Phobos – Looney Moon interviewed ahead of Alien Safari Sprung
Alien Safari – the original masters of psychedelic music production in South Africa kicks off the jam-packed Cape Town Psytrance season with a bang on 6 September. International headliners included GMS, Mr. Suit and Phobos – the label manager for Looney Moon Records. You may remember DJ Fog last season – he stayed here for some time and really rocked the night time faithful with intelligent psychedelic music.
Phobos promises to do the same at Sprung. I chatted to him about the global scene, his interpretation of what he thinks is psychedelic music and SA artists, Killer B and Corbin Highstyle.
As the label manager and DJ at Looney Moon Records what is the biggest challenge in getting the label’s music to a global audience?
Phobos: That’s a tough question! I could talk about it for hours, but to get straight to the point I would say our biggest challenge is to spread our label music worldwide while keeping our underground music concept. It’s not something easy to achieve because if you wanna reach lots of people you usually have to somehow adjust your music idea and that’s the worst thing that could happen to a label.
Doing that, you lose all your soul and your power, but even to linger on just one concept is also bad, therefore keeping this good balance between innovation and (our) tradition is definitely our biggest challenge.
We have a lot of online discussion in South Africa about ‘what is psychedelic music?’ Example: Some feel that the day time full on and progressive is not psychedelic music. What is your opinion?
Phobos: Yes I know that, I’ve seen lots of discussions about it on the Alien Safari Sprung Event Page on Facebook.
On some of those comments I’ve seen a huge anti-prog attitude. Well I can say that I don’t agree with the ‘day time full-on and progressive is not psychedelic music’ argument, but on the other hand I do agree with the fact that ‘some of day time full-on and progressive is not psychedelic music.’ It’s very easy for me to explain it: each kind of psychedelic music from prog through full-on/psytrance to dark trance – for it to be psychedelic it simply has to display some psychedelic features in its structure. If you play progressive which sounds like a mainstream clubbing minimal house/techno track, it’s not psychedelic for sure. If you play full-on which sounds like a mainstream trance/ disco dance (like Tiësto, Armin van Buuren …) it’s not psychedelic for sure either. That doesn’t mean that one style is better compared to another one, but just that if you wanna stay inside the psytrance scene you simply have to make something psychedelic. Unfortunately I think there are lots of artists who wanna expand their audience and they think the right way to do this is by moving closer to these mainstream styles. They just don’t get that this attitude leads to the opposite goal: people get easily tired of it.
Roberto (DJ Fog) spent some time in South Africa last year. What did he tell you about South Africa’s psytrance scene?
Phobos: Roberto and other friends who spent some time there told me the SA psytrance scene is actually blasting. They told me most of the time you can enjoy a big festival with a hot crowd and, most important for me, with highly professional organization, something which is not so common in Europe. Although maybe in some (SA) festivals the music can be a little bit boring because there aren’t enough different styles like it is in big European Festivals
You have a South African – Corbin – Highstyle – signed to Looney Moon. Did this come about from Roberto’s visit and what is it about Corbin’s music that appealed to Looney Moon?
Phobos: We were following him even before Roberto went to SA, but of course when he was there he spent lots of time with him and his feedback was absolutely relevant in us deciding to sign him. At the beginning I didn’t like a lot his material because his music was a bit far from what we were looking for, much closer to high-tech than to our concept of psytrance. Nevertheless it was crystal clear that this guy had talent: for this reason it did not take him long to adjust to our music concept.
I don’t want to dwell on the subject and I don’t want any of our label artists to play exactly the same style, but I need everybody to follow our label idea. Therefore we have some artists closer to night time stuff and others closer to morning stuff, but the music concept and the main music features have to be the same.
You’ve also released an EP by Killer B – you guys must enjoy the South African sound then?
Phobos: Good music has no borders man! As for Ben, we’ve known him since the start of our label (one of his tracks featured on our very first compilation ‘Visionary System’ released in 2008).
After that period we kind of lost contact but when a couple of years ago we got in touch again and were thrilled to continue our collaboration. His music only got better during this time and I strongly recommend you to listen to his live-act wherever you can.
Besides it’s a big challenge for us trying to expand our audience and to spread our music in SA because the psytrance scene there is huge but I think there is space for more underground groovy psytrance stuff like the one we make.
What is the psychedelic scene like in Italy?
Phobos: Each time someone asks me this, I give the same answer: ‘too many party every week-end.’
In my opinion when everybody wants to set up a party, you can quality is going to actually drop. So there are lots of organizers who end up fighting with each other instead of collaborating to try and do better events. That does not improve our scene because the first thing for a good organizer to bear in mind is to organize quality and professional events and not to be the best organizer compared to someone else. Having said that, without a doubt you can find parties all year long in Italy, in wonderful locations, excellent live-acts and DJ sets covering the widest spectrum of psytrance styles.
We are also proud to have two ongoing big summer gatherings like Sonica Festival in the south of Italy and Blackmoon Festival in the centre of our country.
What other countries would you say have a strong underground psychedelic following?
Phobos: I had the chance to play in many different countries. So I can say that in my opinion the countries where the underground psychedelic following is strongest are Italy, UK, France, Croatia and of course India (Goa).
You and Roberto also do a special Fog & Phobos set. Is this a Dj set or your own material?
Phobos: It’s just a DJ set because neither of us produce music. Anyway the Fog vs. Phobos DJ set is a very particular act to experience because we merge our different musical points of view and of course our different mixing and selection skills (with four hands on the decks you can do a lot of tricks, you know). It is like every time we play together we mix not only our music but our own personalities
Finally: The last amazing gig you played and why?
Phobos: I would say Midnighsun Festival. It was so amazing to play on an island close to the polar circle with no night at all. I played from 3 am to 5 am, the dancefloor was full of energy, and it was so strange to play during what it was supposed to be night time but with the sun up behind the stage!
Anyway I can’t forget Modem Festival as well; you know playing there is always amazing.