Phil Kieran gets bored easily! Which is probably a good thing for a music producer, especially one as prolific and as broad-spectrumed as the Belfast-born DJ. Phil has worked with many top musicians and DJs including Peter Hook, Gary Numan, Green Velvet, Speedy J and David Holmes, and is rightly proud of being hand picked by Martin Gore to remix Depeche Mode's Sweetest Perfection. 'As I heard it he was only allowed to pick one person and he picked me, which is great'. His latest venture with Welsh band, "White Noise Sound" is out on Monday Sept 17th with remixes by Maya Jane Coles and lots of other projects in the mix, we caught up with Phil to chat about techno and our mutual appreciation for Alan Partridge!
CGNY: Hi Phil! I'm a huge fan of your work. It was a while before I realized you were from Belfast! How did you get into techno or music generally?
PK: I was into bands mainly. When dance music was coming about, I was always thinking “Ah that’s shit!”. I was into Indie bands; Pixies and Primal Scream etc. And I remember standing out in the foyer in a huff because some dj called Andrew Weatherall was playing and I was having none of that! Not knowing that later on he’d become one of my heroes.
It’s funny because I think that album (Screamedelica by Primal Scream) in a way made it okay for people of my generation to like electronic music. Made us open up.
I started going to art school and I met a couple of friends and we all started listening to Orb and very psychedelic music for that age. I remembered listening to mixes and there was a lot of talk about going to clubs before we actually went anywhere. So I think I was well hooked before I went to a nightclub!
CGNY: And was there a techno/clubbing scene in Belfast?
PK: Very much so. There was David Holmes doing this thing. There was another night called Choice. That was the main thing which happened at Art College. Choice was every two weeks or every 4 weeks because it would rotate. We used to live for that really. Then that weekend would go and you’d sit depressed Monday and Tuesday and wait for the weekend to come around again.
I mean Belfast was a bit grim then when you think back to those times. There could’ve been some kind of trouble or shootings going on.
CGNY: Maybe not the easiest place to go clubbing in?
PK: Well it was just an obstacle you had to get around to get to the fun bit. It wasn’t like we all sat around going ‘Oh isn’t this terrible' or whatever. It was just something you had to weave around to get to the things you wanted to do. If there was a bomb scare or something going on at the time, you didn’t dwell on it. You didn’t think “Am I going to get in trouble, beaten up, pulled into a car and killed?” – you just tried to avoid all these things. When there was a bomb scare you just went around another way. Worked round it a wee bit. I don’t think you care about politics when you’re that age – you just care about the music. Looking back on it, it seems a bit strange!
CGNY: So then you started djing at what age?
PK: I was going to art college. I’ve always had that creative side to me. I always knew from about 16 – it was just like a switch going on - that I wanted to be a dj and make music. I wanted to be creative in some format of audio production. Going to art school was the only thing I could bear in the education world. It was something to do so that my parents didn’t go mad. A 16 year old trying to tell your parents you’re going to be a dj…
"If you really believe that you want to do something, then you just have to do THAT!"
CGNY: I’m sure that didn’t go down too well at home!
PK: No I had to softly, softly ease them into it. At 19 I’d done a media course and thought maybe I could get a job at the BBC maybe recording things. And then mid/early 20s’s I’d been trying to get a record out for maybe 10 years and something just twigged and I went right “Fuck this” and I actually moved back with my parents for a while and stopped trying to earn money or do anything and just concentrate on making music. If you really believe that you want to do something, then you just have to do THAT. Every single ounce of your energy and time goes into it.
So then all of a sudden, I got one record out on a Dublin label and it continued. Around 2002/2003 there was a lot happening. I’m the kind of person who gets bored very quickly. I had a lot of singles and remixes out and was sort of ‘man of the moment’ for a while but I was getting bored and wanting to start a new chapter in my life – a new challenge. Something itching in me to do something new musically.
I wanted to write a bit of music that would carry weight and would carry through time. I think as you get a bit older and begin to realize your mortality and that you are going to die and that if you want to do something with a bit more meaning, you’re going to have to put a bit of effort into it. You can’t just blend or copy or fit the mold of what other people are doing. Try to be innovative – not saying I’ve done but it’s what you have to try to do.
CGNY: Do you remember your first dj gig? I assume it was in Belfast?
PK: I do. It was a Saturday night in a local disco and it was weirdly around the time dance music came out. People didn’t really know what to do with it ; didn’t want to have dance nights because people would be just piled into a club taking e’s and waving glow sticks and sweatin’ and going mad. Everyone was a bit afraid of it. Which I find a bit weird about the Olympics (with the focus they put on dance music) – they were just harnessing this as way of dance music explains British culture. I find it so strange looking back on it. It was like this curse word then. Smiley faces and acid house parties being busted. People look back on it now and it was an intricate part of our culture; it’s what made us. They weren’t saying that 20 years ago!
So yes it was an indies tunes night and they had this dance ‘half hour’ bit where the dance floor cleared and a few people would get up and do some weird dances.
CGNY: Before the slow set at the end of the night?!
PK: Something like that yes. It was just the dance music half hour. And then one time they said “Do you want to do it?” and this was a big opportunity for me – I was 19. I remember going down with my little plastic bag of records. And I don’t really remember much else after that!!
CGNY: It was a good night obviously?
PK: Well I would play a record and someone would come up and say “You’re crap and let me put that record on”! And at that age you’re really just a kid and people are trying to push you out of the way. But that’s the way it is. You have to be a bit pushy when you're starting out.
CGNY: So when you started developing your sound, or working on music what drives you?
PK: I have no idea! It just depends. I don’t think I have a certain thing I do, I try to avoid that. I do so many different kinds of music, depends on my mood. With the band Alloy Mental, it was one thing. I’ve even done some soundtracky type things. It can just be anything. I’ll just make some weird music. Sometimes that’s techno stuff. But I just get bored very easily so I like to mix it up.
CGNY: So your latest release on your own label Phil Kieran Recordings is remixed by Maya Jane Coles – a rising star in the industry. How did you come to work with her?
PK: I contacted her about a year, year and a half ago about remixing something else and I was sending her stuff from the label (PKR) and we just built up a friendship or rapport - -typical dj stuff – I’d send her a track and she’d give me feedback. I’d worked on collaboration with a band from Wales called White Noise Sound and I sent it out as a track to some djs and Maya really liked it and wanted to put it in her DJ Kicks album. I hadn’t released it but I asked her if she would do some edits or remixes on it and it came together. I did vocals on the track and I may be doing some vocals on one of her tracks – a kind of swap thing.
CGNY: You mentioned you had your own band?
PK: Yes Alloy Mental. I sort of started it off and then there were two other guys in it.
Well I initially wrote some of the music, the singer wrote the words and Danny wrote more of the melodies with guitar. I played keyboards and a little bit of backing vocals. We had this nutty front man who just sort of hung off speakers and spat on people! It was great – we had amazing gigs. Tea in the Park was I think the highlight. 8,000 people and they knew some of the tracks.
CGNY: What have been some of your most memorable dj gigs so far?
PK: A place in Juarez, Mexico called Hard Pop. I’ve had two amazing gigs there in the last few years. It gets some bad press because of some of the problems (with drugs) that it’s had had but it’s a lot safer than it was. The last time I went there it had completely changed and it was a lot of fun. Also Buenos Aires. I just played my 6th gig there and it’s just brilliant. Every time it’s like 2000 people right there until the very end 730am in the morning.
CGNY: Any plans for a visit to the States/NYC?
PK: I did play New York once, a gig with my band. It was an Irish showcase and we got visas because it was a no pay gig/sponsored showcase kind of thing. But the visa issue can be tricky. I won’t do the chance me arm thing. And I hate the idea of just ruining my chances. I want to do it properly when I come!
CGNY: So what’s next for you in production?
PK: I have a really exciting project – not really sure how to describe it. I’ve finished an album.
Andrew Weatherall is doing a remix and hopefully I will have David Holmes do one. Maya and Jamie Jones have listened to it and they really like it. So I’ve a lot of good support for it. I’m finalizing the name this weekend should have that soon. I’m very excited and focused on this at the minute.
Also I did a remix for an NY band called Bush Tetris and it’s doing really well.
CGNY: It’s nice to see you mixing it up and working on different projects.
PK: Yes and these are leading up to this new project (album). Ultimately I like the challenge of doing something new. I see people treating music like a ‘product’ or a brand; a business they do. Sometimes I don’t feel like the music comes into it – they’re just trying to sell something. I always want to feel excited about music not like it’s a job.
Editors Note: The latter part of the interview dissolved into doing excerpts from Steve Coogans superb comedy series "I'm Alan Partridge". It's always good to know that a DJ has a good sense of the absurd!
For more information on Phils projects and releases go to www.philkieran.com