Phaction has been somewhat of a sensation for the last several years. His trajectory – Fokuz Recordings in 2015, C.I.A in 2017, Metalheadz in 2019 – has been distinctly steep, and it’s one paved with the diverse sounds of a producer who moves effortlessly between our scene’s stylistic poles.
From the glittering shimmers of Stratos right the way through to the scrabbling synths of brand new EP Ubiquitous, Phaction’s music defies any neat categorisation. This broad range can in part be traced back to his mum, who had a “pretty eclectic taste in genres”, and whose music-fuelled school runs laid down solid foundations for Phaction’s later creative constructions. The latest new build is a four-storey scraper on Metalheadz and Ubiquitous combines crunching breakbeats with serious roller business, the result, he tells us, of inspiration both internal and external.
It’s a challenging time for all artists, but with two post-lockdown EPs under his belt, the Cyprus-born artist is clearly not letting our pandemic stand in the way of his onward march and so we spoke to him in order to find out more about both the past and present of Phaction.
Let’s begin with your personal background – you’re from Cyprus, right?
That’s right, born and raised. At least for 4 years before returning to the UK in 92 with my mum. My dad is Cypriot and mum is English so I have two families essentially. I love Cyprus, it’s a really beautiful place to be and I love my Cypriot fam, but I’m also grateful to have spent most of my life here in the UK, I think the opportunities I’ve had here simply wouldn’t have been possible living in Limassol, that includes getting into the rich D&B scene here.
How does that background play into the story of how you came to produce drum & bass?
Being in Bristol for the best part of 13 years has definitely had huge positive impacts on my development and progression. Being in a microcosm of creativity can really inspire and motivate you to level up and find your sound. I can’t think of a much better place to be living, even during the unprecedented times we’re currently facing.
But in order to better tell that story it’d be best to begin with how I discovered music, which was when I first saw a drum kit at the age of 7, it was at a new school I was visiting, it was a metallic red Pearl Export and it was epic. Fast forward 6 years and I was reaching grade 5 level, having played in a school Jazz group and a pure drums trio. They were formative times and I’m super grateful for them. Learning to play an instrument can be so powerful at that age for mental development, at the very least as an early avenue of expression. I was a quiet kid at school, playing the drums gave me a feeling of purpose and passion that I never really found in the conventional subjects.
Music always had a big presence throughout my childhood. I owe a lot of that to my mum. She has a pretty eclectic taste in genres from UB-40, Dire Straits to Miles Davis, Hendrix, Nat King Cole, Bill Evans, Chilly Gonzales & so on…she would play cassette tapes of some of the above on the school run, so growing up I had an education in a wide spectrum of genres.
As soon as I was able to drive, I was out listening to drum & bass, house, garage andd dubstep on the road. You know how you’re young and coming of age, being able to go out driving with your mates for the sake of driving, it was freedom, escapism and at times meditation. I remember in 06-09 listening to fan made Hospital mixes – tracks like Racing Green, Dawn Treader, Promise by Brookes Brothers and of course a lot of Calibre, at the time I didn’t recognise them as artists in the same way I do today, I just really loved what I was listening to and was in awe of the art of mixing, at that time it seemed like magic to me, mysterious – the way tunes could be meshed together to create some really super hairs-on-end kind of harmonies and vibes.
I finally got the bug for doing my own production in my final year of uni, having signed up for a course in Business at UWE Bristol and still not really knowing what the hell I wanted to do as a career. It was in those final moments of higher education that I migrated from driving to music to raving and received a new level of experiences. The nights at motion and fabric blew my mind, there’s nothing quite like your first proper rave is there? It also seeded the idea that I could create and mix electronic music and be paid for it. The idea of production sounded daunting and complex, alien even, but I thought if I put my mind to it and was tenacious, I could actually carve out a career path here.
So then after that you initially first linked up with Fokuz right? How did that happen?
I was introduced to Marco back in 2015 through AlexMos of Soul:Motion, at the time I was still finding my feet as a very new producer and had a bunch of WIPS in the tank but wasn’t fully sure of them myself. After some lengthy email exchanges Marco and I immediately hit it off, he seemed to be feeling pretty much everything that I sent him, with which came a real boost in confidence, completing and releasing them all. Sometimes all one needs is a tip of the cap from a respected label or mentor to feel like they’re going the right way on their journey in terms of production quality. I’m truly grateful for that.
But it was your 2017 CIA EP that I think really put you on the map. Tell me the story behind that one.
As it happens, the initial connection to C.I.A came about through my relationship with Fokuz. Marco commissioned Total Science to do a remix of Stratos and through this I got to chatting with Smithy (Spinback), he was interested in hearing my dubs so I sent him a few bits and he was really feeling the vibe. That was around the time that I was writing the basis for tracks like Tonight, Should Have Known and I Have You. One of the biggest things I noticed between CIA and Fokuz was Smithy’s meticulous attention to detail and high standards in both the vibe and production value when it came to his label’s releases. It came across through his feedback to me on projects too something I had been craving to be honest – in depth feedback from producers that had been in the game for over 20 years and whose vision aligned with mine. I feel like Smithy and I just got each other in terms of what he wanted to hear and what I wanted to make.
I never expected Should Have Known to do as well as it did, but it managed to get Goldies’ attention along with the rest of the EP which was a great feeling. Headz had been in my sights from the early days of production, having seen modern LPs from my heroes A.I. and Lenzman follow a lengthy history of classics. I thought this is my kind of dnb, super soulful but with an aggressive edge and rawness in the bass and drums that is unique to the label.
Oh I see, so Goldie picked you up from that C.I.A bit?
Exactly yeah. After speaking with Goldie first-hand about a potential future releasing with Headz I was feeling energised and inspired, but with that also came the pressure of coming up with a body of work that was fresh in addition to outdoing what I had done on tracks like Should Have Known, which at the time I believed was my best effort at producing.
My first Headz release had to be my best work (Goldie also asked this of me too), it had to be markedly better than anything I had written before. It took me a while to find my groove with that project, but my music tutoring only helped spur me on and I eventually came up with some WIPs I felt had something going for them. To be honest I’m glad I took my time with it, I don’t like to rush EPs. I feel like we’re living in an age of hyper consumption, especially of media…take Netflix for example. A meticulously choreographed TV series can take months to film or even the best part of a year, and it’s then consumed in a few days with the viewers hungry for more. Sometimes I wonder what effect our hunger for newness might have on the creative mind and process.
Goldie is definitely someone you have to impress, and Aviatrix definitely seemed like a stylistic evolution and a step up in terms of your production. It’s one of my personal favourite tracks of the last five years at least and it was picked up by Adidas for that advert. How do you feel looking back on that one?
That’s very kind of you to say mate, I’m glad you dig it! It feels completely surreal tbh, if you said to me 5 years ago that this kind of thing could or would happen from making tunes at home I would have laughed. Much like with Should Have Known, I never expected Aviatrix to do as well as it did. After it was released on Headz I thought that was that and I was just happy it was having a positive effect on people. Then I got a notification to say it was the soundtrack to a new Adidas Ad, I was like wtf! Goldie must have some properly good links with them to have hooked that up. Anyway, I was super stoked. I try not to focus on external validation too much because it only serves your ego and I think what really matters is how you feel about your music – is it saying the things you want it to? One thing I would like to mention is that Aviatrix would not be half the tune it is without Riya!
Yeah man, 100%. It also signaled a turn towards the darker side of drum & bass – is that something you feel as well?
Hell yes, haha! That’s a thing I love about Headz and working with Goldie. He really appreciates it when you express the inner darkness, melancholy or rage in you. He can feel your pain because he’s been through a lot himself. It feels authentic doing this because we tend to suppress exposing that side of us for the most part. In my eyes, making music on Headz is an automatic licence to unleash the beast.
You do that on Ubiquitous – how did this one come about?
The body of this track was written in a very short timeframe, because I had taken a lot of subtle and not so subtle elements from tracks in the Hard Truth EP, flipped them, put them in the melting pot and re-combined to create something fresh. It’s a process I do often, constantly remixing my previous works in parallel with creating new sound palettes. If you have the right attitude towards it you could take a single sound palette and make 5-10 fresh and original sounding tunes out of it, as long as you switch up your post-processing and/or re-frame the sounds well, maintain a sense of familiarity in your productions whilst bringing something new. It’s something I’ve seen the top producers do consistently so it’s something I’ve always been inspired to do myself. In terms of the vibe, I just wanted to make something to make your head shake, something you could not sit still to!
Do you have a favourite track from the EP?
I’m really happy with the EP as a whole, but Boogaloo Shoo personally is a fave, I think it was a slight departure from my deeper emotional vibes into something that just felt like pure dancefloor fun, the reggae sample made that tune I think. I’d like to do more like this!
In terms of the future, what can we expect in terms of both labels and releases?
Hah. I’m going to keep hush about that one. I will say though that I have more labels to tick off the bucket list so will be aiming for them as much as I plan to continue working with Headz, (CIA & Spear too). I’ve been asked to do a bunch of remixes recently from various people/labels so they’ll be out I imagine over the coming year or so.
Any final things you want to say?
Thank you so much for your time Ben and to anyone taking the time to read my ramblings! Thank you to anyone who listens/streams/supports my tunes, you legends! If anyone is looking to level up their music production skills or have in depth track analysis hit me up at firstname.lastname@example.org for details. Bigups!
Phaction – Ubiquitous is out now on Metalheadz