Erol Alkan is a name that needs no introduction. He's been a tastemaker for nearly two decades, with a string of releases that continuously push genre boundaries, both individually and through his Phantasy imprint. Started in 2007, Phantasy has released of electronic music's key records and has been a launchpad for countless artists we all love today. As the label approaches its 100th release, Phatasy has released a massive compilation titled A Psychedelic Sensibility, mixed by John Loveless, and to celebrate the forthcoming big 100, we invited Erol and John to reflect on some of the imprints key releases.
Words by Erol Alkan
Connan Mockasin - Forever Dolphin Love
This single was taken from the first album Phantasy ever released, so there is great significance in that already. I offered to remix a track to help the album, even though I wondered if Connan's music should be remixed in principle. I was told by a close friend that it shouldn't be touched, and I even agreed to some degree, but I also saw the challenge in making a remix of a song like this work. I suppose I'm the type of person who would press the button which says 'do not press' to see what happens..
I went to bed thinking of 'Forever Dolphin Love' as well as 'Unicorn In Uniform', as I chose both songs to remix so one would be a backup. 'Unicorn in Uniform' was my preferred song, but I remember a vivid dream where my rework of 'Forever Dolphin Love' wrote itself, part by part. By the time I woke up, I could remember each detail of it, and went into my studio and recorded it in a single sitting. At the end of the day, I listened back to it and wondered where it had come from.
To this day, it may be my favourite rework of my own.
BTU - Blueen
This entire EP is incredible.
There's so many different layers to it that it's easy to listen multiple times and eave a difference experience each time. 'Blueen' is the centrepiece for me, melodically it shifts between so maybe places which remind me of moments in pop music but presented with a sound completely divorced from the mainstream. I feel it is one of the most unique recordings in Phantasy's history.
U and Babe, Terror are true visionaries, they made this 7 years ago and it still sounds years ahead of much of the cutting edge of music I am exposed to. That's not a slight on the music made by others, I just feel incredibly strongly about this release.
Late Of The Pier - Best In The Class
My relationship with Late Of The Pier goes back to 2006, when I first met them after a show they played in a London college (could have been St Martins or Goldsmiths, I can't really remember). That night I met 4 teenage kids who would leave a mark on me forever. Even though I was producing bands at this stage, and Late Of The Pier were considering which producer to go with, it didn't really dawn on either of us to work together. I was a friend and fan foremost, and it almost felt like working together could muddy that friendship, especially as the studio can sometimes (unknowingly) prove to be a battleground in even the most productive and creative iteration.
After Faley heard the early versions of the tracks I produced for the Mystery Jets in 2007, he asked me if I'd be up for recording LOTP, and I agreed. We recorded and mixed 'Fantasy Black Channel' in 5 weeks, a record which I still listen back to and wonder how we achieved that in that amount of time. Then I soon remember that our relationship and work ethos was as strong and diligent as any other healthy relationship I've ever experienced. In short, we had a fucking great time in the studio, we were afraid of nothing, we didn't care about what anybody else making, we focused on making a record which satisfied ourselves. It's as honest and brave a record I believe we could have made then, and possibly even now, given the chance.
Once the record was released, we went back into the studio to work on a follow up EP. We worked on 4 tracks, but only two were finished: 'Best In The Class' and 'Blueberry'. Soon after this session, the band agreed to take some time off and focus on individual projects. Parlophone were kind enough to let Phantasy release these songs as a double A side single as there wasn't much band activity, and it remains one of our greatest singles in the truest sense.
Phantasy also re-issued 'Fantasy Black Channel' on vinyl a year ago as copies were changing hands for £150 a copy. We all felt that if anybody wanted to own this record, it should be affordable and not fetishised. I think I speak on behalf on the band when we would say we hope this record can influence future generations, it's a great example of a bands imagination running wild.
Tom Rowlands - Through Me
This is an important record for Phantasy not just because it was one of biggest, but also because it felt like we were doing something right in order to have a Chemical Brother allow us to release their music. Both Tom and Ed have been supportive of the label (as well as me as a Dj back in the early 00s) so this release meant a lot on many levels. It also helped that both tracks were able to melt a room within 30 seconds, and still do.
Cowboy Rhythmbox - Soda Jerk
We've released 5 singles Cowboy Rhythmbox aka Nathan Gregory Wilkins and Richard X, and 'Soda Jerk' is my favourite. It was one of the records on Phantasy which seemed to be played by Dj's right across the scenes, old and new. Part of this comes down to the fact that Richard is a brilliant producer and Nathan is one of the best Djs the UK has, and they know exactly what they are doing, even though they pretend they don't.
I first heard a demo of 'Soda Jerk' at a gig I played with Nathan in Marseille and prayed that it was one of their tracks, knowing it was a big record. Of course, in true Cowboy Rhythmbox form, this banger was hidden on the b-side, right at the back of the release. Perhaps we should re-release it as an A side in 2021?
Chicken Lips - Golden Lips
I’ve loved Chicken Lips since the early 00s, they are impeccable in taste, accurate in their productions and always effective in their result. Their productions are so well balanced that it really is inspiring, so it’s nothing short of a privilege to host them on Phantasy. I was sent a even longer version of this track earlier this year, and instantly fell in love with it. We chopped it down a tiny bit but even now, it’s 10 minutes or so of simmering funk flashes by in a nightclub. It’s an important release as it’s a record by an artist who you could term as ‘veterans’, yet it feels so fresh, and offers an important element of what part of Phantasy is about: club music which stimulates every part of your body, and isn’t designed to just make you move.
Words by John Loveless
U - Ascension Hymn
This record is at the centre of the mix and sort of glues the two ‘sides’ together. Those sorts of records always serve an important purpose for DJs, but I think this cut from U is one of the best in terms of form and function, especially if you see function as potentially melting somebody’s consciousness. Despite U’s un-googleable credentials, it’s become a bit of a slow burn choice for DJs since it’s release, which I think is always a good sign of a record’s impact.
The monologue in the music is an extract from ‘The Greatest Salesman In The World’ by Og Mandino, a book originally published in 1968 that attempted to find spiritual philosophy in salesmanship. That mix isn’t likely to sit too well with any genuine anti-capitalists or crusties in the dance, but nonetheless, as I put this together during quarantine, observing the world radically changing and attempting to grasp quickly at meaning, the ultimate conclusion about greeting the world and those who have wronged us with empathy and “simply, with love” seemed comforting. And if that seems too naive, you can just attempt to forget about that for a second and enjoy the massive, hardcore drop.
Boys Noize & Erol Alkan - Lemonade
I have such a mixed relationship with this record, so heaven knows how Erol feels about it. I was dancing to it as a fan long before I had met Erol in person, and it was obviously massive for him, Alex Ridha and Phantasy as label (and David Rudnick’s infamous, hilarious ‘CD-R’ vinyl only added to its impact.)
It’s a gloriously daft single, but knowingly so. Completely over-the-top but full of details like the Beastie Boys style sound effect of the ‘Lemonade’ pouring and the stuttering, hi-NRG 80s pop vocals on the breakdown. At the time, I remember optimistically thinking that a record as massive as Lemonade was a logical and pleasurable end to that kind of heavy, ‘buzzsaw’ electro sound that had dominated UK clubs and was beginning to feel somewhat too masculine and aggressive. Of course, it was very much not the end...
A lot of DJs would either hopelessly try and match the impact of a track like this, or instead, run away from it. Instead, Erol kept playing it as long as people loved it, but had the moody B-side remixed with Jarvis Cocker reciting a Leonard Cohen poem over the top of it. To pay him an unabashed compliment, it’s this kind of logical disharmony that makes working with Phantasy a really good laugh.
Wilted Woman - No Stinger
I had heard Wilted Woman’s ‘Diary of A Woman’ thanks to Bandcloud, the excellent music newsletter of cool Dad, social media enfant terrible and former Erol Alkan Forum (RIP) member, Aidan Hanratty. I thought it had a really, really weird groove and immediately had lots of questions, principally, “Who is this woman, and just how wilted is she?”
Turns out, Lizzie was also involved in Cashmere Radio in Berlin, where we both host monthly shows (‘Display Resolution’ and ‘Deep Puddle’, for reference) and also, sometimes get drunk. When we met and I initially asked her if she would like to release on Phantasy, she explained that all her attempts to make dance music had “come out a bit wrong.” That just made the idea more appealing, and ‘No Stinger’ is a properly wonky example of this philosophy, one that I think needs to be enforced more in the age of subscription Youtube tutorials.
Ghost Culture - Red Smoke
Ghost Culture is a brilliant songwriter in the traditional pop sense, but that skill benefits him massively when he turns it with laser-precision towards club music, like a sort of acid house CAD machine. ‘Red Smoke’ still really does the trick every time, just building and building to that mythical ‘rave catharsis’ but never in a way that’s less than interesting or properly musical. It’s a tool record for people who hate tool records.
Daniel Avery - Knowing We’ll Be Here
I think it’s difficult to make a Really Good album of dance music that takes you somewhere unexpected, but I probably don’t need to tell you by now that Drone Logic is one of those rare albums. This is probably owing to Dan’s twin interests in miserable techno and miserable rock music, but also to his general sensitivity and patience. This is the final track on Drone Logic and it’s the sonic result of those qualities really paying off, with an additional bittersweet spoonful of rave melancholy. As Dan would say, simply, “energy.”
Nadia Ksaiba - Virtual Lover
Phantasy has its roots as a kind of ‘singles club’, an 80s DIY idea in which artists have a space to try new things out, get a bit of attention or just simply dispense of one great idea. Nadia Ksaiba is an excellent DJ who still hosts house music institution ‘Rhythm Connection’ on NTS alongside fellow East London disco kingpin, Dan Beaumont.
An example of that singles club philosophy, ‘Virtual Lover’ is still Nadia’s only solo single. But what a single! A love letter to eighties boogie, early Madonna and the sweeter side of disco, there’s something about this record that’s lovingly naive. It’s easy to do pastiche or mimicry, but you have to feel the era and the spirit through the lens of that artist, and that’s what Nadia does brilliantly here. She also sings the word ‘Phantasy’ throughout, so that probably helped her case.
Grab your copy of A Psychic Sensibility here.