Erol Alkan: “Running a club or a label was never a dream of mine” - Features - Mixmag

Erol Alkan: “Running a club or a label was never a dream of mine”

Ralph Moore speaks to Phantasy founder Erol Alkan upon the label's 100th release, which has been 13 years in the making

  • Words: Ralph Moore | Photo: Tom Medwell
  • 19 February 2021

Erol Alkan needs very little introduction to the clubland cognoscenti. The London-based DJ/producer and his Phantasy imprint have given us absolute belters from Daniel Avery, Connan Mockasin and TERR over the years, as well as classic albums from Avery and Late Of The Pier. But the reason we’re talking today is because the label is celebrating 100 releases and Alkan has a brand new banger of his own ready to drop. It’s called ‘Automatic’ – and trust us, it’s not one you’re going to forget in a hurry. Timeless tracks is what keeps Erol ticking, and that’s also the ethos of Phantasy itself.

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Where were you in 2007 and what do you remember of it?

January 2007 was one of the most important yet surreal points in my life. It marked the last ever TRASH party, after 10 years of running a weekly Monday nightclub it felt like the right time to move on. I recently thought about what was going through my head in January 1997, I was 22 years old and making flyers for the opening night of TRASH on my then girlfriend's word processor which I would later photocopy at Archway library. I had no ambition to be a club promoter and absolutely no idea how to actually run a club, and if you had told me it would have existed for a decade and spend seven years at The End, I would have thought it was impossible. It later helped me realise that the concept of impossibility doesn't actually exist at all, and I'd tell anybody to never give up on what they genuinely believe in. I never wanted to run a club in the first place, it simply felt like a means to an end and a necessity if I wanted to remove any restrictions from the music I was playing in the other clubs I regularly played (at one point I was DJing at eight clubs in a week). My interest in music outside of the indie axis of the music press and scene in London was so strong that I really felt the need to have full control over every aspect of a night club, from the door policy, to the price of the drinks, safety of the people who came down, and ultimately, how comfortable they felt in our club. I wanted to offer the best aspect of what I have felt in nightclubs across the six or so years I'd already started going to clubs. That sense of belonging I experienced back then is one of the strongest feelings I still work with.

That decade was incredibly intense, so even though I missed TRASH the moment it closed, I welcomed the energy I could retain and explore other projects. The two I wanted to focus on were production and my own record label. By April I'd begun producing 'Twenty One' for the Mystery Jets, and a few months later I started Phantasy.

And this was also when Mixmag stepped up!

Mixmag were kind enough to give me their DJ of the year at this exact point in time - and this era was a particularly amazing time on many levels. First of all, much of my set was made up of productions from friends who would send me their latest productions or demos over iChat (a bit like WhatsApp but with file sharing) so my sets would change constantly. That community was truly global, and it felt like there was a friend or ally in every city. We may have all had a similar musical lineage but everybody was coming it at it from a different angle. Secondly, I really didn't take too much notice of being given awards, I was flattered and grateful, but if anything, it made me feel like I had to work harder as there maybe more people noticing me. And since then, for me DJing has been about escapism, regardless of playing to 200 people or 20,000. Right now as I think back to it, I miss it so dearly.

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Your new single was also constructed in part in '07: what took you so long to finish it?!

I've made so much music, but I have at times felt too distracted to release it. I need a reason to release a record, as for a long time I wanted to be a DJ who didn't want to rely on making original music, just play other people's records or remix artists I liked. I since learned to use my other projects to satisfy other creative urges, but around 2012 I started to change my mind. Near the end of 2020, I started to think about what I wanted to release as the 100th single on Phantasy, I looked at making something new but it felt quite alien as we were in lockdown, so writing a club record when I hadn't been in a club for six months felt a little too abstract. The idea arrived to release a single track which I had made around the time of Phantasy's beginning, so I went through various hard drives on a hunt for a track which felt like it made sense to release in the present. It only took 13 years to make in total, and to be honest I don’t have any problem with putting something out which could be perceived as old, I suppose it may reveal what I was doing back then and where my head was at. It's inspired me to finish off a bunch of other tracks in the near future, I felt like I was collaborating with my younger, more naïve self in some ways!

The Phantasy 100 record is very filter disco. Do you still love that particular era and will we hear more records on the label with this influence or is this a one off?

Yeah, it's influenced by filter disco and I love that era but I feel there's a few elements to 'Automatic' which stop it from being a tribute in any way. There's an area of that sound which I cannot stand at all, and that bears no relation to the hypnotic psychedelia of repetitive music, which is something I got from a few filter house records. I made a few other tracks like ‘Automatic’ but I’m not sure right now what I’d release next or in the future. I could do a complete U-turn and release something quite different next!

Talking of Phantasy... did you ever think you'd get to 100 when you started?

Not at all. But I never thought TRASH would live for 10 years either. Neither running a club or a label was ever a dream of mine and I don't feel that either are gifts in any way, they exist through dedication, perseverance, imagination, ambition and a healthy bit of luck. I believe you shouldn’t ever go into anything hoping it'll exist forever, but you should never assume it will fail unless you allow it to. Lockdown has given Phantasy the chance to plan for the future, and I've signed enough records to see us through 2021 and into the next year. It also gave us the perspective to look at what is possible for us, how we can diversify, and what a record label like ours needs to be in order to adapt to such a change not just in our scene, but in the world. I'm possibly the most excited I've ever been about Phantasy right now and what it holds in store.”

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Finally, please choose five Phantasy records from the vaults and tell me why they are your favourites or what they remind you of?

My rework for Connan Mockasin's 'Forever Dolphin Love' is an important one for me, it marked the first album we released and the challenge of remixing such a delicate piece of music was not easy, but I managed to create something which I still love today. If I were to choose another remix of my own on Phantasy it would be the remixes I made for the Manic Street Preachers of 'Europa Geht Durch Mich'. The Manics were one of the first bands I loved and followed from the moment I discovered them in the NME in 1990, and 'The Holy Bible' is amongst my favourite ever records, so their presence on the label was a moment the 16 year old me could never have imagined happening.

Being able to re-issue Late Of The Pier's 'Fantasy Black Channel' on vinyl was a particular highlight, as it's a record which people often talk to me about. Parlophone originally only pressed a limited quantity before the band split up, so vinyl copies used to sell on the second hand market for over £150. Being able to re-present it to the current generation meant a great deal to me on many personal levels

I can’t narrow it down to a single Cowboy Rhythmbox track, I feel that you could put them all in a hat and pull one out and it could be their best. They do what they do and nobody else does it like them. The five or so singles we’ve released have offered so much to my DJ sets for years, and they still sounds as fresh as ever. If I had to name one track which was my favourite, it *could be* ‘Soda Jerk’.

The BTU record is one of my most loved, and probably the least known in our catalogue. A collaboration between U from Hackney and Babe, Terror from Brazil, it's a hazy, disjointed and truly psychedelic body of work which I cherish as I get so much from it.

The most recent one would be Daniel Avery's 'Lone Swordsman', not just for the fact it's a beautiful piece of electronic music, but that it was recently released as a tribute to Andy Weatherall and all the profits are going to charities which Andrew supported. Aside from my involvement in Phantasy, I see it as a beautiful and sincere tribute, and it's also poignant as Daniel has been releasing music on Phantasy for almost nine years, with some of his most recent music being his best. That entire gesture really sums Dan up.

Erol Alkan's 'Automatic' is out now on Phantasy, get it here

Ralph Moore is Mixmag's Music Director, follow him on Twitter

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