Since his first DJ slot at Delirium in 1991, Phil Asher has slowly built an extensive résumé as an international jock, producer, and integral figure in London’s dance music community. In the late ’90s and early 2000s, Asher was central in the evolution of broken beat, as a founder of West London’s Co-Op club, and as a prolific artist with countless remixes and numerous recording projects under his belt.
Asher started his life in music in a rather unique fashion. As a youngster, he’d sneakily filch some of the records his father would bring home from a record store job and sell them to his schoolmates. Later on, he followed in his father’s footsteps by working at record shops and developed his taste for several styles of music, encompassing jazz, funk, soul, disco, and house. He ventured into DJ’ing in the early ’90s, became part of Slip ‘n’ Slide’s extensive Jazz in the House compilation/mix series, and by the late ’90s, he was into production work and even began hosting a radio program — R Solution with Kirk DeGiorgio and 4hero’s Dego and Mark Mac — on London’s Kiss FM.
The producer’s role as a driving force behind broken beat hit full speed in the early 2000s. Not only was he a member of the duo Restless Soul, releasing 12″ singles with Luke McCarthy and numerous outside collaborators, but he presented a full-length project called Focus for 2002’s Sweet and Sour.
We sat down with him recently to records, acid house and which clubs set him on his way to where he is now, check out below!
London is your home town and are you’re playing a rare back to back anything goes set at the Deep Into Soul 6th Anniversary with your fellow West Londoner Afronaut of Bugz In The Attic, How does it work for you both on the decks – 1 track on 1 track off or do you play it by ear?
Grooves from the off. We’ll probably play a little set by ourselves, then onto 3,2,1 each lifting the energy as we go. We’ve spun together so many times now, it’s very casual. It’s a Party! Expect Funk, Boogie, Soul, Broken Beat, House, Latin & Salsa, Cosmic & Earthly Riddims.
A guaranteed journey full of fun. When the promoter trusts you enough to play an anything goes set, you feel blessed. In turn you are compelled to entertain for the evening. Orin and I both love many types of music and we’ll do our best to keep the energy up and the vibes flowing. They’ll definitely be an Exclusive or two. It’s always fun DJi-ng alongside Afronaut.
Did your love of music start before the dance-floor and how old were you when you discovered dance music? Can you remember any of the tracks that first set your world alight, and did disco or hip hop play a big part?
Way before the dance floor it started at home with Stevie Wonder and Motown, Elvis and Rock n’ Roll, Pop Music on the radio and on my Ferguson all in one music system donated from my Gran I think. My Mum and Dad both worked at a record shop when i was a kid and my Dad would bring me home records like The Specials, ELO, and The Police.I was a Mod at the time and enjoying the Motown, 60’s Soul numbers Tony Class would play at the Bush Hotel on Saturday nights in Shepherds Bush. At school we had Punks, Mods, Dub heads and New Romantics and they brought a lot of different music and influences with them. This all led us to Disco and Boogie. The first club I remember hearing D-Train, Jocelyn Brown, and Freez at was the Lyceum on the Strand with Steve Walsh (RIP). Then came Hip-Hop and Rare Goove. The progression to Dance and later House was easy.
Tracks that first set my world alight.
The Specials – Gangsters
MFSB- Love Is The Message
Stevie Wonder – Another Star
The Zombies – She’s Not There
Ripple – I Don’t Know What It Is But It Sure Is Funky
Soft Cell – Tainted Love
The Police – Roxanne
The Jam – Down in The Tube Station At Midnight.
Grace Jones – Pull Up To The Bumper
James Brown – Stone To The Bone
How much did your neighbourhood and friends/family influence you in your choice of musical career?
My best friend Ray Whittard influenced me a lot, as did my family. My neighbourhood had many influences going on including Reggae, Soul, Hip-Hop, House, Funk, Blues and Pub Rock, Growing up i was very proud of the musical heritage Ladroke Grove, Harlesden, Notting Hill and Shepherds Bush had garnered over the years. I loved the fact you could walk up Portobello Road in the 80’s and you’d often see people shopping, people like Mick Jones from the Clash, Drummie Zeb from Aswad, We had Honest Jon’s in its prime, Quaff Records, Vinyl Solution, Dub Vendor and Peoples Sound, You also had pop-up shops like Wask’s & Fred’s Friday Shop. We also had Carnival.
Where were any early clubs you were hitting and DJs that influenced you and can you share some memories?
Here’s three at least.
1. Noel and Maurice Watson (RIP) @ Delirium – Astoria
From Funk to House, with all relevant new music and styles in between. You’d hear upfront house, Go-go, Funk, Disco, Hip Hop and Spacey Long Loft style tunes like War’s ‘World is a Ghetto’ or Manuel Gottsching’s seminal ‘E2E4’. The way these two blended between styles was a blueprint for today’s more eclectic/more than one style DJs. They taught me a lot then and over the years.
2. Brother Marco (Young Disciples) @ Family Function – Dingwalls,
One of the most memorable times for me was FF/Shake & Fingerpop which happened to be at Dingwalls that night. Marco was playing the 12” of Funkadelic’a ‘One Nation Under A Groove’ 11.26, then faultlessly mixed EPMD’s ‘So Whatya Sayin’ 4.55, All the way through till it ended, and Funkadelic was just hitting the Break 3/4’s of the way through.That was “electric” for me. I heard new electronic music and Funk from 11 years previous. Music had changed so much in 11 years, yet both styles made me excited, and played together was very exciting.
3. Kid Batchelor & Colin Faver (RIP) @ Confusion – Bill Stickers
These guys, they rocked Confusion @ Bill Stickers on Sunday nights. What I loved was the fact they played a bit of all styles of house there. I mean you could hear New York, Italo, Balearic, Detroit and Chicago house in one night, mixed to perfection. That place was a proper acid house. Actually, thanks to Nicky Trax, who incidentally hosted and ran Confusion, my DJ partner Ray Whittard and I had our first proper “House Club” booking ever there thanks to Nicky,warming up for Colin Faver downstairs. We did our thing whilst Colin stood by the side of the booth being very encouraging, then came on after us and laid down a masterclass of Mixing/Programming House music. Thank you Ms Trax.
One of the London’s early acid house converts after some amazing nights at the Delirium events, how did you first come across house music and how did it make you feel? From pirate radio shows to your first productions, how did you start off producing and did it all come naturally?
I used to work in Vinyl Solution, a record shop selling 99% Vinyl 1% CDs, the odd mixtape and merchandising, i.e.: bags and t-shirts on Portobello Road in the late 80’s early 90’s. Peter Harris (RIP) the owner of Slip ’n’ Slide was a regular at the shop, mostly there to hear what fresh tunes and styles were coming out, as well as buying the odd tune. Giving in to one of his true loves “Music”. Anyway, he said to me “Phil, you have a good ear, do you want to remix a song for me?”. That’s how it began for me. I did a remix of Key III’s ‘Ain’t No Mountain High Enough’ and that was the first step on my path in studio production.
You worked quite closely with the Slip N Slide label on Portobello Road, and can you tell us how you came to work with them and in what capacity?
I got to know Pete Harris quite well in that time and he offered me more work on remixes and offered us studio time in his Basement 282 studio. Then I started helping out with A&R and helping him curate the ‘Jazz in the House’ Album series. In those times under Pete’s wing i worked on some great music with some amazing artists. Pete was an inspiring person to be around, I miss him.
Were you instrumental in bringing Blaze to the label as you championed a lot of vocal New Jersey house at that time?
You also went on to spearhead the Jazz In The House series and what are your personal highlights working with the label and what makes them so special?
Everything i learned from Peter Harris has stayed with me. It’s precious. Working with him was emotionally challenging at times but always worth it. Pete had so many ideas. He had so much passion for Music and for the industry. He spearheaded notions such as the compilation series, signing and nurturing artists even though he was a small town independent label.
If he thought you had talent he would encourage you to show it. Starting the ‘J i T H’ compilations was amazing. Having so much good music being made, it was an easy task. Working on material for his subsidiary Basement 282 was incredible times. I met Mike Banks from Underground Resistance at the Basement 282 studio on Westbourne Park Road. Watching Peter go from GTI records to Slip n Slide, then sure enough becoming an Industry Standard himself. Judging at DMC Events, talking on panel’s at Midem – we were very proud of Pete. I did some of my first Productions with Orin at Basement 282. It was around that time we had formed Blak n Spanish, and Orin and i were going to the legendary Paul ‘Trouble’ Anderson’s “Loft” club sessions in Camden every Wednesday which inspired us to do Blak n Spanish’s ‘Jazz Powa (Tribute to the Loft)’ on Slip n Slide, dedicated to Paul’s Loft Party. Orin and i were both cutting our teeth in the studio, as well as being energetic enough to go out and see DJs play. Great times.
Having notched up over 200 of your own productions, as well as innumerable remixes, along with Luke McCarthy, you’re the founding member of the Restless Soul production team, which also incorporates producers Dominic Jacobson, Taxi Driver, Aaron Ross, Jose Carretas, Bopstar & Craig Whitfield (HHA). Can you tell us about this time and what releases are your favourites and what makes them so special?
Forming “Restless Soul” with Luke McCarty were amazing times with 48 hour studio sessions! Budgets for records were common then, not like now and people were just hungry to make music. It was a lot of fun. Watching it grow in numbers and variety was awesome. Each of the boys have their own strengths and production style. Some of the Restless Soul nights at East Village were very memorable. When we all DJ’ed together the energy was incredible. I remember Carnival 2010 at the Fat Badger, where we all played our hearts out, Vanessa Freeman and Shea Soul did PA’s and it was Mark from More About Music’s annual Carnival Eeekender. When we all did the Saturday afternoon session for 6 hours at the Southport Weekender with Modaji and PA’s from Selina Campbell, Baby Sol and Zara McFarlane, that was also an incredible music session. My favourite on the label, that’s tough as obviously i love them all.
What one production are you most proudest of and why?
I am extremely proud of the songs I have produced and written with Vanessa Freeman and Zansika, Shea Soul, Sandra Nkake, Fyza, Marcus Begg, Marlena Shaw and James Massiah. It has been an honour to remix the wonderful Monique Bingham, Monday Michiru, Shirley Bassey, Fini Dolo and Jamiroquai amongst many others. Working with musicians like Mike Patto, Mark de Clive Lowe, Nathan Haines, Kaidi Tatham, & D’Wala has also been and is magical. It would be unfair to pick out one singular production. If i were to pick a tune i made that i’m digging at the moment it would be something new i’ve just remixed for a French band called Cotonete – ‘Cabo’. They’re an awesome Funk/Brazil/Fusion/Cosmic band that have played together for years. I like them a lot.
If i had to name releases probably Phlash & Friends ‘Runnin’ with Shea Soul & ‘Exaltation’ with Sandra Nkake on Archive, Nathan Haines featuring Verner Francis’ ‘Earth Is The Place’ on Chillifunk, Peven Everett’s ‘Stuck’ on Soul Heaven, Earth Wind & Fire’s ‘Let’s Groove’ on Columbia Japan, Me with James Massiah’ ‘Time & Space’ on Rekids, Fini Dolo’s ‘Blow’, Restless Soul Fun Band’ ‘Fun’ on BBE, to namedrop just a few. I have enjoyed making and playing almost every record i’ve ever made.
Growing up around West London you naturally ran into Afronaut and can you tell us about how you first met and then went on to hook up as friends and comrades in music?
We are both Capricorns and we both hung out on Kensal Road, via Global Imports which became Goya via our involvement in music. We’d both worked in record shops, loved music and the vibes around it. We hit it off straight away. Orin had Mousetrap in development and he encouraged me to start KoldHouse Records, which only had one release. Nevertheless it spurred me on and learnt me a few valuable lessons in this business we call music. Ozzie and I ended up both being part of a production team. Bugz in the Attic & Restless Soul. I truly believe we knew each other in a previous time, we got on like a house on fire from the off. I think we even lived on the same street at one point in our lives, and we’ve spent a lot of time together, in and out of the studio. We’ve made a few tunes and played a few clubs together. Deep into Soul is going to be a blast.
A special relationship that’s endured over 20 years and with both of you recognised as two of the pioneering forces in the West London ‘Broken Beat’ movement, and founding members of the CO-OP club alongside Dego, I.G.Culture and Demus & G-Force. Can you describe how this scene first evolved and what are your favourite memories and moments at this time?
Wow, this answer can fill a book in itself. All i can say is i was lucky enough to be involved in a scene that was so creative and talented, it blew my mind. Some of the singers and musicians and producers from that era are visionaries. I truly believe that. Few snapshots are Co-op at the Velvet Rooms, passing by IG’s or Bugz studio and hearing new tunes in progress. Travelling the world spreading the vibe was priceless. The corner of Plastic People waiting to go on at Co-Op was always exciting.
With all the gentrification of London, how do you find the West London scene now?
I live here so i’m biased, and all I’ll say is this. Whenever an area becomes hype, then loses its grip, another area takes over and thrives. At first the area that loses its pizzaz, dwindles for a minute, then slowly it pulls its socks up and gets going again. To me it feels like Ladbroke Grove and surrounding areas are in that moment. Pop up galleries, hole in the wall restaurants, great live music…I find it cool.
Can you please tell us about what you’re working on including any new releases or projects dear to your heart?
I am currently working on a remix for Timewarp Records and Tristan Banks. I have a 12” with D’Wala coming out on More About Music, called ‘Sparkle (AJ’s Dance)’ /Today’s Tomorrow’. I have remixes with the Mighty Zaf on Vodkast Records and a Re-Edit of Masanori Sasaji’s ‘Hot Taste’ jam on Jazzy Couscous, and the previously mentioned ‘Cabo’ by Cotonette on Heavenly Sweetness. I’m also writing a song with T-Roy from Broadcite for his forthcoming LP.
Who are the producers from around the world you are giving high fives to at the moment?
In no particular order, Paranoid London, Kaay Alexi, Kai Alce, HHA, Kenny Dope, James Massiah, Kid Sublime, D’wala, Tribe Called Quest, Rhemi Music, Nite Jewel, Inkswell, Craig Smith, Henry Wu, thatmanmonkz, Irfan Rainy, Larry Heard.
And lastly what should we be listening to as we head out the door to the Deep Into Soul 6th Anniversary party
The New Jersey Queens – ‘Party And Don’t Worry Bout It’
Adeva – ‘In the Morning’ – Rhemi mix
Bugz in the Attic – ‘Booty La La’
Ray Barreto – ‘Pastime Paradise’
Ras Midas – ‘Good Old Days’
Focus – ‘Having Your Fun’
London legend Phil Asher teams up with Afronaut for a back to back ‘anything goes’ session at the Deep Into Soul 6th Anniversary event with Danny Krivit on Main Room duties alongside Rhemi Music’s Neil Pierce and Ziggy Funk on Saturday April 8th at the Prince of Wales Brixton. All info on www/facebook.com/deepintosoul