“Balearic DJing is about the journey you take through a collection of music that’s not restricted by trends or populist movements” – Phat Phil Cooper

Phat Phil Cooper. A legend! The name is instantly recognisable and instinctively linked to the White Isle paradise of Ibiza. Most will know him for his residency at Liverpool super club Cream. Others, especially industry insiders, will know him for his tireless work behind the scenes as a prolific promoter of soulful house music and sublime Balearic sounds to the masses over a long and distinguished career.

I first encountered Phil behind the counter at his record shop in Chester, back, way back actually, in the day. I sensed his work ethic right away and got the impression that this guy was passionate and worked damn hard. So when I got an opportunity to chat with him for Decoded Magazine, I jumped at the chance to quiz him at his base in Ibiza about his vision of the Balearic movement and his label, NuNorthern Soul.

Now Balearic is not something I know an awful lot about, so it’s a bit of learning curve to be honest. But as I had the opportunity to tune in to his weekly radio show a few times over lockdown, I got totally mesmerised by the tracks he curated for it. So if one person can walk myself, and all the other uninitiated out there through it, it’s definitely Phil!

His label, NuNorthern Soul, has its next and stunning release hitting the digital and vinyl shops very soon on 30th July with a Juno Download exclusive release this week on 16th July. More on that later, but just to say that the new release sounds amazing and is an absolute testament to the label’s Balearic roots and foundations. So after ‘banging it out in the clubs’ for many years, how did Phil find his way into the more down tempo side of things – or did it find him?

“I always collected vinyl, many different genres from many eras,” he said. “I was first and foremost a music collector, also a listener, also a dancer… so I had a large collection of alternative sounds before I got into playing clubs in the early 90’s. It just so happened that I got picked up by Cream and made a resident which pushed me down the route of being a House DJ, but in all honesty I was listening to so many more styles well before those days,” he added.

“I was always breaking boundaries, dropping tracks that shouldn’t work in the environment I was playing in and going against the grain, but spinning music that worked in the context of the party. I think this set me apart from some other DJs. There are many who play in the same way as I do, and these are the ones I gravitated towards,” recalled Phil.

“I came through the ranks and landed at Cream in Liverpool, reaching the heady heights of super club fame. I kind of got out of all that when the club went down the Trance path, but not before having three amazing seasons at Amnesia and touring the world for them as one of the residents. I then moved to Ibiza and set up a promotion service working for labels and artists such as Low Pressing, Clive Henry, Masters at Work, Compost Recordings and many more, making sure their promos got into the hands of the key DJs and residents,” Phil said.

“These were a golden few years, living in a place I loved, doing a job I loved,” he reminisced. “I was also playing at Space, throwing my own NuNorthern Soul sessions at a small venue under the Jet apartments in Playa D’En Bossa, where amazing artists like Róisín Murphy and Barbara Tucker would come by, hang out and jump on the mic. Danny Rampling would swing by and we would do a pirate radio broadcast for Zumo FM. Glorious, hazy, Balearic days!”

Phil is still living there, right amongst it. Or rather, Ibiza was right amongst it. The pandemic has certainly changed its musical landscape with venue and travel restrictions. So what’s happening in Ibiza right now?

“A few smaller places with terraces, roof top spaces, that kind of thing, are open. But, it’s all seated events or sunset spots at the moment. After over a year of pretty much nothing, I will take this for now.” he declared. “Musically there is a lot of dull, deep, tech house sounds pretty much everywhere you go, but hopefully we will see a return to eclecticism and people reading the room, or in most cases, the beach probably!”

Ibiza’s beaches will certainly be key zones for music and party lovers to fully immerse themselves in Balearic sounds for some much-awaited and much-needed respite. I can concur with Phil’s take on recent music, and likewise I am also bored by the factory sound and dull output I consistently get in my promos inbox nowadays… bored shitless with it even. So it’s nice to get something special from a label like NuNorthern Soul, a proper label in fact that also releases on vinyl, right?

“Yes indeed! Vinyl, digital, CDs… and cassettes!” Phil surprisingly stated.

“What?” I checked. “Yeah, Cassettes!” he confirmed. “Anyway, the label came after my NuNorthern Soul events and podcasts, which I had started to do in 2012. The label came about because I was hearing so much amazing music and meeting amazing producers who where not finding a home for their output.”

“I moved to London to work on some agency stuff, consulting on music brands and bands, I had a beer one evening with a northern friend Ticker, who was working at R&S at the time. We got chatting about a musician called Benjamin Smith. I had always wanted to meet him, as I was a huge fan of his music from various outfits he had played with such as Smith & Mudd, FUG and Akwaaba. Ticker said he knew him and also that Ben lived locally. Very soon a meeting was set up and we connected on so many levels. I ended up advising him on some of the tracks he had sat on his hard drive and how they could be tweaked. Once those had been finalised, I released them as B.J. Smith presents The Movedrill Project, the label’s first project. Ben went on to record several more releases for NuNorthern Soul, including an amazing cover of Mos Def’s Umi Says… a track that would be ‘the sound of sunsets for years to come’, proclaimed by Giles Peterson!” Phil disclosed.

“Another of Ben’s big tracks was Hold On and I secured a Johnny Nash remix. I was living in Bali at the time and Johnny was heading over to work at Potato Head Beach Club to take over the Music and Events management role, a role I ended up taking after he left. Johnny wanted some advice on getting his legal paperwork sorted, so I helped him. In return, he did this incredible remix,” said Phil.

“Over the years I have also worked with the late and great Ryo Kawasaki. We released 2 compilations on vinyl, limited edition cassette and on RSD 2021, re-issuing his sought after album, Lucky Lady. I have so many amazing stories about Ryo, we could almost do a separate interview based on those, but the guy was a legend! I helped organise a great interview for him with Gilles Peterson that’s worth checking, and you’ll see what I mean!”

“Another of our artists that I’m always super excited to work with is JIM, the singer songwriter project of James Baron (aka Ron Basejam of Crazy P fame). Jim and I went to school together in North Wales, I was 2 years older and we really connected once we had left school. One day, Jim passed me some demos of music he had made with Chris Todd (aka Hot Toddy). I passed these on to Paper Recordings’ Miles Hollway and Elliot Eastwick who signed them as Crazy Penis. The rest, they say, is history! So it’s a full circle story as this new project is perfect for NuNorthern Soul. In fact JIM covered The Cult’s Phoenix for us, even getting the all-important approval and thumbs up from the band,” Phil asserted.

“Jim, under his Ron Basejam guise, also turned in one of the biggest remixes for the label with his rework of Ragz Nordset You Started It All. This is for me is the benchmark sound of NuNorthern Soul,” the label’s head-honcho stated.

“More recently, I have started working with Mallorcan guitarist, Joan Bibiloni, another amazing character and contributor to the music scene. His history is extensive, deep and forms the backbone of the Balearic scene,” Phil added.

Check out Joan Bibiloni ‘Selected Works 1982 to 1989’ (NuNorthern Soul) here

“But for those who want an introduction to the label, they should check the Andi Hanley Restructured and Reworked release. Andi, a Mancunian, was living and working in New York during the heady days of Body and Soul as the opening DJ for Francois K, Danny Krivit and Joe Clausell. He also worked as the sound supervisor on the Grand Theft Auto series. Andi is currently working on a second set of reworks for a forthcoming winter release.”

NuNorthern Soul is clearly a label with thoroughbred artists releasing some damn fine productions. It’s an extremely high production standard. So how would an artist, especially new talent, submit to the label? In other words, what’s the process in a nutshell?

“Simple. Listen to what we do, just familiarize yourself with it, and if you honestly think your music has a home amongst what you hear, then reach out. Music is a feeling after all, and even if you make techno, and you feel you have a piece of music that would sit well in a sunset session, go for it! We always love to hear new stuff. As an example this is a record I would have happily signed if I had the chance!”

An amazing array and superb offering of musical styles is to be found at the NuNorthern Soul stable. Not just one genre, but thematic, groundbreaking productions. Another world and a million miles away from the factory sounds that have been hammering out the social media feeds of late. So, the big question… what is the Balearic sound? Does it have a definitive sound genre? Also, how did it grow and how you expect it to evolve?

“The Balearic sound question is a big one and also one that many people will spend hours debating! But, my rule of thumb is taken from the late and great Jose Padilla, ‘Balearic is not a kind of music, it’s a way of life.’ It’s the freedom to play whatever you want, so long as you play it proficiently. People listen to a track with a guitar on it and say, ‘This is Balearic!’ when it’s not. So in my humble opinion, Balearic DJing is about the journey you take through a collection of music that’s not restricted by trends or populist movements.” Phil responded.

“To add, I don’t consider anything under a 3 hour DJ set as Balearic,” he quipped. “Joking aside, you need as many hours as possible to weave the Balearic blanket. The Balearic sound is not just restricted to Ibiza. The South of France, the Italian and Croatian coastlines all have their own take on it, and have done for as long as The White Isle has, and these have also been documented and preserved through compilations on and across websites such a Test Pressing and Ban Ban Ton Ton. I think what clinched it for Ibiza was the absolute freedom etc in the 60s and 70’s. There is a strong scene here and it will always be home for the sound, and it appears that a younger generation are embracing it again, digging for those rare records or producing their version of the sound and the feelings that come with it,” Phil revealed.

“There are only two types of music, music you like and music you don’t! People need to name things to market it, or to put it into a box, or on a shelf I guess. I am not for or against any of the descriptions such as lounge, ambient or chill out, but I do very much prefer it when people come over and ask what my style of music is… I just tell them it’s music you like or you don’t!” Phil insisted.

Actually, Phil has also been working hard on the socials over the lockdown from his Ibiza hideaway, embracing the new platforms for creative output such as Mixcloud Live. For those who know, the NuNorthern Soul Sunday morning sessions offer listeners assured aural therapy and he has built up quite a following. Was it his first outing in the world of broadcasting-come-podcasting?

“The radio session came about as a direct result of the small events I did in back rooms, on beaches or in barns, celebrating my twist on Balearic. When I was not away touring with Cream, I was doing a semi regular session on Sundays in a pub in Chester and this was the place I could sit down! Yes, I had a DJ booth made where I could sit at and play the amazing music I had found, such as jazz, soul, funk, ambient, disco… whatever I wanted to play, I could play!” he said.

“As technology advanced, if I could record and sometimes stream these sessions, then I did. I soon started to do a regular podcast on Podbean which aggregated to iTunes and other podcast platforms,” he added.

“The podcasting technology continued to advance and I just kept up with it and got onboard. So through lock down, I started streaming a 90 min show every day from Ibiza, I even hi-jacked beachfront webcams to show the nice beach to people while they listened. This daily session is now weekly, every Sunday from 9am BST / 10am CET on Mixcloud Live and it’s a mixture of music and myself chatting shit! As I like to say ‘Lets start the day in a positive way,’” Phil enthused.

“At my place, I don’t really have a studio as such, but I am set up for making radio or streaming live radio. I do a lot of stuff for WorldwideFM, Ibiza Global Radio, as well as my Sunday morning stream on Mixcloud. Also Melodic Distraction, Music For Dreams, plus I curate for Emirates’ in-flight entertainment and create playlists for brands such as Soho House, giving them all a slice of my NuNorthern Soul Balearic heaven,” he confirmed.

Anything else to add, Mr Cooper? “I think I have waffled on enough, just wanted to say thanks for asking me to contribute to the magazine…” Well, the pleasure is Decoded Magazine’s!!! There definitely needs to be many more Phil Coopers in the music industry. His label and professional support provides music lovers with a solid platform founded on old-school music business ethics with best-of-breed values and boundary-pushing musical vibes. So what’s next up on the label then?

“A wonderful remix package of the My Friend Dario release that I put out last year, entitled ‘Cosmic Sailing’. The remixes come from Hot Toddy (Crazy P) who brings some WAR style grooves on ‘Neve Su Acireale’, and Ibiza DJ and producer Wille Graff adds a heavy dose of Balearic magic to ‘Fenice’. Also, James Bright offers a blissed out synth heavy revision of ‘Storm’ and Detroit-based producer Blair French offers a sun-kissed rendition of ‘Malvasia’”, acknowledged Phil.

Check the next release on NuNorthern Soul; My Friend Dario – Cosmic Sailing Remix EP (Incl. Hot Toddy, Blair French, Willie Graff and James Bright remixes) [NUNS037] out on Juno Download 16th July, with a full release (including vinyl) 30th July 2021. Pre Order/Buy here.

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About the Author

Since moving to Barcelona 13 years ago, Mark J established himself as a DJ, a producer, a radio presenter and a freelance writer. He is nightlife editor of Barcelona Connect Magazine and has written for various online and print publications. Mark has interviewed legendary artists such as Jean Michel Jarre, Laurent Garnier, Dubfire & Funk D’Void as well as emerging artists like Carlo Lio, Mark Reeve or Coyu. You can catch him DJing in Barcelona clubs the Macarena and Becool.