DJ Profile: Phil B’s Potent Mix of House, Trance & Pop
Phil B is certainly a well-known DJ on the American and International Circuit. The mention of his name in any circle will immediately bring up memories of legendary dance parties, including White Party Palm Springs, Mass, Aftershock, venues on Fire Island, Pleasuredome, White Party Miami, Universe, Atlantis Cruises and Sundance.
With a strong pedigree and deep roots in the gay community, Phillip Bhullar, born in 1966 in West London, has been at the lead of a significant portion of the clubbing scene for nearly 25 years.
In the early 1990s, Phil B got his first break into the scene while living in Perth, Australia. He had been collecting dance records and dance music as a hobby. The owner of the local bar named Pals called Phil one evening, and knowing Phil’s love for music, asked if he could cover for a DJ that did not show up.
Pals was known for its "stand and model crowd," and not so much as a dance bar. Although he agreed to cover, he admitted he didn’t know how to mix. The owner assured Phil if he just faded from song to song, no one would know the difference.
"I walked out of that night feeling like I have never felt before" Phil recalls. "That was a high I had never experienced in my life!"
Phil B’s DJ career was born.
That same week, Phil went out and purchased decks and turntables. The owner at Pals told Phil once he learned to beat match, he could have the bar weekly. Phil quickly learned his skills under the guidance of local DJ,Rachel Harvey.
Within weeks, he started to master the turntables. "It would have taken me far longer without help from Rachel," Phil explains, "Rachel said, ’If you really love it, you will learn the rest yourself’. And she was right!"
These skills would become the foundations of what would become known as Phil B’s sound. This sound and his drive to be a DJ would secure Phil’s first dance club gig at Perth club Connections.
Next Stop, San Francisco
Looking to expand his career, Phil B moved to the States, specifically San Francisco, in 1993. He carried only a suitcase of clothing and a bag of records. He found himself having to start all over again on his career.
Working at local record shop, he eventually met the manager at The Café, a well-known lesbian bar at the corner of Market and 17th Street in the Castro, who gave Phil his first DJ job in San Francisco. "I played a HI-NRG house sound that was new to San Francisco and that no one else was playing," explained Phil.
He was, however, not very well received by the all-female crowd at The Café. The women boycotted the place and picketed because he got the gig. The patrons were afraid The Café would convert to a boy bar. Maybe their fears were justified: Within a relatively short time, there was a line around the block to get in and dance. That went on from 1993 until 2002.
Phil started to learn more about music. He earned a degree in Electronic Engineering. Although not trained as a musician, he was a quick study. He picked up music theory books to learn chord progressions and pitch matching.
Applied Music Theory
"More than beat matching, pitch matching builds the emotional drama of a set," explains Phil. Pitch matching, which Phil learned under the tutelage of legendary DJ Jerry Bonham, is the process of ensuring songs blend together based on chord progressions and pitch and not just based on the beats per minute.
"I still write all of my keys on my CDs today, so I know what chord progression will work," explains Phil.
Between 1994 and 1996, Audrey Joseph was running a weekly event called Pleasuredome, which would make Phil’s name. Phil B. used that platform to pick up higher-profile gigs in San Francisco, including resident DJ for the very popular Aftershock parties from 1995 to 2000.
Pleasuredome and Aftershock gave Phil a chance to develop his sound and grow from just being a T-Dance HI-NRG DJ to late-night, deeper sounds with more soul and drive. But it would be the Mass parties at Club 1015 on Folsom Street where he really made his mark.
Teaming up with the producer Gus Presents in 1996, these T-dances packed the crowds every Sunday. Eventually, Mass expanded to other cities, including Los Angeles. In San Francisco, Phil B. is still associated with Mass’ annual New Year’s Day "recovery" parties.
A mix of disco, ’80s music, ’90s Italo-house, trance, House of various stripes, and diva dance anthems, Phil’s describes his musical style as "constant evolution." He loves to take the dancers on a "journey," while also reading the crowd’s collective mood.
"Dance parties are a lot like a chess game," explains Phil. "You have to be thinking several moves ahead, and thinking about how you want your opponent to move."
The perfect analogy for leading a dance party from the decks, Phil watches his crowd, gauges the response and reacts accordingly. He steers them towards the destination he desires. It’s all strategy.
"I am always on the hunt for a new version of a popular track, something no one else has played, or that you have probably not heard very often," he explains.
Phil is happily involved with his partner of over 17 years, with whom he shares a home in San Francisco.
When he relaxes, it’s often with a DVD of the British series "Doctor Who." He owns one of the most respected and photographed collections of "Doctor Who" memorabilia, covering many years of the esoteric sci-fi character.
There’s another partner in Phil B’s life. No, not a three-way, but for the past three years, East Coast DJ Twisted Dee has joined Phil as a turntable tag team. Their styles of music and personalities have meshed so well that the duo has become twined in promoters’ minds.
They have played gigs like the Tea Dance for the mammoth Ascension Weekend on Fire Island, and Avalon in Los Angeles on July Fourth Weekend. One of the advantages of the "tag team" system is that two DJs can spot each other for bathroom and rest breaks.
But it means more than that for these two: It’s an overlap and complementing of styles. Katherine Hepburn famously said about Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, that he gave her class and she gave him sex. Well, not quite applicable: But Dee plays a dark, sexy, near-tribal sound, while Phil is more trance, House with those diva anthems. The result is a sound that keeps both the drum-and-bass and the hands-in-the-air crowds pleased.
Phil continues to spend a great deal of time in studio, where he re-masters music he plan to spin at his gigs. He knows the difference it makes to take a track and fine tune it for a sound system to ensure that his listeners get the most out of his music. Phil recently completed work on some new tracks with Debby Holiday, including "Never Give Up" (http://www.beatport.com/release/never-give-up/869129).
Phil B has several big gigs planned for this spring, including the launch of a new event called Anthem. "This event will showcase my sound, and will be an evening where I can play the entire journey," Phil said. Anthem will be something new for San Francisco, with the vocals, sing-a-long and happy tracks in an amazing club.
He will also be part showing off his late night sound at Gus Presents’ "Sanctuary" on Memorial Day weekend at Club 1015, the home of the original Mass parties.