The 283rd episode of our 12 Questions segment features producer Philip James de Vries.
1. How old are you, where are you living and how long have you been producing and Djing?
I’m 26 and currently living in downtown Toronto, Canada. I’ve been producing since 2009/2010. I don’t really DJ all that often, but I’ve been asked to play a handful of times in Toronto since I moved here which was in 2011.
2. Where do your musical roots lie, what are your first memories of electronic music and when did you know you wanted to pursue it seriously? Are there any particular productions or artists from the past that really made you think to yourself ‘this is what I want to do.”
When I was a teenager I played guitar and sang in a two-piece band that was sort of like, punk rock music I guess, but as university progressed I started experimenting more with recording and less with live performance. I’ve always enjoyed learning new instruments so that’s something that’s stuck with me and comes out even in my recordings today; I try to record most of my own samples myself, (except for a lot of drum stuff).
In terms of listening to electronic music actively, I think there are three albums that really shook my perspective on music at the time. Jesse Somfay’s A Catch In the Voice – which is still one of my favourite albums of all time across any genre – really changed my life. I know that sounds over the top, but there’s something about the way Somfay approached melody on that album that’s still to this day deeper and more meaningful than the majority of music I’ve heard. I actually emailed Jesse about it a few months after listening to it, not knowing where he was from, and it turned out he lived about 20 minutes away from me at the time, which was weird.
The second would have to be Stephan Bodzin’s Lieb Ist. When “electro” (whatever that means) was at the height of its popularity in 2008 in Canada, I was really just getting into dance music. There’s this club called The Albion in Guelph, Ontario, where I went to university, and every Thursday these two DJs would play new dance music, which still seemed like a pretty foreign thing to a small Canadian city like Guelph at the time. At this club I heard a lot of stuff that sort of piqued my interest in seriously trying to get my hands on more electronic music to listen to. Artists and DJs like The Proxy, Vitalic, Acid Girls, The Twelves…they were really my first exposure to dance music in a live setting. A good friend of mine who was also getting into electronic music at the time showed me Liebe Ist, which made me realize how aggressive melodic techno can be while still infatuating the more intellectual side of your brain, and that dance music needn’t be like the predictable cheesier stuff I’d hear when I would go out. It combined everything I liked about punk music when I was younger with experimentalism and intelligence of new technological sounds. It was really a mind-fuck for me at the time, and that album was released in 2007 I think, so I was already pretty late to the party.
And the third I think was The Knife’s 2006 album Silent Shout. I had heard a lot of the Knife’s earlier material, which was also great, but the darker melodies and manipulations of Karin’s voice on Silent Shout really made me want to learn more about the possibilities of computer-based composing.
3. How difficult was learning to produce for you in the beginning? Did you take any Audio Engineering programs or production courses to help you out or are you pretty much self taught? And did anyone give any advice early on that really helped?
When I first started producing I was really just experimenting and never had any intention of releasing music, so I didn’t really care how bad my mixing or production was, haha. When I first started mixing stuff that was sample-heavy and more dance oriented, I struggled for sure. I remember at one point checking an early, unreleased EP I recorded on my car stereo and it sounded so bad that I considered giving up recording altogether.
I’ve never taken any courses or anything like that, I’m totally self-taught. I think I still have a lot of learning to do with proper mixing and I’m not the most confident in that aspect of recording.
Luckily my good friend Trevor and Ever, the one who showed me Liebe Ist, has an amazing ear for producing and mixing, so I run mixes by him sometimes and he immediately points out all my flaws, hah.
4. What parts of the production process do you find the most difficult and what comes easiest for you? When you do hit a creative block what helps you through it?
For me, melodies come the most easily. I listen to a lot of ambient music and music that has little to no percussion at all, and I’ve always been more attached to melody than any other aspect of a song.
I definitely struggle with drums, they always sound like shit to me when I record or produce them, haha. I once submitted a demo to a label and was told that my kick drum had “no brilliance”, which was probably true.
Generally if I hit a creative block I usually take some time away from the track; I try not to listen to it for at least a week. If I come back to it and I still can’t move forward I usually trash it or leave it unfinished and start something new. I find it easier and more exciting to move onto a new track than to keep tweaking one that sounds bad.
5. What’s a normal day like for you? Do you have a job outside of electronic music? And what do you like to do when you’re not working on music?
I work full time as a web developer right now, so that takes up a lot of my time. Unfortunately I only get time to work on music at night or on the weekends. I’m actually in the middle of launching a label called Temparc Music in partnership with Wide Angle Recordings, who I’ve worked with extensively, so I’ve been spending a lot of time on that too. Our first release is an amazing EP from Jelle Kuipers, which will probably be out in January 2016.
Outside of work and music stuff, I like to escape the city when I can. I find I’m more creative and productive in the country. A friend and I made a really terrible short film this summer in the country, so we’ve been messing around with video stuff since too, but it’s all really terrible material that just makes us laugh, haha. We hope to one day record a show that’s completely centred around the mundaneness of commuting.
6. Apart from electronic music what other genres do you listen to and who are your favourite artists outside of electronic? and do these genres or artists have a direct effect on your own productions?
I listen to a wide range of stuff, but probably most often other than or electronic stuff I listen to a lot of ambient music. Taylor Deupree’s 12k label is fantastic, and one of the artists he releases is a folk musician named Gareth Dickson. His music is beautiful and I really hope he releases a new album. Stars of the Lid are also an all-time favourite of mine and I got a chance to see them live in Toronto this summer, which was awesome and brought me to tears. There’s a certain depth to carefully detailed, melodic ambient music that just moves me more than a lot of other types of music. Though I do love techno and more aggressive electronic stuff, even within those genres I like music that’s subtle and ambiguous; when it’s too literal and predictable it leaves no room for interpretation. I can’t stand music that feels like it’s yelling at me.
As a result, in my own work I’m definitely influenced by a lot of ambient and experimental music. I find that sometimes electronic music – particularly a lot of four-four stuff aimed at the dance floor – gets stuck in this formulaic box. I personally don’t really like listening to an album or EP that’s just straight four-to-the-floor beats accented by an off-beat hihat the entire time and mostly the same tempo and synth palette, it gets tiresome very quickly and there’s already so much of it out there.
For that reason I have a hard time sticking to one type of sound both in what I make and what I enjoy listening to. Sometimes I really like making dance floor stuff, but the other half of the time I like to try to record stuff that’s a bit deeper and weirder. I like to fuck around with recordings of my voice and make stuff that’s maybe too weird or slow for a live setting.
7. What was the first and last physical (CD, Vinyl, Cassette etc) piece of music you bought?
Oh god, haha. I think the first album I ever bought was Dookie by Green Day on CD in the 1990s. My most recent purchase was a hilariously titled vinyl LP by Frank Sinatra called Put Your Dreams Away.
8. Tell us something about yourself that might surprise people?
My favourite bar in Toronto isn’t a music venue but a terrible Karaoke bar called On The Rocks; it’s in a completely isolated part of downtown and really has nothing else around it. They have every song in the world and the vibe is totally amazing. When it’s your turn to sing your name or whatever alias you want gets projected onto a screen behind you and you have to come up on stage and sing to everyone. Last time I was there we sang “O Canada” in French and got a standing ovation, and afterwards this guy screamed a Limp Bizkit song and then threw up on the table in front of the stage, and he didn’t even get kicked out, haha. He puked in this girl’s food then just came out of the bathroom with some paper towels and wiped it up. It was wild. It’s truly a special place and I recommend it to everyone when they visit Toronto.
9. Which producers in your opinion get consistently overlooked?
I think a lot of stuff that’s coming out of The Netherlands right now is pretty under the radar. Guys like Jelle Kuipers, who I mentioned, Lanny May (who’s actually from Berlin but has a similar type of sound), Koen Schepens, and a lot of the producers in that world have all been making fantastic music for years but it deserves more attention than it gets. Beachcoma has also been releasing amazing stuff over the last couple of years.
In the ambient world, Nicholas Szczepanik’s extremely long-drawn drone material is awesome too and it definitely surprises me that it’s not more widely known.
But above all, I will forever believe Jesse Somfay’s work deserves far more press and attention than it’s received, especially in Canada where he’s from.
10. Which producers consistently inspire you? And where else does your inspiration come from?
Aside from Somfay’s consistently awesome output, I’m always blown away by new 16-bit Lolitas material as well. There’s something about the grooves they make that always build tension and release at exactly the right time; their stuff is always euphoric and an amazing synthesis of the body-mind duality. I’m also regularly taken back by James Holden, Eluvium, and Sinner DC’s new music (in a great way). I find these artists really explore their own paths and avoid falling into traps.
My friend Trevor and Ever is also constantly blowing my mind with his productions. We started producing around the same time when we used to live together and he’s really excelled at a quicker pace than I have and just has a natural ear for sound. He just released a nice track on Toronto collective Bedroomer’s most recent compilation that’s worth a listen for sure. (https://soundcloud.com/thump/trevorandever-friday-the-13th)
Other than artists that I find inspiring, I’m convinced there’s something deeper about music that really affects people more than other art forms. When you go to a good show with like-minded people, even if they all speak different languages, there’s a great sense of being connected to everything and everyone around you, and being at peace with the world together. I find that most inspiring, especially within electronic music communities where those feelings seem the most prominent. It’s so easy to get cynical about the current state of the planet or the futility of capitalist, career-oriented existence, and music’s one thing that’s always kept me feeling like everyone on earth is a family and not an enemy to be competed with.
11. There are countless producers out there trying to find their way and create their own unique sound, what advice do you have for them?
Music you hear but you can’t remember afterwards is music you have no emotional or spiritual connection to. Give a person a reason to listen to your music more than once. Find a balance between melody and technological experimentation. Rock music is almost dead because people have heard its melodies a thousand times, and purely experimental music is mostly forgettable. The sweet spot is somewhere in between.
12. If the final DJ/live set of your career was next week what would your last track be?
“Here In My Heart” by Al Martino.
‘This Month Only’ is out now on Strange Town Recordings, you can purchase the release: here