How I Play is a 5 Magazine feature on the culture and craft of DJing. This issue we talk to Phil Kieran, the Belfast-based DJ and producer who I regard as one of the finest DJs doin’ the damn thing today. Phil has worked with artists ranging from Peter Hook of New Order, Gary Numan, Green Velvet/Cajmere, Speedy J and David Holmes. His next great record, “Make A Change” (featuring remixes by Nathan Barato and Matrixxman) is out now, a precursor to Blinded By The Sun, his full length LP forthcoming in October on Hot Creations.
Do you remember the first gig you got paid in real money for?
Good question! I think it might have been a night in the Limelight Belfast on a Saturday night. I was 19 years old and pretended to the manager I had a vast experience of DJing. I had no experience. I arrived with a cardboard box with my brother’s CDs as it was a rock and indie night.
Everyone hated me and it was a disaster. Even though I finally found a track they liked, the CD decided to keep skipping in the middle. The crowd began to chant and get really aggressive.
But for some bizarre reason I got the gig and became resident for the next six years. I used to always bring all my techno records and squeeze them into the night until eventually they started to like me playing it every week and soon it became more and more of a feature each week. I used to get paid £70 a night.
Did anyone inspire you when you were younger? Was there anyone who you said, “Hey, I want to sound just like that…”
I was listening to the first ever essential mix by Andrew Weatherall before I had ever stepped inside a nightclub. I love all the things that influenced me when I first got into dance music, like Basic Channel and early Warp Records – all things that continue to have an impact on what I do today.
“Everyone hated me and it was a disaster. The crowd began to chant and get really aggressive. But for some bizarre reason, I got the gig and became resident for the next six years…”
How about a few DJs that continually inspire you today? Whose name is it that you’ll see on the same bill you’re on and decide to come early or stay much later to hear?
I have Andrew Weatherall coming over to Belfast for my night this Friday and he is playing the whole night himself start to finish. I’m just back from a weekend in Berlin and spent all Sunday listening to Scuba, Norman Nodge, Ben Klock, Marcel Dettmann and even Len Faki doing an ambient set. I have been quite lucky recently getting to hear good music.
You’ve been DJing long enough to have been a part of the transition from vinyl to CDs to digital as an industry. Do you feel this has been a net positive or net negative to DJing itself?
I just like to play/hear good music I don’t really care what it’s playing on. I don’t have that snobbery thing that it has to be on vinyl.
I find it really useful using the USB, as I’m able to bring so much music and play anything I want. When you’re playing vinyl you had to almost pick your set before you left the house.
I still play vinyl in the house and I miss it a bit but for the amount of music I can bring with to the gig now, I think its worth the change.
What is your dream DJ set-up today?
I’ll take equipment that works.
Okay, so how do you organize your digital music – CDs, USB, laptop?
It’s USB and I use Rekordbox. I love it and think its much, much better than using CDs. I don’t miss CDs at all.
How often do you use effects in your sets?
I use a little delay when changing the record sometimes, but I try to just pick really good tracks and let them play.
How do you find new music? Are you constantly digging through your old records? What’s the method to your song selection?
I buy music every week and I’m constantly downloading promos and what people are sending me. I love to play new music as much as possible. I don’t like to look back too much, it’s more interesting when you’re finding new things. I also like cutting stuff off records to add in there if I think its something special.
You have a new record coming out shortly. First, what can you tell us about it?
I have a single and LP coming on Hot Creations. I’ve been working on the LP for about three years and it means a lot to me. I have really put everything into it.
The single is called “Make A Change” and it’s out at the end of August. The album is out at the start of October, called Blinded By The Sun.
Second, because everything is recorded by someone today, does that effect whether or not you play forthcoming material like this in your own set?
I always like to try out new material I’m working on and sets are not always recorded. Like in Fabric, Panorama Bar or Berghain, it’s in the rules not to record anything. I quite like that as it keeps it special for the club. People always ask before you play if you mind them recording it.
Originally published in 5 Magazine Issue #136 featuring DJ Spen, Phil Kieran, Mateo & Matos, a DJ’s guide to music streaming and more. Become a member of 5 Magazine for First & Full access to everything House Music for just $1 an issue!