In depth interview with the talented youngster Phara

Anyone that is involved with the currents in techno today, probably has already heard of one of Belgian’s finest: Phara. With a rapidly expanding musical repertoire and a performance history that goes way further than Belgium, there’s no need to say that we will hear and see more of him. And he’s playing again at Voltage Festival. We decided that we want to learn more about his views regarding techno and organized a little session with him.

A techno fan hears you playing for the first time and has the chance to meet you. As he doesn’t know you, the person asks you to shortly introduce yourself. How would you do this, using about 4 to 5 sentences?

I wouldn’t know really. It sounds really forced to do something like that, haha. It’s very typical, but I guess I would let the music do the talking.

Generally, I honestly try to avoid “techno-talks” because of the many different interpretations people seem to have of the genre, but of course it feels good to be appreciated. When you just wrapped up a gig you really liked and people approach you with a lot of enthusiasm, it always warms my heart.

As a representative of the Belgian scene, you probably have seen an evolution throughout the years. Could you sum up 4 key moments that, according to you, were important to what the scene in Belgium has become and elaborate on that? In what sense would the Belgian scene be a reflection of how techno looks worldwide?

I guess I’m a little too young to make first person statements on this matter, but
the first thing that comes to mind when you say Belgium and techno in one sentence is Fuse of course. It’s one of the longest lasting clubs in Belgium and even Europe and became an institution which gave shape to the scene and genre. They took huge risks by launching a techno club when there was very little demand to this kind of music.

Peter Decuypere who was the co-founder of the club, started the mass event “I love Techno’ later on, which meant a big turning point for our country as well. Once again it grew out to be one of the leading events in Europe with quality line ups over and over again. As the years passed by and the genre was getting difficulties in terms of popularity around the early 2000’s, they expanded the festival to a lot of different electronic subgenres were it kind of lost its essence, resulting in Decuypere selling his concept.

These events and clubs were a natural consequence of things that were founded before all of that. I’m talking about labels like R&S and Bonzai Records who were the predecessors of modern techno and completely Belgian.

Guys like CJ Bolland, Yves De Ruyter and so on were experimenting with cheap drum machines and samplers in their bedrooms at a very young age and grew out to be leading figures in the scene at a very short time.

Everything originated out of love for music, experimenting with new things and exploring the possibilities on very different levels. Nowadays you often see that a lot of things originate out of a decent business model with a lot of cash. You have to embrace things how they are, but if I think about it for too long, I get instantly depressed.

In a past interview, you said you liked the old school sound of techno. How does this reflect in your sound today? And if someone asked you to compare techno back then and techno now, what would you say?

I’m a pretty conservative person when it comes to music, I prefer records over USB’s, don’t like the computer to make music, but prefer hardware to tweak around.

I’m aware of the fact that I probably romanticize the early days of techno, but in my opinion people were a lot more resourceful, making a lot of different stuff, experimenting with a lot of different gear.

It resulted in a lot more interesting and weird sounding music of which I’m a big fan.
I often try to make the comparison between now and then, but you honestly can’t do it. Everything changed on so many levels and to make a comparison is just impossible. Things like social media, developed sound architecture and advanced technology in general are just a few things to mention. I mainly try to embrace the current ‘climate’ and have my own interpretation of it (with its ups and downs)

Retro influences in the form of 90’s trance and rave are quite popular and often very present in new productions. What do you think about this? Do you consider this to be a subgenre of techno that will stay around? What kind of effect do you think this would have on the scene in general and on a short and long term?

I like the 90’s trance and rave vibes that pop up nowadays, but just like back in the day there’s a very thin line between quality and pure trash. I wouldn’t play it in one of my sets, but I think it will be around for a while. It totally fits the harder and faster progression of the techno subgenres in general.

You have released quite some nice things over the past years. If you were asked to choose one release as a favorite, what would that be and why?

It’s hard to point out a favorite, but I think that would be my Stockholm Ltd. release. It wasn’t the most straightforward techno EP I got out (like I tend to do nowadays), but it sounds very harmonic and diverse.

There is an ongoing and endless discussion about whether you have to make an EP in one certain direction of sound or you can diversify. If you listen to it you could easily say on which side I am. I really like EP’s which have been made in one certain workflow or vibe, but it’s just not my cup of tea to do something like that. I would get bored too easily.

I just realized I really have to make some stuff like that again. It was so much fun.

You have different aliases that you use for your productions. What’s the difference to the aliases with Phara? Could you explain the mindset to each of the different aliases?

If time wasn’t my enemy, I would have had 10 different alter egos by now. I hope I do someday. There are too many different sounds, genres and ideas I want to experiment with.

The main focus is making techno now, which most of my time is spent to, but I also released some more melodic and harmonic house records as “Robert D.” and “Shin” in the past.

Imagine one of the labels you have been releasing on, asks you to work on an album. They give you 2 conditions: you need to work around a theme that makes sense to you and to your album, and you need to pick 5 artists that should work together with you on tracks of your album. You can choose whatever theme you please, and there are no genre-wise limitations to what artists you choose. What would your theme be, and what artists would you pick?

Theme wise, I wouldn’t have clue. I’m not the type of guy who would work for something or someone. I act in the vibe or mental state I’m in.

I like the fact you expanded your questions to multiple genres though.
Artists like Thom Yorke or Mauro Pawlowksi whom I’ve been following since a very early age would be great people to work on some pieces of music, but the classic electronic music fanatic’s Richard D. James would be a dream as well. If it were just to get a glance of what goes on in his mind and to get his perspectives on things.

On a softer note I would pick Gigi Masin to make some more easygoing stuff and Joey Beltram if I could turn back 20+ years in time when he made so many great things.

As you are an avid music fan and collector, you probably have a lot of gems in your collection. Could you tell us what your most 3 beloved collectibles are, that are not techno? And can you tell us the backstory about these exact collectibles?

I’m not the kind of record collector who is out to get the most expensive and rare records. I only buy the stuff I’m really fond of. It makes it very hard to pick 3 so called favorites but these are definitely one of the first I think about.

One of these particular records is “Gaussian Curve - Clouds” on Music From Memory. It’s a very melodramatic record, simple and not too clean. It has a lot of character and it would suit almost every state of mind. You could cry or smile at the same time hearing it. It’s one of the few records where I just couldn’t name one “less good” track.

Another one is “Λένα Πλάτωνος ‎– Γκάλοπ”. Ok, I had to look this one up, but I always refer to it as “the one with Lena Platonos on it”. I took me even a while to remember her name haha. This is a record that was originally released in the 80’s, but got reissued on Dark Entries. Lena Platonos is or was a huge deal in Greece. The synth -and basslines on this one are huge and her voice is thrown on top of it, singing and talking in that great mysterious language.

Clarence - Hyperspace Sound Lab, the first record of Drexciya’s James Stinson.
For the people who know about the legendary record and have to lift up their jaws reading this, don’t worry. I own the Clone reissue who still is at affordable prices. The original goes for about 800 euro nowadays and is very hard to find. It’s a legendary record, highly influenced by hip hop and pure bliss when it comes to smart drum and very minimalistic but smart synthesizer use.

What’s your favourite setting to play in? Do you prefer big festivals and/or venues or do you like small clubs? Explain your choice.

I prefer clubs over festivals, unless the setting is somewhat adapted to the genre if that makes any sense. I think it’s a lot easier to create a vibe in a club than at a big festival and that’s what the genre is still about for me. The vibe will anyhow be different from each other, but they both have their pros and cons. I wouldn’t play the exact same music at a sunny festival or in a dark steamy club.

Voltage is one of the few festivals where you could apply this statement to show its relevance. Its industrial character fits the vibe I would have in mind for an electronic music festival.

What performances are you looking forward to, at this year’s Voltage Festival and why? If you would recommend one of these performances to a visitor, which would that be?

Pfffff, it’s a tough one. When it comes to the more known artists, I’m most looking forward to hear Cleric’s live set as a premiere in Belgium, Hector Oaks and a 3-hour set by Blawan.

A lot of young talent has been included on the line up as well. Despite the fact that they may not be as known as the big guns I mentioned earlier, I’m probably most looking forward to see and hear them play. When you’re not that familiar with a certain artist and they amaze you at a glance, it is one of the fun things about going out.

I could easily make a list of every “warm up” act on the line up, but I would just advise to come early and not just because of the fact I’m doing an opening set myself, but because the Voltage line up is pure quality from start to finish.

You can catch Phara on Sunday 11th of August at the Anode Stage hosted by Rimbu, where he will start performing at 12 PM.

- Interview by J.L.