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Insider Interview #012: Phace & Rockwell

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Phace & Rockwell: it’s a winning combination.

We’ve known this since 2011 when the pair delivered two pimp-tight mechanical rollers: No (on Neosignal) and Rat Race (on Shogun Audio). Last year they updated their joint repertoire with Yes on Phace’s Phace & Friends EP and Rave Cult on Rockwell’s debut album Obsolete Medium.

Judging by their shared sonic approach and general camaraderie, this winning combination is likely to spawn more collaborative creations in the future. But right now the focus is on their unified nature behind the decks. Tomorrow, Friday February 12, will see them pair up at Noisia Invites, fabric for an explosive Room One session.

“I’ve been listening to Phace before I could even produce,” explains Rockwell. “I got his album Psycho on white label. I waited outside the record shop the day I knew it was arriving. Even though our music is very different we have a very similar outlook. We try and push the envelope and neither of us are ever satisfied with the normal.”

Phace shares a similar sentiment: “We always look for something different, something new and exciting. When Noisia asked me if we wanted to play together I instantly agreed. This will be our third back-to-back and they’re always a lot of fun.”

To celebrate this seismic selector session we collared the two of them and got them to interview each other. Read on for a discussion on genres, aliases, neurofunk and football.

Phace: Imagine there’s a mighty music fairy. He or she can give you a chance of changing what you’re doing now and be just as successful in a new field. What would that field be?

Rockwell: It would be so difficult to be able to choose another genre to work in. I’d love to be in a punk band or be a producer like Boy Wonder or Metro Boomin or someone like that.

Phace: How about non-musical? Another field of art of an entirely different profession?

Rockwell: Oh okay! Wow… Maybe I’d be making furniture or something like that. Something tangible and physical and very clinical.

Phace: Sick! Another Bauhaus!

Rockwell: Maybe! So… I know when you first came through Phace was a duo. Did you find it was a big step when you went solo? The album Psycho was written with Nicolas wasn’t it?

Phace: I think by that stage he was close to leaving so Psycho was around 80 per cent my work. But sure, Phace wouldn’t sound like Phace without him. He had an impact on me musically. We were brothers for years and years. We shared very similar viewpoints and looked for the same new ideas. As much fun it is to work with someone else, it didn’t take me a long time to get used to work solo as I generally enjoy to work on my own; I like having total control over my art.

UKF: What does Nicolas do now?

Phace: I feel like he never really wanted to commit to music full time. He was studying and later on living abroad when we were making music. So it also wasn’t that easy for him. He works in the finance sector now and is very successful. Sometimes when he’s a little tipsy he calls me and says ‘hey Flo, am I still part of Phace?’ I’m like ‘dude, of course but it’s been eight years!’ We are still best mates and he is a damn fine guy!

Rockwell: Has there been an instance when he’s come back into the fold and worked on a new tune?

Phace: Actually a few months ago. We started working on something together but it isn’t that easy to write together. The way I work and my studio set up is completely different today and he hasn’t followed production for a few years. But we may never finish it. Who knows?

Phace: Let’s look at the next two years. What do you deeply long for? Is there a big aim you have to reach?

Rockwell: It’s a difficult one to answer. I’m always grateful for everything that happens… I was over the moon when I got my first release signed because I didn’t think it would happen. Same when I signed to Shogun, finishing my album, doing the Essential Mix. All these things you think will never happen and they do. I’m just very grateful. I don’t ever want to jinx anything. But at the end of the day I’m still sitting here writing music that interests me. It changes quickly and dramatically but it’s me being very happy doing what I want to do. I guess I’d start looking outside of 170 and get creative beyond the boundaries of drum & bass

Phace: I thought you might answer with that, it’s the impression I get from your music.

UKF: Would you do that under a new name? We’ve come to expect the unexpected from you anyway…

Rockwell: People have come to expect it. Whether they like the unexpected is another thing! I probably wouldn’t set up an alias but something struck me from a really random interview – Insane Clown Posse interviewing Danny Brown – they said you can only be new once in the music industry. That’s an astute observation. So I’d love to start something new but if I’m being honest then I’ll probably put it out under Rockwell.

Phace: Totally agree. It’s very exciting but you’ve developed a name that’s taken years to get it to where you want to be, right? Personally I see myself as an artist: Phace is always developing. If I changed from 172 to 120 people might be shocked but that’s who I am and what I do. I’d rather be seen as a producer or artist and not be seen as one genre.

Rockwell:  Definitely. People have asked me why I don’t make tracks like Underpass anymore but that was seven years ago. That’s a long time! Do you wear the same clothes you did seven years ago. Do you go to the same places? People change in that time.

Phace: Everybody does.

Rockwell: Are you and Misanthrop going to develop the Neosignal project? And where will it develop next?

Phace: We want to but time is our biggest enemy. At the moment Michael is working on a lot of his solo stuff and putting all his energy into that. I’m very glad he’s enjoying it and it’s awesome to see he is finally getting the love he deserves and that it is going down well for him! He’s one of my favourite producers. So right now we have no detailed plan but it will be different from the last stuff. We go to the studio, we push buttons and keys and we will go with the flow and vibe. For us it’s a fun project we want to enjoy and musically experiment with!

Rockwell: Totally agreed. Michael’s one of the most underrated producers in drum & bass!

Phace: Totally! So Tom, what actually got you into D&B? Was it a specific thing? A girl? An event? That moment it came into your life…

Rockwell: Being in the UK I was exposed to tunes like Incredible from a young age. It’s just there on a peripheral level. More than it would have been in Germany for example. But the whole jungle thing didn’t grab me. Then, I remember going to a local nightclub and it was shit music so went home and put a CD on to go to sleep to. The CD player didn’t work so I put the radio on and Fabio & Grooverider were playing. Fabio played Brand New Funk. That intro just grabbed me! A proper WTF moment. I reached for a tape and recorded the rest of the show. It wasn’t all good but some of it was incredible. Like Total Science’s remix of Wots My Code – Dubplate. That was insane. But I couldn’t do anything about that knowledge; it was pre-internet. You don’t know where to find this shit unless you’re a DJ with decks. You had to dig deep. And because you didn’t know what certain tunes were, you had to listen to everything! You’d have to go through every fucking record until you found the bits you like.

Phace: That was my life! I’d catch a 9 hour bus to go to London and record shop every other month. That’s how dedicated you had to be in the analogue days!

Rockwell: Wow! Okay, so out of every tune you’ve written which is the one you’re the happiest with and which is the one that’s been best received?

Phace: Those factors never really meet for me! The track I’m happiest with is the title track from my Shape The Random album. I’d never change anything on it. It sounds exactly how I want it to sound. It didn’t get that much of attention, though, as I positioned it pretty much at the end of the album. I put it there on purpose because I thought it tied things together really well. I just love it. It’s got that punk/hardcore feel to it. It works so well every time I play it.

Rockwell: But in the eyes of the record buying public, what’s the biggest Phace record?

Phace: From back in the days I think Brainwave. It was my debut on Subtitles and got some great international recognition. People were making videos of it all around the globe. Often my music isn’t the easiest to play out, but with Brainwave it felt like everyone was playing it. And Cold Champagne, too. That was another one that seemed to get DJ support across the board and international attention. Some of my more recent works I can name here are Digital Diet and the Phace Dreadnaught remix.

Rockwell: All deservedly so!

Phace: Do you regret anything you haven’t done but had the chance to do? And do you regret something you did do but would now do differently?

Rockwell: I’ve never regretted not doing something. But something I have done that I have regretted? As a DJ I have that regularly when I took things in a different direction that the dancefloor expected it. But that’s DJing – I’ll never be the guy who turns up with a bag of records and says ‘I’m gonna play a bunch of records which you’re gonna love!’ That’s not saying anything artistically. You might as well be David Guetta. A performing monkey. Maybe sometimes the directions I’ve taken with my music, they seem like provocative choices and I think that pisses some people off. I don’t regret those choices but maybe I’d think about going so far with them. I could have been that guy who makes every tune sound the same and probably be 10 times more successful but I’m not that guy. And I’m happy with that.

Phace: Same here!

Rockwell: What do you think about the massive rise in attention of neurofunk in Europe and what do you attribute it to?

Phace: I’m happy to see the subgenre isn’t dying. There are a lot of very talented young producers making great music, it’s a great time for the deep and techy sounds and the scene has become a lot more professional. It’s a lot of fun and the gigs are bigger and better than ever before. Kids at 18 are now hosting better and more professional shows than a promoter aged 29 eight years ago. I’m happy about this, although I wouldn’t class my music as neurofunk now. I don’t know what you’d call it. When I sit in the studio I have this vision of what I want to make and I never think about what’s going on in the scene. I’m just putting down what’s going on in my brain.

Rockwell: I can relate to that!

Phace: Final question… How good is the German national team and how good is the new Liverpool coach? *JK*

Rockwell: He’ll be better when he clears out the dead wood of the previous reign! As for the German football team? Let’s just say they were better a couple of years ago.

Phace: I agree, we’ve definitely had better times. We still hold the World Cup title so it’s all good as far as I’m concerned… I can celebrate this for another two years. And it was just so tempting to ask an Englishman this!

Rockwell: That pretty much sums up my outlook on life: I’d rather be that guy who’s surprised when we do well rather than expect to constantly do well. That’s why I like supporting Liverpool and England.

Phace: Yeah! Who doesn’t love an underdog!

Catch Phace & Rockwell at Noisia Invites, fabric, February 12.

Tickets and info.