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Last Night A DJ Saved My Life
by Christina Li on Jan 20, 2009
Based out of Chicago and now a San Francisco staple, Andrew Phelan has been blazing his way through the tech and underground scene. Launching Prismatic Tracks in 2005, there has been nothing but success for this young DJ who puts on various original local events to raise awareness and fun for old and new DJs alike. Articulate and humble, Andrew shares with SF station his journey to DJ world and how he has manages to stay fresh and innovative.
SF Station (SFS): Tell us about Prismatic Tracks.
Andrew Phelan (AP): Prismatic Tracks is a record label that I founded in 2005. I run it locally out of our studio at the Moulton Studios complex here in San Francisco. The label is focused on a blend of deep, funk, and tech based house music. The roster features a wide span of international talent, including Bryan Jones, Chris Lum, Christian Malloni, Jakes Childs, Jazzy Eyewear, Q-Burns Abstract Message, Santiago & Bushido, and Sleazy McQueen.
A few years ago I started to brand my local events under the Prismatic name as well. Events like Tonal, Strictly for the Love, Finally and Alpha Beats all fall under the Prismatic umbrella. Since they represent the same style of music and many of the same artists as the label, it seemed to make sense to pull the two worlds together.
SFS: What inspired you to create your own company?
AP: At the time I had been digging into music production with my good buddy and current production partner George Cochrane aka Origami for a few years. We had luck signing a good bit of our early material, but found that unless we made a sound that was exactly like what the labels of the time were already putting out, they had no interest. We were getting really into a style of house that was too tech for the funky labels, and too funky for the tech labels. It seemed like no one was willing to meet us in the middle for that section of our music, so I decided we should create that middle ourselves.
So initially Prismatic Tracks started as a way for us to release music that didn’t quite fit the music landscape of the time, but that we had a lot of faith in. Over time, it slowly developed into the full artist roster and promotions company that it is today, while keeping that hybrid sound that pulls from different genres of house music. Hence the name “Prismatic”.
SFS: Why did you decide to move to San Francisco?
AP: When I was getting close to finishing college, I hopped around the country a bit to cities I was interested in moving to after graduation. It would have been really easy to move back to Chicago; so many of my friends and family are back there, and there’s obviously a vibrant house scene that shaped so much of me as a DJ and producer. But I felt like that was too easy of a path for me, and I wanted to try something different, knowing I could always move back if it didn’t work out. I also really, really wanted to escape winter in Chicago, for obvious reasons! I came out to visit SF for five days, and by the third day, I knew I was moving here. The mindset, the culture, and the general attitude and flavor of the city all spoke directly to me. It felt like a home I never knew existed. So I picked up and moved 6 months later, not knowing a single person living out here but knowing that everything would sort itself out with some time. Seven years later, I’d have to say my intuition was correct.
SFS: Since you've been here, what have been some of your most memorable gigs?
AP: From my early years here, the run of Thump Radio parties at Space 550 really stand out, just because they pulled such an eclectic mix of people and music, that all came together to create this insane vibe and energy. More recently, my residency at Pink, which recently closed for renovations and a new name, will always be dear to my heart. The core Pink crowd was just so devoted to the dance floor and to quality house music. It was that rare venue where I could play exactly what I wanted, take the music in whatever direction I wanted, and the dancers were always ready to go with me. It was the one spot in the city where I could dig way back, 10-15 years plus, into my Chicago classics, and they knew each and every one and were ready to sing along every time. And of course Love Parade/Love Fest, which has just ramped up and gotten crazier and crazier every year, with this year hitting a new level of insanity.
SFS: Who are some of your favorite people to collaborate with?
AP: As far as party production, definitely my good buddy Eric Sharp of Rock It Science. We’ve been throwing parties together for over two years now, most notably our Tonal series of color themed warehouse parties, and our new club concept Alpha Beats, which we’re launching this Friday at DNA Lounge. Musically I have the most fun with Origami. We click really naturally in the studio together, and the result has been over 25 releases and remixes for various labels around the world over the past four years. Our strengths and weaknesses really play well off of each other. It’s definitely a partnership where the sum is far greater than the individual parts. I play live with George a good bit as well, with me on the decks and him on bass and keys. We really enjoy performing live on special occasions with our studio vocalists, most notably Audio Angel from right here in San Francisco and Brown from Nottingham, both of whom we’ve been collaborating with for years now.
We also have a side project named The Fingermonsters, with our two other studio partners Shawn Allen and Cubik, that focuses on a mix of big room tech house, electro and breaks. The four of us a perform a live PA of our material together that’s a total mess and a total blast, recreating the music on the fly with a gangload of laptops, drum machines, synths and effects processors.
SFS: Where does the originality in your events come from?
AP: Both with Tonal and with Alpha Beats, we make a distinct theme for each event. With Tonal, it ties into to a color. We’ve done Tonal parties with themes like Clockwork Orange, Shamrock Green and Pimpin’ Purple. With Alpha Beats, each party is the next letter in the alphabet, and then we pick a theme for that letter. For the kick off party this coming Friday, we’re on the letter A, so we’ve chosen an alien theme. Then we encourage people to dress up in the theme. We make our events open and inclusive, so you don’t need to fit the theme to show up and have fun, but the people that do really make the events feel like something different and special. We bring in big international talent for our events, but when people reminisce to me about their favorite Tonal parties, they don’t say the Doc Martin party or the Diz party or the Q-Burns Abstract Message party, they say the blue party or the red party or the pink party. That tells me that the events are becoming something larger than the venues and lineups we pull together, which is a great feeling.
SFS: Any inspiring words for upcoming DJs?
AP: There’s so much opportunity in this city, so many people into electronic music of various forms, that if you have the talent and you’re willing to dig in and put the work into getting yourself out there, you will find an audience. If you live in the US and want to make something happen as an up and coming DJ, I don’t think there’s any better city to do it in than San Francisco.
Be sure to check out Alpha Beats @ DNA Lounge this Friday, and find out more at http://www.djandrewphelan.com and http://www.prismatictracks.com
by Christina Li on Jan 20, 2009