Erol Alkan interview – “the intrigue and the mystery and the excitement of vinyl” | Juno Daily

Phantasy Sound’s main man talks vinyl, Josh Wink and more

It must a be a hangover from the pandemic years, when we literally had nothing much else to discuss, but the now standard Zoom interview call can open a small but rather fascinating window into the artist’s home.  We knew – or rather had assumed – that Erol Alkan was into his vinyl.  You don’t get to be superstar DJ, remixer supremo, top notch producer and label owner without a bit of love for the dark stuff.

But even we weren’t quite prepared for the massive wall of vinyl that looms over Alkan as we connect to him in his London home.

Stretching all the way up to the ceiling, it’s far too imposing a presence to go without mention.  How does he like to order them? Chronological?  Alphabetical?

“I don’t even know the alphabet,” he jokes. “They’re kind of ordered by, or grouped by I suppose, by their particular genre.  It’s particular to me – there are pockets of how I recognise music.  Interestingly enough, across time some records grow and take on a different life, so dome records do gravitate from one genre to another.”

This all rather neatly leads us onto a certain record that Erol very recently remixed, namely Josh Wink’s ‘Higher State of Consciousness’.  It’s an anthem – there is no other word for it – that could fit into many different pigeonholes, from house and techno to acid and breakbeat.  When was the first that Erol can recall hearing it?

“Well yeah, you know what..” he laughs, “I never owned that on vinyl the first time around, because when I first became aware of it, it was only available on import, on vinyl and I was more invested in the indie scene at that point. It was on a Strictly Rhythm import pressing when we first heard it, and as a DJ at a club in London, just off Tottenham Court Road, we’re 1996 maybe 1997, whatever year it was when it first started breaking through.  My mate knew a guy who owned a copy on vinyl, I said ‘can you bring it in, so we can play it’, because we can’t find a copy anywhere.  At that point in like the mid-90s you know it wasn’t like, I was quite immersed in the alternative scene, I wasn’t necessarily going to a lot of the dance specialist shops to get import copies or something at that point, you know.”

It’s a situation that will seem ludicrous, even Victorian, to those who’ve grown up with the unlimited supply and immediacy of digital music culture.  And even then, of course, once a shop with a copy had been located, there was no promise of a purchase – at least, not without the minefield of shop counter politics to negotiate.

“Back then, even a few years later, when you didn’t really know the people behind the bar who were serving, getting hold of a copy would be like really difficult – really, really, difficult. So this guy he used bring it down, he used to bring it in a carrier bag and give it to me, I used to put it behind the decks and when it was the right point of the night I would play it.  Then he’d be ‘I’m going home, give it back to me’.”

It’s a way of life that has very definitely passed, although Alkan says he mourns that passing.  “I miss it,” he says, “I really miss it.  I don’t want to make it sound like it’s something possessive, because it’s not, I don’t think it is because you possess an object that people want that makes it special.  It is special to a degree, but I just think the energy that it creates and the intrigue and the mystery and the excitement ultimately, that it creates from having a record that people are looking for.”

We discuss the ultra-exclusivity of dubplate culture, Alkan recalling trips to the fabled drum & bass mecca Music House.  “It was just down the road from me, and I went a couple of times with Dave from Soulwax as well, we were making our bootlegs and mashups and stuff, and we would go, you know we could play it on CD obviously, but we really wanted to play it on vinyl.

“I remember we would be in the queue waiting to get stuff cut and we’d be chatting to all the drum and bass and garage DJs, I met DJ Deekline in the queue. He was really sweet actually, really nice and er, we got chatting and stuff, and then he’s like ‘what you doing here?’  We’d be like, ‘oh yeah, we done these records like, it’s got sort like Metallica and Peaches on it, and this one’s got Destinys Child and 10CC on it, so …..  (laughing).  When we got in there and they played it through, and a lot of them would go ‘oh right, this is really clever’.  Because whatever you made is being broadcast to everyone else in the queue.”

At the same time, he does admit that the new digital culture has its conveniences and advantages.

“I also feel the fact that vinyl is no longer kind of fetishised is also good, and I think it being available to everybody is also good. The kind of ethos we have at (his label) Phantasy Sound is that if something does sell out and there is demand for it, we’d rather have it in the stores, so the artist can continue to earn from it, rather than it go to a second hand market.  That’s a big reason why Phantasy re-issued Late At The Pier’ and Mystery Jets albums that I produced, because if you do find a copy on vinyl you would have to pay £2–300 for it. That’s counterproductive for the next generation of music fans who do want to own these things.”

The Josh Wink mix was something he’d actually done a while ago, to have his own slant on this huge all-time anthem, and which Wink himself had asked to hear when he heard Alkan had an edit of his own.

“Somehow Josh Wink reached out to me a few years later, he was like ‘hey, someone told me about this edit that you’ve been playing, I would love to hear it, like to get a copy of it if I can.’ I was like ‘of course, I said I hope you like it’ and he messaged me back and he was like ‘I love it’, he was playing it instead of playing the original I believe.”

After slowing down in recent years, remixes are big on his agenda again.  “I am remixing a lot at the moment, there are quite a few remixes coming, but I don’t want to talk about them yet. I did one for Josh Cape, which came out on Phantasy a few weeks back, which we were really pleased with, but otherwise it feels a little bit like it’s not my place really to talk about other people’s stuff.”

Considering that work rate and a bulging diary of DJ bookings too, it’s pretty impressive that Phantasy Sound seems even more prolific than ever.

“With regards to Fantasy there is a lot of music coming on there as well, we are releasing the debut single by CC Disco, ‘Chez Moi’ which features Confidence Man. It’s a brilliant, brilliant track, we’ve been getting amazing plays from a real variety of DJs over the last few weeks.”

It’s a case of returning the favour, after he reworked ‘Holiday’ by the electro pop crew, which has recently resurfaced on the just-released Heavenly Remixes Volume 7 & 8 albums.

“It was like a pleasure doing a rework for them,” he said, “It’s been nice to see Confidence Man grow over the last few years as well.

The success of an act like Confidence Man, with their feet in indie and electronic camps, is testament to the barrier-destroying that DJs like Alkan have made their lifetime mission. From the era of mash ups and his night Trash, every bit as vital a part of The End’s offering as the Big Beat Boutique and various drum & bass fixtures, Alkan has played a pivotal role in melting the preconceptions and reservations of the once disparate indie and dance tribes.

What’s more, he shows no sign of slowing yet.  More power to his elbow, say we.

Ben Willmott