Phil Asher Talks


Since his first DJ slot at Delirium in 1991, Phil Asher has slowly built an extensive résumé as an international jockey of discs and musical producer, becoming an integral figure in London’s dance music community. In the late ’90s and early 2000s, Asher was central in the evolution of broken beat, as a founder of West London’s Co-Op club, and as a prolific artist with countless remixes and numerous recording projects under his belt.

We sat down with the man of many names – read Restless Soul, Basic Soul, Global Logic, Phlash, Phlash 3000, Woolph, 12 Bit Rephugeez, Back 2 Earth, Blak ‘N’ Spanish, Down From The Ghetto, E-Q Lateral, Electric Soul (2), Focus, Level III, Los Jugaderos, MusicLoveLife, Overcats, Pascal’s Bongo Massive, Phoojun, Powa, Room Zero, Two Shiny Heads… phew! – to talk about all manner of things including playing records again soon.

Where are you from, where are you now?

I am from West London, I am in West London, just over a mile away from where I grew up.

What’s going on in the world of Phil Asher? What have you been working on lately?

Not much, it may sound lazy, but I am working under a new agenda, I only want to make music that makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand up, something that sounds great as well as having great content and arrangement. I don’t want to make music designed for anything else except that. I have some works in progress, i started last year and the year before, no rush. I don’t want to make only dance-floor music either necessarily.

Right, only music that makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand up – so quality over quantity?

Quality over quantity definitely. I’d rather take time, release some music that will be enjoyed for its merit rather than what it is. Good vibrations are more important to me than good chart positions and here-say. It’s not an arrogant vibe, it’s just as you get older your priorities change, now I strive for different goals. I have had a charmed career musically, considering I can’t actually play any instruments properly. I am super grateful and want to give something back. Maybe I’ll never make another song, I am a fussy git. 

Talking of fusssy giys, what was the first electronic record you ever heard? How did it make you feel?

Soft Cell – Tainted Love – Where did our love go 12″ version.

It was the summer of ’81, September, Soft Cell was number one, the drum machine groove was intense, still is. Awesome mix on this record as well. No doubt an SSL desk, Roland Drum Box and a great song. It kind of imprinted itself on my memory, I sing it regularly, I have it on 7″, LP & 12″. I totally love the Supremes original of “Where Did Our Love Go” This version had an unusual, addictive groove to it.

My fetish for drum machines began.

And so what was the music of your teenage rebellion?

I actually still listen to these artists regularly, maybe I’m still rebelling. In no particular order: The Specials, The Jam, Electric Light Orchestra, Otis Redding, The Clash, Stevie Wonder, All the Motown Chartbusters Series, Elvis Costello, Prefab Sprout, Donovan, Mama’s and the Papa’s, The Police, Human League, Madness, My Mate John Vise had a Massive tape collection which was mostly Reggae & Dub, Eddy Grant, Dexy’s Midnight Runners, Weather Report, Michael Jackson, Duran Duran.

I was a mod and I loved 60s sounds like Sam the Sham & the Pharaohs, Wilson Picket, James Brown, Junior Walker, R Dean Taylor, Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell etc.

How’s working at the mighty Record & Tape Exchange treating you? Have you had any music come in that has really got you excited? 

It’s great, I’m really enjoying it. New exciting music comes into the shop everyday. Mint rare reggae LPs, Funk 7″s Boogie 12″s. Interesting soundscape CDs, I’m discovering new & old artists I’ve never heard of before every day. The most exciting thing is the knowledge of my colleagues. They are like recorded music Jedis, super knowledgable in whatever genre they specialise in. I have been in the music game for over 20 years, collecting for 30 and I still feel like a beginner in front of these guys. I love it.

So with the advent of Discogs and the like, do you find the quality of music coming through the doors of the exchange has decreased or is it a case of unearthing hidden gems that the keyboard warriors won’t discover on Youtube?

I think unearthed gems will forever pop up, there are lots of titles not listed on Discogs yet. The great thing about R&T Exchange is that we get all types of demographics coming in to sell their records & CDs. OAPs selling their soul collections, 25 year olds selling recent records they’ve grown bored of, Junglists & 90s house heads getting into Jazz or Soul and selling to make space. We recently had a customer sell in their collection of sought after dub, all in mint condition. I’m not sure if all the other stores have such a variety of customers and potential gems at their disposal. 

What does music mean to you in the digital age of overexposure? How do you remain consistent in your filters with the plethora of musical availability?

At my age my taste range is pretty concrete, I am always open to new sounds and styles but I know what I like. This set range allows me to be open-minded to all forms of the art. 

Similarly, though on a more positive note could the Internet mean a rekindling of yours and Patrick’s radio show across the world?

Sorry to put your flames out, Patrick and I never did a show together, I have guested on his in the past and vice versa, but never together. Gotta love Patrick’s Cosmic Jam show though. Nice!

Which project that you’ve worked on are you proudest of? How often do you listen back to work that you’ve done?

I do listen to old projects and songs quite a lot actually, trying to work out where I was at my happiest musically. TBH I don’t think I have actually reached that point yet. Had a heap of fun getting here though. If I had to pick I would say I really love the music I made with Vanessa Freeman, Shea Soul, Zansika & Rich Medina, that includes all the participating musicians. I much preferred making music with musicians, rather than in the last few years its just been laptop and maybe a keyboard player. Nothing like sitting in a room with live instruments being played on a track you’ve all written. 

What music have you been you listening to lately… is there anyone from the nu breed that’s really doing it for you at the moment?

Today I have been mostly listening to D’Angelo – Black Messiah, Paranoid London – Paranoid London EP, Tappa Zukie, Minnie Riperton & a bunch of new edits sent to me from the HHA, Craig Whitfield & Luke McCarty, my favourite editors in the house game. I’m loving a lot of music makers at the moment, Craig Smith from Edinburgh, Inks Well from Australia, Paranoid London, Thatmanmonkz, Andrew Ashong, D’Wala, Nite Jewel, James Massiah, to name a few.

Have you ever touched Gilles Peterson? How did his skin feel?

Have you ever read any Geoffrey Archer books? The bit about lizards. Wtf. Honestly, Gilles and I go way back, I’m sure his skin is super smooth. (But Wtf???)

When was the last time that you felt yourself becoming overwhelmed by the sensation of music? Can you remember what was playing?

Yes, Jan Hammer Project – Don’t you know played to me by Johnny W. I know, late as usual, that’s the power of music. Also, Alan Parson’s Project – I-Robot. Awesome. In a club it was at the Bussey Building, playing alongside the legendary Paul Anderson, he is a true master.

Have you ever seen an elephant fly?

Yes, twice. Once at Spectrum / Heaven in the 1980s, next at a Flying Elephant’s air show in Amsterdam. Where else can you guarantee sighting a Nellie-Copter?

You’ve been doing a fair bit of engineering lately, is that the direction you see yourself heading in?

I’m not sure, I do enjoy it. Being somebody else’s facilitator is a nice feeling as well. Seeing peoples ideas unravel, then become tangible is awesome. I enjoy working with people, lunchtimes are always fun as well.

When you got the call from Panorama Bar, what did they say and how did you feel? Anything special lined up in your locker?

Matt Radio Slave and the Rekids guys are old friends, they asked and I said yes. I felt great. I’d heard loads about their night, and I was super excited about playing there.

It was a great night for me, the energy in that room is intense. I’m looking forward to going back in May. I don’t know what you mean by locker you funny people you, X.

You’re playing Need2soul this weekend, somewhat of an institution in this capital – one of the only ones left pushing forward thinking left of centre dance floor-ness – care to tell us a bit about your relationship with Alex and Co?

I met Alex years ago when he and a chap named Will Buckley invited me to DJ at their Soiree on Kingsland Rd, it was a basement affair which held approx. 150 people. I remember it was the “Golden Bar” it may have been called “Need to know”. It was brilliant. I was asked to DJ all night from 10pm til close. I played funk, disco, boogie, soul & house; it was a good party. I remember seeing Alexander McQueen there surrounded by models, as well as a room full of party people who didn’t want to stop. We became friends immediately, Alex has consistently booked me for Need2Soul over the years, and I am very grateful and honoured.

Any chance of a Co-Op reunion tour or has it already happened and we’ve not been paying attention?

You never know, stranger things happen at sea. Broken Beat does seem to have an under current cult following, you’d be surprised.

If you weren’t making music, what would you be doing?

Probably working in a record shop, that would be cool. Lol. Alternatively I would have loved owning a sandwich bar.

Are you a kick drum, hi-hat or a snare? And why?

Kick drum now, used to be a hi-hat.

What is the definition of a restless soul?

That sense of unease and longing for something more. It can’t be cured with a pill or a hot bath or a good workout. Because it’s deep. A restless soul is an adventurer, explorer and they believe in the power of the universe.

How do you relax?

Cliché time! Films, holidays, cooking, I enjoy horticulture and wine, at the same time sometimes.

If your sound was a visual thing, what would it look like?

Sophia Loren wearing a summer dress driving a Porsche Carrera 4s through a pine forest.

What’s the best piece of music you’ve ever heard?

Its a toss up between Walter Murphy – Afternoon of a Faun & Manuel E Gottshing – E2 E4.

My favourite piece of music is MFSB “Love is the message”. It combines arrangement with musicianship in a faultless arrangement. It bridges the gap between soul and disco, house and hip-hop naturally for me.

If you were a cat, what type would you be?

A WolfCat.

What are you obsessed with at the moment?

Chorizo Jam, Beaver town Gamma-Ray, Vinyl, Ben’s Root’s & Dub educational cd’s, Day’s off & the Duchess.

When was the last time you played a good game of table tennis?

Zaf from Love Vinyl won’t ever let me play. So never.

What are your favourite places on earth?

1. Cala Tarrida – Ibiza.
2. Otres Beach – Cambodia.
3. Kloveniersburgwal 4, 1012 CT Amsterdam, Netherlands.
4. Maggie Jones 6 Old Court Place, Kensington, London W8 4PL.
5. Love Vinyl 5 Pearson Street, London E2 8JD. 

What’s your answer to everything?

1. Turn a negative into a positive — Be polite, and smile, all are free and in huge supply.
2. Well…
3. You’d be surprised.
4. You never know.
5. Yes please.

Anything you’d like to add?

A bit more reverb on answer 4 and a Big X to you for indulging me.

See Phil Asher at Need2Soul & Boom! presents Francois K & friends at The Qube Project on Saturday 28th March, click here for tickets.