DJ Phil B (San Francisco)
In a world filled with chaos and uncertainty, it’s comforting to know there’s at least one thing you can always count on: a stellar performance by DJ Phil B.
When planning a night out dancing at the clubs, the game of chess probably doesn’t come to mind for most people. Unless, of course, you are DJ Phil B, who is always thinking a few steps ahead of his audience. This explains how he’s able to deliver such unexpected twists in every set he plays, throwing down the signature moves that have made him so popular with audiences around the world. After more than two decades behind the decks, Phil continues to surprise even himself by always tackling new challenges, pushing himself creatively and sharing the joy of the beat with legions of new and returning fans wherever he plays. His is a lifelong mission to explore the vast frontiers of dance music while helping shape nightlife’s ever-changing landscape.
An avid music lover and collector from an early age, Phil’s career began quite accidentally in his hometown of Perth, Australia. When the DJ at one of his regular haunts failed to show up one night, the owner –- who was familiar with Phil’s considerable record collection and passionate knowledge of dance music — asked him to fill in. Despite simply playing one record after the other, the owner was impressed enough with Phil’s selections and enthusiasm that he invited him back to spin the next weekend. Inspired by this thrilling, if clumsy experience, Phil rushed home and spent every penny he had on a second turntable and his first mixer, and started to teach himself how to mix.
Although mostly self-taught, it was another local DJ, Rachel Harvey, who Phil credits with teaching him the art of beat-mixing, and for playing a major role in influencing his early career. “I have such total respect for Rachel, because had it not been for her,” he admits, “it would have taken me a lot longer. She would only teach me so much, though, which was a good thing. She said, ‘If you really love it, you will learn the rest yourself.’ And she was right.”
As his skills and confidence improved, he eventually landed a gig at Perth’s iconic gay dance club, Connections. Just five years after his first DJ gig, Phil had conquered Western Australian nightlife, and realized it was time to move on. Because so much of the music he played was American, as were so many of the DJs who had influenced him, he embarked on a journey that would take him around the U.S. He hoped to follow the paths of greats like Tom Johnson from the Probe in LA, Bobby Viteritti from The Trocadero Transfer, Michael Fierman, Robbie Leslie and others from The Saint, and the Paradise Garage’s Larry Levan…to name a few. When Phil finally settled in the U.S., it was his first port of call during that trip –- San Francisco –- that he decided to call home.
Phil began working at The Record Rack, the West Coast’s equivalent to New York’s renowned Vinylmania, where he met another DJ named Jerry Bonham. “I thought I knew everything,” Phil recalls. “But Jerry took my DJing to an entirely new level. He opened up this whole other door for me, teaching me about mixing in key, volume control, and a slew of other techniques I had never even thought about.” Then things really started to take off.
Since relocating to America, Phil has played just about every major Circuit event in the U.S., including Gay Disney, White Parties in Palm Springs and Miami, Winter Party, Mardi Gras and Southern Decadence in New Orleans, San Francisco’s Magnitude and Aftershock, Sundance at Russian River, the San Diego Zoo Party, and Gay Pride gigs in nearly every large U.S. city. He’s also held residencies at venues like Avalon, Reflex and Probe in Los Angeles, Club 57, Splash and Tunnel in New York City, the Pavilion and Ascension Party on Fire Island, and San Francisco’s Club Universe, Club Pleasuredome, Fresh and The End Up.
It is, however, the legendary MASS parties at 1015 Folsom Street in San Francisco for which Phil is perhaps best known. Back in 1996, he teamed up with Gus Presents to create the monthly Sunday evening Tea Dances that regularly pulled in crowds of 2,000-3,000, steering the entire run until 2005. The party was so beloved that Phil and Gus decided to carry on the tradition with equally popular reunion/recovery parties on New Year’s Day each year. The series also spawned a special edition boxed set of CDs spanning the years 1997 through 2005. Phil’s first commercial CD, the highly acclaimed best seller, Music for the Clubs, was released in 1999, followed by Masterbeat’s Winter Party CD in 2006. He’s also performed with many other heavy-hitting DJs and producers like Danny Tenaglia, Paulo, Twisted Dee, Sasha, John Digweed, Tracy Young and Junior Vasquez.
Phil is dedicated to much more than a fantastic party. As a longtime Billboard-reporting DJ, his influence on the music industry has expanded well beyond the clubs. He also regularly donates his time and talents to a number of important political, community and HIV/AIDS fundraisers, which prompted the City of San Francisco to designate April 20th as Phil B Music Appreciation Day.
Like any DJ who has stayed on top for a notable length of time, Phil constantly strives to evolve as an artist. Whether he’s innovating new sounds and styles, or repackaging the classics, his dynamic versatility and keen performances are impressive by any measure. If Madonna is the Queen of Reinvention, Phil B is the King. Although he may have first gained recognition for his Tea Dances and lighter style of music, Phil quickly solidified his brand by ingeniously meshing trance and multiple genres of house with a healthy smattering of diva vocals. But his latest incarnation, while still incorporating those elements when appropriate, focuses more on what he describes as an “electro-infused tribal” experience, with a distinctly twisted sensibility full of unexpected mixes and high-octane energy. And Phil is always on the hunt for new ways to play with his audience.
“I get off on searching for new music,” he says. “If a song is really popular, I try to find an unfamiliar and esoteric version of it to mess with everybody. I think a good mind-fuck is a great thing on the dance floor.” You just never know when Phil is going to drop some improbable, trippy new remix from his vast repertoire to really work an already electrified crowd into a full-throttle frenzy. Conflictedis not an uncommon emotion to experience on Phil B’s dance floor: “I probably shouldn’t love this, but I do!”
Even with so many accomplishments under his belt and a steady flow of projects in the works, Phil is always looking forward, always searching for that new sound or the next big record to break. Through it all he has developed his own distinct style, a deep appreciation for both his craft and his fans, and an extraordinary knack for taking roomfuls of strangers with him on the journey of their lives. “Come with me,” Phil likes to beckon. “It’s gonna be a good ride.”