'Beyond the Island of the Gods' is a radio show that goes out on Worldwide FM once a month, hosted by Phil Cooper and his friend Dea. Apart from being a great name for a radio show it brings together 'old, new and future music which can be heard from Sunrise to Sunset' - I have been tuned in each month and have been introduced to leftfield Japanese disco, African synth-pop, the good side of Balearic and proper house, be that from the crates, to new releases from across the globe. Phil's radio show, alongside Francois K and Coleen 'Cosmo' Murphy, are my favourite go to Worldwide selectors. I use Phil's show in particular for finding fresh music which is usually filed like his label NuNorthern Soul as being calming, weird, serene and beautiful.
A few months back I asked Phil to provide a Half-Lights mix; we chatted over email and agreed that he would put together a selection of music which featured music only from his label as a retrospective personal overview. I am a massive fan of the label and rate the Ron Basejam remix of Ragz Nordset - You Started It All as one of my most loved releases in the past 10 years. Plus, on NNS there is the likes of Ryo Kawasaki, BJ Smith and Jose Manuel featured in the back catalogue. Also, a NNS fan can check out his monthly selector style podcast too. Phil is a busy man, like a lot of people who are doing this work full time, but as you will hear from the assortment of selected music in his mix and through the interview that he is busy calving out his own place in the world by releasing, sharing and exploring the best bits in this world we are all part of. Having an attitude like that should be toasted, I am guessing still, Phil would probably be aiming for you to toast NNS with a Pina Colada someplace warm and somewhere tropical.
Firstly, what have you been up to lately?
Thanks so much for inviting me to contribute to your blog. I have just finished a 7 week Euro tour, playing at various festivals and clubs plus a lovely boat party in Galway, Ireland and visiting family in the North.
Where did music start for you, can you remember your first record that you bought?
I was always attached to my Mum and Dads limited vinyl and cassette collection, it was a mixture of Cilla Black, Ray Conniff and Country classics and then when I was around 7 or 8 I bought a copy of The Star Wars album composed by the great John Williams, I also think Adam and Ants and Joe Dolce -Shaddup Your Face where early contenders, I have always had eclectic tastes ha!
I'd like to start the interview properly with talking about NuNorthern Soul, weirdly I think I was introduced to the label by your spotify playlists and then I found the podcast before I found the music you were releasing through the label. What made were the main influences to start NNS ?
I have always believed in the shared experience of music and sharing music, from doing mixtapes, to podcast sessions, radio, playing clubs and ultimately releasing music on a label. The NNS podcast was getting a lot of unreleased music sent to it, which I would play if it fitted and it just seemed the natural progression to set up the label to run alongside, I have been running labels since the mid 90’s so this was a logical step.
From the labels beginnings to where it is now, what you have noticed that has changed for you as a label manager in the industry - times aren't always easy for independent labels, how have you kept things going?
With lots of cash ha! Joking aside, the label is a serous labour of love, I think by ensuring all the boxes are ticked with regards to the back end of it set up properly and keeping everything transparent so the artists can see whats happening at every step means you can win trust. Even if the releases make no money they can see the level of attention and love that goes into it. For me each release is very personal and I get involved in all aspects from tweaks to production through to the artwork and PR campaign. The artist appreciate this and although they may not see a huge monetary return, if any, they do see their art properly nurtured and treated with respect. Also I have an ethos about the music that we release being timeless, if you were to find a copy of one of the releases in 20 years on a shelf and could play it, would it still sound good and has stood the test of time? I whole heartedly believe that all NuNorthern Soul releases will.
I remember a few years back you posted on social media your sadness on people not supporting small labels, it was honest and something I have kept in mind since considering it - do you still hold those views ?
Mmmm, I was probably tired and emotional, but I guess it does frustrate me sometimes, but one thing I have learnt is you cant expect everyone to have the same passion as I do for a piece of music, release or label. I understand that the outputs on NNS are very niche and wont appeal to a mass audience plus for many music is disposable, its something they have to highlight their moment in life not to soundtrack it.
NuNorthern Soul is aesthetically very tight and similar in style with each release, but it is incredibly diverse musically, it would be hard for me to explain it to someone and do it justice. How do you describe your label?
Another great question, I guess I have to feel the music, it has to be emotional and stir emotions, its really hard to describe to be fair but here goes, its music for beaches, sunsets, sunrises, music that allows contemplation and reflection but also allows for the dance, its eclectic and dare I say, Balearic.
What have been your highlights for the label so far?
The work we have done with Ryo Kawasaki stands out, from the interview with Gilles Peterson to the final releases which has great artwork from Manchester artist Chris Maude and extensive sleeve notes from Marc Rowlands.
Also, the stunning remix delivered by old NNS friend Jim Baron AKA Ron Basejam from Crazy P on Ragz Nordset, this for me sums up the NNS sound, and that ability to sound good in 20 years time. In fact this has just been picked up by Vogue in Turkey and was used on a short fashion video. To be fair, each release has something unique about it, a short story of its being, which to me is equally as special as the end result.
For someone considering doing something similar, what would be your tips for someone who is starting up a label?
Do the paperwork, not the most exciting side of the label but make sure the relevant PPL and MCPS is sorted, keep good accounts and make sure you add the right meta data to all the digital files. Also dont be afraid to discuss any tweaks to tracks with the artist, 99% of them are glad to have this input, fresh ears on a project are always good and be unique, feel the music, discuss what the artist wants, how does the music fit in with their big picture.
I usually talk about the mix at the end of the interviews, but as you have chosen music from the labels back catalogue I'll mention it now. Can you tell us about it?
To be honest it was so lovely to do this as I hadn’t listened to a lot of the tracks for a while and it reminded me of the mantra about making music that is timeless, I have skipped a few original releases due to keeping the mix down to a manageable size and I have added in some remix versions to show the depth of the catalogue. Also I have added tracks I have licensed for NNS comps as I wanted to show that the sound we have is present in other genres.
- Benjamin James Smith - The Way I Feel
- B.J. Smith - Umi Says [PC - 'Cover of Mos Def track, Gilles Peterson proclaimed this as one of the tracks that will be played at Sunrise for years to come'.]
- Ragz Nordset - New August
- Ragz Nordset - You Started It All (Ron Basejam remix)
- Abimaro & The Free - Mark [PC - 'I found this on Bandcamp as a free download, licensed it and released with Smith & Mudd remix']
- Shapeshifter - Elephant
- Seahawks - Glass World (Begin Remix)
- Dos Palos - I've Been Around (Seahawks Remix)
- B.J. Smith - Hold On To It (Johnny Nash Remix)
- B.J. Smith - Stars Festoon
- Ryo Kawasaki - You Are The Sunlight
- Private Agenda - Dawn
- Ilija Rudman - Tears To Sound (Aquapella)
- Jose Manuel - Journeys In... Lusaka
Moving on to this Summer now, it's been a warm one in the UK - where have you been and what have you been up to?
So as mentioned I was back for 7 weeks, I played at Love International Festival in Croatia which once again took my breath away, I went quite late and caught the last 2 days of the festival but stayed for a 4 more days and hung out with a few old friends and just enjoyed all that Tisno has to offer, great food, sea swimming, and sun. I played across the UK taking in Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, London, & Bristol which was lots of fun, a great way for me to catch up with lots of friendly faces and make a few new ones on the way. I played my first gig at Stanton Calling Festival also, which was great then I finished off with 4 days in Ireland, Dublin and Galway. I did a boat party with the Galway DJ duo, Disconauts which was lots of fun, drank a few to many Guinness and just chilled before the trip back to Asia. In between dates I spent some time hanging with friends and family in Liverpool, Manchester and North Wales, it was amazing to have that great weather, I love the UK in the Sunshine.
How did you end up in Bali, you are over there and I guess living now - why Bali?
I came to Bali 4 and a half years ago, I was invited to come on a ‘Stay & Play’ trip to Karma Beach Club which part of a fantastic resort, Karma Kandara on the Southern most tip of the Island, I was there for 2 weeks, fell in love with the Island and decided pretty much there and then I was going to move there. It has been an amazing experience but due to lady love, I have now relocated to Singapore, I do still have strong connections to the Island, lots of great friends there and just before I left I landed a consulting role with Karma Kandara to put together a music strategy to enhance the activity they already do, so I get back to the Island every 6 to 8 weeks.
Moving on to music, away from the label - what has been interesting you recently?
Thats a big question, I am constantly discovering old, new and future music… I think the Mildlife album is pretty bloody special currently. I am eagerly awaiting the next release from Perth based artist Phil Stroud, his album from 2016 is STUNNING and I highly recommend it. One of the reasons I stated my NNS podcast was to help me make some kind of sense of my music consumption madness, each session is a reference point to what generally is going on audio wise that month.
Musically who has influenced you ? Who is your go to artists/band/producers ?
Another big question and I have to be honest it changes on a weekly basis as I am always being introduced to new music, often new old music which sets me off on a different journey to discover more about that artist or label or indeed musicians who played on certain pieces of music, but I would say the stand out artist for me has to be Terry Callier, his ‘What Color Is Love’ album defines the pinnacle for me personally.
What labels, radio shows, blogs are doing it for you at the moment?
I always turn to Gilles Peterson on either his World Wide or BBC6 shows, Andrew Jervis on his Bandcamp weekly, Stamp The Wax is a also a good website for alternative sounds… I also have a trusted circle of friends who are always putting me onto new sounds.
Lastly, outside of music what books/films/tv shows are you interested in ?
I have been reading a varied and wide selection of books, Elon Musk and his race to Mars and also to solve the global issue of WTF do we do when all the fossil fuels runs out has me really interested, I still haven’t worked out if he is mad man or genius, Iron Man or the next James Bond bad guy.
TV shows, until something comes along as good as The Wire or Sopranos I am languishing in mediocre hell. My go to films are those from the fantasy, sci-fi, Super hero back ground, I like to totally disappear into make believe when it comes to watching a film.
For further reading into the NuNorthern Soul and to hear and buy music from the label go to the below links: