Phil South of Golf Channel Recordings on Finding His Place in New York

The founder of the No Ordinary Monkey party series on his early days in the city

Courtesy of Phil South

English DJ and record collector Phil South established Golf Channel Recordings in 2007, inspired by his time running the messy but influential underground house music party No Ordinary Monkey alongside Carlos Arias. Since then, the label has released music from artists such as DJ Nature, Cherry Garcia, Africaine 808, The Loose Control Band, The Central Executives and Ghost Note, among others, with over 75 releases on Golf Channel and a growing body of work through its EditChannel sub-label. Through it all, South has been cultivating a divergent catalog of vinyl and digital releases that loosely focuses on the stylistic markers of cosmic boogie and Balearic house music – groovy basslines, driving melodies and spacious and playful vocals. In this excerpt from his Golf Channel Label Special on Red Bull Radio, South spoke to Jeff “Chairman” Mao about his entrance on the New York scene, the edit culture that dominated around the time of Golf Channel’s inaugural 12" and some of label’s defining artists.

What was the motivating factor that kicked things off for you?

We were doing parties in the early to mid-2000s and it was just a vibrant, exciting time. We had, I guess, I wouldn’t say international reputation, but a small community of like-minded DJs and producers, so I was in a position where people would trust me to put out their music. I think it’s sort of an appealing thing for someone not from New York to have their music be put out on a label in New York.

You’re not from New York originally, I suspect.

No, I grew up in the UK and came of age during the initial acid house rave explosion of the late ’80s and early ’90s. It was a very exciting time musically. It felt like a very punk kind of movement, and that sort of excitement and energy has always informed what I do with music, really, in DJing. I grew up in the south – I started going out in London but I went to college in Manchester, which was in part a choice informed by the fact that it had such rich musical happenings at the time. It was all that interesting rock/dance crossover and great clubs, so I thought that would be a fun place to spend a few years.

What were the things that really stood out to you as far as nights or events or DJs?

Justin Robertson was the Balearic dude in Manchester at the time and he ran a party called Most Excellent, so I used to go to that pretty much every week. The Hacienda kind of had its glory days behind it by the time I got up there, and it started to go into darker times a little bit, it became the death of the place. I always preferred smaller clubs, a bit more intimate.

Was that Balearic sound new for the UK at the time? Because I always associated it, perhaps incorrectly, with people going to Spain.

It was certainly something that was imported. It was the sound from Ibiza, which I think was really directly informed by what happened in the US in the late ’70s and throughout the ’80s. There was quite a lot of variation of the soundtrack in the clubs, and I think it all goes back to, say, The Loft, where there wasn’t really a disco sound. It was about finding records that worked on the dancefloor, and they could be whatever. It was transplanted in an interesting way to Ibiza where it was more Euro-pop. They had to cater to that element, but at the same time they were breaking house records and obscure weird rock records and just making the party happen, really.

If you have a passion for music and clubs and dancing, it sticks with you.

How did you end up in New York City?

Through work at the time. When I was living in Manchester, I was working in restaurants and doing a bit of DJing, but no real direction. I got a job offer to come to New York and jumped at the chance. It was a no-brainer.

At that time, did you already have a clue as to what you wanted to do with music?

Yeah, I definitely wanted to carry on. We’d run pop-up parties in Manchester and I wanted to carry on doing that. It’s just kind of, unfortunately, in my blood. My wife will attest. It’s something that doesn’t leave you. If you have a passion for music and clubs and dancing, it sticks with you.

What kind of city did you find New York to be when you arrived, and what year was that?

I came in ’98, and I don’t know if that was the middle or coming to the end of Giuliani. It was definitely kind of a bummer. There were a lot of “No Dancing” signs, and it felt very homogeneous in a way. All the people in bars kind of looked the same, and they didn’t seem to have any of the edge that I imagined looking at the city from afar. There was nothing. There was Body & Soul and that kind of thing going on, but I found it was almost segregated. All the different communities had split off, and the straight clubs were meat markets. It was kind of an unpleasant scene. It took a while for me to locate like-minded people and good parties. Also, pre-social media, it’s not like you can just drop a note to someone. It wasn’t like that back then. It took a while, but I think once you do find it, New York really does still have that edge. It’s a lot more underground. I don’t know if I can really speak to what’s going on there now – I don’t live there anymore.

How did Record Club start?

Nick Griffiths, who is English, came over and we became fast friends immediately. His friends in the UK had started Record Club and it was a really casual idea: you’d bring a pizza and a bottle of wine and like five, ten records each. It’s all dudes geeking out. For all its nerdiness, it became a really fun little dance party. We held it in our house a couple of times until my wife was like, “I’m not doing that again.” Nick was a stylist, and he managed to find this crazy rooftop studio on the roof of the Puck Building, an iconic building right in the middle of Soho. The guy basically gave us access to this for free. We threw a party there with this rotating cast of DJs, but loads of people came. One of the guys who was involved, Carlos, who went on to run Whatever We Want, kind of became the main attraction DJ.

It morphed into being really hard to manage. You’ve got 200 people there and you’re like, “Oh, where’s so-and-so, it’s his turn to play a record.” It almost became a bit gimmicky. Carlos was tapped into the Rub N Tug thing at the time, which was a big inspiration for me. It was a throwback to the old days, really discovering a whole side of disco music that I didn’t know existed, because England doesn’t have that direct lineage. It was really discovering the old sound of New York, but they were taking it forward, and it was a gritty, dirty, kind of messy and sleazed out, fun party. Carlos was playing these records that the likes of Harvey were playing at the time, which really opened my mind up.

After Record Club, Nick moved back to the UK and was like, “You can’t really call this Record Club anymore,” which I was kind of bummed about, because we’d built up a bit of a reputation. Carlos had a dog called Monkey, and that was it: No Ordinary Monkey. It wasn’t really well planned out, but we had this crudely drawn picture of the dog that we would put in different situations on the flyers. We would be in an old Chinese restaurant downtown, flood the place with dry ice, and it was a lot more dark and dirty and about the music.

No Ordinary Monkey still continues on on occasion, right?

Occasionally. Carlos is the great lost. No one really knows why he just dropped out. Whatever We Want stopped dead in its tracks. There’s piles of unsold copies of the last few releases; a lot of his good friends are just like, “I don’t know what happened to him.” It still sort of carries on, but doing a monthly pop-up party became impossible career, life-wise, kid-wise, everything-wise.

Mark E - RnB Drunkie

How did the first Golf Channel release come into being?

I kept bugging Carlos to work for him and his label because I always desperately wanted to be involved and working in music in some way, but the reality of running a record label, it’s not like you can pay staff. My friend Rob-J from Birmingham would always send me tracks and edits, just file-swapping, and one of the ones he sent me was from Mark E, who’d had this breakout hit with a Womack & Womack edit of “Baby I’m Scared of You.” It was just luck, really. I was sitting in the car, I think I was waiting for the kids or something, and “RnB Drunkie” came on. I was like, “Well, I could just put this out!” I didn’t really have a fucking clue what I was doing, to be honest, but I figured I knew how to make a buzz. It’s not rocket science: hand-stamped vibes, and we had a bit of a reputation of the party being good. I rode a nice bit of coattails there on Whatever We Want’s success, and they had Map of Africa, and Thomas [Bullock], [DJ] Harvey, all this cool stuff happening. It seemed like I had a little platform there already. Plus, it was a good tune! It still sells, to this day.

Can you describe what was going on at the time around edits?

Well, it’s twofold. I could say “RnB Drunkie” is a good example of a traditional sample-based house track, rather than a straight edit, because it’s so looped up, and the other side of the edit thing was more a rediscovery of obscure disco records, and a way of bringing those back out. There’s a deeply unimaginative side to it as well, in the way there’s a deeply unimaginative side to regular records, too. There was a big edit backlash a few years into whatever you would call it, that scene, but I still like and play and buy edits, if they’re good. They’ve always been part of the culture, it’s a big part of disco culture, Walter Gibbons and acetates back in the day. It’s nothing particularly new.

Try To Find Me - Get To My Baby (TBD Extension)

Let me ask you about some tracks that you’ve released, and whatever memories you have tied to them: “Get To My Baby.”

Justin [Van Der Volgen] was a good friend, he had come to the parties since Record Club. At the time he was in !!!, they were big figures on the scene. When I started the label, I guess it was around the time that Justin had left the band, and Out Hud had split up; he was looking to branch out and do music on his own. We were just hanging out one day, and he was like, “Oh, here’s an edit I made,” and I think that first one was “Make Dance.” I managed to persuade him to let me put it out, and he came up with the moniker Try To Find Me. “Get To My Baby” was the second release we did. He always needs some persuading, which, credit to him. He is very quality-controlled. He’s done well by it.

What about the DJ Nature tracks?

I don’t think Milo [Johnson] is really one for going out unless he’s DJing. Elder statesman kind of figure. He was friends with my friend Nick, and we had him come and be a guest DJ at Record Club in its latter stages. He was based in New York. I wasn’t really that aware of his ’90s productions, the Nature Boy records. When he decided to resurrect that and send me some tracks, it was another no-brainer. Milo is a well-respected DJ with this amazing past with the Wild Bunch and his success in Japan. I loved the tunes so I put them out, and I didn’t realize this massive groundswell of people were really excited. “Nature’s back,” that kind of thing. That was a nice coup without realizing – I liked the tunes and wanted to support Milo.

Juju & Jordash - Chelm Is Burning

Juju & Jordash’s Unleash The Golem?

I had this imaginary rule for myself that I would try and keep everything very local, and try to release music that was directly affiliated with the party and local producers, to be a nice, accurate reflection of our little scene. I admired the Juju & Jordash guys from afar – we were just email buddies. They send me the track and I loved it. They had this political angle to it which also struck a chord with me, the golem being this clay figure that was built to defend Jewish ghettos from the pogrom. It’s a Jewish myth for them, as two expat Israeli guys, reefer-loving dudes living in Amsterdam, their complex relationship with Israel and them being one generation removed from holocaust survivors, and Israel being set up as a modern day golem to protect Israelis. The myth is that the golem goes mad and attacks his own people, which they see as a metaphor for Israel. I think it’s a really interesting idea. I broke my own rule. It was a good way to break out of that dogma. We’re supposed to do another two to complete the cycle. It’ll happen eventually, I think.

You’re based in rural upstate New York now. How is your life different?

Living in the country doesn’t really make that much of a difference. I’ve always had kids. When I moved to New York it was with my girlfriend, now wife, and her daughter, who I’ve known since she was four. I’ve never been at the coalface of nightlife, because of family life. It wasn’t some great upheaval, giving up a social life to move up here. The process has stayed pretty much the same. It’s “manufacture, send file, promote.” It’s not something that you need to be in the city for. In a way it almost gives me a bit more freedom to be in my own head, and follow my own path in that way.

By Jeff Mao on March 23, 2017

On a different note