Interview with Common Underground


The quite common guys Phil and Jimmy have had most of their lives centered around music; both as drummers, DJs and producers. After running the successful record label Loophole Recordings for 5 years, they’ve decided to start a new production project called Common Underground. Having a new EP recently released on their own imprint, they duo is basically on fire with more releases to come as well as upcoming shows together. 

Their next appearance in this new constellation will take place next week on Friday May 6th at New Guernica for the local techno night held by Kontrast and White Noise Music. This event will be showcasing the local techno talents in Melbourne with support from Luke Lawrence, Caspian, Sundelin, Ok Sure, Fancke, Audio Bits and Ruby Slippers. Sundelin from Whono’s got hold of the guys from Common Underground to ask some questions during the afterglow of their EP release.

Could you please tell us the story about how you both got into DJing and music production?

Phil: I had just started year 11 at a new school and was keen to find people to join a band with, as I’d been playing drums and bass for years. All the kids at school already had their own established bands and there wasn’t really any room for me to muscle in. A friend of mine at another school, Steve (SDF1 on Loophole Recordings) took me to a Kryal Castle party over the summer, and introduced me to his turntables and techno vinyl collection the day after. I was hooked – it was something I didnt need a band for, and something new and exciting. I got an extra job after school, and on weekends, so I could buy turntables, and start buying vinyl, while my drums collected dust. By the time I was 18, I’d had a few years of belting out records in my garage, and I met a few people out who gave me a shot, and it quickly developed into weekend residencies. As I got better at DJing I’d fleetingly open up Fruityloops and play around with it, but never do anything worthwhile. It wasn’t until I met Jimmy and he showed me how in depth he used Reason, that I stood up to take notice that this was something I needed to focus if I wanted to keep doing this and be taken seriously.

Jimmy: Similar story for me too, I was a drummer at school and couldn’t find a band as everyone one wanted to be the next Brit pop band and wasn’t really my thing. I got some music software when I was 16 and started playing around with it; I made some absolute garbage but enjoyed every second of it. When I finished school I went to college and studied Music Tech, here I met some guys who introduced me to DJing, and shortly after I got a cheap pair of turntables and fell into the world of Drum & Bass. I kept up with the music production too, dabbling with Logic, Ableton and Reason working with some guys that went on to do big things but I couldn’t really nail D&B production. It was around the time I met Flip that I got into Breakbeat and Techno when my life changed forever. I started buying records, getting gigs, hosting parties and writing tracks and things grew from there!

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Phil, can you tell me about your first musical memory?

Before I was old enough for primary school, my parents would go to work and I’d either spend the day with my nan or grandma. My grandma was very musical, she’d teach me to play little simple melodies on her piano. She would also set up all her pots and pans and sit me on the kitchen table with wooden spoons and let me play them like drums. She was the best!

James, what kind of sounds and music elements excites you the most?

It’s no secret that I love a good bassline, this goes back to my Drum & Bass days and collecting many great records from the likes of Dillinja, Teebee and Bad Company. I grew up listening to my Dad’s funk & soul collection too and I love anything with a bit of funk!

You’ve been running Loophole Recordings together since 2011, and since last year you’re now also the production team that is Common Underground. What made you decide to start this new project?

Phil: Jimmy and I have made tunes together since before we started the label. At the start, we made music under the name ‘What Now?’ but it was mostly breakbeat focused. Personal circumstances in our life changed that led Jimmy to move back to the UK for a few years, and our productions together took a bit of a back seat, as did the label. When Jimmy finally came back late 2014, breaks was well and truly dead, and both our musical interests had evolved. Even though we’d both changed the style of tunes we were playing out in clubs, and listening to, the same elements of music still excited us in the same way, and the desire to make our own music together was still strong. We got back into the studio late last year, and without any restraints or specific sound we were trying to make, unlike past endeavours, it was a lot more free and enjoyable. We thought we’d rebrand ourselves and start making tunes that were more accessible to anyone, and not constrained to any specific genre, which led us to the name Common Underground.

Jimmy: Yeah we’ve had a few ups and downs in the past but the excitement and enjoyment of working on music together was still there so we did a couple of remixes and a couple of original tracks and ‘Common Underground’ was born, we’ve really left this one open and we’ll be doing all kinds of different styles and genres. Working alongside Flip also gives me fresh ideas to port over to my own productions, getting over writers block can be a big issue when writing on your own.

What was the most important thing you learnt while working for a digital distributor?

Phil: We learnt so much, there’s almost too much to list. I think the most valuable knowledge was gained by managing content and promo for so many labels, Australian and international. We got to see what worked and what didn’t for each label as they put out their releases. I think the list of what you should do for each release you put out, as well as the label in general, in order to gain traction and be successful, could seem daunting to new or small labels, and would take a lot of people to maintain. It’s been so ingrained in us through so many years, it’s not overwhelming, and it’s actually pretty manageable between the two of us.

Jimmy: I still work there now and am constantly learning new things everyday. The most reassuring thing is most labels are in the same boat really; always experimenting and trying something and maintaining traction. Another aspect that a lot of people don’t give much thought to is the back office stuff, contracts, accounting, tax and what not. This is something I’ve had to learn over the past year and will no doubt continue to learn about.

What has been the biggest challenges in running your own record label?

Unexpected changes in our individual lives that make it hard for you to devote the time and energy needed to keep the flow going. Because we both have different day jobs, without both of us putting enough time into this, and communicating together, it makes it hard to have the same mindset, focus and drive as each other. If we’re not on the same page, the label doesn’t run well. Sometimes, your life changes up a bit, and it’s just unavoidable. A few different things over the years have put us in different spaces, and at one point, we hadn’t put out a track for a year, and we physically sat down and asked ourselves, are we still going to do this? We made the decision that this was too important to both of us to throw away, rebranded our own production names, and the label itself, and got the label running better than ever.

Tell me James, how has your UK background influenced your music production?

The UK and Europe has such a large, diverse electronic music scene and growing up there I was fortunate enough to experience plenty of different sounds and see plenty of different acts and artists over the years. It still plays a big influence now, there are some great artists coming from the UK at the moment shaping the global music scene and I’m constantly drawing influences in my own productions.

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Phil, as a well established DJ in the Melbourne nightclub circuit, can you pinpoint one or two of the biggest turning points in your career?

In regards to DJing, I played around a lot of clubs and bars in Melbourne for many years, but my sights were always set on joining the rotation at Revolver. It was an unattainable goal for so long, but I’ve been a resident there for a few years now. No other place I’ve played compares to the consistent satisfaction you get from playing the type of tunes we can to thriving crowds. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had some awesome slots over the years, this place just seems like Melbourne’s clubbing heartbeat.

I’ve warmed up, and followed a lot of big touring artists over the years for so many different sounds – House, Breaks, Techno, DnB, Grime, etc. From when I was a teenager I loved the Stanton Warriors, and had seen them play countless times around the world. When I played breaks, I loved warming up for them. There was never a more anticipating crowd.

One day someone posted a link to my wall of a recording of their London boat party birthday set, with a tune myself and Jimmy made together in it. That was a nice little indicator for us that were were actually on the right path, and not just making music for ourselves.

What has the future to hold for Common Underground? Can you let us in on some upcoming projects or events?

Phil: Jimmy has drummed up a few belters on his own while I’ve been interstate for work, but we’ve been doing a bit more A&R for the label whilst separated, finding tracks by some Melbourne guys which are massively exciting. We’ll be on the remix tip on these for Loophole next week, and keep working on our own originals now I’m home. We have a tune out last Friday called ‘GO!’ featuring a host of remixes from other Melbourne artists, we’ve just signed a tune to a UK label and we have another house track finished that we’re really happy with. We’ve playing around with the best way to get that one out there. In the meantime we’ve got another tune we’re going to give away in the next few weeks on Soundcloud, and working on a bootleg of an old 99 techno classic!

Jimmy: Alongside that I have 2 singles due out, one on an Australian label and one on the same UK label as the Common Underground release. Loophole wise we have some superb releases planned from some really talented Melbourne producers over the next few months and a winter birthday party too!

On May 6th you will be performing as Common Underground at New Guernica for Kontrast’s and White Noise Music’s local techno event. What can we except on the night?

Fun and heavy techno. We’re the opposite of chin strokers, and eclectic with what we like to play. (As long as it’s tough!)

Catch Common Underground headlining Kontrast and White Noise Music’s local techno party at New Guernica on May 6th! More information about the event can be found on the Facebook event page.

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