Text Alfonso Gomez
‘Good Morning’ off Singaporean label-collective Phyla’s first release, UBUNTU EP by F A U X E, wasn’t just the first track to introduce the region to the masked DJ-producer; it also doubled as the proper debut of the label itself. A remix EP of ‘U127’ by label co-founder Iyer (Nikhil Ramakrishnan) followed suit, then Insomnia EP signalled the return of the city-state’s d’n’b stalwart Diphasic to his native country. In the span of six months (August ’12 to January ’13) taken to release these three EPs, Phyla managed to induct itself into the already venerable canon of homegrown labels – Syndicate, Darker Than Wax, et all – inclined to the electronic scene in not only Singapore, but regionally and globally as well.
Going by Phyla’s early releases, their genre-inclination isn’t too blatant that it could be pinpoint to its exact BPM – but it’s immediately apparent that the label is indebted to bass-heavy music. Think d’n’b, jungle, dubstep, and any of their post-prefixed variants. In fact, the freeform nature of the label was exactly what co-founders Nikhil and Harv Chail intended to have as their one constant. “When we first started off, [not having a particular sound] made folks uncomfortable…” says Nikhil, “… we aren’t bound by genres.” It’s no wonder then that they chose the name Phyla – a broad taxonomic rank below kingdom and above class. The latter of which is a somewhat braggadocious play on words of the label’s own definition – “That we’re above class.”
The word Freeform also happens to be the chosen name of their irregular club night (oftentimes monthly) – not site-specific, the night could be held “anywhere on the island,” and features regional and local acts. That – the focus on regional and local acts – also happens to be the unofficial Phyla ethos; “We are driven to put our region firmly on the map, and that spirit defines all the work we do.” This can be seen in their lineup, F A U X E, fzpz, MXND//KRFT, and label “resident DJ, tastemaker, and spokesperson” Jaydah make up their core team. Regionally, they’ve been in talks with Malaysian label-collective Akhyla for a potential collaboration (“Early stages, not quite at the reveal just yet,” Nikhil tells us when goaded for further information). And with active ears frequently in tune to demos (“That’s how artistes on the label came to release with us.”), Phyla also represents globally with releases by the likes of Brisbane-native Sauce and, more recently, Canadian beatmaker Mooves – whose connection to the label isn’t quite separated by several continents and seas; Nikhil currently resides in Canada.
One would assume having two of its co-founders living in two different countries would make operations difficult, and Nikhil agrees as much. “However, the internet makes things possible,” he concedes, admitting that the connected world today does help things. But communicating with your partner via text-based platforms don’t exactly express the intended tone, which can end up disastrous. Luckily for Nikhil and Harv though, their ideologies are consistent with each other regardless of which side of the world they’re on, and Nikhil only has positive things to say about Harv; “If I had to pick one partner I had to work with from such a distance, it would have to be Harv. He’s been nothing less than a pleasure to work with.”
In fact, it was Nikhil’s chanced meeting with the “famous” Chail Brothers (Harv and brothers Amrit and Ren) that the idea for Phyla was first conceived. Inducted into the Singaporean d’n’b DJ circuit via Ming of the now defunct Home Club, it was through there that he crossed paths with the brothers, whose knowledge of the Singaporean scene – be it electronic, dance, or band music – was expansive. “They taught me the ropes,” admits Nikhil. This led to a much needed “homework” for him, who then realised that despite the amount of music brewed in the city, there wasn’t a medium for local producers to release their work (and to be “proud of it”). The topic came about between Harv and Nikhil much earlier than the label’s conception in 2012, and it was partly due to having listened to F A U X E’s and Diphasic’s respective EPs (at the time demos) that they decided to kickoff the imprint in that year.
Phyla is also one of the first few regional labels to represent juke (in Nikhil’s own music as Iyer and recent release Hot Platter EP by Mooves, for example). The booty house-evolved genre has become trendier since the premature death of Rashad, with even techno DJs claiming that juke is the ‘future’. But the potential bastardisation of juke à la dubstep and trap doesn’t concern Nikhil, “It’ll be difficult to bastardise juke; it’s raw and real, none of that festival glowstick material.” Stating that the existence of juke and footwork have long been established and unsurprised by the admission of techno DJs who had lay claim on the genre (“There are similarities.”), he expresses incredulity in the claim that it’s the ‘future’, as juke is currently the present to him.
“[Juke] isn’t some bandwagon for people to jump on – this is a reality for dancers and producers in Chicago (and around the world) and a way of life for many. This is a culture built from the ground up through years of giving back to the community. This is not for sale.”
But let’s not proselytise too much here – Phyla sees a great year ahead of them in both a local and international sense, with regular shows in Singapore and upcoming releases slated for later in the year. “For me, Harv, Jaydah and F A U X E – we just want to keep our head down and do what we do best,” says Nikhil of their focus as of now. That, however, is only one part of the label. Ultimately, Nikhil intends to shine a broader light on regional talents, something that he and the label collectively feel like is still lacking in proper groundwork even if music production has become readily accessible (“In terms of learning,” at least).
“I am sure there are musicians and producers who are currently working at their art on their own, perhaps wondering if there might be an outlet – if you are reading this, please get in touch.”
Consider this an invitation.