Rory Phillips | Interview

by John Dugan

One of dance-punk’s key insurgents reveals what he learned from John Peel. By John Dugan Published: January 17, 2013

A decade ago, dance punk was preparing to storm the gates of big clubs and dance charts. In London, on the street level, the revolution was stoked by a wide-ranging, punk-spirited club night called Trash run by Erol Alkan and Rory Phillips. With Phillips headed to Berlin’s Stardust party, it seemed natural to ask him about the era and what he’s gotten into since.

What made Trash different?
It was a special time, fueled by youth and passion—just a collective playing records they loved but didn’t hear in the clubs elsewhere, to a community that got it.

It was a Monday night success story, correct?
I had a day job for the first few years, so I felt the pain of everyone that had to then go to work till Friday. Totally worth it.

We met in Miami at the Winter Music Conference. Do you still go every year?
There was a very exciting time out there back around 2003–4, with bands like LCD Soundsystem playing alongside the new breed of DJs, but we’ve gone back to the bad old days of the superstar DJ. That said, I have started going over the last few years as there’s always a lot of fun to be had. The Fixed party is fantastic every year. You just have to look beyond the headliners and stay on the outside.

Is there anything like Trash in London now?
I’m a resident at Durrr, which was Trash’s successor on Monday nights until our venue closed down. Now we just do big, irregular parties around London as well as my bimonthly disco party, Say Yes. Residents are a dying breed as weekly and even monthly clubs are practically nonexistent now.

You were on the forefront of the dance punk scene. What’s your current passion in terms of DJ sets?
There’s a lot of disco and a lot of music informed by disco, like house, postpunk and the like. It’s different from night to night, I play a wide range of stuff, really. I like to join the dots.

Is it tough to make things like krautrock work in the clubs?
We’ve done a fair bit of that at our Say Yes parties; krautrock is so rhythm-based that it makes sense. I’ve seen Can records destroy a dance floor.

You’re releasing a series of 12" records (Mixed Fortunes). Do you still believe in vinyl as the medium of the DJ?
I don’t deejay with vinyl anymore outside of London, as I grew tired of lugging huge boxes around only to find the club’s turntables were neglected or badly placed. But the cliché is true: Nothing sounds like it at home or in the club. Not so much the warmth, more the thump. I’d say it’s more the medium of the music lover than the DJ.

I know you love John Peel. What about his approach do you keep in mind when deejaying?
If it works it doesn’t matter if it’s at the same tempo. Oh, and when playing vinyl always remember to play songs at the right speed.