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Chris Burrell: “Philly DJs Definitely Know How to Work a Room and Deliver the Vibes.”

January 25, 2016


It was another big year for electronic music in Philly.

We caught up with WKDU‘s Chris Burrell, who assembled this all-Philly mixtape with so many amazing sounds that dropped in 2015. Check out our interview with him below, where he details the rich history of the Philly DJ scene and talks about who is making moves now.


What was your favorite music from Philly this year?

If I had to pick only one Philly music thing that stood above and beyond this past year, it would be the Rare MP3s crew. What Noah, Ryan and the whole crew are doing over there is truly unique and amazing. In 2015, they racked up thousands of Soundcloud plays, got multiple premieres on Zane Lowe’s Beats Music show, worked with some of the biggest artists in the world and honed in on a really distinct sound and aesthetic that’s tasteful and diverse, venturing from club to rap to moody electronic music. That doesn’t even include what members of their crew are doing outside of Rare MP3s, with people like Heaven In Stereo and Sam Greens getting production credits on Fool’s Gold, Ryan mastering records for the likes of Baauer and RJD2 and so on. I expect even bigger things from those guys in 2016.

That being said, my taste in music generally tends to center on house and techno, and 2015 was a pretty massive year for Philly producers in that space. One of my favorite records from 2015, period, was from Maxine & Cleo, a Kansas City transplant named Cameron, who I’d never heard of before. His new Mad Blanc EP got released on the highly regarded Chicago label Argot and is four tracks of ultra vibey house music, each one bringing a little something different to the table. I’ve been getting promos from Argot for a little while, and when this one came through and I saw it said, ‘from Philly-based producer Maxine & Cleo,’ I was like “What!? Who is this?” That’s the thing with Philly though – so much of this amazing talent flies super under the radar and can go unnoticed here while making major waves elsewhere.

What DJs are making the most interesting beats/sounds? Who is throwing the best parties? Anybody ready to breakout?

One of the most unique and amazing sonic styles I’ve heard in quite some time is from Moor Mother Goddess. I had never heard of her, saw a feature on her in The FADER and was blown away. She’s got this raw, experimental, gritty and soulful sound that immediately grabs your ear. With each track she’s truly saying something, not afraid to shy away from the power of art to affect change.

Chris ‘Coolout’ Davis is killing the soulful house meets hip hop stuff right now and I know he’s sitting on a bunch of heat that’s waiting to see the light of day. He did a remix of Ralfi Pagan for the legendary Latin label Fania that is amazing, and whenever I play it people always ask me what it is. I know he’s sitting on a bunch of unreleased heat and he’s kind of prolific, so I would expect a big year from him.

The Universal Cave guys are also dominating, releasing groovy 7” records that are frequently top sellers in online stores such as Juno, earning the attention of major tastemakers such as Soul Clap. Whatever they put out is gold and ends up with thousands of plays on Soundcloud.

In terms of parties, the clubs are doing an amazing job of being opportunistic and booking artists that play New York and DC but might not have previously made a stop in Philly. Also, the afterhours scene and alternative venues are really thriving and do a great job providing a safe space for people to enjoy themselves outside the context of traditional venues.

How was 2015 different from past years? Haven’t we had a pretty deep bench on the DJ side for a long time now?

I think a lot of the DJs in Philly have been killing it for quite some time, but this past year saw a lot of them really start to break out of their shell and get onto bigger labels that are getting their music into the hands of some of the true tastemakers in the world. A few familiar faces to the Philly scene took on new monikers and had very successful years with the new projects.

A perfect example of that would be Michael Fichman, who goes by DJ Apt One, and has started working under the moniker Michael The Lion for his disco sounding stuff. He put out an amazing 12” on Brooklyn label Razor N Tape which got played all over BBC Radio 1, with one of his tracks getting featured in Glasgow mega-DJ Jackmaster’s 2015 Mastermix. Another example would be Billy Werner, who’s put out a ton of different music, but under his M/R project, put out a record on one of the most well regarded techno labels in the world, New York’s L.I.E.S.

When you hear a DJ spin, is there a way you can identify the Philly in them?

This is kind of a difficult one to answer because sonically ‘the Philly sound’ is so diverse – it’s not just disco or house, it’s club, rap, ambient, experimental, everything really. However, Philly can be somewhat of a notoriously difficult crowd to get going, so that definitely helps DJs cut their teeth. Philly DJs definitely know how to work a room and deliver the vibes.


Do you think the rest of the world recognizes the talent that comes out of Philly?

Philly gets a ton of love around the world, more than even here in Philly. I was at a record store in Mexico City recently and when I told the owner I was from Philly he got really excited and started telling me about how he loves listening to Cosmo Baker’s DJ sets and how they can’t keep Ovum records in stock because people buy them so fast. I found that interesting because I feel like a lot of folks in Philly don’t even realize that Ovum is a world-renowned label right here in our backyard quietly dominating the charts and clubs in Europe. Ovum has been operating on a high level for quite some time, but 2015 was a huge year for them. They re-issued the classic track “Pop Culture” from Philly guy DJ Dozia with a killer remix package, and one of the remixes (which appears in the mix) reached #1 on Traxsource while earning accolades like best new music from BBC Don Pete Tong.

I think that also goes for some of the lesser-known artists that come from Philly too. City Fitness and Kieran Loftus recently toured Europe, and when they told people they were from Philly, they got really excited immediately and were like “Oh, DJ Delish!” referencing the vogue producer.

Philly is definitely known as a DJ capital and it really always has been a tastemaking place for music – from American Bandstand in the 50s, to some of the massively influential radio jocks in the 60s and 70s, to the disco era and the classic “Philly sound,” to the legendary recording studios like Sigma Sound, to techno, to club and so on. I think we should be really proud of the rich history of DJs and musicians we have here.

At WKDU, we really try to provide an outlet and platform for local artists to get the exposure and press they deserve so that music fans in our area know how much amazing stuff is going on. It’s an essential part of the culture and radio support combined with smart clubs and great record stores are starting to lay down the foundation for artists in Philly to get the support that they really need and deserve.

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