Interview: Jon Phonics, Red Bull Music Academy UK Tour
RBMA UK Tour hits Glasgow this weekend. Producer Jon Phonics hypes the action coming your way
For 17 years, Red Bull Music Academy UK has existed to pair emerging young electronic musicians (Glasgow’s Hudson Mohawke, now producer to Drake and Kanye, is an alumnus) with some of the biggest names in the business in a mentorship programme, with the likes of Giorgio Moroder, Chuck D, Steve Reich and MIA all having been involved on the educational side.
This spring they’re taking the experience to the public with the RBMA UK Tour, with four weekenders in Glasgow, Bristol, London and Manchester which feature exclusive live performances, club nights and masterclasses.
The marriage of RBMA with Glasgow’s powerhouse club scene is one made in heaven, so we spoke to two of the city’s finest young talents, Nightwave and Jon Phonics, about what this weekend and Glasgow itself mean to them.
Read our interview with Jon Phonics below, or check out our Q&A with Nightwave Nightwave.
Born in Hemel Hempstead, formerly based in London and now a Glasgow resident, Jon Phonics (Jonathan Phoenix) runs the Astral Black label and club night, whose reputation is growing fast through events in Glasgow and London, as well as the work of artists including Jaisu, Inkke and Opal Block. A producer himself, he’s released on Gilles Peterson’s Brownswood and elsewhere.
What will you be doing with RBMA in Glasgow?
Astral Black will be partying at SWG3 on Saturday night with Detroit living legend, Danny Brown. In support we've got Mumdance who is joined by grime veteran Riko Dan and a very special secret guest MC that he's been releasing music with recently. It's someone who we've been trying to get at an Astral Black party for a while now and it made sense to get him on at this one alongside Mumdance. Danny's music is perfectly in line with the Astral Black aesthetic, incorporating elements of electronic music as well as contemporary and old school hip hop, so we're excited to have him headline one of our parties. Repping for Astral Black on the night will be myself, Jaisu and DJ Milktray.
What do RBMA do that's important to people who make electronic music, and why is this weekend so important for Glasgow?
First off, I think Red Bull are ethically sound in terms of their business dealings, which is important for us. They also provide opportunities for artists through programmes such as the Music Academy and these tours, which give artists exposure and the chance to work in environments they otherwise wouldn't. So everybody wins – they contribute to our culture and their brand gets kudos from their target audience for doing dope stuff.
This weekend for Glasgow is like a mini festival. Some of the most exciting artists in the world right now are in town at the same time, doing some very special one-off shows in special locations like the GoMA. You know, I don't think we ever thought we'd see Mykki Blanco in the Glue Factory ... and I don't think we'll see it again, either! The lectures are also one of the best things about it, but perhaps overlooked. Fans and aspiring artists have the chance to ask these guys about their experiences first hand in an intimate environment and I think the worth of an opportunity like that is perhaps overlooked in today’s digital world.
Tell me about you and Glasgow. When and why did you come to live here, how did you get involved with the club scene here, who on that scene has inspired you?
I came to Glasgow almost two years ago now, I was up working with Jaisu on his first release for Astral Black (‘A Short Album’) and just visiting some friends and ended up sticking around. As for the night, we've had an Astral Black residency in London since 2013 so it made sense to bring that to Glasgow at some point. The guys at the Art School reached out to us and asked us if we wanted to host a night there last summer and that's been our home since. The team there are amazing, we're really pleased to be able to call it home.
Primarily, Astral Black is a label, so we're not club promoters. That means the focus has always been on the music rather than making money, I guess that shines through and has paid off for us. In terms of inspiration for the club night, that comes mostly from nights back home like Livin’ Proof and Tempo Clash, and that scene in the Arthur Russell documentary [Wild Combination] where they are have rave with a finger buffet and lots of balloons.
When and why did you set up Astral Black, and what would you say it’s all about?
I started Astral Black in January 2013 as a platform to release my 'Rugers' cassette tape. It was never meant to be anything more than that, really, but the tape sold out in an hour and got some good press so I thought, y'know, if people like it that much maybe we should do a Jaisu tape and an Opal Block tape, which we did. I started the club night in May 2013 with Aphotik (Astral Black’s London resident) and that was really just a midweek, free entry jam that we invited all the dope producers we were hearing on Soundcloud to come and play at. It’s grown naturally from there.
Musically, there isn't a MO or a strict formula that I’m sticking to. I really try not to overthink it, if I should come across music that I feel strongly about releasing then I will. It doesn't have to be hip hop necessarily, or electronic, or grime... If I got handed a demo that sounded like Hex Education Hour by The Fall, I would release it at the drop of a hat. Though with that being said, I do think everything we release comes from a similar place in terms of creative intentions, it's all honest and with the release schedule being so varied, I do try to tailor it a little bit so each thing makes sense with what it follows on from, like a DJ set. Because you know, the Jaisu release when placed next to the Impey EP we're putting out might not entirely make sense, but when it goes through Drae Da Skimask and Celestial Trax to get there, it makes perfect sense. That's how I approach things for the time being at least, anyway.
What’s good about Glasgow for you?
Definitely the best nights I’ve played here have been at the Art School and the Sub Club. The crowds here have so much energy, when we did Spooky, our second party here, it must have just got to 12 o’clock and the front row were already shaking the booth, needles jumping, drinks going everywhere. It's perfect. Also, just the fact it doesn't cost more than an hourly wage for a pint here helps, it gives individuals more space to be creative and that's priceless, really.
Catch Jon Phonics on the lineup for Astral Black featuring Danny Brown – A Red Bull Music Academy Special, 10pm – 2am at SWG3 Warehouse, Sat 28 May. RBMA UK Tour Glasgow takes place at various venues from Thu 26–Sun 29 May.