Interview / PHILIPPA / At Peace / Freerange Records – By The Insider

Philippa McIntyre is an Aotearoa / New Zealand expat. For close to a quarter of a century she’s been immersed in DJ / dance music culture, and, specifically, deep house. Having originally established herself on the Tāmaki Makaurau / Auckland scene, she’s currently living, studying, teaching, and DJing in Berlin. Prior to the pandemic Philippa launched her own digital imprint, At Peace. Now she’s poised to make her physical debut, with an E.P. good to go on Jimpster`s Freerange Records. Titled There´ s A Ghost in My Synthesizer – I’m guessing in a nod to the R.Dean Taylor Motown / Northern soul smash – to my ears at least two of the tunes pay homage to the classic “French Touch”. With disco in their drums, both the title track and Dimes use filtered, sampled, loops to deftly build and dish out dance-floor drama. The latter is further jazz-juiced, with some really cool cut-up keys. I Guess I Have, Boy is intro`d by an emotive string-like synth – think Sinead O`Connor covering Prince. Its growling, beefed-up boogie bass-line peppered / spiced with diced diva snippets, and dubwise details that wouldn’t be out of place on a Sabres Of Paradise side. Slow It Down trades trippy bleeps with funky guitar licks, sexy sighs with ecstatic exclamations. 

Interview conducted by our favorite four-to-the-floor expert, The Insider.

Philippa-06-2022-5134-hi-res-Giovanni_Dominice

(Philippa laughing by Giovanni Dominice)

Hey Philippa, it’s great to chat with you!

Hi there, thanks for talking with me.

I know you’ve been in Berlin for a decade, but you’re from Auckland originally right. Do you get back home much to visit?

New Zealand is a minimum 31-hour journey from Berlin – more like 34 hours depending on connections – so no I don’t get home much, which is not ideal. I miss it.

What was it like growing up in Auckland?

I didn’t actually grow up in Auckland; I went to secondary school in a town at the top of the South Island called Nelson, which is probably the best place on planet earth, though I could be biased (laughs). It’s a hippy / artsy little city with a population of about 40,000, surrounded in some amazing natural scenery. The worst trouble you could really get into as a teenager was to wag school, go up the river and smoke weed – which we did a lot. We were obsessed with music and spent our days outside in nature. Fantastic times.

I read that you worked in BPM in Auckland. How long were you there for? What was the vibe of the store? Is it still around? 

I worked there from 1998 to 2001, so a long time ago now. BPM was a central spot for house, techno and drum and bass in Auckland, and was run by some New Zealand legends, so I consider myself very fortunate to have had the privilege to work there. Actually Presha – Geoff Wright – who runs drum and bass, and experimental electronic / techno labels Samurai and Horo in Berlin was one of my colleagues at the time, it’s cool we both ended up over here.

Sadly, the store is no longer around – it closed in 2002, quite early on in that era of record store closings internationally. I think what was key about record stores in those days is that this was pre the internet age taking off – there was no social media. So record stores served as a central point of exchange and interaction – obviously if you were a music fan you’d buy records, but it’s also where you’d go to pick up flyers and find out what was happening that weekend or who was flying into play, gossip over who had been playing well recently versus who hadn’t, which records were hot, who had hooked up with who and so on.. it’s also where fans would get to chat with DJs in the daytime. Record stores were fundamental to a healthy local scene. Record stores are still important now of course – but in those days it was all we had.

Are there many active records shops in Auckland right now? 

There aren’t a lot to be honest – vinyl DJing still exists in New Zealand but it`s not as popular as it is in Europe. My favourite Auckland store in semi-recent years was Conch Records – but it also sadly closed. Conch was at the centre of Auckland’s well-decent dub / reggae / jazz / soul scene. 

I know you DJed heavily on the Auckland local scene, earning your stripes. Did you have a residency somewhere? What kind of stuff did you play?

The two main clubs I played regularly over the years were Calibre and Ink Bar, both holding 200-350 people, both on Karangahape Road, both utterly fantastic. I always played deep house / house – I fell very deeply in love with house music in the late 1990s and stayed loyal, though have probably moved around in terms of geographical fascinations over time – UK house versus Chicago house, etc… 

Were there a lot of female DJs on the New Zealand house scene or were you in the minority?

There were actually about 6 or 7 decent female house DJs in Auckland in the early 2000s, but it never really grew from there. I think it’s looking healthier now: we’re really seeing a blossoming of ladies behind the decks presently aren’t we? I’m very happy about this.

You had a long-standing radio residency, a drive-time show. Tell us about the show, the station. What kind of stuff did you play?

I hosted Friday Drive on George FM when it was an independent station – which it no longer is. Auckland is a driving city – public transport is not great and the city sprawls over a large area, so driving around while listening to radio is pretty a standard thing to do. I played house, non-playlisted – in that I could play whatever I wanted to… and happily, I got to interview international artists coming into town to perform that weekend. We used to have someone come up weekly and make us cocktails, which we’d review on air, so Friday Drive was relatively boozy and brilliant fun. 

What took you to Berlin? When did you go?

Just exploration really. It’s really expensive to travel from New Zealand to anywhere else in the world – it’s not like you can just take off to Berlin for a weekend from Auckland. Well, you could – but it’d cost an arm and a leg, and you’d spend most of your time in a plane, which is no-one’s idea of fun (laughs). So, in 2012 I planned a European trip: went to Sonar Festival in Barcelona, and then came through Berlin. I was charmed by the laid back, low key and alternative nature of Berlin, and felt very at ease. Once back home I started putting things in place to move over here in 2013.

Did you know anyone when you first got there? Was it a daunting experience? 

I didn’t know many people at all, it was completely daunting, and actually I suffered pretty severe culture-shock and homesickness. I had underestimated how painful it would be to be ripped out of deep, long-standing relationships / friendships, etc., combined with the impact of say, not being able to fly home for a weekend – too far, too expensive. I had a really tough time – there’s no other way to put it really. International moves can be brutal. Further to that I struggled to make an impact and DJ in the city – partly due to a loss of confidence brought about by the combination of loneliness and culture-shock. In some respects, I`d taken my privileged position within the New Zealand electronic music community for granted, and assumed that I’d have the same reception over here – so to not be received in that manner was hard to take. At the time I felt like the one thing that had defined my adult life up until that point, I couldn’t do here, and it broke my heart. But it wasn’t all doom and gloom – I was exploring new cultures, new scenes, meeting people, falling in love in multiple ways. There’s something specific about Berlin that can break people apart but also help them to rebuild – and over time that’s certainly what happened.

Also, I was lucky to have landed a decent job before even arriving in Berlin – teaching at an institution of arts and technology with a very international student cohort. This job really saved me: colleagues and students were having similar culture-shock experiences which at least in some form was reassuring – it wasn’t just me who was struggling – and I was engaged in meaningful work – teaching first year degree students – and learning a lot. I basically withdrew from trying to DJ and focused on music production and I guess in some ways it was freeing to not be out DJing the 2-5 weekly gigs I’d consistently played back home.

So you decided to develop your skills pretty much as soon as you landed? Where did you do this? What were you working on kit wise?

Ultimately, without all the DJing, I was craving musical expression – I had to let it out somehow – so music production became a refuge, a happy place to withdraw to. Instead of DJing I wrote music. I’d write at home, any moment I could get, and then spend time in the studios at school.

Synthesizers, samplers, and sound designs. What does your studio look like today? What are the most important pieces of kit in your studio?

To be honest the DAW (Ableton) is absolutely the most important piece of kit in my studio. Let’s not overlook the huge place of computers in the modern music studio. But I do have a couple of decent synths – a Prophet REV2 which I absolutely adore, and a Behringer Moog rip off – don’t shoot me – which is pretty solid.

I’m also big on sampling. I employ a variety of traditional and modern sampling techniques to arrive at places of creativity and inspiration. Sampling is interesting on so many levels – not only is it at the heart of traditional forms of house music and hip hop, but it’s also an art form which couldn’t exist before the invention of modern recording practices – recording is around 165 years old if you start with Frenchman Édouard-Léon Scott de Martinville’s early recording device. Extrapolating further, the repurposing of recorded sound and music is significant in many ways – what sound means to us and why, is a fascinating thing to think about and explore: why do you like that particular sound or piece of music, where’s it from geographically / culturally, what’s it saying and why, what’s it functional versus aesthetic purpose? The multi-dimensionality of meaning where it comes to music is pretty dope.

Berlin is a rich tapestry of musician, DJs, and artists. Would you call it your home now?

Pertinent question – which I’ve been thinking about a lot recently, probably due to the ten-year mark coming up next year. The pandemic was obviously a pretty weird time for all of us. This summer, personally, I’ve been experiencing a feeling of expansion, relaxing back into a social life, meeting new people and DJing in Berlin clubs. It’s been really nice. Yeah – it feels like home right now.

Berlin is home to many seriously amazing musicians; there are a lot chilling in this city, getting on with writing music, trying not to get into trouble (laughs).

You must have quite a community of friends in the city now. Are they all DJs and musos?

Almost 100%… and really varied. For instance, there’s a pretty decent jazz / soul scene here and I’ve become friends with some great acoustic musicians  – hi Hal, hi Frank! Hal Strewe plays bass on three of the tracks on this Freerange E.P. actually.

Do you ever get invited to play back in New Zealand?

Yes totally! I was flown back to play a new year festival called Aum right before the start of the pandemic – and am, incidentally, planning an 8-date summer tour there in December / January 2023/24. I’m still in touch with local New Zealand scenes, and really value those relationships.

Do you see yourself heading back to New Zealand for good at some point?

Yeah, I do, but not for probably another ten or so years. I’d love to live by the ocean – I really miss the sea – but it’s just too far away from everywhere to really consider it to be home base for a while again yet.

What do you do in Berlin when you are not making music?

I read a lot! I was reading a lot of speculative fiction / fantasy during the pandemic and got pretty hooked. Currently reading John Gwynne’s Hunger of the Gods. I’m also a runner – I’d be a mental wreck without the 15-20 kms of jogging I do every week.

I’d love to ask you about At Peace.  Does the name of the label mean you found your space or is that thinking about it too deep?

No, that’s bang on. When I launched the label in 2019, I was feeling at peace with decisions made. Finally.

What’s the labels musical policy? What’s happening with the label at the moment? What’s coming up?

Thus far At Peace has been largely a self-releasing project but I’m looking to change that. Also, I listen to a wide variety of music – and would like the label to reflect that, at least in part. Current touchstones of inspiration are the Swedish labels Local Talk and Studio Barnhus; Local Talk is straight down the middle, Studio Barnhus a bit more adventuresome, but to me they both wear their influences on their sleeves – you can hear they like hip hop and pop and jazz and techno and house. Vibes are always high; the music has feeling. They’re both utterly brilliant labels.

There are a couple of planned releases coming up for At Peace – first of all an E.P. from me – Paper Tigers – which is exploring jazz themes. And incidentally, speaking of Swedish music, we’re working on an E.P. from Klara Zangerl which is essentially Swedish pop / R’n’B, with a couple of house remixes planned from myself and the aforementioned Australian artist and friend Frank Lee.

How did you hook up with Freerange? Have you been a fan of the label?

Man, it’s really hard to overstate the importance of this label isn’t it – in terms of its standing in the world of proper house music. Freerange has been a favourite label of mine since its inception really – and Jimpster is a personal hero. We were laughing when we first started talking as there was an historical fan message from me on one of the social media platforms, which came up when he initially tried to get in contact in 2020. I used to drive around Auckland listening to his album, Amour, a lot, back around 2008 – I absolutely loved the sweet melancholy of that album. So, Jamie getting in touch was a bit of a “made it” moment. 

The E.P. itself was literally two years in the making. I had to press pause and finish an MA in Creative Music Production halfway through. But ultimately, we worked on this E.P. A LOT… It was a seriously amazing experience to go through Jamie’s thorough A&R-ing process – he really gives decent guidance and feedback.

Can you give us an outline of the music on the new E.P.?

It ranges from groovy deep house to jacking Chicago influenced stuff to more synth-driven British territory. It’s a good reflection of the different areas of music I explore as a DJ, and I guess there’s as well a strong `90s aesthetic at play.

What other projects are you working on at the moment?

I’ve been working for a while on building an E.P. for London’s Slothboogie crew – so hopefully we’ll nail that and get it out before next summer, taking into account the 6 months wait for vinyl to be pressed currently.

We wish you much success with this excellent E.P. Philippa. Thank you for your time. 

Thank you!

Philippa`s There`s A Ghost In My Synthesizer is out on September 16th, care of Freerange Records. Philippa`s At Peace back catalogue can be perused here. 

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