You never get a second chance to make a debut album. It’s the most definitive artistic statement a musician can make: Who you are, where you’re from, what makes you musically, where you’re taking your music in the future.
The foundation for everything that follows, that first album can never be repeated. It’s a certified moment in a producer’s career. For Philth’s debut album Moments In Time, quite literally. Or maybe not… If things went to his original plan, this would have come out almost years ago. The problem was that his original plan was dangerously unhealthy.
Acutely overworked as a full-time college teacher as well as a rising producer, DJ and the co-owner of label Peer Pressure, Philth was acutely overworking to the point of compromising his health. Something had to change.
Eventually many things in his life changed, especially his approach to his work and his relationship with music. His debut album is the result. Now doubled in size to his original planned LP, and spanning a much broader musical terrain, it’s the most definitive and honest artistic statement he could possibly make.
Not only does it say who Philth is, where he’s from, what makes him musically and where he’s taking his music… But it also reflects his highs and lows over the last three years and features some of his closest friends such as Facing Jinx, Wreckless, HLZ, and James Burns, the photographer responsible for that awesome London skyline cover art. It couldn’t be more of a personal album if he tried. And while you might not get a second chance to make a debut album, you do get a chance to release a second part two…
12 tracks deep, 13 more to go in February, this is how Philth’s most accomplished and diverse body of work came to life. Much more importantly, it’s how Philth – real name Phil Robinson – has recovered from some heavy lows, rebalanced his life and become a much happier, more confident and balanced creative human being as a result. Let us steal some of your moments in time…
This one goes deep, doesn’t it?
100% It’s been a long journey. Two years ago, I thought I was finishing this album. It was also my university coursework. I did a masters. And the reason I went back to study was I was teaching too much, so I felt I was stagnating and not improving. My academic focus was this: ‘can I fuse soundtrack music and drum & bass?’ That’s been the theme of my career anyway.
Nice. A masters and an album in the process…
Yeah. And I thought once I complete it at uni I’ll give to Ant and it’ll be done and get released. But he was moving to Thailand at the time. He wasn’t in the mood for setting deadlines (and never is actually) but I was pushing and pushing and ended up pushing too hard in too many directions. I was pushing to get the album done, my masters done, teaching and DJing and doing my work on the label.
Days off had become a thing of the past. If I didn’t have a booking, I’d do more work. I thought I was going to step over this mythical line when I delivered my album, I would stop being stressed and everything would be okay. But in the end? I just worked myself into the ground. My attitude towards work had become unhealthy. I got really ill, got signed off work due to stress, eventually decided to quit formal teaching and go into private tuition.
Something needed to change…
Yeah. I’ve taught myself to sleep more and be a bit healthier, I re-thought the album and realised Ant was in Thailand drinking cocktails or punching people in the gym so why was I rushing? Even though music is my main income, I still have to enjoy it and not see it as work. That was the problem.
You’d pushed yourself so hard you’d taken the enjoyment out something you love…
Exactly. It was actually some interactions with Frost that changed things. He said he loved what I’m doing and wanted a track for Chronic. I thought about it for a while. I either say I’m signed off work and I shouldn’t be stressing myself out. Or I put myself under pressure and try to make a banger. Or, I just make some music I want to make and see if he likes it.
Definitely option three.
That’s it. I went back in my studio, wrote this track called Sanctuary and I remembered how much I love making music. I played it to a mate, he got excited, I played it to Frost he got excited and I fell back in love with the process. I’d taken away any goal or financial incentive. No pressure, just enjoy the studio time. So last year I just wrote the songs I wanted to hear and I feel they’re maybe the strongest on the album.
So how many tracks from your masters ended up on the final album?
I think only one or two from the university work didn’t make the album! I was lucky. When you’re doing a post-graduate course they want it to be as real life as possible. I had an amazing tutor who suggested I study the ideas and techniques in the soundtracks, rather than trying to literally write scores. So the moods and the dynamics. It was an amazing study to do. I love films and have been sampling them forever. This was taking it to another level and understanding the emotivity and moods and dynamics. As I was writing it I was testing it in clubs and that was part of my coursework. My tutor didn’t want me to derail my drum & bass career for the sake of a good grade, so if it’s working in the club – the environment it’s made for – then that was more than enough evidence in my coursework. I was submitting phone videos from gigs as part of my research – “fuck offs” and all!
Haha, brilliant. Tell me about that artwork man. Where did that come from?
I’m lucky to say the photographer is my friend James Burns or London From The Rooftops as he’s known. He’s full time cloud and moon chasing geek. That’s what he does. He takes photos from the rooftops. He’s from north London and he originally started taking photos from council estate tower blocks. Over the years he’s developed this business where he knows the best places in London to get panoramic views and he also consults the lunar and solar charts so he knows where the moon or sun will rise from particular vantage points. When it comes to being a nerd he makes us drum and bass boys look like amateurs. He’s well-known in his work and he’s also a junglist. I met him at Sun And Bass.
Nice. Did you have the concept in your head before you thought about working with him?
Well my original idea for the album title was Science & Nature. And I still think that describes my sound. I don’t sit in a box. I can’t. I love the technical and organic sounds. I got in touch with James and he agreed straight away thankfully – I didn’t have a plan B to be honest. He’s my favourite artist, he encapsulates what I’m about. It’s London music, it’s the motherland, it’s where I grew up. The balance of manmade structures and natural beauty. It’s everything. It relates to the concept of Science & Nature but also relates to the title it has now Moments In Time. That sky will never be like that again. It was a moment.
Totally. Why did you change the name?
Ant was never really that into it. He never said it was shit but he wasn’t enthused about it either, so I put some ideas down about what the music means to me. We had a meeting before we played Fabric once, I said Moments In Time and it was an immediate click. I’m very happy with it. I also have to say about James, this collab is not a one off. I’ve got other images to create visual content for my DJ gigs, he’s also doing a photography exhibition in the Steel Yard and I’m writing him some ambient music for it which will be reinterpreted tracks from the album. I’ve given him music for time-lapses in the past as well.
There are ambient bits on the album anyway. They help contrast the shades…
A lot of tracks started as ambient or soundtrack ideas. I was soaking up films all day, going down this rabbit hole with my masters. So I’d watch a film with my girlfriend, she’d go to bed and I’d go into the studio and I’d find the film we’d watched inspired what I was doing. Some ideas ended up being interludes, but other ones would develop into tracks. I’d compose the tracks from the music up. Some bits wanted to be interlude pieces and they also link the two albums. One thing I took from film soundtracks is how they use melodies and motifs to create familiarity. I wanted to work on linking the whole album properly so it’s all coherent rather than being a collection.
That is the classic essence of an album. You’ve also got some of your best friends on this album, right?
Totally. That’s more important than getting the biggest producer collabs. I just wanted friends who mean something to me. ‘Raven’ with Wreckless was the catalyst for the album actually. And ‘Everest’ was, with HLZ. I did them a long time ago, sent them to Ant with some other tunes and that’s when he said he wanted an album. Wreckless and Facing Jinx are two of my oldest mates, we’ve come through in music and life together. Sense MC as well. He’s one of my best mates in music. These people are really important; Emilio HLZ, for example, did my first remix for me as Need For Mirrors. That got my first Radio 1 play. Him and Joe smashed the remix, and Bailey played it loads on the radio. Even the mastering, it’s done by Bob Macc who mastered my first releases 10 years ago and has become another close friend. So it was all very organic and every collaboration had meaning to me.
The whole concept and notion of moments in time has a lot of meaning doesn’t it? Like the beauty of music capturing memories down to such fine details right down to the emotions. But you never know which tune gives you those memories. They hit you when you least expect it.
Absolutely. And that’s unique to music isn’t it? It triggers your emotions and memory, you’ve got no power over it. A tune comes on the radio and you start crying. Everyone’s like ‘what’s wrong you with you?’ And you have to explain it reminds you of your cat.
So that’s part of the title concept. But it’s also about the process and how that is a moment in time as well. I write really fast. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll tweak later, but the composing process is done very quickly. The studio is the moment in time which you try and capture as honestly as possible. How you feel at that moment. What happens in that session is what the song is. So some of these moments capture very unhappy feelings.
I bet you can hear your own personal changes over the course of the tunes?
Oh totally. I can hear the 100 mile an hour guy, I can hear the totally worn down and not well guy, I can hear the reinvigorated guy when I was re-inspired. Yeah, I can chart my life over this album.
This make it so personal doesn’t it?
Yeah and that was essential. To put it all out there. Ant once told me he felt my music was honest. That was an amazing thing to say and gave me confidence. I write what I want to write. You can’t outdo anyone else, there’s only one me and I’m in the right place to do what I want and have the support of someone who’s got the industry and insight. I also think being able to put the deeper and soulful stuff on the album has made it more honest too. You can’t make a sad techy banger. But you can make a sad deep tune… Then follow it up with a techy banger!
And another thing I totally didn’t expect from listening to it with a fresh perspective from start to finish was that I can hear the eras of D&B I’ve loved too. That’s not intentional, it’s just happened. I can hear everything in the 20 years I’ve been buying records. Even without trying I’ve caught moments in my life so that makes it personal too.
This is how a debut album should be done!
Thanks. It’s nice. I don’t have any doubts related to it. Not in a ‘this is fucking sick everyone will love it’ type of way. But I know I’ve been me. I’ve been honest and personal, it’s got everything I love about music, as a DJ and as myself. It tells the story of what’s happened to me during this time. That’s the relationship I have with music now. It’s healthy. I don’t feel burnt out by the album, it’s been a very healthy process professionally and personally. So thanks to the label and my friends and family. It’s been an inspiring experience.
Photography: James Burns / Chelone Wolf