Tea With… Rory Phillips


Our Tea With..series has been on an unofficial hiatus of late, mainly down to the fact that we realised most of the people we were trying to track down to interview for it had actually died in the 1980s. That's in no small part to the fact that Joe (who usually conducts these things) refuses to listen to music made any later than 1979. So, step forward Wil, who's tastes are that bit more modern – and who, when offered the opportunity for a chat over a cuppa with Rory Phillips, naturally jumped at the chance. Over to Wil…  


Over the past few years the sounds permeating through these things called discotheques has at times become quite one-dimensional in its approach and direction. A lot of record players have become quite fixated on just the one sound. All credit to them and their commitment to this but this is certainly not something you'd level at the good ship Rory Phillips.

It feels strange talking about Rory in a heritage sense but Trash, the legendary Monday night club @ The End he ran with Erol began way back in 97 and closed its doors ten years later. It was to all intents and purposes an 'indie club' that played 'dance' records. When the doors of Trash finally closed Rory, alongside the Lovely Jonjo started the equally excellent Durrr club, originally running at the The End and then around various East London venues. 


"The capacity to casually drop a set that feels like youve soaked up every decade since the 70s sets you apart." And this is exactly what happens when Rory constructs a set for dancing. 


He's turned in countless excellent remixes, whilst always promising some original material of his own. 

Last year our ears were alerted to Mixed Fortunes, Phillips' subscription "outlet for original productions free of the constraints of label interference," reflecting his years of amassing vintage synths. A varied approach of song-based and dance floor excursions gave rise to a further 5 releases under this moniker, all equally as excellent. 


Durrr finally came to an end a few weekends back where Rory showcased the first incarnation of Mixed Fortunes. In a 'still trendy' Dalston establishment we sat down for a cup of tea to talk about Mixed Fortunes and fair bit else besides. 

I dont know if you remember, we used to book you down at Fear of Music. As I havent had much contact with you since then I thought it would be nice to see where everythings gone. It was pretty much when Trash finished wasnt it?


Yeah of course I remember. We were doing Our Disco at the same time, sometimes on the same night as well. Things were a lot more divided back then, it would be a completely different crowd because there were people that would never leave New Cross. And this is what? 2004? 2005?


Wow yeah 2004, thats a long time ago. Things have morphed quite a lot since then, I think it would be nice to talk about Mixed Fortunes. Its wicked. How was it on Saturday?


The live show? It was far better than I ever thought it could be, it just couldnt have gone better.


Has it given you a change of heart not to finish Durrr?


No, no. It was half of what made it, the fact that people who havent been for years who just dont go out any more decided to come down to see it off in style.


Has it felt right to finish it?


Yeah, the good thing is it felt right to finish it because it felt like it was a good line under it.


Because it got more sporadic.


Everyone involved just has a million things on. Chandra who I do it with has a family so its hard for her and shes busy with that, Jonjo does his nights at the Hot Boy Dancing Spot, Alex Warren who Ive worked with for the last couple of years (hes Kiwi) has got like 3 other nights on. Its hard booking things. When we were at The End with Trash, we were every week. And because we were on a Monday we had the luxury of being able to book people that had their weekend gigs somewhere else and then on a Monday they would come play for us. We could get them to come down and still be able to charge a fiver on the door and not have to ramp the price up. Were indie kids at heart and we dont feel comfortable charging 20, the fees are out of control.


Thats what I wanted to start with, its interesting how 10 years ago Trash was somewhat revolutionary back then. Lots more people are doing that sort of thing now.


Well there wasnt that much cross-pollination of genres, I think its kind of gone back to how it was before now. Things are a lot more conservative than they used to be. Clubbing was never press driven before, it was word of mouth. Thats just fall-out from the internet, its not a complaint; thats just the way it lies now.


It feels like there are lots of little parties going on again now, it doesnt seem so Facebook lead.


True, I think the best nights you dont really hear about until youre part of them. Theres a lot of that about which is exciting.


Did that have an effect on things with Durrr? 


No, we were very happy with every night weve done but we didnt want to have to compromise on that front. Erol [Alkan] played, Dave from 2ManyDJs played. We always had special guests, I like to think of it as rather than we cant announce it because of their agents but more as a reward for the people that came on the night because they wanted to have a good time on the night.


The same happened with Trash. Theres a crazy culture now where you just cant announce it.


I think its the people that are considered draws, theres a small clump of people that are obsessed with whos headlining. The rest of it is the people they bring along, their friends. I think clubs need to lighten up a bit. What happened with Durrr was that we had Todd Terje as a headliner [who cancelled] and there was a panic about, are people still going to come? I never had any doubt that people would. Because its the last Durrr. I was convinced that people would come because they liked the club and the club is the star. We had 140 people ask for refunds but within 24 hours wed sold those tickets because we put them back into circulation. It made the night in the end, I would have loved to have seen Todd play but I think as a last night, the fact that it was a residents night made it such a great night.


Theres also the mass frenzy of ticket buying for clubs now that there wasnt before. Everyone feels the need to plan their nights out.


Traditionally weve never done that well in advance, we always seemed to do well on the night because people just come on the night and the venues get a bit itchy when you havent done your advance sales. 


We did a thing at Fire where we didnt sell that many tickets in advance and we were really shitting it but we had a huge walk-up. That kind of made the club, that people were coming there on a whim.


I think thats what clubbing has always been.


I was told to ask you about puns, The Simpsons, and is Nadia Ksaiba the next Lady Gaga?


{Laughs} I think Lady Gagas the next Nadia Ksaiba.


Well thats that one answered! What is your obsession with The Simpsons?


Its simply my favourite TV show. I still watch it every single day. I think the last series was the best one theyve done in years, terrestrial stations just seem to show the same old ones though. Its like pizza, even when its not that good its still pretty good.


Lets talk about Mixed Fortunes then. Why?


Which element of it? Theres a subscription thing that I started that was just to try and create a different distribution model, rather than just do an album and put it out there. I was trying to make an EP and I think an EP should sound quite cohesive, I was making all these tracks and I was very pleased with them but I thought that they werent sitting together as a whole so I thought well maybe ill do a stream of singles instead. I dont know where it came from, the idea, other ways of distributing seemed to be popping up as well like the way that Louis CK started distributing his comedy which now everybody in that world is doing. Things like that came along after I came up with the idea which reinforced my belief that its possible to just do something like that.


And 6 releases because its 12 tracks on an album?


Yeah, it was going to be every 2 months as well but its gotten hugely delayed because I ended up binning a lot of material. Its now, rather than being over 12 months, its over 2 years but nobody seems to mind thankfully. Ill can it at 6.


And then do what?


Figure out something else to do.


Are you going to keep calling it Mixed Fortunes?


Mixed Fortunes ends with the 6. Theres interest in putting an album out of those releases, its never been on CD so theres a possibility of doing a collection. Maybe just to tie it up but at the same time you can make your own LP, theyre all available digitally. Also now somebody can get an LP and scan over it in a second and its trivialised instantly which is horrible. I mean, I do it with promos if im going through them. At the same time you used to do that in a record shop as well; youd go to Rough Trade and pick up an album and youd roll the needle but the volume now… People are spending less time on things.


If I dont like the kick drum at the start its over. I think thats interesting though, its kind of coming full circle from 10 years ago, from file sharing to going ballistic and now it seems like there are more natural gatekeepers coming into it. You have all these records in your inbox, where do you even start?


I simply dont have the time to listen to everything that comes my way, I try my best but its an impossible task. At the same time Im working on a lot, DJing is just a part of it.


The FourTet album is good because its only on 2 sides so you can listen to it like an album. I find double vinyl quite difficult to listen to.

Back to the original idea, the other thing was that there are very few opportunities now to buy music without having heard it. People were signing up for something they hadnt even heard which was the idea. It was like seeing an album cover and thinking yeah, I like the look of that and theres very little opportunity to do that any more.


You can still listen to the Soundcloud clips. You had to trust that you were going to get something good which is a nice idea, sounds like its a bit sad to kill it then.


It did fairly well in the subscriptions, it still goes in shops as well but there are only 300 vinyls. Sold out of all the current ones.


Ive read the bits and pieces that have come through, its a nice idea and it would be a shame to can it I think.


Well, if I carry on with the live thing it might live on. The live thing went really well, I played for half hour. It was my first show as well and because at durrr our bands only play for half hour as well.


Are you going to do anything else as well?


Weve had a few things thrown our way but well see, its how to tackle it which is the thing. I doubt well do anything this year, if we do itll be something kind of by ourselves. Its a 3-piece band, myself, a bass player and a drummer, im doing the electronic bits.


What else do you do in life? Do you make music full-time?


Yeah thats my job. I used to do a lot of things, I worked in A&R for a bit which was dreadful. I used to make websites for people, I used to work for Radio 1 doing that a long time ago. I actually really enjoyed that job, its more that I didnt have time to do anything else so I had to make a decision. I was doing Trash at the same time as that and it got to a point where I had to choose. I could either pursue these avenues that were opening or just concentrate on a day job, a career. Wouldve made more money in the day job… I liked my job but I hated commuting; I was living in Stoke Newington and was commuting into Oxford street on the bus, a routemaster. 


So youre not doing anything regularly?


I do occasionally do a night with Nadia Ksabia which is called Say Yes which is even more sporadic than Durrr but weve been doing that for a long time now. We did it at The Star, we did it at New Cross originally as well at The Amersham, then The Star, then here (were sat in Dalston Superstore), and The Drop as well, or The Waiting Room. 


Lets talk about the Mixed Fortunes music. Is it all your own original compositions?


Well theres that story I was telling you about when I told a mate I was doing it live he said are you going to cover the songs?. I was like what?, he thought it was an edits series.


So did I, it definitely sounds like the start of a Grace Jones record at the start.


Ill take that as a compliment! The premise I would say is to make it sound like a record, rather than something that was just bashed out in a bedroom.


What did you make it on?


Ive got a studio and I just record everything there into the computer that its made with via DI.


People like James Murphy are very particular with the way that everything is recorded, are there certain things that youre very particular about?


Not really, its quite lo-fi in a way. Its all very cheap equipment but its the fact that its done in a physical way, makes it sound a bit more complete somehow.


Whats your stance on the whole DIY/digital/Analogue situation?


You know how you can tell if someones used an analogue synthesiser? They tell you. I mean, its just how I prefer to work. I like to be hands on, its a work-flow thing. Soft synths now are at a point where they actually sound pretty fantastic, its just not how im used to working. I dont want to be sitting in front of a screen ticking boxes, things like that.


When I interviewed Andrew Weatherill, and he said people come to him asking how to make it warmer. He said take it out of a machine for a while, just record it and put it back in again.


I like to do a lot of that sort of thing. Its not a warmth thing, its just like a life to it. It just makes it sound a bit less flat.


You and a lot of others have stopped playing so many guitars.


The thing is, who is there to play?

There isnt that sort of Franz Ferdinand crossover band that shines through anymore. I think Franz Ferdinand was where this whole crossover thing stopped.


Also what happened then is that social media happened, the internet happened. Franz Ferdinand were one of the last indie bands who sold a bucket-load of records because they were the last pre-internet indie band to get that big. After that it just fragmented, speed became the issue and that was a point where you no longer had a few albums to find your feet.


Do you find that difficult to work within?


The only difficulty is, especially in dance music, experience is considered a sort of disability. The focus is on the new and fresh, mysterious producers and things like that. But im back at work.


Youre at the stage in between being a part of the furniture and being new, you just have yourself and a few others that have an almost heritage now. Not that youre old! Trash was a really seminal point in making guitars sound good in a club. Youre not the new, mysterious producer but how many people came to XOYO though?


No but XOYO did sell out.


Does that make you want to do more?


I dont know… [awkward pause] Sorry I havent wrapped that up very nicely.


Are you going to keep doing Mixed Fortunes next year?


Yep. The only disability is that Ive got a band to pay. We came across that problem quite a lot at Durrr when we tried to book some people we couldnt afford it because of having the band to pay. Having 3 people make it a bit more affordable. I played with Whitey for years before that and I learnt exactly how not to do a live show, we just didnt make a penny. Too many people, too much gear.


How do you feel about his comments last week?


Its interesting that it blew up that way but at the same time… Just say no. Nobodys forcing you to give your music away, the good thing is you have the right to say no at all times. Its a very Whitey response. Maybe thats where we are now, that got more attention than any release hes done and theyre really good. He put 3 records out himself but theres no angle, theyre just records that are really good.


Its a similar conversation with music and journalism, the internet has made everything free I guess. People arent prepared to pay for it.


Yeah, but at the same time the quality is plummeting. I think the sites that are the gatekeepers now are a little too broad and they just write about the same people constantly.


You dont have to name any names.


I dont think I have to, its just the same people doing the same things.


Going back to Franz Ferdinand, they helped make the divide between indie and dance music. There were always really good remixes.


But at the same time they were primarily a pop band which was the great thing about them; they were a pop band that it was ok to like. They had great taste themselves, they had great remixes. Their drummer drummed on my first Mixed Fortunes.


I dont remember the last pop record that I liked.


Theres also that tricky thing where they put cool producers in with pop artists to create cool pop music but you end up with something thats not cool and not enough of a pop record so it just bombs like the last Sugababes single, well not the Sugababes, the reformed original members. They got Dev Hynes in to produce it and then it went in at number 60 or so. Its no discredit to him, its just that the labels have no idea what theyre doing. Just because its considered cool doesnt mean its going to work.


Its in a very difficult period for music, but some of the best music is being at the moment as well on the fringes. This year music has been absolutely amazing there have been some absolutely incredible records put out and I think its really exciting but unfortunately theyre only selling 200 or 300 copies of those records so they cant sustain it. Before youd sell 500, 1000, 2000 copies of a white label record. Maybe im too cynical.
Paul Epworths made an amazing career out of producing.


The good thing about what he does is that he knows how to make a pop record that is a pop record. His angle on it is making classic pop, a record is cool but cool isnt the object. Its making something that is cool because its inarguably good.


Whats the last great pop record for you?


Oh Christ… Call Me Maybe? Its incredible. At the same time, when that came out it sounded like nothing else on the radio.


Theres now so much clogging up of TrancenB, it just sounds like a barrage of over-produced noise to me on Radio 1. I need a more positive slant! We should have done this really early in the morning…

Do you produce other people as well?


Thats what im moving into, theres nothing out yet but Im looking to write and produce with people.


Would you ever work with Erol?


Hes mixed down a lot of my stuff but beyond that we havent worked much together on music. Hes a great editor, hes good at advising on what to take out.


Doesnt produce that much himself though?


No but he has a new EP coming out.


Ive heard it, its really good! One of them sounds really like the Simian Mobile Disco mix of Inner City.


It feels a bit like Inner City. Hell be the first to say it, but its great. Check Out Your Mind is my favourite.


You dont produce together at all?


No but we bounce things off each other, we work together in that sense.


Do you share a studio?


No, we just send each other things that are a work in progress. I really trust his ears.


Is your studio in your flat?


No its in Hackney. I work on my own, im self-taught and still learning.


The level of production is amazing.


The only thing I dont do is I dont mix, Id rather have somebody else do it.


So whens the next Mixed Fortunes release?


The fifth one is out digitally now, with vinyl in a couple of weeks.

To find out more about Rory, and Mixed Fortunes, visit his official website.