A love of music has seen Colleen “Cosmo” Murphy involved in radio for her whole adult life, longer even. From high school to the present day, Colleen has produced content for local, national, and globally syndicated stations. Slots on the radio in New York, led to club bookings, and Colleen as a consequence developed a second “career” as a busy, in-demand, dance-floor DJ. Working at legendary record store, Dance Tracks, in Manhattan’s East Village, alongside Joe Claussell, and mentored by David Mancuso, Colleen has spun at a crazy array of highly regarded, hallowed, spots, from Body & Soul to The Loft. In 2003, together with David, Colleen also brought The Loft`s magic to London, under the banner, Lucky Cloud. Then in 2010, Colleen’s audiophile adventures extended into her hugely successful Classic Album Sunday events. Somehow, amongst all of this, Colleen has found the time to run her own label, Bitches Brew, collaborate in the studio with Captain Beefheart`s Gary Lucas, and remix acts such as Cantoma, and the lovely Lady Blackbird.
Colleen currently hosts three high profile shows for Worldwide FM. The first, detailed, in-depth documentaries, that further develop the CAS concept / idea, while the second, Cosmodelica, is a long-running monthly psychedelic mix of music of all genres. A third, relatively new venture, The Balearic Breakfast, is a similarly eclectic – if a little more “summery” – weekly way for folks to start their day. The latter has just resulted in a compilation album, of the same name, released on Heavenly Recordings. Cosmo`s selections moving between modern motorik, and fusion from Mallorca, to mellow moments from Copenhagen and London – while stirring in some quality house.
Colleen will play Campo Sancho at the end of July, and this festival appearance, along with the album hitting shops, gave me the chance to ask her a few questions.
Colleen, I know that you’ve done hundreds of really great interviews, all covering similar ground, so I hope that these questions aren’t going to be too boring, I’ve tried to work in a few new ones…
Rob, I just wanted to say that I love the Oto No Wa comp, that you did with Max and Ken, and have enjoyed listening to some of your shows /mixes over lockdown.
Wow! Thank you!! While I’m still blushing, let`s start with the really basic stuff, where are you from, and where are you currently based?
I come from small town in Massachusetts, and currently live in London.
Where does the nickname “Cosmo” come from?
When I was 16. I hosted a radio show called Punk, Funk & Junk on our 10-watt high school radio station, WHHB. My friend Mary and I played early hip hop, electro, funk, new wave, punk and well, junk (laughs). We wanted to come up with our own names and Mary called herself ‘Remix’ – I kid you not – and I lifted ‘Cosmo’ from ‘Cozmo D’ of Newcleus, whose first album came out that year.
When did you first fall in love with music?
My earliest and most distinct musical memory was at the age of six, sitting alone in my uncle John’s room, who was a very a cool teenager at the time. I had the ultra-violet lights on, which made his posters glow in the dark, and I just sat and listened to his transistor radio. At the time I still thought there were little people in there singing. Then I heard the very psychedelic opening bassline of David Essex’ Rock On, and it made a huge impression. I felt like I had travelled to another space and time. Music still makes me feel that way.
Can you remember the first record that you bought, with your own money?
The first album that I remember buying with my own money was the Sex Pistols` Never Mind The Bollocks. Prior to that I was buying Donny & Marie records with money that had been gifted to me, so it was quite a jump. The first album that was given to me was Elton John’s Greatest Hits – it was given to me by my teenage aunt Theresa on my 8th birthday. Somebody also gave me the accompanying piano book which I still have.
Do you come from a musical family?
Yes and no. My father had a great voice, and always wanted to play an instrument, but never had the opportunity to take any lessons, so it was he who encouraged me to play organ and piano. On my maternal side, my grandfather was an organ player and singer, who for a time played a big role in the American Union of Swedish Swingers. My aunts and uncles had a big influence on me, as we all lived in the same town, and they were young and had record collections.
You mention organ and piano. Did you have any formal musical training yourself? Can you play any other instruments?
I sang first soprano as an adolescent, and played organ / piano / keyboards. I stopped taking lessons at around 15, as I had started hosting radio shows and got the record collecting bug. It was all downhill from there! But all of that training was helpful, as I have sung backing vocals and have played keyboards on some of my productions. It`s also enabled me to speak with musicians in their language.
For me personally, growing up, radio was such a powerful medium – I had no money for records – and radio and music provided such a brilliant escape. Living in South London, in my teens, we were surrounded by pirate stations. Was radio important to you growing up? What stations and what kind of music were you listening to?
Radio was the most important musical influence in my life. When I was growing up, if you wanted to hear a song, you either had to own it, or wait for it to come on the radio. Boston had great radio, and I don’t know what would have happened in my life had I lived somewhere else. The reason they had great radio is that Boston has more colleges and universities than any other city in America – so not only did we have a wide spectrum of college radio stations, but the commercial stations were more progressive too. One of my favourite radio shows was Nocturnal Emissions hosted on Sunday nights by Oedipus on WBCN. I would tape the show and that’s where I first heard artists like Brian Eno. We also had great dance music stations, like KISS 108, and WBRU had a great funk show as well. There was a wide range of music for those willing to turn the dial across the frequencies.
You, yourself, have been involved in radio for most of your adult life. When, where and how did this start?
I started at the age of 14, on my 10-watt high school radio station WHHB. I had a show during all four years of high school, and in my senior year I played an array of sounds from all over the musical spectrum. Paisley pop was one of my interests and I named my morning show, Strawberry Alarmclock, after the classic `60’s band, and also in honour of Strawberries Records and Tapes – which was my afterschool job. I then went to New York University, which had one of the best college radio stations in the country, WNYU. I worked there from day one, and eventually became their first female Program Director, and hosted many radio shows. That led me to a temporary job in Nagoya, Japan in 1989, when I was a radio host for JOGZ, a radio station set up for the World Design Exposition, and run by the Chubu Broadcasting Corporation. Upon graduation, I hosted, wrote, programmed and engineered interview-based syndicated radio shows that went out to college and commercial stations around the country, and for which I interviewed indie bands like Nirvana, solo artists like Nick Cave, and hip hop acts like Gang Starr – then, once I got into dance music in a deep way, I hosted two shows, Soul School and Club 89, on WNYU. These shows reflected the deeper side of dance music, both contemporary and classic, and garnered a big following. They were also bootlegged and sold on cassette in Japanese record shops which in effect helped people find out about me.
So would you call radio “your career”?
Radio, and music, are my vocation, and have always been my mainstsay. Looking at everything I do, and have done, from hosting radio shows, DJing, writing about music, interviewing artists, working in record shops, running record labels, running a DJ record pool, founding Classic Album Sundays, and making music, I would say that Musical Curator and Educator, may be the best description of what I do. The one constant in my life is my passion for sharing music.
Who took you to your first loft party, and who introduced you to David?
My friend, Adam Goldstone. I met him at NYU, and he had taken me to Choice, which was being held in David’s space on East 3rd Street. When David began hosting his own parties again, Adam took me along to the first or second one and I was hooked.
I assume that this was a life-changing event. Would you be able to succinctly (smiles) say why?
I was heavily into music of all kinds, but hadn’t yet truly explored the more underground sounds of dance music. I was really into the sounds of the psychedelic `60s, and had even hosted a show called, The Plastic Tales from the Marshmellow Dimension – again I kid you not! And yes, I had already been to Grateful Dead shows, and all that entails. So, I had a hippy type of sensibility. When David presented dance music, it was with that same kind of sensibility – it evoked the same feelings of transcendence. On top of that, the atmosphere of David’s home, or h-ohm, was comfortable, beautiful, artistic and not at all pretentious – very homey and I settled right in. The sound system was spectacular – shimmery and dynamic…and finally, the people were welcoming, friendly and could dance their ass off.
At what point did you become actively involved in the loft parties? How did this start? Were you blowing up balloons to begin with? (smiles)
David never asked me to blow up balloons, in fact it was straight to the turntables, which was astonishing. It was around 1993, and he`d recently come up to guest on my radio show, Soul School. We`d met prior to that, getting to know each another, and discussing musical synchronicity. When he asked me to play some records with him, I was dumbfounded. Decades later I asked him why he trusted me with the music, the equipment and his community of dancers, and he told me, ‘It starts with a vibe long before one gets to the turntable.’
You DJed at the loft, but were you also DJing at other New York clubs and parties?
I’m going to correct that by saying I ‘musically hosted’ at The Loft, but yes, I did DJ at many other places – guesting at Body & Soul, Aquabooty, Legends in NYC, Black Box in Newark, at King Britt’s party, Back to Basics, in Philadelphia, and spots around the East Coast and other parts of the country.
Had you started traveling and spinning at other places around the world?
My first time playing records outside of the States was in Japan, for Precious Hall on Valentine’s Day in 1997…and that’s still one of my favourite places in the world. After that I started playing in Canada, the UK, Italy, France and Iceland, before I moved over to London in 1999.
How and when did you get the job at Dance Tracks? Was this post- your first Loft experience?
Joe Claussell asked me to work at Dance Tracks. I`d spent a lot of time there when Joe and our friend John Hall worked at the shop, when Stan owned it. John had some of his records stored there, and I used to work for him, sorting out the records, and I was remunerated in records. The whole time I was organising, Joe and John were playing records saying, ‘You`ve got to get this…’.
Was working here with Joe Claussell how you became involved in Body & Soul and Spiritual Life?
I`d met Francois at Dance Tracks, as he came in to buy records, but I didn’t know him well. I was getting ready to go out to Body & Soul with a friend who was over from the UK, got a call on my landline, and was surprised to find that it was Francois! He said that Joe wasn’t going to make the party in time, as his flight was delayed, and Danny had an injury. Francois told me he`d heard that I had a great disco and dance collection, and asked if I would open up. I couldn’t believe it – I was absolutely floored. It was an honour, and I was asked back several times. Since that time, Francois has become a very important person in my life.
How long did you work at Dance Tracks?
It was for most of the mid-nineties – maybe from `93, `94 to `97? Probably around four years? I`d already worked in two record shops by the time Joe asked me, so I said that I would be more interested in working for the record label they were starting, Spiritual Life Music. I ended up doing both.
Did you move to the UK directly from New York, or did you travel around a bit first?
I went from NYC directly to London, but I travelled around a bit before that. As I mentioned earlier, I lived in Japan for a few months in 1989, after graduating NYU I moved to San Francisco for a summer and then spent a couple of months backpacking around Mexico and Guatemala, and in the mid-90s I backpacked around India for a month.
What did you do when you first arrived in the UK? Did you have friends here anyway? Did you manage to get DJ gigs – did you have any residencies? Did you immediately find work in radio. I remember you interviewing my friend, Max Essa, some 13, 14, 15 years ago, but I’m sorry I can’t remember which radio station / show it was? Was it hard to get a foothold, and get established, in the UK?
Actually, it wasn’t too bad. On a personal level it took a couple of years before I had developed strong friendships and a sense of community. My grandmother was born and raised in Plymouth, England, and was a war bride, so I have family ties here. Professionally it was very good. Francois had recommended me to an Italian booking agency, and one of their agents, Ornella, became my manager – so for the first time, I had somebody else to help me and take care of the business side. Also I was working with Nuphonic, since I was co-producing The Loft compilations with David, so I had a network of lovely people there too…and I couldn’t resist, and did one more stint in a record shop, this time in the Latin section at Mr. Bongo on Poland Street. Soon after I co-founded the record label, Bitches Brew, and started writing, producing and remixing. In terms of radio, I did a lot of guest mixes and hosted a couple Nuphonic shows for XFM, and then started hosting Cosmodelica on the Ministry of Sound radio station which is where I interviewed Max.
How did the Lucky Cloud Loft parties start? What was the idea behind them, where were they, and what was your involvement? Would you be able to tell me who else was initially involved?
The party came out of the Loft compilations that David and I had co-produced for Nuphonic – as we had a party to celebrate them, with David musically hosting at 93 Feet East on Brick Lane, in 2001. Tim Lawrence was writing his book, Love Saves The Day, and was there, along with his friend, Jeremy Gilbert. They both felt David should come back to do more Loft parties, and Tim mentioned this to David, and he replied he should do it. David insisted on bringing me as a partner, and to assist him with the sound and music, and that’s how we all hooked up. We brought in other friends, some of whom are still part of the team today, and it just grew from there. David was very proud of the London Loft parties and what we all built together.
How long did the Lucky Cloud parties run for?
It’s still going and this past Sunday we celebrated the 19th anniversary of our London Loft party!
Were / are they always in the same venue?
We started at The Light in Shoreditch, but finally had to move when the developers won their battle. We then moved to the Rose Lipman Community Centre in Dalston, and have been there ever since.
Who was involved in the last party? Is still the same people?
We have a lot of the same people from our very first party, along with many new, younger helpers -as we are getting a bit cranky carrying heavy equipment up and down stairs. Plus, we need to teach the next generation about the sound system and the Loft party set up and principles. When David stopped coming to London in 2011, he asked me to step in as musical host, with support from Simon Halpin and Guillaume Chottin, who have been with us since day one, and who also head up the décor and lighting. Our friend, Iain Mackie, was introduced to us by David and still comes down from Glasgow to help with the sound system. There’s a whole team that make this party happen, and it’s a big endeavour, since we set up, then host a 7-hour party with catering, and then break the whole thing down all in one day. But it’s worth it. The community aspect and friendships are the best things about it.
Do you still act as a musical host for the Loft in New York?
Yes, I do. David was putting together a Loft board, and asked me and some of his other trusted friends, Elyse, Donna and Ernest to be part of it. A couple of years before his passing, he made arrangements to bring me back to New York, and now when I look back at it, I wonder if he knew his time was drawing near.
Could you please tell me a little bit more about Classic Album Sundays? Was this your idea?
When David helped us put together the sound system for our London Loft parties, two of the Klipschorns came to live at my house. My husband, Adam, and I started getting more into hi-fi, buying second-hand valve amplifiers and upgrading our turntable and cartridge – to a Koetsu (big smile) – and I fell in love with my record collection all over again. Friends would come over for Sunday lunch, and while my husband cooked, I would play albums and one friend, James, said it`s kind of like a Classic Album Sunday.
James was also a mutual friend of Greg Wilson, who later started a blog, called Living To Music, in which he nominated an album for people to listen to at home without interruption, and then he would host an online discussion. Greg told me I would love it and encouraged me to participate, and I did the following month when it was Dark Side Of The Moon. My husband and I lit candles and incense, cranked up the volume and fully experienced the album. It was cathartic. Some of the people on the forum were aware that we had a great sound system, and were asking what it sounded like, which gave me the idea to share the experience. My experience as a journalist/interviewer, radio host and selector, came in handy to present the historical and musical context of the album. This gave the listeners a new depth of knowledge, before listening to the album on our audiophile hi-fi – which allowed them to hear new details in the album, and experience it in a new way.
Since then, it`s grown from monthly events held in a pub function room, to include events co-hosted with The British Library, Royal Albert Hall and the V&A. But Classic Album Sundays has grown even more as a platform, with editorial, interview videos, playlists and podcasts telling the stories behind our favourite albums.
Now that the pandemic has – fingers crossed – passed, while you be holding these events regularly again?
We took our events online over the pandemic and have continued to offer an online Album Club to our Patreon members…and yes, we were overjoyed to start in-person events at the end of last year, and have hosted several with the British Library – with guests including lovers rock legend, Carroll Thompson, Louie Vega, Orchestral Manouevres in the Dark and David Bowie / Ziggy Stardust producer Ken Scott.
When and where is the next one?
We`re working on our autumn schedule at the moment, and one of the key features is Producer Pioneers – an event / podcast / stream series we’re hosting with Audio Technica and Danley Sound Labs, that celebrates producers who also happen to be women. A lot of focus has been placed on female DJs, but only 6% of the UK’s producers are women, so we’re going to celebrate those leading the way. The events will be held at The Colour Factory in London, and we already have Shy One and Emma Jean Thackray lined up as guests.
How and when did you first hook up with Worldwide FM?
Soon after Gilles started Worldwide FM he asked me to join the radio station and I began with Classic Album Sundays Worldwide in September 2016. He was asking me to do a more DJ / dance music led show, and at first I was resistant, since I was focussing mainly on CAS, but I eventually acquiesced by the end of that year. So now I host a monthly Classic Album Sundays Worldwide – which is a documentary on a featured album, that airs on a Sunday, Cosmodelica, which is a dance-oriented show on the third Friday of each month from 4 to 6pm, and Balearic Breakfast every Tuesday morning from 10am to 12 noon.
Could you tell me more about the concept behind The Balearic Breakfast? Is the title simply alteration – like The Loft Lunch – or is it more than that? How would yo define Balearic – believe me I know how difficult this is?
When the pandemic struck in March 2020, I was one of the few, or maybe the only other broadcaster aside from Gilles, who could also broadcast live from home, so I started doing more radio, and had a yearning to do request shows – to build relationships and connect a community, and also to rediscover my own record collection, and discover new music. In the summer Gilles asked me to fill in for him on Tuesday mornings, so I started a show called, Summer Staycation, as most of us, myself included, weren’t going anywhere on holiday – I thought the music could bring the holiday to us in our own homes. People loved it and got involved, and Gilles asked me to keep the slot, but as autumn approached I had to change the name. I asked my listeners for suggestions and my friend Lee said ‘Balearic Breakfast’. I liked the sound, the feeling, and also the fact that in my mind, Balearic music is all-encompassing, and can mean so many things, and embrace so many different genres. It had a sense of freedom and at that time, that’s what we all wanted.
Were you ever worried that some folks noses might be put out of joint, with you seemingly jumping on a “genre” that they’d devoted themselves too? People can be obsessive about music, right?
Absolutely. To be honest, I had no idea the show would take off in the way that it did. I like to joke that I had only heard of Ibiza in Bowie’s Life On Mars, and wouldn’t have been able to point at it on a map when I was younger. Joking aside, I try to pay tribute and include the DJs, artists and record labels who were, and are part of the scene, like Alfredo, DJ Pippi, José Padilla, Cantoma (Phil Mison), A Man Called Adam, Music for Dreams, and more. I’m still trying to get a mix from Danny Rampling and Nancy Noise – I must nudge them on that…and although I probably bend what is traditionally thought of as Balearic, it is done with a similar mindset, since I also played the same types of sounds when I lived in America, hosting radio shows in the `80s, and at The Loft in the `90s, unaware that it was also being championed in Ibiza. I did get the chance to DJ at the Terrace at Space for one of Harvey’s residencies, so that is a nice little Ibizan memory.
Have you experienced any “balearic backlash”? (smiles)
Not yet, or at least not to my face. Maybe they are just being polite, or just being Balearic (laughs).
Do you think that there are any similarities in the eclecticism of The Loft, and that of Balearic / Balearic Beat?
Absolutely – the root of both is a sense of expansiveness and transcendence, whether it’s on the chill out / listening or uptempo / dance side of the spectrum.
Can you please tell me more about the new Balearic Breakfast compilation? How did you hook up with Heavenly. Are there any interesting stories behind how you discovered any of the tracks included?
The founder of Heavenly, Jeff Barrett, got in touch with me toward the beginning of the pandemic, as he was hooked on my Mixcloud, especially a recording of a DJ set that I did in Hong Kong around the time of the independence protests. It was a private party with a lot of young, creative people, and I played mainly `60s / `70s protest / socially conscious psychedelic soul / R&B / rock, and Jeff loved the recording of the set.
We thought of doing a compilation around that, but the licensing would have been a nightmare, as major labels had acquired these catalogues. So, we shelved that, and once Balearic Breakfast took on a life of its own, it seemed a natural fit. There are some old favourites of mine like Hazme Sonar, mixes from two legends that recently passed – Phil Asher and Andrew Weatherall – and also some songs that I was turned onto by the Balearic Breakfast family.
I’ve really really liked all of your production, and remix, work – including your recent makeover of Lady Blackbird – which I think is the best dance-floor reading of Marley`s considerable talents to date. Do you get to spend a lot of time in the studio? Do you have any projects lined-up?
Arigatou gozamasu! Unfortunately, I don’t get to spend a lot of time in the studio but also, I am of the mind that having a good concept before you get into the studio will save a lot of time and will keep it fun and exciting. I only take on a mix if I immediately have a solid idea. At the moment, the Cosmodelica mix of Hard Feelings’ Love Scenes is out, and later this summer should see the release of my mix for FSQ featuring Fonda Rae – more of a Norman Whitfield tribute.
Do you ever plan to resurrect your label, Bitches Brew?
Nope. Never. The only part that I liked was A&R and the mastering / pressing. I really disliked all of the admin-bits-and-bobs, and have no desire to ever do that again. It’s just not for me.
While I’m here I have to ask how did you manage to hook up with Gary Lucas?
I was a 19-year-old Captain Beefheart fan, and hosting a radio show called, Unheard, where I played unsigned artists / bands. Gary stopped playing guitar after Beefheart, and started working for CBS Records up at ‘Black Rock’ – that was the name of the building where my friend Hugh and I would visit him. He was getting back in to playing – I later discovered it was at Arthur Russell’s insistence – and he came up to my radio show and did a live set with all of these effect pedals including a looper. I had never heard guitar played like that before and became a fan – supporting his music on radio and going to his shows – and subsequently developing a friendship. His wife is British, so he was in London quite a bit, and we started recording together as Wild Rumpus.
Do you have a favourite Beefheart track?
I will always love Electricity, from Safe as Milk. It’s a simple `60s sounding song – maybe even a bit naff to be honest – but I always loved playing it on my radio show. I’m a sucker for that kind of sound.
I watched The Big Lebowski again recently, and was reminded of how wonderful Her Eyes Are A Million Miles is.
Now that is a great song – and a great film. The lyrics are kind of straightforward for him (laughs).
I know that you have great, and wildly eclectic, musical taste. Would you be able to give us 3 things that you are currently into, perhaps 3 things that you might play at Campo Sancho, and perhaps explain why you like them?
Hmmm, I never know what I’m going to play, but I just did a mix a few hours ago and the opening song was Herb Alpert`s Rise, which is really resonating with me right now. It’s an incredible recording, and so funky, yet wistful. I played it at our London Loft 19th anniversary on Sunday and it sounded gorgeous – it was the song of the night for me, and I’m obsessed with it at the moment. Other songs? Hot Toddy`s Synthesize, because it’s a deep slow burner and builder, and you can’t help dancing to it… and Gaolé Mizik`s A Ka Titine – my friend Kay Suzuki’s remix – because every time I play it, people ask what it is and it doesn’t sound like anything else! I won’t be playing this at Campo Sancho but I’m also obsessed with Labi Siffre’s album, Crying Laughing Loving Lying.
Have you played at Campo Sancho before?
No, I haven`t, and I’m very much looking forward to it, as I have heard great things.
Other than Campo Sancho, do you currently have any other gigs, festivals lined-up?
We Out Here, Lost Village, All Points East, Secret Sundaze, Suncebeat, Standon Calling and Bristol Disco Festival are all coming up, too. It feels good to be back.
Colleen’s compilation, Balearic Breakfast Volume 1, is out now, on Heavenly Recordings.
You can catch Colleen live at Campo Sancho, who return for their 6th Festival, over the weekend of July 29th to the 31st. Taking place at Walkern Hall, near Stevenage, you can find out more here….and book tickets here.
A big “Thank You!” to Sharon at Shine PR for setting everything up.