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28.11.2019 | Words by: Angelina Nikolayeva

It always feels much more personal to interview an artist who you experienced behind the decks at least once. I was lucky to witness Phillip Jondo command the dancefloor quite a few times, yet one of the weekenders in De School and, especially, his rain-sodden set at Het Lente Kabinet will be the ones to remember. Invited by Avalon Emerson, the Cologne-based artist is coming back to De School, bringing his percussion-heavy jams to the steamy classroom of Het Muzieklokaal this Friday. I caught up with Phillip over the phone to talk recording mixtapes for his school friends, soundtracking soviet movies and producing solo, ahead of his return.

Phillip discovered his penchant for music fairly early. Already being in primary school, he began honing his ear by listening to the CD’s he dug out of his stepfather’s collection and soon got his hands on his dad’s PC. “My parents are divorced and most of my weekends I’d spend visiting my dad. He had a friend who DJed and my father’s computer was always full of his most recent selections. I’d always go through it and select the stuff I liked, mostly some 2000’s millennium rap and R&B of artists such as 112, Ashanti and labels like Def Jam, So So Def or Bad Boy entertainment. I had all kinds of funny AV8-like DJ edits of it,” Phillip says as he imitates an old school producer tag. “I still play some of them in my sets these days.” It didn’t take long until he tried his hand at DJing. Being only 10, he got a hang of putting together his favourite tunes. “Before CDs could be easily copied, I’d record mixes for my friends using an answerphone or a Toys“R”Us cassette deck with an integrated mic."

At the age of 18, Phillip moved from his native Bonn to Cologne, further broadening his musical palette in the German LGBTQ+ hot spot. “I used to work in a gay bar until I was 20, and the first parties I went to were mostly gay nights. Around the same time, I started going to Total Confusion events where you could see the Kompakt residents like Matias Aguayo, Superpitcher and Christian S behind the decks. These were the first DJs I saw playing dance music,” he tells. Total Confusion is one of Cologne's longest-running house and techno events founded by Michael Mayer, Tobias Thomas and Ralph Christoph in 1998. “This was my first touch with nightlife but also with the city of Cologne. People I met there still play an important role in my life nowadays. Tobias became my first agent.” Getting into club music, his insatiable curiosity quickly took him into more esoteric and off-centre sonic territories. “I started digging Livity Sound, Scape, Sofrito, a lot of reggae, and got interested in more obscure genres by discovering blogs about weird DIY tape music, Memphis rap, Miami bass and all this… A lot of that stuff you can find in my older NTS Shows. I guess I was always eager to explore music from all corners of the globe and tried to be diverse instead of going too heavily into one direction.”

We R All Egyptians was his own radio show that aired back in 2014, though the first recording is nowhere to find. “It was very rare but also extreme music, so I felt like deleting it,” he explains. “NTS offered me their late-night slot and, at first, my idea was to push certain subgenre with each show. The first one revolved around DDR tape music, but I felt a lack of connection with some of the tracks on a political level and didn’t feel comfortable about it anymore.” Having slightly drifted away from the original concept, the main idea of the show remained the same. “It was still about pushing rather weird and unheard music instead of the latest dance stuff, but not necessarily falling under the same category,” Phillip says, admitting that the NTS show has been one of the most formative experiences for him as a DJ. “I had to put so much work into each single show to keep the mix as fluent as possible; this was by far the best practice I’ve had.”
During that time, he would start throwing parties with Jules and Kieran (DJ Brom) in Cologne and often dropped by Groove Attack for some fresh vinyl. That’s where he met Lena Willikens, who instantly spotted “his passion for the outlandish and uncompromisingly interesting music without the compulsion to please,” as she described in her Phantom Delia release event at Dusseldorf's Salon des Amateurs where she invited the young talent to play. Thus, long-lasting friendship sprouted. “I’d often visit her at work in Groove Attack or a-Musik for a coffee and we’d share our latest finds,” Phillip tells. That was the period when he started getting involved in Salon des Amateurs and curate his own nights there.

In the five years of his residency, Phillip’s roster slowly but surely started to fill up with gigs outside of Germany and his sound, remaining ever-eclectic, became more functional and suited for larger audiences. “I get bored by predictable moments easily; I can’t play a set by just exchanging a kick-drum over and over again,” he says. One of the artists who helped to shape Phillip’s style as we know it is The Hague’s A Made Up Sound. “I was so fascinated by the way he deejays. His precision with timing truly blew me away back then.” Attracted by the possibilities offered by CDJ’s he would start using them more often to breathe new life into his sets. “You can time incredibly tight, be more spontaneous, and, obviously, have way more choice in your selection. This way, I can also find more connections - harmonies or spaces - in tracks that can be filled, experiment with rhythms and tempo, or just EQ a track right on top of another. Sometimes, I buy music just for a certain moment or element in a track, the drum loop or maybe just the drop. For me, DJing is about putting something new and unique together instead of playing a track after a track,” he explains. “Also, a lot of interesting music doesn’t get the chance to be stamped into the wax. There are tons of hidden gems out there on Bandcamp, SoundCloud, or even Instagram.”

Thanks to the opportunity to get funding, last March saw Phillip and his friends DJ Brom and Friday Dunard join forces to launch their new label SPA Recordings with the debut V/A release safe needing attention featuring DJ Plead, ssaliva and Phillip’s collaborative work with Simon Weins as Garland. “I know Kieran (DJ Brom) for quite a while now as we started DJing pretty much at the same time, and he introduced me to Friedemann (Friday Dunard),” Phillip tells. “So far, most of the artists on SPA are good friends with at least one of us three or people we met through my residency at Salon. I find it really exciting to push your circle of people who genuinely identify with the label. There are a lot of great artists out there, but it feels a bit strange to approach someone you don’t know and we’re so happy working with our homies who do incredible work.” The label has two new releases on the horizon, both by familiar faces. An EP by Yre Den will see the light of day in December and a release by Belia Winnewisser is scheduled for January 2020.

The remix of luxxuryproblems’s “Xylit” on the third SPA release is the first and only solo work of Phillip Jondo that is out to this day. “DJing and production went almost hand in hand for me. I know Simon [Weins] since we were 15 and we have been messing around with Ableton since back then. We would meet up every week and experiment together, though never even thought about releasing any of it, we simply enjoyed the process.” That’s pretty much how Garland was born. January 2018 saw their debut release on Izabel’s Lullabies For Insomniacs. “She liked the recordings of our 4 Channel Tascam sessions and wanted to put it out on her label. To me, the recording sounded like some nonsense jamming, so we locked ourselves up for a week and made a new recording that became our first album.”

Last April, they joined forces to test out the Pentacle 15.3 surround sound system developed by Fedde ten Berge in the context of their residency at STEIM. Having swiftly finished their live set up, they spent the rest of the time tweaking the sounds from their synths, preparing the score for Aelita - Queen of Mars, a Russian sci-fi movie based on a novel by Alexei Tolstoi. “I think it was by far our most improvised live set,” Phillip shares. Commissioned by CineSonic, in only 5 days they were to prepare a 2-hour score before performing it in the EYE museum, as part of the Imagine Film Festival. “We tried to stay calm and feel the situation of the moment while trying to find ways of bringing it all together in a very short amount of time," he continues. "Luckily, we found use in many of our old recordings.” Their rehearsals were recorded as well, and two beautiful tracks – “Aelita” and “Heliacal” - on the last SPA release are what came out of it.

Despite years of experience under his belt, producing in solitude remains to be a challenge for Phillip even now. “I record quite a lot, but I easily find things not clever enough when working on my own. I can enjoy even the simplest key line but if everything is too transparent or I sit on it for too long, it easily loses its magic for me,” he reveals. “Collaborating became one of the keys to letting myself go and it’s just so much more fun to share ideas and knowledge or get different input. Currently, I’m working on some new projects with Maxwell Sterling and DJ Plead.”

Next to his music and running a label, Phillip tries to spend more time studying for his bachelor with a focus on sound design and has his residency at Garage Noord. “I really love the staff and admire how much passion they put into something that's temporary – I'm so glad to be part of it!” Phillip says with enthusiasm. “I can’t imagine opening a club that already has a predestined ending, but obviously, all good things have to come to an end.” Having tried himself in the fashion industry and even sports in the past, his passion for music remains staunch. “It feels wrong to me to call myself a full-time musician even if I am, currently. I never consciously chose to dedicate myself to music,” he shares, “but I’m really happy that my work gets appreciated and I can work in this field.”

Phillip Jondo plays Friday in Het Muzieklokaal alongside Oceanic and Luc Mast, while Avalon Emerson and JASSS play together in our basement. Tickets are still available here and at the door.

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