Erol Alkan & Daniel Avery are, respectively, the founder and current shining star of the Phantasy Sound label. The latter remixed the likes of Django Django, The 2Bears and The Horrors in 2012.
At the end of 2006, Erol Alkan was at a crossroads. He’d been voted DJ of the year by Mixmag. He’d made landmark, expectation-defying remixes for bands he loved: a crunching “glam racket” reworking of ‘Do You Want To’ for Franz Ferdinand, a wonderfully wistful reinterpretation of Hop Chip’s ‘Boy From School’, a psychedelic take on Scissor Sisters’ ‘I Don’t Feel Like Dancing’ and a genre-defining reworking of Justice’s ‘Waters Of Nazereth’. He was about to close Trash, the Monday night indie disco that had somehow morphed into the most adventurous, influential and glamorous club night in the world without changing its attitude, musical philosophy – or ever charging over six pounds on the door.
Other triumphs lay a little further in the past. In 2006, he supported Daft Punk for their live return at Global Gathering at their own personal request. The year before, he did the same for Madonna at Koko in Camden with a DJ set which she used as an intro tape on her subsequent world tour. In 2002, he’d lent
some muscle to another icon, creating the bootleg of ‘Blue Monday’ and ‘Can’t Get You Out Of My Head’ that Kylie performed at the Brits in 2002: the culmination of a craze for “bastard pop” hybrids he’d been instrumental in creating alongside longterm kindred spirits Soulwax. Then there were his DJ sets at clubs and festivals around the world, in which Erol’s unerring instinct for playing the right record at the right time brought hardened clubbers and alternative music obsessives together in abandoned celebration of brilliant music.
The problem? Well, Erol could have easily sold out, cleaned up, or rested on his laurels. Yet every time things get a little too comfortable, his indie-kid instincts kick in. It was alternative music that had inspired him to share records in the first place when growing up in north London. “I was so excited by the records I was buying, from what I was exposed to through radio from John Peel’s radio shows to Xfm’s initial broadcasts, and in the NME and Melody Maker, that I wanted to push that onto my friends,” he says over a cup of tea in Mario’s Café, the now legendary place immortalised in the opening track of Saint
Etienne’s second LP. “Then I realised that instead of making tapes for people there was a way I could make a tape for all my friends at once – by playing music in a club.”
Though he started DJing in dance clubs in earnest in 2001 after being invited to play at Bugged Out, Erol still considers himself an outsider in that scene. “Unfortunately, I never had that seismic moment of hearing someone like Carl Craig DJ in ’96” he says. “I feel as passionately about the Manic Street Preachers as people in dance music do about Kraftwerk. That’s where my DNA is different, which I’m really happy about, because that’s the thing that’s hopefully made me different to other DJs.”
To put this into context, the DJ who won Mixmag’s poll the year before Erol was Paul Van Dyk; the one afterwards was Armin Van Buuren, artists who are DJ industries. Yet instead of leaping into the superstar DJ-dom the magazine’s accolade seemed to demand, Erol produced three albums for young guitar bands: ‘Twenty One’ for the Mystery Jets, ‘Fantasy Black Channel’ for Late of the Pier and ‘Couples’ for The Long Blondes. He also manned the desk for releases by Klaxons, Franz Ferdinand as well as co-produced Kindness’ beautiful single ‘Cyan’. They weren’t necessarily dance records, but they somehow had the same blend of weirdness, glamour and leftfield pop which made Erol’s DJ sets so special.
A logical next step was Erol’s own label, Phantasy, which launched in 2007 and has since released records for artists including Fan Death, Babe, Terror, Gonzales – whose ‘Never Stop’ sound tracked the worldwide iPad TV ad – and Connan Mockasin, who has made the label’s first album, the hugely critically acclaimed ‘Forever Dolphin Love’. “Even though the artists are from all over the world, I want it to feel very much like a London label.” says Erol. “I respect the way Ed Banger did it for Paris or Kompakt for Cologne.”
The label’s records are highly covetable, not just musically but aesthetically. Babe, Terror’s ‘Knights’, has a knight etched in the centre and will play from the middle of the record to the edge on one side, where a mountain range is pictured “so the music within the grooves – the path – is documenting his journey.” This extravaganza ups the ante on Phantasy’s previous release, Erol and Boys Noize’s own ‘Lemonade’, which was 12” picture vinyl which resembled a giant CDr, which sold out within hours of release. “Today, if you sell 300 copies of a vinyl release you’re doing really well. We sold 1,000 in a single day and were later told we could have sold up to 10,000,” says Erol. “You can still embody the excitement of buying a piece of music or an artefact, even in this age of digital convenience.” Though it took six months and three different pressing plants to get right, it was priced at an accessible £7 – the same price as a regular piece of vinyl.
‘Avalanche’/’Lemonade’ was the second of what will be four collaborations between Erol and the Berlin-based producer Boys Noize. The first release, ‘Waves’ (backed with ‘Death Suite’) was reworked by Chilly Gonzales into a spellbinding solo piano track, and ended up as the soundtrack to another advert – this time starring Lionel Messi, Barcelona FC’s star player (“I like to think that he’s heard it and it’s made him a better player” says Erol, playfully).
The follow-up was even more spectacular: a collaboration with Jarvis Cocker called ‘Avalanche (Terminal Velocity)’, which saw the Pulp hero recite the lyrics of Leonard Cohen’s own ‘Avalanche’ over the instrumental techno track – Cohen gave the record his blessing.
Then came ‘Roland Rat’, so called because the synth line is a Roland SH1 run through a Rat guitar pedal. It’s a sheer coincidence that Roland Rat’s sidekicks were Kevin the Hamster and Erol the Gerbil, “but I love things which have a reference,” says Erol. “There’s an other dimension to it, even if it’s only understood by me and three other people who used to watch TV AM.”
Recent remixes for Metronomy ‘The Bay’, Justice’s ‘Canon’, Tame Impala’s ‘Why Won’t You Make Up Your Mind’, MGMT’s ‘Congratulations’, Yeah Yeah Yeah’s ‘Zero’ and his own personal favourite ‘Forever Dolphin Love’ by Connan Mockasin have been huge right across clubland, garnering support from DJs as diverse as 2manydjs, Michael Mayer, Tiga, John Digweed, Pedro Winter, Ata and Daniel Avery.
It’s all part of Erol’s desire to make records that mean something – that do more than simply fill dancefloors. “The one thing I’m really afraid of is making music that’s functional,” he says. “I want things to be great, and I think they can be great and effective.”
As one half of Beyond The Wizards Sleeve alongside Richard Norris, they have crafted some of the most sublime ‘re-animations’ heard in years: Midlake’s ‘Roscoe’, Findlay Brown’s ‘Losing The Will To Survive’ and Franz Ferdinand’s ‘Ulyses’ (a firm favourite of Andrew Weatherall) rank amongst some of Erol’s best work, and are compiled on the brilliant ‘Re-Animations Vol 1′ CD. BTWS have held legendary parties in the capital, playing nothing but psyche and beyond to capacity-filled pub back rooms and clubs.
In that spirit, Erol has started playing epic annual sets every Easter at Bugged Out – 2012’s was nine hours long. “I was slightly disenchanted by the way support DJs would play like they were playing Wembley to 10,000 people,” he says. “I wanted to build an evening through the music and be able to be my own support. This way, I bought complete freedom to proceedings, as anyone who came would be aware that I would play across my entire musical spectrum, and it would differ to a usual 2 hour set.” All 1,200 tickets sold out in advance.
The night has found a home at ‘Fire’ in Vauxhall, a gay venue with an amazing sound system and three rooms, all of whose speakers play Erol’s set. Last year’s marathon started with a combination of strange electronica, country and folk music music (not far from his seminal ‘Bugged In’ Dj mix from 2005), moving through sets of balearic, disco, rap, house, electro, indie and acid. “Nine hours is about 130 songs,” says Erol. “But it’s which 130 songs you choose. It’s not an endurance test – it’s about how to lead people, how you keep people engaged.”
Erol has since found another outlet for his desire to share his favourite music via the radio station BBC 6 Music, where his succession of 6 Mixes initiated listeners into all kinds of brilliant music, from Factory Floor and ZZT to Arthur Russell and Ariel Pink. The ecstatic audience response has lead him to be invited back for a third series.
Erol’s eternal mission to create and sustain the excitement only great records can provide means scouring shops and submerging himself into the tidal wave of music he gets sent, in the hope – usually realised – that he’ll dig out an amazing tune no-one else knows about.
These days blog culture saturates listeners in the latest hype, and everyone makes iPod playlists, but we still need people like Erol: gatekeepers with exquisite taste, who will bring amazing records to our attention, and put them in the thrilling context only a great DJ can provide. “These days there’s almost a DJ in every person,” says Erol. “David Bowie’s line ‘I am a DJ, I am what I play’ was so prophetic. You’ve got two hours, what can you do with it?”
Yet few people know how to fill two, or five, or nine hours more gloriously than Erol – DJ, artist, impresario, fan. Long may he keep kids – of all ages – dancing.
While Daniel Avery may be better known to clubbers around the world for his residency behind the decks at London institution Fabric and weekends spent in numerous other clubs in Europe and beyond, his rising craft as a producer is setting him apart. His induction into the prestigious Fabriclive mix series provides compelling evidence of this, a dizzying trip that speaks to Avery’s skill as both a
curator and a creator of some of the most inventive and forward thinking electronic sounds emerging today. Four of Avery’s own solo productions – all signed to Phantasy Sound, the label run by “kindred spirit” Erol Alkan – form the basis of the mix, the result of hundreds of hours spent locked in a studio full of analogue equipment. Alongside this, there is “Effect Tweak” the latest result of an ongoing production relationship with Justin Robertson, another of Avery’s stated influences. Speaking about his contribution to the series, Dan states:
“It’s rare to be able to take such risks in a club as you can in fabric. I love weird records; that original, lawless spirit of acid house where the music is pulsing but will also throw in some mind-bending, psychedelic elements to knock you sideways and make you lose yourself within it. This mix is my take on that idea.”
Avery is unique among the current crop: a rising producer embraced by the same icons whose own work inspired him to seek that warm up slot playing ESG and Neu! records in Bournemouth all those years ago. Alkan in particular recognized Avery’s passion for sounds originating away from the dancefloor, something that was instrumental in Avery signing for Phantasy, a collective Daniel now regards “very much as home.” The critically acclaimed “Need Electric” and “Water Jump” EPs followed, showcasing a depth and progression alluded to in his earlier works for Throne Of Blood, Relish and Tigersushi. Much more music for Phantasy is promised in 2013.
Talk of Avery’s emergence cannot gloss over the praise from one of the UK’s most respected governors of dance music, Andrew Weatherall, who tipped the rising star for greatness earlier this year. In fact, Avery learnt much of his trade in Weatherall’s Shoreditch bunker studio, even as Andrew’s lauded sets had become, in his own words, “pretty much an Avery mega-mix.” That Weatherall should contribute an exclusive Asphodells track for Avery’s fabriclive mix is further proof that the respect between the two is very much mutual.
Now firmly embedded in the Scrutton Street Axis alongside Messrs Fairplay, Fraser and Johnston, Avery is balancing his relentless schedule of DJing, production, and remixes – Django Django, 2 Bears and The Horrors among many others in 2012 – with an attempt to cultivate some motivation for midweek clubbing that’s been absent since the days of Nag Nag Nag and Trash. Avery resides over Movement Club, a Thursday night Dalston venture with Clouded Vision honcho Matt Walsh. Unannounced friends of a high calibre feature in small basements, with the intention of drawing a trusting crowd based on the standard of music and setting an atmosphere of their own. Simian Mobile Disco, Trevor Jackson and Ivan Smagghe were among the early guests and a promise of big plans for Movement Club in the future should ensure the night develops on a trajectory similar to Avery’s own.