just had this weird, sort of, feeling before I left to come here. I told myself that I’d take that record just in case. It sounds like a record that should be played at David Mancuso’s Loft party. It has that Loft energy. All the little noises in it and the drums. I’m glad I played that record and it worked exactly like I thought it was going to work. It’s kind of unmixable. It has this long intro. If you mix it in then it’s like, yeah, so what. You have to play the whole thing. When I played it at Music For Dancers I could see that there were people getting lifted by that record.

Q: I’ve heard you compare David Mancuso’s Loft to Music For Dancers a few times throughout this conversation. How do they speak to each other?

A: I never went when it was in his house. It is now in this huge space. Much bigger than Music For Dancers. I think your space is more intimate. You don’t need many people in there to make it a good experience. Some of the people I was chatting to on Sunday morning were really genuine people. They were just curious about me. They wanted to know who I was and why I was there. It wasn’t that stiffy, stand-offish kind of vibe at all.

Q: What about the music that you felt comfortable playing?

A: The music I felt comfortable playing was the really special music that I don’t play if I’m not having a good time. I’ve got a lot of pumping club music. I almost feel like I have to go through that to get to the good stuff, in a weird sort of way. You have to work it, mix, pump it up, and then you can think, Ok, Now I can just do this.

We are not David Mancuso and we do not have The Loft. I have to be a working dj when I play at a club. You have to pump it. You have to put the energy and the work in. Unless you go to Belgrade and they say, Come on! Harder!

In Serbia I could play whatever I wanted through the night. Disco. Balearic. And then when the sun came up it got crazier and they were like, “Come on!”

Q: What is the reputation of Los Angeles coming from your community in London?

A: The reputation for Los Angeles. Pre-Harvey it didn’t exist.  People thought that this whole Doc Martin kind of thing, because he used to play in London a bit, so people thought that was what LA music was like. Is he from San Francisco? I think he is more associated with San Francisco. People thought that LA was just rock music and cheesy house music. When I came to LA in 2004, when I got off the plane I went straight to Harvey’s with Hugh and we were walking around Venice in the morning and I asked him, “So what’s going on here? Do you do parties here?” Harvey replied, “No, I tried getting something going nearby but no one is into it.” I said, “Look, you got the sun, the beach, and bars where you could play really good music.”

Q: Do you think that LA has the potential to be home to it’s own type of Balearic-esque music?

A: Well, judging by your party, Music For Dancers, on Sunday then I’d say yes. It’s weird that Harvey has become this torch carrier for Balearica.

Q: Who is your favorite dj?

A: It’s cliche to say Harvey, but I’ve seen him really bring it. We all know that he can turn it out and it’s never boring. Next comes Mancuso and the Loft. But that’s different because Mancuso is not a working dj. That’s his own private party with his own private rules and his own private crowd. It’s not like the guy is going to turn up somewhere and have to work his ass off for a crowd of strangers. That doesn’t exist.

Also Moonboots from Manchester. He has amazing records. He is a really good dancefloor dj. Also my friend Gerry from London, he used to do the Black Cock thing with Harvey. Gerry Rooney. I always like to hear Gerry.

I still go out to clubs and parties and such.

Mark 7. Without the straight up shadow of a doubt. Mark 7 is one of the best dj’s I’ve heard. Check out his mixes. I’ve seen him play at Horse Meat Disco. He played records that I personally would struggle to mix because they’re album cuts from live musicians so the tempo isn’t exact and he mixes them without missing a beat. He did these mixes called, Tribute to the Men in the Foxhole. Outstanding. Puts me to shame, to be honest. He’s a super nice guy. I met him in New York in 2005 and didn’t know who he was. He is a veteren of Acid House, like, Phuture, and that kind of stuff.

Djum Djum – Difference

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