Phonno mixes Nightclubber 201
Alex, known as DJ Phonno, is a versatile and dynamic artist hailing from the vibrant music scene of Manchester, UK. When asked about his music style, he candidly admits that it's a challenge to pigeonhole because he's not confined to a single genre. Instead, he thrives on experimentation, seamlessly blending elements from house to electro in his sets. Each track he selects serves a unique purpose, crafting an immersive experience for dancers. Phonno's signature sound is characterided by big basslines and hypnotic percussions, though he's not limited to these alone. His guiding principle is simple: if a track makes him want to dance, he believes it will do the same for the crowd.
Phonno's involvement with Pooku in Manchester and his upcoming label, BP1 Records, reflect his dedication to showcasing talented local artists. Throughout his journey, Phonno has cherished experiences at iconic venues like Sankeys and Hidden in Manchester, as well as The White Hotel in Salford. His deep appreciation for the Romanian minimal sound stems from its freedom of expression and creativity, breaking away from formulaic approaches. We’re delighted to have Alex on for our 201st mix, and first put some choice questions his way…
How would you describe the music you play? Or is that a very difficult question?
It is quite difficult but only because I'm not necessarily sticking to one genre, I'll experiment with anything between house and electro, with each track having its own purpose within the mix to give the dancer an experience. I really like big basslines and hypnotic percussions, but I don’t necessarily play solely that. If the track makes me want to dance, i’m sure it will make the crowd dance too - i guess this is my ethos.
Do you remember your first rave? What was it about the music and the scene that moved you so much? And was it as much about the music as it was the sense of freedom that came with it?
Yes, Tribal Sessions @ Sankeys Manchester. As soon as you stepped inside, it felt like a different world. There was a sense of togetherness and mutual respect on the dancefloor and the music, at the time, was super inspiring and felt almost trademarked and super consistent. I can’t deny that Sankeys left an imprint on my sound! It has to be 50/50, the freedom, the laughs & the music were all so key to the Sankeys vibe.
Can you tell us a bit about some of your early heroes in music, both inside and outside house and techno? And how do they frame and influence your current approach?
I think the influence from my parents sets the tone. My mum was super into punk, grunge as a kid. I loved Nirvana so Kurt Cobain is definitely an early music hero. My first music dream was to be in a punk band and so I played the drums for 8 years. 15 years later, I’ve recently made an edit of a Nirvana track, with some grungy bass tones and trippy special vox samples. Not to give too many secrets away, but it will be released soon on Podvodo Records.
My dad however, had a totally different taste in music, some of it a little questionable to haha. However, he introduced me to trance, hard house etc, but more importantly… The Vengaboys. It is embarrassing, but I loved these tracks as a 4 year old and there will always be a sense of nostalgia - not to mention those bouncy 909 hats that I've craved since!
Tell us a bit about where you grew up? Was it an inspiring place to experience electronic music?
I grew up in a small town in the north west of the UK - it wasn’t very inspiring for electronic music, but I had a lot of love for rock and indie bands where the likes of The Verve, Ian Brown from the Stone Roses etc were born. And I definitely respect that.
For electronic music, there was 1 clear benefit - I was raised exactly half way between Manchester & Liverpool, so it definitely created opportunities to go to nice parties and find the inspiration… which led me to move to Manchester, purely to be a regular on the Sankeys Dancefloor.
Alex, you’re involved with Bloop, Pooku in Manchester and have your own label coming too. Is music a full-time thing for you? Or how do you balance so many different commitments?
I actually work full time, I have a 9-5 job, with music filling my time between shifts. It’s difficult to juggle work, music, a social life and everything else in between, but being slightly chaotic helps haha. My friends love to point out my grey hairs haha!
I have my monthly show on Bloop (BP1 Broadcast System). I use this show to play a little different to what I can get away with in the club, I can really have fun with it!
Pooku holds a special place in my heart and plays a key role in my music journey, it’s where I saw a lot of my favourite artists on the dancefloor over the years before joining the team and handing over to the likes of Ion Ludwig at 22 years old. I was so happy to be involved with Pooku, it was a rare friends and family type party, super good vibes for everybody involved - but we’re taking a break at the moment. I am planning another party though which is due to kick off in November - i’ll be releasing details on that soon!
Then there’s the label, BP1 Records, which I’m super excited about. I’ve named it after an undisclosed location where we’d throw afterparties in Manchester, and it’s got a bit of cult reference now… If someone mentions BP1, eyes can light up and heads can turn haha!
Tell us a bit about the label then - what’s the plan?
Well, I'm surrounded by too many talented local but under-appreciated artists. My idea is to give the people who I respect a platform to showcase their amazing work. For our first release, I have lined up my good friend Les (Implimind, Obscure Rhythms) who has supplied a hefty 4 track EP with his signature dark and driving sound. I’ll share some previews - the guy is a wizard! The release had strong support already before the release with Mihigh showing a lot of love. I saw him play ‘That Girl Who Dances’ at SW28 and I got the chills!
I’ve also got a few more releases lined up, but I can’t share all the details just yet! There are some party-casts coming to Youtube soon too, with Dragos directing the visuals.
We’re digging Mysterium especially from you guys. Can you tell us a bit about how that track came together?
Haha well, the darker sound is in Dragos’ blood. By this point, we had made 3 tracks together which were treated almost like a blank canvas, we’d just see what the outcome was, which tended to be kinda dark but also kinda clubby, a nice mix of our sounds that led to some peak time weirdness. On Mysterium, we decided that we’d make something leaning more towards the dark side and things progressed so naturally, by within 4 hours we basically had arranged the whole track! We had a lot of fun building this EP for Duboka
How did yourself and Dragos first meet? Was it through a shared love of music?
We first met at Pooku in 2019, when he first moved over to the UK from Iași. Obviously, we shared love for the music, but we had a lot of mutual friends already and just hit it off from there really. He then started working with all of the local parties, from Pooku to Animal Crossing where he would supply his crazy visuals, even working with Sunrise a few times in the UK - we’re around each other a lot, it’s impossible to not be friends!
Working together, what do you feel you both bring to the table individually? And collectively?
Our individual sounds definitely work in harmony, he brings a dark and mysterious sound to the table, whereas I bring more of a peak time energy, adding a sprinkle of hypnotism -I can’t describe it, it just works!
In the studio, we both like to use hardware, so this is a big green flag for me. We share our toys and learn more than we would about other instruments than we would alone - sharing is caring!
Without going into too much detail, Dragos’ strengths tend to be my weaknesses, and vice versa - it really is a match made in… tent 4!
Alex, where do you feel the London scene is at right now? Are you concerned that the city is pricing out so many more creative people?
This is a tricky one, there are so many good parties in London, shout out to Into The Woods and The Goose, but there is definitely increasing pressure on the clubs and promoters across the whole of the UK which is making it hard for even established brands to continue. Rent costs are high, artist fees have increased since covid disturbances, and there’s a cost of living crisis so ticket purchasing behaviour has changed - people generally decide to go to events last minute, so ticket sales are super delayed. It’s become very difficult for clubs and promoters to throw parties without financial loss now, which is taking it’s toll on the scene
What fills you with great hope about the London scene? What are you not-so-optimistic about?
Even in the current difficult circumstances, new emerging artists are absolutely killing it! It may be difficult for clubs and promoters to put parties on with spectacular headliners, but this opens an opportunity for the smaller artists to step up, maybe we will see a shift towards resident only parties, where the boundaries can be pushed a bit more
What have been your favourite UK dancefloor haunts over the years?
I’ve already mentioned Sankeys and how much of an impact that dancefloor had on me. It’d be rude not to mention Hidden, Manchester too. We ran most of the Pooku parties there across all three rooms, with a dingy basement where Ion Ludwig played, the main room where we brought Craig Charles, and also a loft space where we booked Gescu, with the sunlight coming through, they’re all cherished memories.
Slightly against the grain, but The White Hotel in Salford was a favourite when I first moved to manchester… it was purely just an empty warehouse with the bar in a hole in the floor - there was no fitted booth, it was a super surreal warehouse space with a plastic roof that was open for too many hours per party… haha!
What was it about the more minimal stuff and the Romanian sound in particular that so appealed?
When I first discovered the Romanian sound, it was a fresh feeling for me, and felt like there were no rules or cliches. I feel that there’s a lot of creative freedom in the Romanian scene too, whereas some other electronic genres have become somewhat formulaic. Also, creating energy & depth in a track with a small number of channels without it becoming repetitive is art!
The history of the genre is super interesting too, for those artists who were buying records on the black market under a dictatorship, and using against the grain hardware to create that rominimal sound… We have to appreciate the struggle and what they’ve done for the culture!
In the party, there’s more freedom too. People don’t expect banger after banger, which opens the opportunity for more expression in a set, creating a journey, if you like. It’s nice on the ears and good for the soul!
Have you made it to Romania for a party yet? Can you tell us a bit about that?
I made my first Sunwaves appearance quite late on, in 2018 and it was magical! I like to go as often as I can, however, it’s time for me to properly explore Bucharest, last time I was over there, I went to Nook, which is a super cool space, they’re killing it at the minute!
Next on my list is definitely Gradina Monteoru, I have seen some crazy line ups and the vibe of the parties look insane, likewise with Guesthouse!
What’s next for you - musically and professionally - that you’re really excited about?
I’m building BP1 records from the ground upwards. There’s a lot more planning to be done and a lot of work required to grow the platform. I’m also working on launching a Manchester based party - I can mention the brand name but everything else is secret for now! Keep your eyes peeled for ‘Manatzu’, we’re going for a weird Midsommer vibe, with floral settings, lots of energy but simultaneously hypnotic, from the music to the visuals - and we’ve got a special friend of ours lined up for our launch party
Musically, i’ve got a few releases forthcoming on my friend Papilla’s label, Podvodo Records and also Klosing’s label, Evaporate. I’m also working on a few collaborative projects, of course with Dragos, and a few more exciting artists too…
Finally, can you tell us five tracks that have really soundtracked your summer this year?
- Unity 3 - The Age Of Love Suite (Neverending Vocal Remix) - a little different to what I would usually play but those pads and basslines really hit the spot for me. The repetitive vocal is hypnotic and gives an almost transcending feel to the track. It’s been heavily played this summer, but it’s still a cool track.
- No Smoke - Righteous Rule (Vocal) - another old gem of a track, i’m not usually one for vocal tracks but this track breaks up a set perfectly for me and is sure to get the crowd moving - love the big bassline! The original track is at 118bpm, but pitch it up for maximum energy…
- M-High - 12 O.C Riddim - I heard Crihan play this in the morning at SW28 and it was a beautiful moment for the crowd, limbs were getting thrown everywhere and hips were shaking. This one’s a real groover!
- Din - Biotopia - this one brings us back to a more minimal sound, the groove in this track is unbelievable and it’s been a track I’ve played regularly all summer, in the booth and on the radio shows. This is a track where it’s almost guaranteed that somebody will ask for the ID, not only is Din super talented, he’s also a lovely guy
- Matthew Jonson - 7.19 FM David (Phonno Edit) - A shameless plug of my own work, however it really move a crowd. Thank you to Mathew Jonson for creating such a masterpiece! My edit is available for free download.