With his new EP “The Circle” hot off the press via Dispatch Recordings, we got in touch with the man behind the “Philth” (see what I did there?) to indulge our geeky producer minds with thoughts on his influences, workflow and inspirations, as well as a reflection on how the sound he is helping to modernize is making a big comeback in the scene.
So, your name is Phil… and from what I can gather, you love filthy bass lines… can we safely assume your artist moniker is a clever portmanteau of both?
It came from a love of techstep and the dark music coming out of Renegade Hardware, Virus etc. at the end of the 90’s. One of my pals at college said that I only played filthy tunes, and he named me The Filthmaster…. It was shortened to Philth and the name has stuck ever since.
I discovered your music around this time last year, hearing your EP The Cosmos, which just blew me away in its scope and how it was different to most of the techy tunes out at that moment. I love how your music seems to be a dichotomy between huge sounds, but which are applied within a minimalist frame. Do you think that instead of beating the listener over the head with a barrage of over-processed sounds (like a lot of neurofunk and dnb these days), leaving space between them results in actually more impactful, powerful music?
The space is what creates the impact – you can’t have loud without quiet. Letting the music breathe in the intro/breakdown sections makes your track so much more powerful when the bass and drums come back. It’s definitely a conscious decision, and even in a high-energy hectic track, I try to make a gap before the drop or before significant changes in the music.
From a technical perspective it lets the compressors and limiters let go (both in the mix/mastering process, and when being played on a big system) and the next burst of bass is able to hit with full impact. And for the listener, the spaces cause their attention to reset, whether it’s a two bar drop out before the next phrase or a big breakdown to build up to the next drop.
I think part of the reason a lot of people find the new neuro sound overwhelming is that there is no respite! The crowd needs moments to pause and appreciate the next impact.
It seems you have quite an affinity for late 90’s techstep, the darker, deeper sides of the genre artists like Ed Rush & Optical, Ram Trilogy, and Bad Company were making back in the day. As your productions progressed and your style evolved since you started, would you say that your music has organically evolved into a modernised version of that style of DnB? Or was it rather a mission statement you had from the onset to make tunes in that style but bring the sound up to today’s production standards?
It’s what I grew up on. The first two records I ever bought were “Medicine (Matrix remix)” and “The Nine”. I was out recently at Andy C’s All Night event and my favourite moment of the night was when he dropped “Human Future”. It’s my favourite style and era of DnB and I have spent most of my life trying to figure out how to make the bass that sounds like it’s alive, evolving and almost out of control. I definitely prefer an older style of bass rather than full on screaming mids all the way through a tune.
As I got older my tastes in DnB diversified and I try to explore all of these influences in my own tunes, so I write music across a range of moods and in the last few weeks in the studio I have been focusing on deeper and soulful vibes. But yes I have always wanted to capture the classic Virus sound in my music. Rolling breaks and morphing bass. It’s the reason I wanted to become a producer, to make the music that inspired me to be a DJ.
On the topic of the recent resurgence of the more classic drum & bass sounds and styles… Now that our genre seems to have gone full circle, from pushing the envelope to the extreme with the sound design found within neurofunk, to some artists adapting it into a pop-music format that had chart success in the UK, to bold innovators pushing boundaries and hybridizing it with Footwork, Techno and other radically different genres, and the recent return of classic acts like Ed Rush & Optical, BCUK, even Pendulum, and also Metalheadz really coming back to their iconic sound… What do you think is next in store for Drum & Bass? A Moving Shadow re-launch perhaps?
What we are seeing happen is the life cycle of a mature music genre. Our music has been going strong for over 20 years now and some people have had time to go off and do other things, and the music has evolved so far that the old sound is really appreciated as classic and genre-defining. Although people love to moan and complain about everything (think neuro, Pop’n’Bass, jump-up, moshing, shit MC’s, bootleg remixes… and that’s just an average day on Facebook) for me it feels like we are in a special era where there is room for all of the flavours to flourish, and its exciting to see some of the pioneers bringing a modern take on their classic sound.
For me personally, it doesn’t get much better than a Bad Company comeback. I was there at Fabric and they are doing it properly. The only thing that would top that would be if somebody could drag Kemal out of retirement to reform Konflict? The return of the Messiah.
When you’re working on music, do you tend to start with the more cinematic, atmospheric elements, like intros and develop the drop after that, or do you go straight to the drop and work the other elements around it? How do you achieve such a good balance between the atmospheric elements and the dirty bits?
I am a big advocate of pre-production, so I build drum tracks and make new basses in separate sessions to what I consider the actual writing process. Then the songs themselves will usually be sparked by one specific idea, it could be a book I have read, a film, an inspiring sample, or a vocalist will tell me an idea they have for a song and I’ll write to that concept. So I start with the intro 95% of the time because I have a selection of ready-made drum tracks to use as a template.
For me, it’s the musical elements and the vocals that make a DnB track memorable, so I spend a lot of time honing the intro and the general vibe of the music until it is powerful on its own without the big bass drop. The problem with this method is that sometimes the intro is really exciting but I can’t get the bass and drums to the same standard and I drive myself mad writing drop after drop until something hits the mark. “Cosmos” was like that, I literally wrote 6 different basslines and in the end, I put them all together to create that bass groove. So to answer your question, I put equal amounts of effort and attention into the music/atmospherics and the bass/drums. Then I try to arrange the piece carefully so it has a drive and narrative through the track.
How do you get such nasty bass sounds? Have you genetically manipulated the Modern Talking wavetable? When do you think Monsanto will come knocking at your door to patent GMO bass sounds?
I buy them from the Butcher underneath my house. They let me have first pick of all the choice cuts of bass that they get in.
If you want good bass you have to put the groundwork in, you can’t just load a synth and expect to be rolling out Noisia style sounds within half an hour. I do a lot of pre-production with my bass. I make slabs of bass that are moving and evolving, long bass notes (always on F) with modulation in the synth, modulation on the plug-ins, automation. Sometimes with analogue, sometimes with digital, sometimes a combination of an analogue starting point and digital processing. I try and push it so the sound is at the tipping point of being out of control and unusable, so the texture is warping and changing. I realised recently that I am basically making my own evolving waveforms. Then these pieces of bass go into the Logic sampler and I start the whole process again – filter, distort, modulate, automate, and bounce new sounds. I can’t stress enough how important the resampling process is if you want to make tech DnB bass. Over years of doing this, I now have a library of my own basses to call on when I’m writing music, so I don’t spend my time programming synths when what I am actually trying to do is capture a vibe.
What are some of your go-to pieces of equipment or software? Do you use sample packs or do you tend to record mostly your own sounds?
I don’t tend to use many sample packs but it can be very useful when you want a choice of high-quality drum sounds to layer on top of breaks. For basses and musical ideas, I will avoid using something that is already out there for other people to use. Anyway, it’s much more rewarding to dig for your own hooks and to construct your own basses.
Equipment – almost entirely in the box, although I just bought my first analogue synth so watch this space… HLZ came round to work on a track and brought a Dave Smith Tempest with him, and now I think I have caught his synth addiction.
I work in Logic X and I can’t live without Camel Phat (I tried, everything sounded weak) and the Slate Digital suite of plug-ins. I bought a new computer a year ago and tried to avoid installing loads of cracked plugins that I will never actually use. Now I’m much happier with a smaller selection of tools that I know how to use properly.
Returning to the cinematic aspect of your music, what are some of your favourite films, books, and other art forms? And to what extent has your appreciation of them had an impact on your creative process?
I don’t watch any normal TV, only films, and documentaries, and I read a lot of books. I stopped listening to music on my daily commute, mainly to give my ears and brain a break, and now I am really enjoying the reading time.
In terms of favourites: anything Attenborough; big fan of science, nature, space, history documentaries, Egypt is a recent obsession; love Ridley Scott, Christopher Nolan, Scorsese; my reading tastes vary wildly, basically whatever I pick up from our bookshelves at home or find in a charity shop – social history, human evolution, Trainspotting, Louis De Bernieres, Oliver Sacks, Brian Cox, Jurassic Park, Jane Austen, Kevin Cadle’s autobiography…. that’s just a selection from the last few months.
The music of cinema has obviously been a big influence on my style. Trying to capture a specific emotion or a set of emotions, telling a story through instrumental music. The documentaries and books are a constant source of ideas and concepts, themes for my music. I find having a theme or a starting point keeps my music focused and helps me avoiding churning out generic rollers.
What were your main inspirations when writing and producing your new EP, The Circle?
My friends! This EP features remixes and collabs with some really good friends of mine and I have enjoyed the collaborative process with some of the producers within my circle. This EP was not as conceptual as “The Elements”, it was more a case of crafting a really strong collection of tracks. However there is a common theme.
On the title track the sample says “contemplate the unity, the secret meaning behind events…. take two very different things and see how they can be united” and this is a perfect description of what it is like when I work with Wreckless. We are so different in terms of personality and lifestyle but he is one of my closest friends and I love everything we write together. This vocal sample sums up the vibe of the EP I think. Fusing together the musical and the aggressive sides of my music, fusing together the different styles of the other producers involved in the project.
What is your favourite event/show/club/city to have played so far?
Without question, opening at Sun and Bass with Bredren last year. It is my favourite week of the year and being asked to open on [MC] Fats’ comeback gig was an honour. Sun and Bass are such a special vibe, and as people have been partying on the beach all day it was definitely not a warm-up set. We watched the room go from empty to full within 10 minutes. Dieter and I looked at each other and knew it was time to go in.
And inversely, what was your worst experience at a gig?
There have been some bad ones over the years, but they just make you appreciate the good gigs. For me, the bad experiences are usually caused by problems with the sound or the equipment. If I can’t hear what I’m doing then the whole set will be horrible for me. I did a gig a few years ago and the promoter tripped over the cable going into the monitor and ripped it out, so I played with no monitor and when I listened to the recording it was awful. As long as there is a nice system and some people to vibe off I’m happy, I love DJing.
What is your approach to DJing in general: do you prefer more progressive mixing or an Andy C style barrage of tracks and quick mixing?
Depends on where/what time I’m playing but I am a quick mixer, I play all my sets on 3 decks. I have a lot of energy when I’m behind the decks – it’s the only time I really dance! While I am playing I am always thinking about how to keep building energy in the room. I find it hard to just sit back and let each tune roll out for 3-4 minutes, I like to get in the mix and combine the tunes into something new – flipping the basslines to create a new pattern, keeping the crowd on their toes with a sudden switch, matching a soulful vocal with a harsh tech bassline.
Playing a diverse range of DnB mean I always have so much new music I want to play, and plenty of classics, so I like to keep it moving. But I’m always grateful for the extended sets when I go abroad, and I tend to dig deeper and let some of the tunes roll out a bit more when I have 2-3 hours to play with.
As a Canadian writing for an American blog, I must ask you this… Do you have any plans on visiting and/or touring North America in a not too distant future?
Yes! I am over in August and have currently lined updates at Respect, Stamina, and DnB Tuesdays. I am still working on other dates for the tour, so promoters get in touch if you want to bring me to your city. I would love to bring the Philth sound to the East Coast.
Your EP The Circle may be hot off the press news to us, but I’m guessing it must be in the past for you at release time. Can you tell us what you are working on now?
I actually said this to Ant the other day, to me the tunes on “The Circle” are almost two years old but to most people they are brand new. I’m happy that the music has longevity, and I guess that is the A&R quality that Ant brings to Dispatch, signing music that will stand the test of time. I wrote Your Love in 2013 and people have been asking for a vinyl release ever since!
But yeah I’m always looking towards the next ones. I had two weeks off work recently and I was in the studio so much I basically jet-lagged myself. I started losing track of what day it was and with the curtains shut I wasn’t even sure when it was day or night.
Right now I am feeling really good in the studio so there is a lot of new material. I just sent Ant a load of fresh music, I am putting the finishing touches to an EP for Flexout, I have a tune coming on the “Final Chapter” LP on Renegade Hardware, I am finally (after two years of flirting) working on some tunes with Phil Tangent and we’re very happy with the results so far, there’s an EP with Facing Jinx, some new music with Collette [Warren?]…
I am in a groove at the moment so I’m going to keep chasing the vibes in the studio, and I’m looking forward to playing them all out! My next gig is a Peer Pressure event happening in Ramsgate in May, and at this rate, I will be playing a whole set of new Philth dubs.
Thank you for this interview, Phil! We hope it is but the first of many!
And for you, dear reader, you can expect my review of “The Circle” EP soon, right here on DnB Vault!
You can grab the EP straight from Dispatch’s online store: