Ghostly Experiences with John Phantasm
Reported by PSYLICIOUS
Submitted 22-10-08 18:02
John Phantasm has been in the music business long enough to see the many falls and rises that have transpired over the years as well as the latest trends of youth culture musically. Not only the proud Dad of highly acclaimed UK psy trance act and producer Eskimo, John is also the driving force behind one of the UK’s most original Trance record labels, Phantasm Records, a major force in the psy trance world since their first releases in 1993 and regular feature in the playlists of every DJ large or small on the psy trance scene today..
With superb contemporary releases like the Strange Frequencies, Tokyo 24/7 and Molecular Counterpart compilations, Phantasm are still pushing the boundaries forward, and have been the launch pad for many of the artists in the trance world today, including the meteoric rise of Eskimo, currently the scene’s brightest and most original talent.
I managed to catch up with John recently during some time out of his hectic schedule of travelling, Djing and studio work to find out more about the birth of Phantasm Records, the UK trance scene and of course his Son, Eskimo.
Hi John, great to catch up with you and welcome to Harderfaster. Thanks for taking some time out to answer some questions.
How are you keeping? I believe this is the first time you have been featured on Harderfaster?
Hey mate.. yeah.. I'm a Harderfaster virgin - if there is such a thing!
John you have been part of the Psy trance scene since the very beginning. What was your initial attraction to the scene, the music and who have been your main influences?
Initially I was working in the studio with a friend, Simon Carman. Simon and I were friends since school and had played in bands together since we were 14, originally playing straight up rock music - I played lead guitar. This was early seventies and the bands we were into were Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, Pink Floyd and Black Sabbath. We saw all those bands and just about every other band on the circuit at that time. I remember seeing Raja Ram with his band Quintessence in 1971!
After that we were really into Mott The Hoople - seminal English yob-rock band, proto punks of the day and saw them numerous times. That led us into the more glam area of their later stuff alongside David Bowie and T.Rex. and segued neatly into the New York Dolls and the early US pre punk scene before the UK punk explosion proper around '76 when we cut our hair and speeded up our songs! With the rise of punk in the UK there were suddenly dozens of small venues to play so in a variety bands we played up and down the country every weekend getting gobbed on by provincial punks who thought that's what they were supposed to do!
At the end of the 70's that fell apart - musical differences, haha, but Simon and I stayed together and started working on the more technical side in the studio doing electronic music with influences from Human League, Depeche Mode and Heaven 17. This was when I first started clubbing in earnest really, things like Cabaret Futura at the Mud club, the Blitz and the short lived "new romantic" scene which evolved slowly and tortuously into the early Goth scene with clubs like the legendary Batcave and the more psychedelic Alice In Wonderland parties, which were based in Carnaby Street but would occasionally stage "Magical Mystery Tour" parties. You would buy a ticket and all pile onto a coach which would take you to a party in a usually unusual outdoor location without telling you where it was!
Another good friend from school, Ray Gange - immortalized in the Clash film rude boy - was managing a band called the Folk Devils, who were playing what was briefly described as cow-punk, country-blues inflected punk. I had been bumming around the south of France with some friends and the day I returned to England (with a golden tan!) he called me and asked me to go on tour with the Folk Devils, touring with a Goth band of the day, Ghost Dance. This is did, and in Manchester I met my future wife and mother of Junya, Sally, who was the promoter of the gig there.
Junya was born in '85 and by that time we were living in London - predictably Brixton - and knocking around with mostly musicians, party people, movers & shakers.. and I guess around this time was the first time I was going to raves & the whole acid house thing. This would be mid to late '80's although I might be a bit shaky on some of the dates.
I had always kept in touch with Simon, working on occasional projects and by the beginning of the '90's we were working in the studio we used to rehearse the band in, in the basement of his dad's shop, trying our hand at dance music, but in no particular style. Through a mutual friend we met Mark Allen and Chrisbo, both DJs and both recently back from Goa.. They had started making the now legendary Pagan parties in London, the original Goa parties in UK. They wanted to make some music but didn’t know the studio, so the four of us - me, Simon, Mark and Chris stated making tunes and formed a band - Mindfield. Our first gig was at Megatripolis in London, around '92 I think. Terence McKenna - now dead - was doing a reading upstairs! One of the most respected electronic labels of the time was Rising High records who saw us at the gig and offered us a deal on their sister label Sappho records. As Sappho were gonna release our music without paying us anything - Simon and I had been in the biz for a long time and were no longer starry eyed - we decided to release a record ourselves. With the advent of independent labels and relatively cheap short-run vinyl pressings, those days it was possible.
We released our first 4 track vinyl EP, Life Is An Illusion on our own ASM records pressed 500 copies and to our amazement they all sold, through word of mouth and a couple of small, hip record stores. Through Mark and Chris's involvement our direction had hardened into a proto Goa sound and through the parties we were meeting like-minded DJs and studio musicians.
In '93 (I think!) we released our first CD Hard Trance and Psychedelic Techno which was mostly Mindfield tracks and me and Simon working under other pseudonyms. Another great label of the time was Platypus records. They had a seminal track called Two Full Moons and A Trout by Union Jack which was a big underground hit as a vinyl 12". We signed it for Hard Trance and that was the first way it was available on CD. That boosted the sales and we were able to release a second CD almost immediately, Psychedelic Techno - Hard Trance 2 . This release saw us more firmly on the Goa tip, with tracks from Man With No Name, Prana and others as well as Mindfield. The rest is geography!!
After the first two vinyl releases Mark and Chris left Mindfield to pursue other things - most notably the absolutely seminal UK Goa trance parties Return To The Source - which had already started and which we had played live at a number of times - and Simon and I continued with Mindfield as a 2 piece and the newly named Phantasm records without Mark and Chris's involvement.
Sadly, Simon died in '98 after a 3 year battle with leukaemia and after a period of reflection I decided to carry on with the label.
When I think of Phantasm I always recollect the cult horror film of the 80’s, so how did Phantasm Records transpire and I must ask, how did you come up with the name?
Yeah, phantasm means ghost which is not the most psychedelic of names when you first hear it, but its very psychedelic if you think about it. Another reason for the name was that it ended in asm which was the name of our management company since punk days, ASM being the initials of our manager, Simon's father.
Phantasm Records prides it’s self on pushing musical boundaries forward as well as being a launch pad for many of the artists in the trance world today. What is your ethos behind this and where can you see the trance scene going in the future?
Hmm, for me good music is good music and you have to go where that takes you. A lot of the truly groundbreaking stuff these days is moving further and further away from the classic psy sounds, which is heart breaking for the purists but necessary for musical evolution - vocals, guitars, beats, electro sounds, rave/hard house, even minimal techno influences - these are all things that are coming into play more and more and resulting in some stunning envelope pushing music if you are open minded enough to accept it. In a lot of his latest tracks, Junya is singing and even rapping! Why not? Nothing should be taboo and the result is some awesome new music. It’s still making people dance and that’s our job after all.
John you have also seen the meteoric rise of your Son, currently the scenes brightest and most original talent, DJ Junya, better known as Eskimo. Was it a case of Junya following in Dads footsteps? You must be proud of him?
Yeah of course I'm very proud of him, he's a genius, who knew?!! I started him off in the studio - I have tracks of his made when he was 9 years old! But he originally didn't like my music - like all kids he wanted his own identity got into the original hardcore sound – The Prodigy, Altern8 etc.. which has profoundly affected his musical development. Now he's teaching me - and everyone else!
Over the past 14 years you have you have travelled the world taking in some amazing parties as a DJ in your own right, also hosting countless Phantasm parties in that time. You must have many stories to tell, but what has been your most memorable recollection over that time?
Its a cliché, but so many!!. First trip to Israel in '95 saw me and Simon playing in the street outside a record store in the harbour in Tel Aviv, with the police trying to close us down. Millennium New Years eve on the beach in Ko Phangan, Thailand with Junya age 14, flares going off overhead and a constant stream of boats landing like D-Day! Playing to 20,000 people as the sun rose over Rio in 2006! March this year in a sweaty underground - literally, it was an underground car park - party in Buenos Aries, my first time in Argentina. Me and Junya DJing back to back and both miming air guitar to some uber- trance in Difer Ariake, a sumo hall in Tokyo. Outdoors in a park outside Moscow with half a dozen leather jacketed off duty KGB doing security on each side of the DJ booth. They all come to mind. It’s good to be me, hahaha!!
Tell us about the differences between Phantasm Records and Enzyme records. Musically do both labels differ in pushing their own unique label sound?
Enzyme is more of a sister label run by a friend Vasco – DJ Zorflux - a Portuguese party animal we know from knocking around Brighton,, I don't have any input on what he releases, he picks the tracks himself, but obviously some artists overlap, particularly Eskimo. Back in the early days Vasco and Junya had a project together called Horizon and released some killer tracks.
You have a plethora of projects and releases coming up for Phantasm in the near future including two of my personal favourites at the moment being Mad Max (Sirius Isness’s Max Peterson) and French Psy outfit XSI with their second album release. So between now and 2009 what do you have cooking in the Phantasm cooking pot, ready to serve to all those hungry Phantasm fans?
So little time, so many releases! Ok, we just recently released the Mad Maxx debut album and in September we released Overcharged, the debut album from Brazil's 220V - superb stuff. Coming up shortly - in no particular order - we have the stunning second XSI album, the debut album of Dapanji - a new name here but gods in their native Israel, a compilation being put together by one of my DJane's, Swedish stunner Anneli, a compilation by the slightly less attractive but just as talented DJ Illija who is Macedonian but is the biggest psy name in Slovakia, the debut album of another new Israeli artist Peace Maker - classy stuff!
Also an album of remixes by other artists of Mad Maxx trax, another remix album - this time with top psy artists remixing Massive (Davina from Sirius Isness). There’s debut albums from both Substance and Anti-Gravity - both established artists in Mexico, and of course, new Junya material - the new Eskimo album - which may or may not be called Balloonatic 3 and new tracks from his killer new project Mega Band, which is a collaboration with Israeliens Void and has already delivered his biggest track to date - MTV- Hello Moto!
2008 also took in the rebuild and launch of the Phantasm records web site along with some great features in there full of Phantasm goodness!
Yes, the new site is up and still being tweaked http://www.phantasmrecords.co.uk. There are still a lot more features I want to incorporate, mostly to do with downloading, being able to order t-shirts direct from the site, that kind of thing. These things will be developed over the coming weeks/months.
With a busy DJ schedule / label release schedule and being consistently on the go, what do you enjoy doing to wind down and take in away from all things music?
The usual things. Movies, pizza and all other good things.
So where can John Phantasm be found playing out over the next few months?
September saw me in Poland, then I’m on a Japan tour in October, Israel late Oct (TBC), Earthcore festival in Australia in November, Japan again mid Dec, Brazil tour Dec/Jan (TBC)
John before we finish is there any thing you would like to add?
Yeah, thanks to everybody out there for helping me to avoid growing up for so long!
John it’s been a pleasure catching up with you again, many thanks for your time, and many thanks for what you have given over the years to the psy trance scene. Respect.
You too mate... peace out maaaaaan!!
For more info: http://www.phantasmrecords.co.uk
Photos courtesy of John Ford and Phantasm Records. Not to be reproduced without permission.
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Breaking into your Unconscious Mind(s)
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The views and opinions expressed in this review are strictly those of the author only for which HarderFaster will not be held responsible or liable.