Ashley Burchett, better known as Ø [Phase], is a techno producer, DJ, mastering enginer and artwork designer. Ø [Phase] has been a household techno name in Europe for a long time and his discography, with almost thirty releases, has certainly helped to shape the contemporary techno-scape. Yet Ashley remains a true example of modesty.
While Ashley insists that his approach to music is not exceptionally meticulous or technical, precision is almost as characteristic of his turn of phrase as it is of his sound. Due to this rather objective and succint tone Ashley is not someone who can be read as a book. But perhaps the minds of geniuses are to remain inpenetrable to us regular mortals, and his legacy for sure renders him at least a little less mortal than many of us.
Monument talked with Ashley aka Ø [Phase] about his inspirations for and approach to music making, the chnages that took place in the techno scene in the last decades, his US experience and his recent collaborations.
Hello Ashley, it’s a great pleasure to talk to you! I have always been curious about what the story behind the name Ø [Phase] is?
When I worked as a mastering engineer there was a small DDA mixing desk in my room. It had a ‘phase reversal’ button on it somewhere with a single ‘Ø’ icon in a rectangular shape which I thought looked like a kind of cool logo. I was already using ‘Phase’ as an email address because I liked that it contains the first three letters of my name. I played around with it all on paper a bit and ‘Ø [Phase]’ was the result.
Probably due to your tight bond with Token your name still seems to be bigger in Europe than in UK! Was it strange to be relatively unknown in London scene, the dancefloors of which ignited your passion for techno, while in Europe you were a household techno name?
My early releases were on London labels so from that point I was never completely unknown here but indeed, it was not until we started releasing on Token and the music began to be played a lot at Berghain that things really started to change for me. In that sense then yes, I broke through in a wider sense mostly via the European scene. Because of that I found myself spending a lot of time in Europe and barely went back into central London until I started getting booked for bigger events.
You still live in a small town just outside of London. Are you an introvert who likes the peace and quiet of suburbia in between the touring? Or does this stability boil down to more pragmatic reasons?
Suburbia is not an especially exciting place but what it does offer is easy access to nature and the wider countryside. I worked in central London for many years and have nothing against it. I’m no introvert and enjoy the buzz of cities but since I spend a lot of my working life inside them it’s nice to have the balance and living where I do provides that.
Your second collaboration (Border country) with Underworld came out last month. It is outstanding and your rhythmic structure is very recognizable. Can you tell us a little about this? What was the process like and why did you become part of the DRIFT project?
I got a message from my label manager back in late 2017 informing me that Underworld were keen to connect. I followed that up and it turned out they were really into what I have been doing and interested in collaborating. It was not long after our first meeting that we were in Rick (Smith)’s studio working on some ideas. The tracks have come together from a mixture of studio sessions and bouncing mixes back and forth via the internet. DRIFT is entirely Underworld’s concept; involving solo material and collaborations with street poets, Jazz musicians etc. A really broad creative project. It fitted that the tracks we did together became part of it. There are more to follow.
Have you played this in your sets?
Yes, I’ve played this as a final track quite a bit. Also a stripped-back dub version that is unreleased. Reactions have been really positive.
There are indeed more collaborations but no, I cannot reveal them just yet!
Some sort of conceptual continuity, although hard to pin down, can be seen in the way you name your tracks. Do the titles reflect your inner psychological states or a more abstract take on what reality is made of?
Both! And indeed, they are generally meant to be suggestive rather than a really firm concept.
Do you start your creative process from a conceptual framework and create the sounds to suit it or vice versa?
Concepts and feelings form as the tracks take form. As I touched on in the previous answer; I do not tend to over conceptualise, I work mostly from feeling.
What releases did you find most inspiring this year?
Quite into this guy Kontal just now, some real strong crazy hypnotic techno. Paying close attention to Fjaak a lot lately. And in total honesty, I am still in love with Blawan‘s 2018 album (Wet Will Always Dry). That is pretty much a year old now and I still didn’t hear much that comes even close.
If we transcend the boundaries of techno, could you share what are your favorite non-electronic music artists? Are there any recent non-techno releases that your ear has caught?
I like a lot of old rock and folk music. The artist I have the most records by is Bob Dylan. As for recent stuff, I would not know! I find it virtually impossible just staying on top of techno let alone anything else. So much music out there…
Your sound engineering background probably means that you think about music in very technical terms. But are there any non-musical inspirations you could name? Perhaps a hobby or an interest which shapes your sound?
Actually I’m very much drawn to the feel of a record more than the technicalities, though I can’t really think of how my other interests (and there are lots!) impact on that. I am always trying to learn and improve my technical approach but I don’t think that ever stops for a producer.
Your releases are quite versatile, but what they all have in common is high tempo. Boundary Interactions is perhaps your slowest release. Was this the first and last time you played around with lower tempo boundaries?
It depends what you consider a high tempo. Boundary Interactions is 136 but my Frames of Reference LP is entirely under 130bpm. I do not tend to make stuff much slower than 125, mostly because I’m drawn to energy in dance music. At home I mix at ridiculously high tempos but rarely go quite that fast when I am performing as it can feel really aggressive through a large sound system.
Not only your releases but also your sets are quite versatile. Is this intentional and planned ahead based on the specific party or a result of adjusting your set based on the reactions of the crowd?
I try to adjust how and what I’m playing based on the crowd in the given situation.
Your humility when you’re behind the decks cannot go unnoticed. Do you ever feel the rush of joy and pride for making so many people happy and sweaty, or does your main sense of reward come from approval of the producers you look up to?
It’s always rewarding if you feel people appreciate what you’re doing, whether that is the people you are performing to or those producers you respect. I never expect this though, I’m just trying to get better in every direction.
You have repeatedly insisted that techno needs a dark room. Why do you think that is: is it because light does not match the aesthetic of the techno sound or is it because the auditory sense is strengthened when other senses are switched off?
Definitely the second part, and particularly with the kind of hypnotic energetic style I like. For me it’s much easier to get lost in the music when the lights are low, sound is good and there are less distractions.
You tour across the globe and experience many different club settings. Last year you played at the Movement festival in Detroit, which can host up to 100,000 attendees and then you play cozy clubs like ://about blank. Do you prefer the more intimate clubs or the big crowds?
They both have equally interesting yet entirely different appeals. My ideal crowd is somewhere between 700 and 1200 where there is a balance of both big room energy and smaller space intimacy.
Speaking of U.S., you have recently got back from your U.S. tour. You played in Detroit, which is where the origins of your sound are. What is Detroit scene like these days and is the atmosphere in the parties there different from that in Europe?
I have only ever been there during Movement weekend and anyone will tell you the city is different over that period. Difficult then for me to comment on the scene there outside of those days. Having said that, I’ve played both the festival and quite a few after parties and the vibe has always been really cool.
What was your favorite venue you played in U.S. so far?
The LA warehouse scene is by far my favourite currently. The SyntheticMinds/6am group are really building something out there. I cannot wait to go back. I also enjoyed playing at Output in New York before it closed.
As someone who has been taking part in London’s techno scene for almost two decades, would you say it has changed a lot over the years? Do most parties feel more commercial than they did back in the day?
Not necessarily. Things have only changed as much as the wider culture has. Techno is indeed generally more commercial but it still has plenty of Underground outlets. Remember Eminem’s “nobody listens to Techno” lyric? I lived through that period!
On a broader note, you started your career at the point when the internet was taking over. That meant that clubs and record stores were no longer the only hubs for techno community, since the internet provided a new, far-reaching, yet somewhat de-centralized platform for electronic music. How do you feel this affected the scene for the good and for the bad?
The good thing is that now it is far easier for artists and producers to find an audience and connect with fans. On the other hand there is an overwhelming loss of intimacy and the true sense of ‘underground’ and ‘hidden treasure’ aspects.
Your debut EP Module Overload would be just as good a release today as it was in 2000, and this indisputably attests to your outstanding skills and creativity. But do you think that this maybe also says something about the techno genre in general – perhaps the genre is very rigid?
The entire ethos behind techno is experimentation. It comes from early Electro, House, Funk, Electronic Disco and Jazz and can therefore encompass so many different elements that it is probably one of the broadest and most experimental genres of all electronic music. That is to say, you can trace Trance, Ambient, Dubstep, Gabba even Drum & Bass back to Techno to some degree.
I’d like to hope that Module Overload is just a half decent record that has stood the test of time. 🙂
Finally, what is the rest of 2019 looking like? Any more releases?
I have some Live shows and DJ dates booked throughout the rest of the year. Some short intercontinental tours slotted amongst those. I have also been doing some back-to-back sessions with Matrixxman – we played Awakenings in Amsterdam last month with Portugal’s Neopop to follow in just a few weeks. We have a great synergy so no doubt there will be more of those to come.
In between my touring I have a lot of studio work in the pipeline – remixes, collaborations and a ton of solo material now. It is likely most of it will not see the light of day until 2020 but you will be able to hear a lot of it in my sets over the comipng months.
Looking forward to hear it!