House is about love: Butler & Bontan are on a mission

Hot from their individual successes, UK house superstar’s Josh Butler and Andrew ‘Bontan’ Philips have teamed up for a whirlwind 3 month UK tour taking in luminary venues like Sankey’s in Manchester, Lush in Northern Ireland and the greatest rave den in the world, The Arches in Glasgow. With everyone from Pete Tong to Mark Knight hammering their tracks, these guys are hot property right now, and their no nonsense back to basics style of DJing really good house music is winning them an army of fans. A&R Simon Huxtable caught up with the dynamic duo between gigs recently to discuss the tour, their life stories and the future of house music.

Hi Guys, thanks for finding the time to chat to us at Decoded Magazine. Hows the tour going? I managed to catch you a few weeks back in Sankey’s and the vibe was unreal!

Josh: My pleasure, thanks for having us. So far so good! We are 4 dates down 8 to go. I can’t wait to get stuck back in.
Bontan: Thanks! Sankeys was a special one for us as we got to play before one of our idols Green Velvet. The crowd were seriously on point that night.

You’re both independently very successful, so what prompted a joint UK tour? And are we looking at a new DJ duo?

Josh: We said to each other right from the start that this would be a limited run of dates. We both have a lot happening with solo stuff to so time is of the essence. Our idea was pay our respects to true house music. Personally, I feel over the last few years of the ‘House music resurgence’, there are some sub genres that feel a little watered down. This our attempt to bring the classic House sound sound back to the big clubs.
Bontan: Yeah we want to make these dates as special as possible. Only doing them on rare occasions. We want to show people our inspirations and take them on a journey that got us addicted to house.

You’ve taken a mini break at the moment having already played Manchester, Birmingham, Liverpool, Nottingham and Dublin in 3 weeks! Next up is my old stomping ground, Motion in Bristol, have either of you played there before, and where else is getting you particularly amped up for playing?

Josh: I played Motion a couple of years back actually yeah, loved it! What a venue. Mint Club is my second home after having lived in Leeds for a few years. Arches and MOS are gonna be pretty wild too!
Bontan: I’ve never played before but i have heard amazing things about it! Leeds will be a big one as its quite local so all our friends will be there.

Globally, where do you find your sound resonates best? Is the UK scene still the envy of the world?

Josh: For me Holland is the one. Maybe my favourite country to play so far and I’m blessed to have made some great friends out there whole believe in my music and continue to book me.
Bontan: The UK scene is still holding strong in global dance music culture. There is nothing better than a UK crowd who just want to listen to good house music.

Tell us about the tours vision. You seem to both have a passion for playing really great house music without the need for a ton of effects or tech wizardry. Is that a conscious choice to let the music speak for itself?

Josh: I guess I sort of touched on this previously. But that is exactly it, let the music talk because House music has sooooo much to say. And I mean as good as all these sub genres are, our aim is to forget that and take things back to the beginning. It’s US sounding House. I’ve been playing a lot of old records from labels like Nervous, King Street, Strictly Rhythm. But also new tracks that stay true to this sound, from artists such as Bicep, Darius Syrossian and Sidney Charles.
Bontan: All I can do here is echo what Josh has said. House music speaks for itself.

Josh, you spent some time in New Zealand as a teenager. What was that experience like, and do you get the chance at all to go back?

Josh: I lived over there from the age of 13 to 17, so most of my secondary school years. I loved it for sure but the town I lived in was very very small. No bars/clubs etc. Not even any busses or trains. As soon as I realised I couldn’t live without electronic music and wanted to be involved in this whole scene, I looked in to moving home to the UK. I haven’t had chance to visit Keri Keri since, but I did play Queenstown last year. A lot of my old friends now live in Australia so I caught up with those guys in Melbourne which was fun.

You also were a bit of a dirt bike fanatic….

Haha! Yeah, I had a YZ125, miss that beast!

Andrew, you grew up down the road from Southport. The Weekender there is a national institution, and we understand of personal influence to you musically. Tell us about the first time you went and had that ‘eureka’ moment..

It was unbelievable. For me the Southport Weekender crowd is the best i have ever experienced in my entire life. No judgemental people. No egos. Just like minded people from all places & races getting down to house music!

 

Josh, your DJ heroes growing up were not exactly what one would imagine a house DJ citing. How do you feel your tastes have developed over the years?

I think my tastes have always been pretty board. I’m really not one for pigeoning holing music, if it excites…I listen to it. Some of my tastes have changed but in other ways not. I was actually just listening Paul Van Dyk’s set from back in 2000 at Homeland festival, still have a soft spot for driving melodic Trance.

You both epitomise the new order of DJ/producer in that its been your productions which have acted as a calling card for you both. Everyone from Pete Tong and Steve Lawler to Heidi and Annie Mac have been championing your respective tracks. That must help a great deal, but is it hard now to keep the momentum up? What do you do on those less than productive days we all get from time to time?

Josh: In the past I have tried to just power through, sitting in the studio playing around. But you quickly learn forcing something never helps. Now I take time out from the studio, spend time out doors or listen to other styles of music. Reggae, classic, soul, whatever I’m in the mood for. Luckily the inspiration has always seemed to return, so far…
Bontan: If I’m not feeling it in the studio i turn it off instantly. I don’t want to spend my day getting frustrated turning out terrible music. I just chill and when inspiration comes to me I go straight back in again.

Any plans for some collaboration tracks?

Josh: We have just finished our second collab track together featuring the vocals from Vula, part of Basement Jaxx. I’m really pleased with this and its sounding great in the clubs.

Is there one track that you wished you could have made? What is it and why?

Josh: Thinking about it, quite a few haha. One being Faithless – Insomnia
Bontan: For me its Kings Of Tomorrow – Finally. I adore that record.

Staying with productions briefly. Andrew, can you tell us about that fateful phone conversation with Mark Knight when he asked you to remix Downpipe? And not to be out done, Josh tell us the back story behind your phone call with Darius Syrrosian and your track, I think it was ‘Can You See’.

Josh: I’ll be honest I can’t actually remember a call regarding Can You See, but one of the first phone calls Darius and I had was about my track ‘Northern Groove’, which later became our first collaboration Bass Play.
Bontan: I was literally just sat in my studio messing with some sounds. I had signed ‘Move On Out’ to Toolroom the week before. My phone goes and its Mark. He straight up just said “Fancy remixing Downpipe”. I got working on it that same day.

 

As DJs you’ve had some pretty cool experiences already. Can you share some of the highlights?

Josh: Defiantly playing in the Netherlands. I played a wicked festival in Lielen last year with Hector Couto. I remember it was a beautiful after, sun shining, vodka flowing all round and I played Kerri’s remix of Detroit Swindle – 64 Ways and everyone went nuts!! I even heard Armin Van Buuren was walking around the festival site that day, legend!
Bontan: Creamfields was a big one for me as i played one of the main sets on the Pete Tong arena before Pete Tong. Also playing the Theatre at Chibuku was a highlight as its a local gig for me.

House music as with any genre has its ups and downs. Where in the scheme of things do you see it at the moment and are we on the verge of a soulful house resurgence?

Josh: I sure hope so. Music needs some soul and passion invested back in to it. This is obviously all personal taste as I come from a background of more melodic based music. The soulful stuff has never full left us but its not surfaced properly for a while.
Bontan: I would love nothing better than a soulful house resurgence. “house is about love”… I think a lot of people forget that!

Finally, whats happening for you both for the rest of this year?

Josh: After the tour I will be back on the road around Europe, Africa and Ibiza over the summer. As for releases I have a 4 track EP coming on Noir also a remix that I am MASSIVELY excited about, but more news on that soon ;)
Bontan: When the tours done i will be heading to Ibiza and getting stuck into a run of festival dates throughout the summer. I also have some new music coming out on Circus, MadTech, Toolroom & Ultra.