Smile Politely

Home is still home

If you were to know only one thing about the electronic music scene in Champaign, you should know about its favorite daughter, J. Phlip. Here’s the basics: born and raised in C-U with family active in the music scene (her father was part of REO’s touring crew), Jessica Phillipe is the epitome of local-girl-made-good. She attended our local university down the street, worked at our local video game developer, and gigged around town before moving to Chicago and, ultimately, San Francisco, where she became part of the Dirtybird crew. She now splits her time between Berlin and the beautiful Bay Area while not on tour.

She’s currently on a U.S. tour with stops in Los Angeles, D.C., Detroit (DEMF afterparty), … and Champaign. We are extremely lucky to have her in our very own downtown on a regular basis rather than Chicago or Indianapolis, where most of the big names hit as they travel through the US. J. Phlip, along with locals DJ Belly and HEYCASEY and former local Vader (otherwise known as Agent Mos out of Chicago), filled the bill the Tuesday after Memorial Day at Cowboy Monkey.

In interview after interview, J. Phlip talks about her sound as having a start in funky house with a love of hip hop and a heaping helping of bass and techno, which make her sets really fun while still delivering serious music that can’t help but make you wanna move. I don’t think I’ve ever been to a J. Phlip show where people didn’t get up off their asses and dance for hours — and this latest show was no exception. After living in the birthplace of house (Chicago) and her beloved San Francisco (home of Dirtybird records) and Berlin (renowned for techno), it might sound inconceivable, but J. Phlip’s style could fit in any of these genres and locations around the world.

In between gigs at pools, in the desert, and at music festivals across the country, I had a quick opportunity to ask J. Phlip some questions about music and living the dream.

Smile Politely: Lots of folks from C-U travel to DEMF every year and I know many hit up the Dirtybird after-hours. What do you love about DEMF? When did you go the first time? What are some favorite memories/acts you’ve seen at DEMF? And who are you looking forward to seeing at DEMF this year?

Phillipe: I went to DEMF for the first time about six or seven years ago and had such a fun time! There are many great things about the fest. First of all, the passes for the actual three days/nights of the festival are really cheap (even used to be free!). Because of this, you get a pretty eclectic mix of people there. Even the hotels and taxis and afterparties and drinks are much cheaper than I have experienced at a lot of other festivals. Also, the bookings are pretty quality. I appreciate an electronic festival that isn’t booking commercial acts. So we don’t have to put up with that terrible music or their fans [laughs].

My best memory was standing next to Barclay’s (aka Claude VonStroke) mother while he played in the Beatport tent. The atmosphere during that set was just magic and it was the first time she had ever seen him DJ and her face was just glowing. It was a priceless moment. I have so many memories of just running around the festival and the city of Detroit with the Dirtybird boys, acting silly, party hopping, and going on missions for Lafayette Coney Island where the guy does a trick pouring the milk.

SP: You grew up in C-U, lived in Chicago and San Francisco before moving to Berlin and traveling around playing in Poland among other places. What are some of the differences between European clubs/scenes/gigs vs. the states that you like/dislike?

Phillipe: It’s really hard to analyze different scenes but, in general, underground electronic music is bigger in Europe. However, Dirtybird is having a really strong presence right now in North America. We have amazing fans here and my gigs here have been more fun lately. With the exception of the UK … they love bass music and it can be really fun to play there too!

SP: You make it back to C-U a couple times a year to visit family and we usually get a great gift of a gig somewhere in town. Does C-U still feel like a “home crowd” even though San Francisco is where your heart is? What is “home” for someone who travels so much — is it where your kitty is?

Phillipe: Who knows where home is anymore?!? A lot of places are home … and it’s not too shabby to have several homes. It’s pretty cool, actually! Champaign is DEFINITELY still one of my homes. And there is always a lovely crew of friends that I get to see when I come home … and it makes me so happy because I love them so much. Amazing people in Champaign-Urbana.

SP: Your sleepytime mixes/Petcast020 are very different from your releases and other mixes. You recently said that Michael Malinsky was the inspiration for your sleepytime mixes. How did he inspire you? And are there any more sleepytime mixes in the works?

Phillipe: Hmm … Michael would mix records in this loose way that I never thought was OK. I was stuck on this idea of perfectly matched beats and songs that always sounded in tune with each other. But he would often blend records without beat matching and create a beauty with the dissonance of the songs overlapping and somewhat clashing sometimes even. But the imperfection of the mixes created a mood that I loved. This really inspired me. There are many sleepytime mixes in the works in my head, but dance music has been taking up all my time lately. Hopefully I will have time for a new one soon!

SP: What are some of your favorite producers/DJs/bands/acts right now? Who are you listening to when you aren’t “working”? And who is on your wishlist of people you want to work with?

Phillipe: Electronic-wise: All the Dirtybirds, Dexter, Boddika, Kink, Joy Orbison, Pearson Sound, French Fries, Modeselektor, Tanner Ross, New York Transit Authority, Neil Landstrumm, Jon Conveex, Randomer, Doulgass Greed, Dark Sky, Catz n Dogz, Breach Addison Groove.

Non-Electronic-wise: James Blake, Radiohead, Youth Lagoon, Soley, Exitmusic, Slime, Shimmering Stars, The Weeknd, Washed Out, Tosca, The Whitest Boy Alive, Phantogram, OutKast, Modest Mouse, Moderat, Holy Other, Baths, Sigur Rós, on and on and on…

Right now, I don’t wanna work with anyone. Just working on myself and developing my sound.

SP: Locally and nationally, dubstep has become the electronic music genre most people know. Dubstep is everywhere — even in a Microsoft commercial. What is your opinion of any electronic music becoming mainstream and warping under the pressure of commercialism? Which is better for electronic music in your opinion — quiet obscurity or massive popularity?

Phillipe: I don’t really have much opinion on these things. I don’t pay much attention to what is popular. I like to stay in my bubble. I just know when I hear something, if I like it or not. For me, it’s not a matter of whether it’s commercial or not (although these days I don’t like a lot of what I guess is commercial). More than anything, I just wish people could have an ear, and have some taste, and not just listen to what is in their face.

Photos by Vitali v. Gelwich Photography

Related Articles