Words: Alex Egan
Photo: Tom Medwell
For Phonica’s landmark 100th mix, we had to make it extra, extra special. Enter Erol Alkan, a DJ who has been at the top of his game for over two decades and very much a local London legend. Personally, I’ve seen Erol play countless sets over the years, from intimate mind-bending escapades at Trash to peak-time, sweat soaked affairs in crammed rooms for Bugged Out or Fabric, to euphoric outdoor festival stages in front of a sea of moshing revellers. I can safely say I’ve never not been impressed with his dedication to his craft, selections (is there a better after-hours mix than his ‘Bugged In Selection‘?) and natural ability to whip a crowd into a frenzy. That’s to say nothing of the countless brilliant ‘reworks’ he’s crafted for the likes of Hot Chip, Justice, Scissor Sisters, Metronomy, Franz Ferdinand and so many more over the years. As a tastemaker, his label Phantasy has brought now widely-lauded artists like Daniel Avery and Connan Mockasin to our ears. As a producer he’s been behind the desk for albums by Ride, Mystery Jets, The Long Blondes, Late Of The Pier and most recently, Duran Duran. Let’s just say he’s been keeping himself busy. – Alex
A: Hey Erol, thanks so much for taking the time to contribute this milestone 100th Phonica mix! As a person who weaves together mixes using all manner of musical genres – from full-on hands in the air rave to disco, introspective indie and on through to downtempo electronica – can you let us know the idea behind this particular selection and what your approach to recording this mix was?
Erol: Hey Alex.. thanks for asking me to be part of the mix series… it’s an honour to be the 100th.
My approach was simple.. I’ve always equated Phonica with new music so it felt natural to base it around what I am feeling and playing in clubs at this moment in time. The music the store supports is so broad that it felt right to limit it to my personal relationship with how a particular few rows of your record wall feeds my DJ sets in nightclubs. Since Phonica first opened, I would be in the store every Thursday afternoon to find music for my sets that upcoming weekend and there’s a track in the mix which I bought on my latest visit only last week. The mix is also a representation of the music I am making and releasing via Phantasy at the minute, it features 3 of my recent remixes for other artists which I hope make it to vinyl and onto your record wall in the near future. It was recorded live in a single pass and is also – almost – exactly 100 minutes long.
A: You’re one of Phonica’s most regular visitors over years – certainly within the past decade that I’ve worked there – and no doubt long before that. It’s great to see bigger DJs supporting artists and labels in such a direct way. We’re approaching our 20th anniversary next year, do you remember what drew you to the shop initially and how far back would that have been? What keeps you coming back? Apart from my incredible recommendations of course…
E: I’ve been coming to Phonica since the start… before then I was a weekly regular at Koobla where I first met Simon. Both Koobla and Phonica have consistently stocked and made me aware of music I have bought and supported, and what keeps me coming back is the knowledge the staff have, I’m very lucky that much of the time, whoever is behind the counter is aware of the kind of records I play, so some of the recommendations I have handed over to me is music which gets my interest in some way. But the real key is when I am given a record which people may not assume I’d like, and it turns out to be something I love. Understanding genre and character are quite different things and I am always looking for records with character.
A: Your label – Phantasy – is in its fifteenth year now and going from strength to strength, with core artists such as Daniel Avery, Gabe Gurnsey and James Welsh consistently releasing great records as well as newer faces like Josh Caffé, Joshua James and Terr jumping on board too. The care taken with artwork and the physical packaging has always been inspiring, some highlights being the ornately etched Babe, Terror ‘Knights’ 12″, giant CDR picture disc for yourself and Boys Noize’s ‘Lemonade’ and Pytko’s hand-painted 7″ sleeves. Can’t forget that mega lenticular LOTP sleeve too. Did you ever imagine the label taking off like it has? And have you found that your approach to discovering and signing new artists has changed over time?
E: Phantasy started as a singles club to support emerging artists and help them secure record deals. I personally never envisaged it would grow like it has, but I have always tried to react to whatever situation we were in and do the right thing. Like every record label out there, we’ve been impacted by how slow and expensive it is to make vinyl, and it feels like we’ve had to re-think our approach every few months now, but we are committed to the artists we work with, and try to be conscious to every part of the chain starting from ourselves, to the record stores and right through to the people who support and buy our music. Our approach of who and what we release is always changing and evolving, I’d hate to think we’d ever become predictable or formulaic.
A: It seems like things have started to come full circle with yourself and the label, with personally important artists and projects getting a renewed lease of life on there. The re-issues of Mystery Jets’ ‘Twenty One’ and Late Of The Pier’s ‘Fantasy Black Channel’ – both of which you produced – come to mind of course, but also records by those artists I know you’ve been a long time fan of, such as the Manics or Duran Duran. It must be great to have those under the Phantasy umbrella now. I know Duran Duran’s ‘night versions’ got plenty of spins at Trash – you even included one on your very first commercially released mix CD way back in 2003 – and now you’re producing and releasing their records… that must be quite something?
E: It’s surreal in some ways, but looking back on how everything got to that point, it also makes perfect sense. I don’t believe anything is impossible.
Duran Duran were a band I loved whilst growing up, the Manic Street Preachers had a profound influence on me from 1990 onwards, it is stranger to be talking about it than it was when it all happened, those events felt totally natural.
Both ‘Twenty One’ and ‘Fantasy Black Channel’ were changing hands for hundreds of pounds on the second hand market, and even though it gives your ego a bit of a pleasurable ruffle, it also made me a little sad that fans of the record would be denied the chance if they couldn’t afford a copy. Phantasy’s ethos has always been to keep music affordable and available, and for it to ultimately end up benefitting the artist, so when I had the chance to license the records I took it. The discovery of music via the physical format is incredibly personal, everything from the artwork and liner notes, through to the actual weight of the artefact in your hands and how that has an effect on you.. those experiences are so personal and stay with you when you discover the records you end up falling in love with.. this is even before we get to how the vinyl is presented, it’s colour, how it sounds, etchings in the run our grooves.. I could go on…
I love the digital format, and I don’t think it’s even worth trying to compare physical to digital as I believe they play two very separate roles for us as music fans now. Digital music is completely equalised for me, regardless of who made it or when it was made.. it’s transparent and I love it for that reason. But vinyl still has so many memories and emotions tangled with it. I’ve never remembered when I first downloaded a track as a file.
A: Speaking of Trash, it may well be that some don’t realise your journey as a DJ began by running indie nights such as that and being involved with its successor, Durrr. The Trash era for example – with yourself seeking out exciting bands to book and also DJing as a resident every Monday – stretched from 1997 to 2007. That in itself is a mammoth undertaking so I understand your wish to end it on a high, but do you ever miss the part of your ‘job’ where you can play wildly different records at certain times, like be first up to set the mood, or last to send people floating home (usually to Maestro Bowie)? Or do you find you get to cover that ground in a similar way during your ‘All Night Long’ sets?
E: Everything you’ve described is in relation to being a resident DJ, and I was really happy to have been that at a place like Trash. I had never wanted to promote a club, but knew by doing so it would afford me the right to present it exactly as I wanted, and have zero limitations. Do I miss that? Not really. I was completely at peace when Trash ended, I felt it was a chapter which had to come to a close as I didn’t want to be completely defined by it. I wanted to produce bands and remix artists, as well as see more of the world. I also felt that 10 years was enough and if I didn’t end it then, when would it? It felt like weekly clubbing crumbled when social media took hold which made me a little sad, I love being around strangers who I feel some kind of belonging to, I suspect we all do and that’s something which good weekly clubs provided.
A: Other than splitting your time between DJing, remixing, producing bands and running a label, it’s impressive you find the time to also record and release your own music, with your most recent 12″ ‘Automatic’ out last year. If we look back, the earliest releases under your own name started with a few collaborations before you went totally alone. Do you think that was down to the understandably daunting task of aiming to find your own ‘sound’ after such a long time working with other people’s music? And after a long string of singles, do you think there’s a chance we’ll hear an Erol Alkan album one day?
E: The closest I got with an album was the one I made with Richard Norris as ‘Beyond The Wizards Sleeve. That was the only album I wanted to make to date. I’ve never wanted to make records for the sake of it, it’s always been about the will to share something with people. I’ve got a lot of music backed up, but I just need to get it from the 97% to 100% satisfaction level to take it to the next step.
I’ve always enjoyed collaborations, there maybe some more coming soon..
A: Before I say goodbye – til we see you in the shop next time of course – please let us know what we should keep our eyes and ears peeled for. Are there any exciting releases coming from yourself or the Phantasy family soon?
E: Yeh, I’ll be in very soon! We’ve got a great 12″ coming from Red Axes which is perhaps my favourite release of theirs to date, Josh Caffe recently released one of my favourite club records of 2022 titled ‘Do You Wanna take Me Home?’ which was produced by Quinn from Paranoid London. The vinyl for my rework of Duran Duran is ready later this month. We’ve just re-pressed the Jay Duncan 12″ which was remixed by Ricardo Villalobos and should be back on your racks soon I reckon.. Album wise we have a-lot: Daniel Avery’s ‘Ultra Truth’ is a very special record and one which should stand out as one of the best of 2022, Gabe Gurnsey’s ‘Diablo’ and Ruby Goon’s ‘Brand New Power’ are at the polar opposite ends of the music Phantasy releases and I love them both equally. There are a few limited runs of vinyl coming back or for the first time, so just keep your eyes on phantasysound.co.uk as well as the rack space Phonica have given us.
I may not have mentioned the buzz I had when I first saw a Phantasy section in the store. My label – as a section – in one of my favourite record stores on Earth. Those moments stick with your forever too.
Hope you enjoy the mix.