We’re delighted to publish this guest piece by Matt Schantz on the NuNorthern Soul All Stars series and what a beacon it has been in these times of trouble.
“People can get used to anything.”
This has been my mantra since long before Everything Changed For Everyone. As humans, we are pretty adaptable. We can find a new restaurant, a new coffee place, a new city, a new lover. We will adapt. But just because we can and will, does not mean we always do so gracefully and without making a lot of noise. Think about a disruption to your life’s pattern or to your personal behaviours…a product is taken off the shelves at stores, you have to stay home, you have to go to work, you have to stay home, something is unavailable, you have to stay home, you have to wear a mask, someone else will not wear a mask, you have to stay home…gratitude falls by the wayside in a hurry.We’ve been adjusting slowly over a period of time, and have now reached a certain kind of mental plateau here in the time where Everything Changed. Some people think it’s over, just because they have decided it’s over. Others are digging in and acknowledging that we’re just getting started. There is no “back to normal”…this IS normal. We really can get used to anything.
DJs have adapted remarkably during this time. If we cannot go to the club, there is no better medium for a DJ’s set than online. There have been a plethora of quarantined live streams, pandemic fundraisers, and new music. Saturdays belong to John Digweed, relentlessly “keeping match fit”, as he has said, by giving us 3+ hours of music on Mixcloud, presented as only a master with no peer such as he can. There is a glowing console, a flickering twilo candle, a neon Bedrock sign, and an online community that meets week after week in comments to rally around the music we love. Friends are made, memories are shared, and plans are hatched for a future that may exist when we will talk about the Time Before, and tell stories about how we made it through that whole mess. Community instead of conflict. But I digress…
Over on another corner of Mixcloud, there has been another event unfolding, with less fanfare but no less revelatory: a collection of specially curated mixes facilitated by one ‘Phat’ Phil Cooper and his NuNorthern Soul podcast. Phat Phil, a journeyman DJ with an ample record collection, and even greater musical tastes, has been distilling all things Balearic for some time now and has quietly delivered a series of guest mixes that have a stunning subtlety to them. A veteran of Liverpool’s Cream and a resident of Ibiza, Phil has found his niche in promoting the storied chilled-out sound of the island he has come to call home. A DJ’s DJ with a passion for crate-digging, Phil’s the type of DJ from whom within a few listens, one can get a sense of mood and vibe; in plain terms, when he’s at the decks, his sets have a voice, and it’s evocative of the place that he loves so much – the languid sun-drenched Balearic islands. “Is it Balearic?” is a question you can ask of a record, and given proper context, Phil just might make it so. It’s a sound you can hear on his monthly NuNorthern Soul podcast, or via the family of artists on his NuNorthern Soul label.
Earlier this year, Phil announced the arrival of the NuNorthern Soul All-Stars podcast. What has followed has been an an almost-daily mix, each episode a different artist filtering the sound of Balearic through their own unique prisms. The results have been addicting, from the ambient tones of Macca to Sharma’s late afternoon vibes, from the dubbed-out bliss of GK’s mix to the straight-ahead soulful house of Paul Marshall, or the 80s rave-up from Blair French. The Nu-Northern All Stars series has proven that any dance music genre, be it progressive house or Balearic, is best appreciated when it is treated as an adjective rather than a noun. Breadth and depth, fluidity and solace; Balearic can be understood within the listening of one of these sets, but in surveying all the entries one can truly get the wide-angle view – diversity is its strength. Were the All-Stars a boxed set, at this point it would be 39 CDs strong, complete with candid photos of the Spanish island during these strange times, images of the DJs at work, and some of those lush Ibizan sunsets – as seen from a distance.
And so in my essential job as a cook at a hospital, back in April, I settled into the comfortable routine of daily listening to a brand new set from the NuNorthern Soul All-Stars, heard from the tiny speaker of my phone, securely held in the breast pocket of my chef’s coat. I can embrace the sounds of an island I have never seen with a pocketful of sunshine from some amazing DJs compiled by one dedicated man. People can get used to anything. Tune in, embrace the sounds, and get into gratitude.
Matt Schantz, June 2020