This month sees the return of rising Belgian artist Phase. Back on his most consistent spiritual stomping ground Metalheadz, the 23-year-old delivers the four-track-heavy Urban Angel.
His first EP of the year, and arguably his strongest and most diverse EP to date, it’s another chapter in his constant evolution that began with his earliest releases in 2014 but really took hold when he linked up with Villem for his Headz debut in 2016.
Three years and many boundary-blurring exercises later, Urban Angel ranges from classic rave euphoria to high voltage bassline meltdowns via stirring soul shakedowns. It also takes us another step closer to Phase’s highly anticipated debut album. It’s expected (but not promised) in 2020 and, in keeping with the label’s rich vein of agenda-setting albums, Goldie’s given him a deadline-free blank canvas.
As with anything truly meaningful in this game, patience is key. It’s why we’ve had to wait the best part of a year for Urban Angel… And why one of the tracks has been in his persy dub stash for almost three years. The best things in life are always worth waiting for. Here’s a little conversation with Bram while you wait for more…
You’ve recently returned from your first tour in Japan. Tell us something cool about it…
Everything was cool about it. But one particular club in Osaka comes to mind. It had three floors and loads of side-activities. It seems that clubbing in Japan is more of an artistic venture. Loads of people were doing live painting to the music, other people were selling food. One guy even sold jewellery and there was a jacuzzi on the top floor. An entire theme park… It’s pretty expensive to go to a club there, so people really want to make the most of it.
Wow. Any Japanese artists who really made an impression on you there?
There was a young guy called TLOC who played before me in Tokyo. He played really good stuff. They were really into the Dispatch and Metalheadz sound there, so it was rollers all night long. In Osaka we played before DJ Krush. He’s an absolute legend, one of the hip hop legends from the ’90s. Krush completely killed it and even played drum ‘n bass and stuff from Shades, Eprom and Machinedrum and stuff from Ivy Lab. His vinyl mixing was impeccable. He used all the effects from his own tiny little mixer, which is a very old thing from the ’80s or ‘90s, but he knows the thing thoroughly. He really impressed me.
Legend. So let’s step back a bit… What got you into drum & bass in the first place?
Before I got into drum & bass, I was listening a lot to progressive rock and metal – the likes of Opeth and Dream Theatre. Then a friend from high school showed me Pendulum. That was eight years ago, I was about 15 years old then. I think many people from my generation came into contact with the genre through them. It was a logical progression for me; Pendulum really combines that live element with D&B. After that, I discovered the compilation Way of the Warrior on Shogun. It really brought me to the quality deep stuff and I never looked back since then.
Did you have experience with making music prior to that?
Yes, I am classically trained. I played the piano since I was nine years old. I finished that when I was 18, but I kept doing music theory and different music subjects to keep honing my musical skills. It really helps being able to play piano and know how chords and keys work while working on drum ‘n bass.
Sometimes it’s good not to know too much about a subject though. A lot of people who aren’t classically trained can really make emotional and unique music, because they don’t know the rules and it’s easier to break them when you don’t know them. If you over-complicate things or focus too much on theory, then you will always make the same music and never do something outside of your comfort zone. I tend to not think about keys and chords and how it should work too much and instead just make the music.
What beliefs really made the difference for you in terms of reaching your goals and progressing within drum & bass?
Working with Andrew (Villem), I started collaborating a lot with him in the recent years. You don’t really have to make music for DJs or make your tracks easy to play. Sometimes a really long breakdown or drum pattern works better in your tune. Just do it and don’t worry if any DJ wants to play it. That really helped me to open up and do more experimental stuff. That’s how I became a much more comfortable about my music and it got singed a lot quicker. It gives you a certain signature you can build upon more than just making club bangers. I still love making very straightforward music, but sometimes it just isn’t how a track should be.
So it’s about staying true to how you feel about your music?
Yeah, some music shouldn’t be played out loud. Make it sound how it should, don’t make it for DJ’s. Make the music for yourself, because you’re the one who’s going to be associated for the rest of your life.
There are certain common pitfalls that still get overlooked by upcoming talents. What’s your take on that?
Don’t sign every tune that you make. When I started, I kind of made the wrong call by having a few productions getting signed on random labels. It would be released, but nobody cared about it. Be confident about your music and just release it when you feel like it’s ready.
It’s important to show music to the world and other upcoming producers who are at the same level or higher than you. Get feedback, but don’t start releasing too soon. When I started releasing, two months later I thought my tracks weren’t good enough, because I released them too soon.
Let’s talk about your latest release! The new EP on Metalheadz….
It consists of tracks that I’ve finished for quite a while, there’s one track on it which has been doing the rounds in my sets for almost three years… It does still sound fresh and it’s still one of the best tracks that I’ve done together with Villem, so I’m really excited about releasing it. In a sense it’s a prelude for that stuff that’s going to come.
What I’m working on now is on a different level compared to the EP. You can really hear my transitioning phase in regard to combining the musical with the experimental, while still keeping the club weight behind it. For example, the track Devotion, which is a collab with HLZ and is on the EP as well – it starts with a really long intro, then a very club heavy midsection and the breakdown goes back to jungle ‘90s vibes, and then returns to the club section. I try to experiment more with longer and different breakdowns, but also different songs within a tune.
This is building up to an album, right? What can we expect?
I wouldn’t say it’s nearing completion, but I’m getting closer to the final tracklist that I want. Most of the tracks and arrangements, which are fully confirmed, are basically done. I want a few more to finish it all off. It’s very much what I feel should be a D&B album. It’s not all club bangers, it’s more of an adventure.
I feel that each track should have its own story and the album should be a cohesive story as well. I use ambient sounds throughout the album which give you a feel of where you are in the story. It’s not only drum ‘n bass, it’s a few other tracks as well, which are influenced by jazz, world music and inspiration I got while visiting the Middle East. It’s going to be a mixture of a lot of stuff, but it will sound as a whole.
How long have you been working on the album so far?
I’ve been working on it for about eight months. I started with one track called Shore To Shore, which features my girlfriend LaMeduza. It’s a track we played in Fabric and got such a good reaction. Then we sent it to Goldie and he absolutely loved it. The vibe of this track sets the vibe for the album. It all started with this track; the intro for my album. The rest of it is a continuation of everything that is in that tune, but one that evolves. It feels like it’s my best tune to date.
It’s really amazing being able to work with my girlfriend on all of these tracks, because she’s a very good vocalist and being with her in the same studio at my place or hers (in Geneva, Switzerland) is really magical. Performing and making tracks with her is a dream come true.
Any idea yet when people can expect the album?
There’s definitely no date yet. Goldie feels that it’s finished when I say it’s finished and it shouldn’t have a deadline. My goal is to release it in 2020. I want to have it finished this year, but it will be released next year. It also depends on the release schedule.
Yeah, it’s always patience. As a producer you have to know that most of the time you make music for the people that will listen to you one and a half to two years in the future.
Yeah. That’s kind of the slogan for Metalheadz and it’s good that I’m with this label, because you get sucked into the vibe of Metalheadz. It’s hard to explain, but I think the best way to put it is: timeless. It could’ve been made in the ‘90s or ‘00s, but it will still sound fresh and up-to-date.
How would you describe working together with Goldie?
He’s a very good mentor. He calls you up in the night at 4AM sometimes just when he has a crazy idea in his head. He explains it for a half an hour and lays down the phone. He’s a very special guy with a unique mind. He knows how to put things really well, so that you understand what he’s saying. It always gives me a lot of motivation to work on stuff when he calls because of his feedback. It’s always very different compared to what others say. He doesn’t go into very technical details, but talks about arrangement – how to make it more unique and timeless. Also, because of influences from completely different genres. He’s very rich musically and has an extensive background and knowledge in his craft, which you can really feel when you talk to him.
Anything you would like to add to conclude the interview?
Besides the Metalheadz EP, I have a track with Zero T that is forthcoming on CIA Records. I will be doing another one with him on Shogun as well, later this year. I’m working on a lots of collaborations with Grey Code who’s an amazing upcoming producer. These tracks have been doing really well in my sets, so I can’t wait to release them. The Goldie-remix will come out as well, so I’m very happy to finally be releasing a lot of music once again, because it has been very quiet for the last 12 months, so I can’t wait to get back on it.
Any gigs that you are really looking forward to in the upcoming months?
Definitely Liquicity Festival, a really cool one to play in the Netherlands. A week after there’s Tomorrowland, which is always fun to play. A shout to Jurgen (One87) from StarWarz, because he always arranges really nice line-ups for the stage there. There are also shows together with LaMeduza later this year. There’s more coming… Some exciting bits have been cooking, but nothing is sure yet, so I can’t say anything about it.