It’s the aspiring producer’s dream: enter the game with releases on some of the genre’s most respected labels. Then, just as people are beginning to pay attention… Boom. Blindside everyone with a banger that sings to DJs across the board, develops anthem status and become unavoidable for well over a year. Bangers like Jotaro.
On paper it sounds like the perfect career plan. And in some ways, it is; anyone who follows the heavier end of dubstep will be more aware of the skills of Canadian producer Phiso because of his hugely successful track. But the after effect has tremors that ripple for years as you set yourself impossibly high targets to match the success and turn yourself inside out with self critique and doubt. Why else do you think it’s been three years since Phiso’s last full EP?
That’s not to say he’s been silent; one track smashers have been shot out of various notable label cannons and his DJ schedule has developed massively, but the shadows of Jotaro have loomed large over Phiso…. Until now.
This month sees the release of his first full EP since his Wasteland EP in September 2015; the powerful four track ‘Disrespect’ EP has been incubating for over a year, gradually honed through live road testing and remembering how to break the rules. Four tracks of unabashed sound design and left of centre, unapologetic brutal funk, it’s the sound of Phiso levelling up, putting past successes behind him and developing as an artist who understands dancefloor dynamics much clearer and has even more respect for the finer details… And he’s promised us we won’t have to wait so long for his next dispatch. Here’s where Phiso is at right now.
2018 is a good year for Phiso, right?
It’s been interesting! I admit the last two, maybe three, years have been relatively quiet. Jotaro became very popular and after that I fell into a rut and I was trying to top that with something that’s better and it kept beating me down a lot.
Yeah Jotaro just got bigger and bigger. It was unavoidable for a while.
It was surreal. I thought people might not like it because it was so weird. But over the course of a week or two the hype continued to build and build. After a few months it was the biggest track on my Soundcloud. It was crazy to see how it was being played by all these big guys on all these big stages. But now it’s died down nicely and it’s not permeating every element of my life. After a year it wasn’t complete saturation, it wasn’t taking over my mind, you know? It still comes up all the time, but I don’t feel like I’m going to be a one trick pony or that 15 minutes of fame guy any more.
There was something you said in last interview on UKF about not getting hung up on numbers. Was that in relation to this?
I think that was just before Jotaro came out. It applied in more ways; I meant it in music and production, but in terms of stats it matters too. In the current climate of artists making themselves known, it’s important to not get hung up on stats. People knowing about you doesn’t relate to numbers. People can see you on their feed and glance over, people might like your track in the club but not rush out to follow you. It’s not about likes and follows. I did get very frustrated about that.
The real test is seeing crowds bounce. The most honest and direct feedback you’ll ever get.
Absolutely. You can see the crowd reacting in real time. It’s a nice motivational thing. If I have a crowd react like that I’m more inspired to get on my FL Studio as quickly as I can after the show.
Jotaro was a good mission statement because it was a far out tune. That’s a good reputation to have.
I guess. Where Jotaro is an anomaly is because it’s actually two tracks stuck on top of each other. Technically it’s two separate ideas; one on top of another. I was testing some mixes before my shows, just to prepare some pizazz for the mix, and I put these tracks on top of each other. Instantly I was like ‘wow they work really well together.’ It wasn’t intentional, but it seemed like they should be one track. I created a fork of one of the projects, dragged the other one in and sent it to people to see what they thought.
Mad. Have you ever tried that technique again?
It’s interesting. Since I’ve started playing shows I’m not guessing what DJs are looking for in a track any more. I’m beginning to know what’s needed now, so my technique has changed. I’m more analytical; thinking about theory, how long intros can be, how long build ups can be. It’s helped me to be creative in other ways. I’ve also been adding details and little twists to stand out. It’s like you have to know the rules to break the rules.
I’m sure I read that you come from jazz or something? That’s a very jazz thing to say. Can we make a parallel between dubstep and jazz?
I have no formal background in jazz but my tastes are very wide. I appreciate most types of music, no matter what they are. I do actually think about this a lot, though. It’s not about letting jazz influence me but I think about jazz a lot when I focus on percussion. I love how dynamic cymbals are in jazz tracks. There’s a lot of different drumming in jazz, I love brush drumming, that has its own character and texture that’s like no other. I admire that a lot.
I’m really paying attention to the details, too. A fellow producer once told me their production objective is to reach a point where listening to each instrument of the track soloed out all the way through is a pleasant and stress-free experience – having no issues with the arrangement, place in the mix, or sound design of each. That mindset makes sure I avoid being lazy and hiding things behind other elements things. Because when things are played on a big system cracks in the track will show.
Have you ever roadtested something on a system and wanted to pull it out straight away because you’re not happy with it?
Yeah a few times. I have to produce on headphones because my apartment has issues with noise. So I’ve learnt ways around certain mix roadblocks through knowing my headphones really well. You never can tell completely but you get a good idea if you learn your headphones.
How long has your Disrespect EP been in the making? Has it come with its own post Jotaro challenges?
It took about a year to write. Ideas I had before then were ideas I wasn’t feeling. I wasn’t focusing in writing it with a specific theme in mind, I was just making ideas that sounded cool, polishing them a lot on their own but also bringing them together so there’s a flow on the EP. I didn’t want it to sound like isolated tracks.
Yeah there’s a consistency throughout the EP. Like you say, lots of details
Yeah there’s a lot of different elements I throw in to fill spaces. Things you might not even notice or little fun things. It’s influenced my sound design process. I love taking generic sounds and mangling them which I can use as a background element in an intro for example. It give tracks character and has a sense of fun. So I’m not being overly serious about it. Like I take the production seriously but the music doesn’t have to reflect that.
I’m seriously asking if we have to wait another two years for the next EP!
No don’t worry about that! I got a remix coming up soon but I can’t say what it is. I’ve been putting new ideas together since the last EP and I’m really happy with them, too. I’ve also got a show in Cologne coming up this month which is great, too.
First European show?
My first Germany show. It’s an interesting one, it’s a pretty big one too. Then a few weeks later I’m back in Europe for a show in Paris. My first show there since Animalz last year.
Do you prefer smaller or bigger shows?
I prefer the intimacy and the real energy of a smaller underground club. I get more nervous about them. Not stage fright, but it’s definitely a lot more intense.
You can see the whites of every individual’s eyes!
I know! So yeah it’s a very intense experience. But when I do big shows it’s more hwo I’m impressed by the whole scale and production and size of everything. That kinda lets me focus on the mix. But really, I love both and it’s changed how I analyse my production. It’s been a really interesting experience.
Experience Phiso: Disrespect EP on Never Say Die