Celebrating Old Skool Music, Culture and Legacy
After 30 years in the business Stephen Hannon, AKA DJ Phantasy, is still at the top of his game and pushing the boundaries of the scene he helped shape over three decades. Last year he released an autobiography – Three Generations Deep – and is currently working on an album due for release in 2020 that includes collaborations with some of the hottest talent in Drum and Bass and EDM.
We caught up with him to chat about his book, his appearance in upcoming documentary “United Nation: Three Decades of Drum and Bass” and the forthcoming album “Generations”.
You’ve just got back off tour, how was it?
Amazing! New Zealand is probably one of the strongest markets outside of the UK for drum and bass right now. The shows over there are massive, just really amazing and the people… I can’t express to you how beautiful and lovely the people are. Anyone reading this, if you want to go somewhere in the world please go visit New Zealand but be aware you might not want to go home!
Did you play any new material from the upcoming album?
Oh yeah, of course. In the shows we do as SaSaSaS a lot of the music is self-produced which makes our sound a little bit different. Obviously, we play other people’s music as well but a large proportion of it is our own. I’ve been testing stuff out from the album for the last year, so yeah, I played an awful lot of new music over there. I’ve also got a drum and bass mix of Meduza’s “Piece Of Your Heart” coming out on the album that’s been going down really well so I’m really happy and excited about that. It’s all kind of happened naturally and part of celebrating three generations in the business.
Do you find yourself producing new material with gigs in mind?
Do you know what, that actually came up in a meeting I just had; the difference between making music for performance and music for listening. It’s kind of like there’s two types of audience. There are those people that want to party and have that big wall of energy and then the people that just want to listen mid-week while they’re working or shopping or doing what they do. There are a few tunes on the album for those that just want to listen perhaps going to or from work.
You’re involved in the upcoming documentary film “United Nation: Three Decades of Drum and Bass” – how did that come about?
I’ve known Terry [Terry Stone – Director and Producer] for bloody years! I remember Terry when he first started his flyer company called Turbo Promotions and he asked me to do a photoshoot for him. Back then he was also an MC called MC Free And Easy before he turned into Terry “Turbo” the club promoter. Now of course he’s Terry Stone the actor. I’ve always kept in contact with him and he’s actually had me do some extra work in a couple of films. He’s a good guy and when he hit me up and said he wanted to do the documentary I said “yeah, as long as I can say whatever I want” so I brought out the ‘MC Free And Easy’ story! I’m really excited to see the film actually I think it’s going to be brilliant. I’ll definitely be at the premiere.
Do you think it’s important to document the history of the rave scene in this way?
One hundred percent. I don’t think our music is documented enough. That’s actually one of the reasons I wanted to do the book [‘Three Generations Deep’ – read our review here] because there isn’t much documentation of what we did back in 88/89. It was special, my kids will never ever be able to experience the things we did because it’s a different time now. We knew we were going out but we didn’t know where we were going. You’d find out at 10 or 11 at night and there’d be this mad dash straight down the motorway. It was mad like that but now everything is so organised – you’ve already made your travel plans two months in advance. Not knowing where you were going was part of the excitement.
What prompted you to write the book?
You know what, I’m the type of person that gives myself a task, puts a date on it and just does it you know? I thought that on September 30th 2019, which would be the 30th anniversary of when I got my name DJ Phantasy, what better way to celebrate than to release a book about the last three generations. That’s why it’s called ‘Three Generations Deep’ but weirdly enough I actually made a record years ago with Mikee B from Dreem Team and Top Buzz and it was called Three Generations Deep so it’s funny how these things kind of work out. I’ve got to big up Dave Jenkins as well – he absolutely smashed it. He took my words and made sense of them and helped condense it.
It’s a very honest book – did you find it cathartic to write?
Yeah, the emotions running through it were mental. In a way it was a little bit like therapy – an eighteen month therapy session to be honest. I had some highs and lows and I remember once sitting in a hotel room in Australia when I was on tour – I was there for three days and everybody at home in England was asleep – and I was just on my own, writing. What I tried to do was be as honest as possible and just stay positive because while there were ups and downs the bottom line is I’ve had thirty years in the music industry. Not many people have been able to have thirty years in the business and still be out there doing their thing.
You go into detail about that first WestFest gig with SaSaSaS – did you have any inkling that things would blow up as big as they did?
No, not really. Remember, everything you do is just moments in time and I just felt that we were in another moment. I didn’t expect it to go as big as it did and this time around I looked at it a bit differently. Before, when we got into this music in 88/89, we never knew it would be going thirty years later and we didn’t know it would progress into all the different things it has done. Every genre coming out of the dance world has come from where we all came from – the acid house era. Whether it’s hardcore or jungle or drum and bass, techno, breakbeat… all of it has stemmed from what we started years ago and it’s beautiful.
One of the biggest gigs back in the day was Fantazia Summertime – what was that like to play?
Ah mate that was one of my all-time favourite events. I think it was because when I arrived there was so much hassle getting in – the roads were just completely jammed and road blocked.
And your set was cut short…
Yeah, fucking SS ended up playing an hour and forty minutes but don’t worry I’ve never let him live it down! Brent from Aquasky actually sent me a picture the other day of me at that rave that I’d never seen before. If he’d sent it to me before the book came out I’d have put it in. I know it’s at the start of my set because ‘Hippodrome’ is on the decks. Actually, Brent does this thing called Vinyl Fanatiks and he releases old music. He’s actually released an old record that myself and Aphrodite made in 1992 that never got released. It’s quite mad that music we first made in 1992 is now getting it’s first ever release now!
In the book you say at one point that you used to produce with others in mind whereas now you produce for yourself…
When I first got into music I just made music that I liked. Then, as the music got bigger and bigger, when I was in the studio I was thinking “will Andy like this”, “will Hype like this”, “will Carl Cox like this”, and then I lost my way. What I should have done was just carry on doing what I was doing because they were obviously liking it, and it was when I tried to please them that it actually had a reverse effect. So I found myself in a rut for quite a while and it wasn’t just a one-year rut, I was in a rut for a good ten plus years and I fell out of love with the studio. In the book I talk about Flux Pavilion who made a record called ‘I Can’t Stop’ which kind of gave me the kick up the backside to get back in the studio. It’s so funny but one day I’m sitting on the plane going from one gig to the other in New Zealand and he’s sitting opposite me with his wife. I said “Flux, wait a minute, you’re in my book”. Harry Shotta was sitting behind me on the plane and he happened to have a copy on him so he handed it to me. I passed it to Flux and said “read that” and he was like “Oh my god, are you serious? That’s such an honour” and I’m like “bruv, thank you”. From getting the inspiration from that tune it’s just been a slow build up to now really, just trying to hone the craft and get it right, but I’ve had some great teachers and I’ve got to be really appreciative of those guys: Macky Gee, Martin Ikin who used to be Mayhem from back in the day, Dextone, and more recently Erb N Dub and Futurebound. Futurebound and Macky Gee have got bionic ears honestly, they can hear things in a song that you’d never pick up on.
Do you enjoy playing old skool sets?
No, not at all. I’m very much a forward thinking guy. Whilst I’ll never forget the past, and always show it to the respect it deserves, the bottom line is I’m always looking forward. Another reason is that I was one of the first people playing old skool sets back in the day when it first started and I remember going to Kenny Ken, DJ Hype and Grooverider saying “listen, there’s this old skool scene, it’s wicked, you need to get on it and come and play at these parties” and all of them were like “no, I’m not playing old skool”. Around that time I found myself in a bit of a rut because I couldn’t get any upfront bookings. I was literally playing old skool sets all the time so I had to make a conscious decision that even if it meant I wasn’t going to work I had to stop. It was tough for a good two years but I stuck to my guns and thank God it worked out. Another thing I find mad is when people say to me “the music isn’t the same”, well that’s something that your grandad says right? I don’t want to be that guy, I want to always be looking forward, never back. One thing I do know though is, when people discover a scene and the music of that era, it usually ends up being their favourite style of music. If you came to the scene at 2000 from the drum and bass side of things then that will always be your favourite era no matter what. For me that was 88/89 when I first discovered the scene. When I sold all my music I never sold the 88/89 stuff because that for me was an amazing era.
Any upcoming gigs you’re particularly looking forward to?
I look forward to every gig. I’ve got load of stuff lined up between my own DJ Phantasy shows, the SaSaSaS ones and The Harry Shotta Shows and each one of them bring something a little different to the table. As DJ’s / Artists our job is to entertain people. People work all week and when they go out at the weekend, they want to be entertained. That’s what we do, it’s not about us, it’s about them, the people who go out and support this music. It doesn’t matter if they’re into Drum & Bass, Jungle, Rave, UKG or House, they all want to have a great time and create moments and we’re there to help them have a good time. I thank God everyday because I’m so lucky and thankful to be able to do this for a living and still enjoy it after all these years.
Copies of ‘Three Generations Deep’ are available here.
‘United Nation: Three Decades of Drum and Bass” is released on 21st Feb 2020. Tickets for the premiere and launch party can be bought here.