The NuNorthern Soul label, founded in 2012 by DJ ‘Phat’ Phil Cooper, came off the back of the eclectic Sunday sessions and podcasts he had been running since the late 90s. It became an output for the eclectic, Balearic and sunset inspired music and has become one of the most respected boutique eclectic labels on the scene. As the label celebrates its 10th year with a lovely Anniversary vinyl box set release to mark the occasion, DMCWorld checks in with the sunset maestro himself, Phil Cooper, to chat all things NuNorthern Soul and Balearic…
So let’s start by going back to the beginning.. how did you first get into music?
I think it was a tactile thing that first got me interested, music in its recorded form presented on cassette and vinyl meant I had something I could pick up, hold, look at, read even before I heard anything. I am certainly not one of those fortunate people whose parents were high music lovers or musicians. My folks had a fairly middle of the road music taste, Mum was a fan of Cilla Black, Dad, was into Slim Whitman, a bit of Elvis and Johnny Cash, they had a few records and tapes in their collection. I do remember buying the Star Wars album by John Williams, that would have been 1977, I was 6 then. I also remember my first 7”, Adam and the Ants ‘Ant Music’ 1980. My real passion for music came when I was about 12 in 1983 and I got into Indie music and early Hip Hop and electro. I was a huge Smiths fan and it was through my love of them I ended up in Manchester in 1988 at a Smith convention and as part of that we went to the Hacienda, I walked in and heard House music for the first time and that set me on a very different trajectory.
And who would you say were your musical influences?
A big question and one that is always shifting and changing, I will attempt to give it some kind of framework because this could end up being its own article hahaha. I guess Motown has to go in there, their sound, their artists have influences in all aspects of black music and beyond, within that I would hone in on Stevie Wonder, The Funk Brothers, Marvin Gaye, also the band Rare Earth came out of the Motown stable and their Psych rock sound defo adds a heavy flavour to my tastes. Jose Padillas legendary sets, cassettes and sessions at the Cafe Del Mar had a huge impact on how my musical taste developed. I had always liked dramatic orchestra led music, I guess the John Williams Star Wars album has planted that seed, and hearing Jose play orchestral influenced music in his sessions solidified that for me. I also think music in context, so a cheesy euro pop song played in a crap, grim town on a Thursday night in the local ritzy sounds awful, take that same record and play it under the stars on an Adriatic / Balearic beach and it will sound so different. I think I have been very fortunate to realise most music I like sounds better in the sun and soundtracking sunsets. But getting back to the original question about influences, this is again something that changes on a regular basis, and musicians, artists and DJs creating music and pushing boundaries outside of the accepted norm.
What inspired you to set up the NuNorthern Soul label and what was your first release?
So NuNorthern Soul as an event had been happening since to late 90’s it was a Sunday session in a bar in Chester, I started it as an outlet for the music I was picking up while touring the Globe for Liverpool’s CREAM. I was always a digger and had very eclectic and diverse tastes in music even back then, so I needed a place to share these sounds. The Sunday session was very laid back in the most, a DJ booth built so I could sit down to play, amazing food and lashings of wine, a real social thing and a space to go to on a Sunday after a big weekend clubbing. Out of the events came the live streaming and podcasts, and it was a natural progression to then set the label up. I had been running other labels since the mid 90s so had an understanding of the pleasure / pain in doing so, hahaha. The first release came from B.J. Smith and was a full album, The Movedrill Projects, kind of an indie, rock vibes with a lazy lean. I was introduced to Ben via Ticker and Northern exile living in west London where I was located at the time. I was singing Ben’s praises to Ticker over a couple of pints and he said he knew him and could make the intro, he did and that was the starting point of our friendship.
Which artists can we expect to hear on the label?
It’s a mixed bag of heritage, emerging and developing artists and remixers including Joan Biblioni, Ryo Kawasaki (RIP), B.J. Smith, JIM aka Ron Basejam, Ragz Nordset, Chris Coco, George Solar, LOVA, Private Agenda, Cole Odin, Blair French, Marshall Watson, Gold Suite, Be. Lanuit, Mike Salta plus many more.
And which have been the highlight releases for NuNorthern Soul over the past 10 years?
The Ryo Kawasaki projects certainly stand out, Ragz Nordset and the Ron Basejam remixes, Gold Suite is defo one to watch, working with Joan Bibiloni has been great and continues to do so, we are working on a very exciting project for 2023. Meeting and signing LOVA will always be a very special one and a real tale of the time. Putting the JIM EP out also has a very special meaning to me due to the timing and my relationship with James Baron aka JIM.
How do you think the label has changed and grown since its inception and how do you see things moving forwards?
I don’t think we have changed to be honest, my mantra when looking at music for the label then and now is still “would this music sound good in 10 years time?”, we have certainly grown though, our release schedule increases each year, I think I have 17 releases planned for 2022.
Most of your catalogue is also released on vinyl, how is that all going in the current climate?
Hahahahahaha, man if only you knew, sorry, you probably do, it’s been ‘testing’ to say the least. I have had stock held to ransom in a Spanish / English dispute over shipping, delays of 4 months to get some finished stock, stock to turn up only to find the sleeves printed badly so had to try and get that sorted, dealing with 3 different brokers, 4 different pressings plants, it’s like juggling jelly, herding cats and skydiving all at the same time, yes, a tad dramatic I know, but we all love a bit of drama hahaha!
You’ve also just re-issued Bianca’s 1990 classic, ‘Tabu’, with a fresh remix from Ruf Dug, please tell us about the story behind this?
I am always digging digitally on YouTube, Discogs etc to find nuggets to check before trying to track them down to buy for my collection and DJIng, but always with an eye on things that I could possibly license for the label. Tabu was one of those. Having been in lockdown, I knew this summer would be pretty ravetastic so I set about trying to find tracks that I could fit into my sets that would be suitable and revisited this one. I never owned a copy before but had it on some old mixtapes. I ended up on Discogs and it was going for silly money so I thought this would be a decent pick for the label. I had done some licensing with Blanco Y Negro before so hit them up, did the deal and expected them to send me masters via a digital download, but oh no, it wasn’t going to be that easy hahahaha. I ended up flying to Barcelona to collect their last MINT copy on vinyl, flying that to Manchester for Andy Hanley to rip on his high-end audiophile set up, sending the digital premaster to Robin Lee (Faze Action) in Asia as he resides their now, he then did a mastering job on them before sending back to me, I then sent them to Ruf Dug who did his edit magic. Fun and games all round!
Which new talents / proud discoveries on the Balearic scene should we be on the look out for?
Gold Suite aka Joey Fitzgerald, from Liverpool originally, now living in Bali. Residentes Balearicos, Italians now based in Ibiza recording for Music for Dreams and NuNorthern Soul. LOVA is also making waves and certainly one to watch.
During and since the pandemic, the popularity for downtempo and chill out music has soared, what has been your experience of this?
Yes, there was certainly a big take up and increase in people listening and buying the music, it was really well received, I think it was the perfect soundtrack for those strangest of times. Music to calm the mind and bring some positivity. I was streaming every day for many months live from Ibiza on Mixcloud live, kind of a morning show, music, random chat and a community vibe on the chat room, made some friends on that who have come to Ibiza to see me or met up with other chat room people at Balearic led events back in the UK, so yes I certainly think the Chillout / Balearic scene picked up some new fans.
You’ve been in the music industry for a long time, how have things changed in that time and what needs to change for the better?
Huge changes, there was a time when you created music and toured to promote that music and that drove physical sales, now the music is there to promote the tours which for many artists is how they earn their living. I think the thing that has to change is how artist value their music and also understand what goes on when a label signs and releases that music. I see far to many times artists giving away their music even when signed to a label who is planning release schedules and promotion and then the artist is handing out to their friends in the industry who are totally unaware that their is a release plan in place and its all ties into a bigger picture. I have had key radio play scraped because the track has been played early by a mate of the producer on his radio show or mixes on key website, artists are so patient in the studio but can be the complete opposite when it comes to getting their music out and about and released.
You’re currently based in Ibiza, but was based in Bali for a while, please tell us a little about that?
I did four and half year over there, DJing and events and music manager for various venues, the highlight being Potato Head and working on events such as Grace Jones LIVE with DJ Harvey, the first Boiler Room session with Crazy P live, Jose Padilla, Dea, and Daniele Baldelli standout, also I arranged the Sun Down Circle tour, which took the Bali based event to Worldwide festival in Sete, Love International, Croatia, Brilliant Corners, London and Pikes, Ibiza.
And what have been your highlights in Ibiza so far this year?
Always good to see the island busy, musically Harvey playing Pikes does it for me, venues investing in decent sound systems and equipment, also people and venues doing things from the heart and soul and not just chasing the €£$.
Where else can we catch you playing this Summer?
On the Island I play every Tuesday evening at Word of Mouth Radio Cafe in Santa Eularia, and guest spots every week at Pikes, Hostal La Torre, The Standard, also this year I have been playing monthly at the new W Hotel on the Algarve, Portugal. I also host a 1 hour show every Sunday on Ibiza Global radio from 2pm UK time / 3pm CET.
Have you any tips for upcoming producers and DJ’s on the Chill Out / Balearic scene?
Be open minded, understand the history of the scene, don’t be afraid to take risks and experiment, also understand the business side of things, its amazing how many musicians and artists I meet who have little or no understanding of this, you don’t need to be a business mastermind, just have a basic understanding and I promise you things will feel easier when having to navigate contracts or deal memos etc. Also sort your publishing out, the one thing that over time will have more value to you as an artist and the one thing that is probably ignored or put at the bottom of the pile of things to do. Networking and contacts, another thing to work on and maintain, not just within.
And finally, what’s your perfect sunset record?
Impossible to answer, as like sunsets, this changes every day plus I am discovering lots of new music all the time. I will say though, at the moment this track by SAULT is pretty special. It was released this year.
And some old music I discovered this year, which also is amazing for sunset is ‘Illuminations by Carlos Santana and Alice Coltrane.
‘NuNorthern Soul 10th Anniversary Box Set’ is available now on vinyl and all streaming platforms.