System Irrelevant: Why Phace’s latest release is one of his most important to date

If you’re of the opinion that music and politics shouldn’t be mixed you might want to skip this one… Phace has created one of his strongest statements to date and it’s a withering, exasperated take on the current capitalist systems in place in the western world.

System Irrelevant is the sound of Phace rejecting a system that turbo-charges greed, supresses people and does not enough to encourage, incubate and champion any form of creative culture.

Written and created throughout the past year (among a million other things he’s done to keep himself afloat, sane and inspired during the last 18 months) you may have already heard the release through his recent UKF On Air show…

Not just a streamed mix or A/V concept – System Irrelevant will also be released as a mini album. Following a whole plethora of 2020 and 2021 Phace dispatches such as his Linked series (with collaborations with the likes of Kemal, Buunshin, Synergy, Submarine and more), new material on Vision, Blackout and a wedge of remixes, it’s out December 1 on Neosignal and signs out his busiest year as a recording artist. Two singles will drop ahead of the full release. Altona is out today, October 20, and Useless drops on November 10.

We called up Phace for some relevance…

System Irrelevant – This came about through a space of frustration and emotional turmoil, right?

Like everyone in the music business I had to go through so many different issues. It often felt like an emotional rollercoaster. The past 18 months have been a challenge on so many angles to me. I always used music as a channel to reflect and deal with everything that’s going on in my life. So you can say that music is some kind of mirror of my mental state in that way.

You and I often touch on political stuff in interviews. This is the peak of that. But rather than a message or an observation, it’s you venting your feelings as well isn’t it? Like it’s not just a message, it’s you working through it….

It was part of a cure. As tragic, as chaotic and as sad past times often were, I came to the realisation that times like a pandemic should also have positive benefits and make us work towards change – social changes, economic changes and environmental changes. I never want to be that whiney moany or frustrated guy, I just wanted to put out music and a message that is progressive, I want people to have a good time. I’m not a politician, I am not a fan of conspiracy theories either. I do feel politics and music should be kept separate to a degree, but I personally believe it’s important to have a positive influence, to stand in for your certain values. We are all equal in the end. I believe the pandemic reminded us all that this is something we all need to work on.

Indeed. How long do you think late-stage capitalism will last?

Dude if I knew the answer to that then I’d write a book! The system is hard to get rid of or be changed fast because the lifestyles we benefit from – having food, shelter, all these things we can choose (if we have the money) is all down to capitalism. But it’s not equal yet. People get oppressed just because of their different beliefs, orientation or origin for example. Can you believe people in Africa are still struggling hugely these days, are starving, working under the worst conditions or even dying and we already count the year 2021. We are still far away from a state of humanity in my opinion.

It’s happening in the UK right now man. More people in poverty here than there have been in many many decades. Scary.

Super scary. I just hope the right people will come in for the right reasons and influence change for the better. I want to be positive. I was negative for so long and was drawn into depression. I had to block out the news and focus on what I’m good at and what I love.

Same! I blanked out news from this January because I was so bleaked out. I got loads of cool stuff done as a result. It’s important to only focus on what you can control…

There you go. There’s so much truth in that and the most important outcome for so many of us was that we had to diversify and deal with it. You can’t stand still. Things won’t be the same when we come out of a crisis like that. We all had to reinvent ourselves in a very quick and hard way. It was forced. That’s why mentally, personally and socially we are all so affected by it. But this mini album release isn’t meant to be a political or pandemic related concept or such, it’s about the progression of my music foremost and the fact I will always be angry about inequality!

The music still got that edge, and tension and release. That insistency.

I guess it’s my sound. In general, I don’t actually aim for that sound to be honest, it just happens. I had days I felt like, ‘Hey, should I change musically in a totally drastic or different way?’ That’s why I did a mini album. The LP format in drum & bass doesn’t work for me currently. It works for me in a multi-genre setting, or for slower music. Drum & bass is just so fast, so intense, there’s so much information going on, personally I don’t need a full LP format for that. I have done that a couple of times already. I wanted my music to progress, as both my music and art preferences did progress as well. I wanted the sound to transport a story, to be warmer, to still have impact and groove, but not to be annoying or over the top.

But still energetic

Yes. It’s got more vibe and has more mood though. But still energetic. Surely, I like the technological side of music production. But that shouldn’t be the main driver. Vibe is more important than technicality. Art for the style and taste is priority to me. Of course, I have to pay bills like everyone else, but vibe, creativity and artistic expression have always been the most interesting and important things to me.

Patreon’s been a great way of paying those bills and encouraging vibe, creativity and artistic expression. You’ve really pushed yourself on your Patreon haven’t you?

To be honest, Patreon was a big help and kept me sane. Both financially but also as important in regards to staying creative and reconfiguring myself. I am an artist in the first place, not a content provider or such. It is a thin line to walk, but to me it made sense to build up a closer community with my fans through Patreon, help them a little and also to share some of those things I love about music or music production. Within peak times of depression, I had moments I thought about quitting my self-employment. I became a father end of 2019, responsibilities and priorities changed a lot.

What would you have done instead?

I don’t mean quit music – I mean quitting the Phace angle. Maybe more like shifting my perspective and reducing the risk. Every artist takes a risk, don’t they? Creative people are always the last in the row when it comes to a crisis.

Tell me about it

Patreon has been amazing and I speak to everyone who engages with me on that. I’m hearing progression with the tracks people send to me, which is amazing, and I’m very proud to be part of. I do exclusive podcasts for Patreon and interview other artists on it. It made me more creative and challenges me to come up with cool shit for me and other people to enjoy. Speaking into the microphone was quite a strange experience, but I got used to it.

You also learnt video editing through all this didn’t you?

Yes, I actually did. I am far away from seeing myself a pro at it though, but I figured out a way that works for me and makes me feel comfortable to present my art more independently and more complete. I am very thankful I have friends around me who are really good on the whole visual side of things and let me pick parts of their brain once a while. It helped me to shape my visual vision for the phace project further so to speak. I also do production live streams from my studio on my Patreon too. Streaming came out of nowhere and I love how it’s given so many people a platform and a new creative medium to play with. But I’m never a fan of the standard camera in the DJ’s face thing. For me the live thing is unbeatable. You can’t duplicate that experience. The energy, social contact, everything. So I thought that if I do a video set then it visually has to have more of a personal artistic approach and has to be more of a story or journey. I wanted it to be a piece of art. More like a movie you do not want to skip ahead because you want to see every scene. It came out very flashy and crazy so you probably might want to watch it best before you go out on a weekend.

Totally. Do you learn any other skills during this time?

Teaching was another thing. Translating what you think in common sense is hard. Creating visuals. Being a moderator on a live stream or podcast. I learnt so much new stuff. The word of the year to me was diversification. It challenges me and keeps me hungry. And I know I always say this to you in every interview but I never want to sit still or wait for things to come to me, but it’s been especially the focus this year.

Absolutely! was going to say, you seem very inspired but I think I say that in every interview, too!

It’s a nice feeling when you’ve worked on something and it’s complete and out but I was quite down for a while. I am no machine after all and actually am quite a sentimental and sensitive character. Also, one of my very best friends died mid of last year and it still hurts. With that, all the business lockdowns and all the duties and pleasures that come along being a dad I probably had the most challenging time in my life ever. I had to visit the doctor, I needed to understand that it’s okay to feel like shit for a while. I want to be positive and energetic. I want to remain self-employed, I want to create art, I still believe in this way of life and I’m trying to put all my energy into it.

Amen to that. You’re giving me goosebumps. So were these tracks written in the order you’ve arranged them? I think I can hear a point of resolution mid-way.

Most were done chronologically, except the very starting track which I did last on a production live stream actually. When I wrote that one, it felt somewhat relieving. I wanted to put it at the start to commence more on a positive note. It’s more of a welcoming intro than a track called Useless, right? I like to try to keep more of a positive and optimistic outlook on things. But Useless was the first track I wrote because I felt pretty useless, both to society but also to myself and to my close ones around me, and it develops from there to Altona, which is my local neighbourhood.

Back to the universe you can control. So for me the tune lacuna has that feeling of resolution. Those chords mid-way. It feels like things coming into place. Almost like an emotional drop

You can definitely say it is more of an emotional drop. I loved writing that track. It doesn’t follow the usual arrangement or progression, it’s very tunnelling, it sucks you in then finds its own emotional peak. It’s not a typical structure at all, it doesn’t have a real breakdown or intro actually. It came together in pretty much one day. Often the best tracks do come together quickly and have more of a cohesive soul and a rawer vibe rather than being overworked, too sterile or too abstracted.

Yeah I hear that a lot from artists. You love details, don’t you? But on this it feels like you’ve learnt to let go a bit….

Like with my life in general, also my music and art related preferences did change. I do not want to spend too much time to focus on having two decibels of further high-end for example; I want to focus on the vibe. It felt good to do that. But there’s also a thin line to walk too – music production and technology go somewhat hand in hand, to me at least. Technology also inspires and gives you fresh creative possibilities to shape your sound or does help to translate your musical vision and feelings. It’s okay to focus on detail but I do not want to over focus. Let the vibe do the most important talking.

Always! So what comes next?

Well I always have been exploring other genres on the side, and I’d like to work on these more so I might finally reach a point I feel comfortable and confident with that music. It’s all still pretty much work in progress, but I have no pressure or expectations with it, so I take my time. I’ll also continue doing the Linked series because I love being in touch and collaborating with other artists who are friends. Surely there’ll be more Phace stuff too. It feels I never released as much in such a short amount of time before. I need to try out new things. I’m a sort of restless character sometimes, but I also like to take time to reflect. I also still need to somewhat recover from the past two years and I’ll let all this sink in and let’s see how 2022 is going to look like…

Phace – Altona is out now on NEOSIGNAL

Support Phace: Patreon / Website / Soundcloud / Instagram / Spotify / Facebook / Twitter