Phil Brookes is just as effusive on the phone as his summery, disco-tinged DnB. As one half of Brookes Brothers, he’s touring rapantly and working on an album for release later this year. ZOE KILBOURN caught up with him before he played the Perth leg of the Viper tour.
Phil Brookes is, you could say, keen for life. Back from a “wicked” tour of New Zealand, you’d think he’d be working through jet lag, but instead he’s gushing about Perth (he’s played here three times before).
It’s only fitting that he and his brother’s incredible production career began with a wholehearted obsession.
“Before we really got into DnB, we were massively into UK garage, hip hop and jungle. Around the time we decided to get into production, that was the time we were absolute DnB fanatics, going raving ever weekend,” he explains. “When we got to the age of going out clubbing and going to raves, that really inspired us to make music ourselves. We were obsessed. Not that we’re not into DnB – we’re still very passionate about it – but in those days, there was only one thing we were going to try and make, and that was DnB. Because we came from a soul, hip hop, jazz background, we really loved the liquid stuff – people like M.I.S.T, Calibre, that was the stuff we really wanted to make.”
That liquid influence is palpable in music that trades in the traditional banger-anger of DnB for warm, funky, disco-laced music. It’s still at 170 BPM, though – percussion is an enormous part of the genre and Phil’s work.
“We go through different phases, and it also depends on the kind of tune we’re making,” he says. “Recently, we’ve been really getting back into the break, using slightly lighter drums. We really love breaks, but for a while people got too deep into the real hitsy, big 200Hz kicks – not a lot of groove in the beat. We try to bring it back to all those old funk breaks, which is where we came from originally. You’ve gotta have that jungle element in DnB, otherwise it’s just like trance. No offense to trance.”
Their last big release, Carry Me On, has a very strong vocal focus. “We did come from a real sample-heavy background, and nowadays we use a lot less samples. Even on the album, a lot of stuff was played by ourselves,” he says. “Nowadays, you can get incredible instrument packages, multi-instruments with a hundred different velocities – you can really get stuff sounding organic. A lot of the time you won’t be able to tell if it’s a real piano or just a piano synth. New music technology really opened us up, so we don’t have to sample as much as we did, although you can’t beat a really lovely, juicy sample. It’s definitely still a big part of what we do. Sometimes you just need those samples to inject real character into your work.“
“Progression is a big part of our music – we don’t want our tracks to be like a five-minute loop,” he continues. “We really try to lean towards the song base structure. Chord figurations, chord progressions, chord changes all play a big part in that for us. We’ve always wanted our stuff to stand out, musically, from the rest of the pack.” He laughs. “No, that sounds like we’re being competitive. We’re just trying to make the best music we can make.”
Phil explains their heroes growing up were the soul and Motown artists their parents loved – Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson. A recent release, The Blues, is a particularly unusual DnB track – it uses a full forties blues vocal sample. He can’t say who it is – “It’s probably so old nobody would worry, but just to be on the safe side” -but it’s a throwback to the roots still resonant in Brookes Brothers’ work.
“We spend hours and hours listening to old music and hours and hours sampling it as well – it’s not really a chore or a labour, we love it. There’s no buzz like finding new music you really love.”