Interview / Phil Cooper / NuNorthern Soul 

Regular Ban Ban Ton Ton-ers will be very familiar with Phil Cooper, and his imprint, NuNorthern Soul. Running the label for a decade now, which in this day and age is close to a Herculean feat, Phil`s marked this 10th anniversary with a series of events, and vinyl box-set. Collecting together musical highlights from the NNS catalogue, and showcasing singer / songwriter skills, slo-mo soft rock and funky folk, from an axis of friends that Phil`s A&Red, such as Crazy P`s Jim Baron, Ben Smith, and Torn Sail`s Huw Costin. Acoustic strums are set to chugging electronics. Beats come in aquatic splashes. Synths shimmer like new age symphonies. Andi Hanley extends Ryo Kawasaki’s Daniele Baldelli / Cosmic Club classic, Hawaiian Caravan – giving the groove and solos serious room to grow and breathe. Jonny Nash weaves a laidback labyrinth of 6-string and dub techno effects around Mr. Smith`s Hold On To It. There a couple of cracking exclusives, in the shape of Begin`s brilliant remix of Jim’s Whisper In The Wind, and Willie Graff`s wonderful beat-less take on My Friend Dario`s Fenice. The latter, a lattice of increasingly echoed congas and guitars. Wave after wave overlapping with the last. The flickering effect somewhere between The Irresistible Force and Pat Metheny and Steve Reich in dub. 

What a lot of people won’t be aware of is Phil`s long and storied journey. The sheer amount of stuff – experience – that he’s packed in. The many, many musical moments that have served as stepping stones toward the current celebrations. You’ll get a taste of just some of it now.

Where are you from?

I was born in Germany. My father was in the British forces, so we moved around a bit before settling in North Wales, which is where Mum was from. I was in my early teens when we settled just outside Colwyn Bay. I lived on the same road as System, who went on to design the sleeves for Unique 3, and he introduced me to early hip hop and street art.

unique 3 the theme

Where are you currently based?

In Ibiza. I’ve been here nearly 4 years this time. I lived here in the late `90s and have been coming every year for 30 years – sometimes for a week`s holiday, or living here for the season, or even the occasional winter! Sometimes just for 8 hours, for in-and-out gigs. 

When did you first become interested in dance music and DJing?

In the late `80s. I was a huge Smiths fan and went to a Smiths convention in Manchester in ’88 or ’89, and as part of that a few of us headed to the Hacienda to meet up with Mike Joyce and Andy Rouke at the Gay Traitor bar. I heard House music for the first time and was hooked. Around that time, I`d started to shadow a fun pub / commercial DJ in Rhyl, North Wales. I would get 30 minute sessions at his events, and would play a mixed bag of indie / dance stuff. From the early `90s I started putting on small parties in North Wales, and travelling to Manchester to see friends in Uni. I was a regular at The PSV, an occasional visitor to the Hacienda, nights like Circus – Sasha, Justin Robertson, Mike Pickering – Greg Fenton at The State, Konspiracys…

Where was your first paid gig? 

After the fun pub / commercial stuff I guess my ‘real’ DJing started at the parties I was involved in. I would also get asked to play at my mates student parties in Manchester in their house or halls and pubs like Fritzbe’s or Rubinskys Wallet in Fallowfield. My first regular paid gig would have been SWEET in Chester. I was a resident with Russ Morgan from K-Klass. This was running from ’93 / ’94 I think for a couple of years.

What sort of music were you playing? 

US House music, so everything from MAW through to Danny Tenaglia`s more tribal sound, and Junior Vasquez`s Factory beats, and the Chi-Town boompty bump al la DJ Sneak and Derrick Carter.

When why and how did you first get involved in the “Balearic” thing? 

So I`d always collected music of various styles, more for listening, or for dramatic effect when playing. I knew that opening up a set with something big and classical was a good way to set the scene, but I guess early trips to Ibiza cemented the ‘Balearic’ thing for me.

Did you have an “epiphany” moment? 

Yes, at the Cafe Del Mar, in the early 1990s seeing, and meeting, Sally and Steve, A Man Called Adam, hanging out at the Cafe, and then Jose doing his thing, followed by a taxi to Pacha with friends and seeing Pippi for the first time. This was all the missing link. Until then I`d been buying and listening to a lot of the same music but in a grey, dreary industrial North West of England. Seeing all the ‘beautiful’ people, hearing that music in the sunshine, leaving clubs at 6am and heading to the beach, made it all fit together. Yes that was ‘the’ moment.

At what point did DJing become a career? 

In 1995. I was working as a sign writer / maker and got sacked that winter. It`s a long story, but I was not doing a good job due to my clubbing habits and late nights, so I ended up without a day-time job and decided to push even harder at my ’hobby’. I was now also playing for Cream in Liverpool, just as they hit the tidal rave, and I was being sent all over Europe to warm up for Roger Sanchez – he was being booked by the Cream agency or their affiliated booking agent. In 1996, I was sent to Ibiza to be one of the residents at Amnesia. I also bought into a record shop in Chester, so very quickly I was fully immersed in it all. Chester was 40 minutes away from Liverpool, and a great place to live, as I knew that if I was in Liverpool I would be partying far too hard and defo end up pickling myself.

The shop was called Global Grooves. We also had a sister shop in Birmingham,  – not to be confused with Global Groove in Stoke. I`d come back from Ibiza after my first season with a few quid saved, and was given the opportunity to buy in, since I`d been doing the odd days work in there from time to time. I have to say that running a record store back then was wonderful. It cemented everything I was trying to do, plus it also gave me a reason not to crack on after the club shut on a Saturday night, as I knew I had to open up on a Monday morning.

I know that you’ve travelled about a bit – massive understatement – but am not sure of all the details. Where have you held residencies? 

Cream, Liverpool and Cream, Ibiza at Amnesia. I also went to play in Argentina for Cream, with Danny Rampling. Martin Gontad, who now runs the Creamfields events in South America, was the promoter. Chibuku Shake Shake in Liverpool, I also had an unofficial residency at the Ministry Of Sound in London, and in 1999 I was guesting for them at Pacha, Ibiza. I was playing for We Love Sundays at Space, Ibiza for many years, HOME in Sydney, Oz. For a couple of years, I would decamp to Oz for the month of January and play each Saturday night at the club and travel interstate for Fridays shows. 

I played the first Garden Festival in Croatia. I met Eddie O’Callaghan many, many years ago. After running a vintage clothing store and promoting parties in San Francisco – both under the banner Bulletproof, he and his wife Gail, moved o Liverpool. They opened a Bulletproof store there, and also ran a venue called The Magnet. I promoted events there – early Sick Trumpet and Common Ground parties, featuring artists from the world of the Bruk scene and hip hop: People Under The Stairs, Orin Walters, Domu, were just a few of the artists that we booked. I ran these sessions with Paddy Quinn from No Fakin’, Liverpool’s longest running hip hop promoter. Anyway, I`m rambling, through Eddie we got invited to the first Garden Festival, along with key promoters and party protagonists from all the major UK cities, to get a taste of what they where planning. After that I attended The Garden Festival pretty much every year, then it morphed into Love International and I had a good relationship with Dave Harvey who was the promoter of that. I keep involved to this day, not every year but I do go when I can. I was booked for this year`s, but due to EastJet cancelling a leg of my trip I was unable to make it. 

I also lived in Bali, and was a resident at Potato Head – working with Jonny Nash until he left and then becoming the music and events manager. I worked on some incredible shows, the highlight probably being Grace Jones LIVE, with DJ Harvey playing after her performance.

What brought you to Bali? 

I`d been invited to do a stay-and-play event at Karma Kandara – a pretty swanky spot on the southern tip of Bali. While I was there I was invited to play a bar / restaurant in Seminyak – at this point there were hardly any international DJs passing by, Bali certainly wasn’t on the major DJ circuit, so that night everyone came out and I met up with Stu Mac  – from Pacific Records – who was living there, an old mate Matty from Liverpool, who was also living and working there. I was heavily involved in a new start up business in the UK, but it had got a point where I was not enjoying the experience anymore and knew it was good time to exit, so I pretty well made up my mind to leave the UK and move to Bali, as I could see the potential. I was in Bali for 4 and a half years, DJing and working as events manager for Potato Head and Karma Kandara.

Why did you decide to leave Bali? 

I met my girlfriend, who was a Brit living in China. After a while of long distance dating I was going to move to Shanghai – where she was working – but her contract finished and wasn’t renewed, so she moved to Bali. After 6 months she landed a new job in Singapore, so we both moved there. Unfortunately the global company she was working for collapsed, so we ended up having to leave as we both didn’t have work visas. We came to Ibiza to house sit for a friend for 3 months and stayed.

Pete Gooding was heading to Asia to do a stay-and-play at Karma Kandara that I`d organized for him, so he gave me every Sunday at La Torre – since he was music director there at the time… so I had a place to stay and a weekly gig. My girlfriend and I thought it would be a good place to base ourselves while she looked for new roles. We both wanted to be close to family without moving back to the UK. Ibiza was the perfect spot.

Was it intended as a short stay, or did you always plan to move there? 

Ibiza has always been in my mind. I think the day that I stepped off the plane on my first trip in ’91, I said to myself ‘One day I will live here’. It wasn’t really a planned move to stay, it`s just happened. My girlfriend and I have since split up, very amicably. The landlord we rent from has a 1-bed apartment above the Croissant Show cafe, so I am taking that and my ex is keeping the apartment on Vara de Rey that we shared. The Island wants us to stay. I am a big believer in the  idea that the island can protect you or spit you out… Ibiza is my home. I`ve always felt that.

Are you surrounded by DJ / promoter neighbours? 

Hahahaha, no not really, Mark and Sarah Broadbent – the Pikes on Sunday crew -live about 5 minutes walk away. I`ve lived and worked with them both, since the days of Cream in Amnesia to Home in Sydney. I`m sure that there are more DJs and promoters in close proximity, but for the most we keep ourselves to ourselves.

Do have you any current residencies?

La Torre, Pikes, The Standard, Word of Mouth. 

Where is your favourite place on the island? 

To play… La Torre for sunsets and Word of Mouth for more uptempo eclecticism, Pikes is also good, as I can do my poolside cool thing in the day – I do a lot of brunch sets from 11am, or inside Freddies for some full on club vibes… and lastly The Standard for the love and attention in the DJ set up and Soundsystem. Willie Graff is the music director there, so you know its going to be good! 

When not DJing my favourite place is probably the walk I do from Benirras, over the tops and down to Moon Beach, before looping back over the tops again and back down to Benirras beach. I do a lot of walking on the island in spring, autumn and winter. I really love it, and also enjoy taking friends to some of the spots I`ve found.

Moon Beach Ibiza

Moon Beach

Are there any pieces of music that define Ibiza for you? Your particular Ibiza tune?

Oh blimey, thats a HUGE question. Barefoot in the Head, A Man Called Adam, is probably the one. It sums up those early Ibiza adventures – a perfect time, carefree, liberation from a UK mindset, and my mind opening to a whole world of possibilities.

What made you start the label, NuNorthern Soul?

NuNorthern Soul had been running as a Sunday eclectic, Balearic-inspired session for many years – originally in a pub in Chester, then guest spots globally. I used to do my house gigs and then find another venue to to book me to do my more eclectic NuNorthern Soul sessions. Over time I started doing a regular podcast and live stream of some of the sessions, and eventually I decided the next step was a label. I was living in London and was in my local having a pint with Andy ’Ticker’ Whittaker, who was working for R&S at the time, and we got chatting about Ben Smith and how I loved his work with Akwabaa, FUG and Smith & Mudd. Unbeknown to me, Ben lived local and was a mate of Ticker`s, so he introduced us. Ben had hard-drives full of music in various stages of completion. I A&Red a load of tracks and that was the first release on the label, Benjamin James Smith presents The Movedrill Projects. I then worked with Ben on the Dedications To The Greats E.P. Ben had never heard those tracks but I knew that he could work them into something different. The Mos Def cover has become a NuNorthern Soul classic.

How do you locate your artists? 

Some I reach out too, some come direct to me with demos. I think the label has established itself now, so we get producers and artists making music aimed at us, which is always good. I also do the odd re-issue, so its finding those tracks and locating the rights owners to license them, then organizing remixes, etc.

Are most friends – like Joey Fitzgerald? 

No, not to start with, most are just people I know from the Balearic scene or artists making music that I think will fit the label. Over time I guess we become friends – well I hope thats the case hahahaha.

How did you hook up with Ryo Kawasaki?

I was trying to license a load of Japanese tracks for a compilation that I was working on with Dea from Indonesia. The only person who replied to my emails was Ryo, and I ended up going through his catalogue to create the Selected Works releases. I learnt so much from Ryo in the few years that we worked together, and also helped put him back into the spotlight with gigs in London and Croatia and a great interview with Gilles Peterson. The gig at Nick Colgan`s Garden Brewery was pretty special, and something I`ll never forget. 

Have you considered doing more music production work yourself?

I’ve tried many times and realise that I don’t have the patience for it, for various reasons. I think my strengths lie in helping artists to create their amazing works, and delivering them to a bigger, wider audience.

How hard has it been to hit the 10 year mark with NuNorthern Soul?

To be honest, it kind of crept up on me. The hardest part has been this, the 10th, year – with all the current pressing issues, and aftermath of Brexit and Covid-related issues affecting manufacture, it’s been a real fight this year. Most of my vinyl releases, even with meticulous planning, are running 3 months late, and often getting any firm delivery dates is impossible… and this impacts on the press and promo campaigns, and general schedule of the whole year. For example, the box-set was submitted for manufacture in November 2021, for a planned June release. I organized events in Ibiza – Cafe Del Mar, La Torre, Pikes, and Word of Mouth – and also in the UK. The Golden Lion in Todmorden – which was a favourite spot of Andrew Weatherall`s – kindly let me do a Sunday session there – which was wonderful. I highly recommend people check the venue out. It`s a real institution to those of a leftfield persuasion. Anyway, the box-set`s still not ready, but I have been told it`s coming in the next week or so… fingers crossed!

What are your plans, and your plans for NuNorthern Soul for the rest of 2022?

Once the box-set is delivered, I have the LOVA remixes on vinyl to come, plus an incredible jazz-funk album from German producer Flashbaxx, again a vinyl release. Digitally still to come, there`s Residentes Balearicos, North Of The Island, and George Solar remixes of his E.P. from 2021. That will add up to15 releases in 2022. Next year is already in full planning, including a very special project with Rhys Ifans, the Welsh musician and actor… more details to follow…

NuNorthern Soul`s 10th Anniversary box-set is available to order, and due any minute now. 

NuNorthern Soul 10th Anniversary

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