Stepping up to kickstart the first artist feature of 2015 is someone who has been around for a number of years yet remains relatively unknown. Part of this is due to his occupational studies, and part is down to quality control. I discovered his music 3 years ago thanks to a certain tune [which we talk more about in the interview] and have followed him intriguingly since. Little is known about him on the web and he only has a couple of releases under his belt so he could be a new discovery for our readers. A vinyl fanatic, big bass enthusiast with a natural interest in the arts, I was keen to know more. Having talked on and off about doing something together we finally agreed it was time to run a feature. Along with the interview, is a weighty vinyl and acetate mix that showcases what he does best. So without further adieu, may I introduce Phrex.
TRUSIK: Easy Juan, thank you for taking the time to speak with us. How’s life?
PHREX: Easy brother, life’s OK for me right now. Last summer could have been sunnier though – lack of sunshine right now.
TRUSIK: For the readers who are not familiar, who is Phrex, how did you come up with the name, and how would you describe your sound?
PHREX: Phrex is a dude from Bern, Switzerland in his mid- to end twenties and ¾ of my life has something to do with music. Pretty poor I’d say but that’s the way it goes. I live in a big house with 5 friends (onelove) and I have my studio in a separate room at home – basically all beats get built in there. I have a radio show on Sub.FM called Vibestation. The radio show really sums it up: I play the whole range; from house music to garage – from rock steady to dubstep – from drone to ambient. (Fortnightly, Saturdays from 7-9pm GMT). Phrex is just a nonsense name. I think I was sitting in the train, pretty blazed up, and wrote it down. Don’t ask me how ‘Phrex’ popped into my mind. Some people say it sounds like a washing powder brand. I think I leave the description to others. But the lowest common nominator is probably weighty and a certain vibe that embraces both frenzy and gloom.
TRUSIK: When was your first contact with electronic music, and how has it shaped you as the person you are today?
PHREX: First contact was years back when my brother introduced me to Drum&Bass and Jungle music. Soon after I went with him to Dachstock – a top venue in bern – and got drawn into the beats and the bass. My fascination emerged from listening to, collecting and playing early reggae and rock steady 45s. It was natural to get into dub music, early dancehall and steppers, and of course dubstep, garage and later house music and techno too. Nowadays I can get booked for a dubstep set, a house/techno set or an ambient/experimental set I don’t know how it shaped me as a person – but making beats and playing out is what I most enjoy in life. And that’s a good (but financially rather bad) thing I suppose.
TRUSIK: Although your music appeared on people’s radars around 2012, how long have you been building beats, and what would you say influenced your decision to start getting into production?
PHREX: I have been building beats for about 10 years now but more seriously for about 7 years. I think it wasn’t a conscious decision… it just happened, kind of. In fact, life circumstances made me dig deeper into production. Back then I was forced to attend military service so I was there, having a horrible time, getting punishments from time to time. But on weekends (Saturday morning till Sunday evening) I went straight to a friend of mine who had a little studio in a tiny, bad conditioned cellar and I spent the whole weekend there building beats. It was all a bit more of a jungle vibe we did there. Then one day I brought a mix to his place with tunes of the DMZ family, Skream and some others. That was the turning point. We listened to that mix while eating dinner and we were heavily impressed. It was like hearing music you’d never heard before but somehow driving towards this aesthetic. It was probably a week or two later when our metronome dropped down to 140 or 70bpm. That was one turning point I guess.
TRUSIK: I discovered you through that killer ‘Goldplate’ track (bigup MurkyBeats for the exposure). If it wasn’t for that Youtube rip, there would be no record of that tune – and that’s something important to you isn’t it, the availability of everything at any given time?
PHREX: Big up Murky for that! I just think that certain sounds should be heard and felt under certain conditions and it’s not just the bass, it’s also the vibe around you. I think that nowadays music gets punched into your head from all around you. A lot of people are not able to differentiate quality from trash anymore because of the sheer quantity of music being thrown at them. I try to deprive my sound from that huge pot mainly pushed by the internet. You know, I do my beats – especially the really bassheavy stuff – for the people who turn up at our Dubtopia nights and soak up the sound from an appropriate soundsystem. ‘Goldplate’ isn’t signed and I think it will never be because I obviously sampled Tony Gold’s ’Pass Me A Dubplate’ – big chune!
TRUSIK: Your first official 12” vinyl release dropped recently on new label – re:st – along with partner in crime Cutkachi. How does it feel to finally have some material out there on physical format? Has the response been positive so far?
PHREX: It feels really good. It’s the logical progression as I cut my beats on dubs. It all stays in the same mentality. The response has been very positive and I’m thankful about that! I did soundsystem check it and it got a very good reaction.
TRUSIK: You’re also part of Bons Vivants. Can you tell us a little bit about the crew and how each member is involved?
PHREX: Bons Vivants is all in one. It’s a group of friends (some I have known less and others who are in my very nearest family circle), an agency and very soon a vinyl record label. Now and then we do a rave. We cover a lot of music but all inside that four to the floor bubble. Of course my ‘trademark’ is playing the more weighty sound and never scared of playing broken beats but that Bons Vivants project for me is under the house/techno umbrella. I have always been more of a DIY-type of guy concerning dubstep and I still do everything on my own with dubstep so it’s kinda naturally split off from the Bons Vivants project. I’m starting to use an alias for my house and techno stuff but that will emerge as soon as I have/if I have a non-dubstep release.
TRUSIK: Likewise, as the founder and organiser of Dubtopia, you’ve been hosting an annual Soundsystem event in Switzerland, the most recent in Rössli. What is the scene like in Switzerland, is there a big turnout to these events? Who have you got planned to play at Dubtopia in the future?
PHREX: Well… remember that time just before the dubstep bubble blowed up? Coupla heads in Switzerland were doing small nights in different locations and at squat parties. Some were really heavy nights with just 25 people in a tiny cellar with a system way too big for the room (out to the tief*druck massive at denk:mal!!). It was a relatively small circle of people. A while later the bubble blew up and people were going to the mainstream events. Sometimes we were invited to play in room two which was good but we always, always missed the real vibes and you can only get the vibe with a real soundsystem built to shake the walls!
We wanted to hear our tunes on a soundsystem so almost 3 years ago we started our first Dubtopia at the local squat, Reitschule. We did it in the big inner yard with two soundsystems. Tengu Soundsystem and Justice Rivah Soundsystem. I can’t say how many people turned up exactly as there was no entry fee or anything but we estimated around 1000 people turned up. It was overwhelming and we continued this night in Rössli, which is one room of the Reitschule. We invited Justice Rivah Soundsystem and since then we roll Dubtopia in a serious way! I loved the mentality of bringing the foundation sound together with dubstep. It sets the minds of the people and gives a positive vibe. We never had problems with people being off, no machoism, no fake behaviour – just music! And people seem to understand the mentality.
After that we did a kind of a Dubtopia exodus in Zurich with the Tengu soundsystem and in June 2014 we had the third round in Rössli. Finally coupla weeks ago we had our 4th Dubtopia in the big wooden Dachstock, another, bigger room in Reitschule on a very weighty extended Justice Rivah soundsystem and with Mala turning up, it was an intense session! Out to the people coming from Germany, France and the UK!
TRUSIK: Outside of production, what other interests or hobbies do you dabble in? Do any of these activities inspire you creatively when returning to the studio?
PHREX: Since I study music and media arts, I have my natural interest in arts. I spend a lot of time experimenting around with sound outside the common musical context. My studies take up a lot of time. I spend a lot of time in the squat mentioned above, I get involved with a lot of projects, besides the Dubtopia sessions, outdoor raves and co-host every now and then a night called Hertz promoting the 130 sound. I also spend a lot of time digging records. I hunt down a lot of weird stuff… 34 minutes of Caribbean beach sounds on a record? I’ll take it. DJ culture is an important part.
TRUSIK: What else can we expect from Phrex in 2014, is there any other forthcoming material, or interesting projects you can inform the readers on?
PHREX: I dunno what I can say for now, nothing is official yet. But keep an eye out for Bons Vivants and RE:ST. There’s always a lot of fresh dubplates so it’s worth coming to the Dubtopia sessions.
TRUSIK: Take us through the mix you put together for us.
PHREX: The mix has a lot of ups and downs as I like a lot of dynamics in 140 mixes. It’s recorded with vinyl and acetate in the cellar of our house.
TRUSIK: A track…
by your favourite new artist: Eshone – Ups & Downs
you wish you had produced: An untitled track I had on my HD which crashed a few months ago. I still think of the riddim a lot but I just can’t rebuild and finish it.
you think was slept on last year: Orson! Been long in the business but he deserves much more exposure.
you give the rewind treatment every time: Cutkachi – Jim Jam
which everyone was talking about in 2014: Violent cops in the US….
One more thing: Big up my breddas Cutkachi & Racker, the Dubtopia Family, Dubexmachina, the Justice Rivah crew, Tengu crew, Guyus, Bons Vivants & Midilux, the whole Reitschule family, Transition Mastering and everyone feeling the music.
re:01 is out now and available from Redeye.