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Juan Awile, aka phrex, aka Seduction, has been a pillar of the Swiss electronic music scene for many years. He’s heavily involved in concepts such as Dubtopia, Midilux and the Montsomnia Festival. From hometown club Kapitel Bollwerk to Ghent’s Funke seems only like a small stretch: “both of these places feel like a living room, where you’re surrounded by familiar faces”.

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— First off, can we draw some comparisons between Bern and Ghent?
Definitely! I feel like Ghent has a similar vibe to Bern. Both of the cities seem to be on the same, left field-ish team, compared to bigger hubs like Brussels and Zürich.

Funke kind of feels like my homebase nightclub Kapitel Bollwerk - especially its second room. They both have this “living room” kind of feeling, with a lot of familiar faces popping up. There’s a new kind of scene sprouting from this second room at Kapitel which is fueled by a younger generation of artists, promoters and dancers.

These young ones seem to be more adventurous by allowing multiple genres in one night. Back in the days, when you were booked on a four-to-the-floor lineup, you kind of had to stick to it - whereas now you can make your set go wherever you want it to. It feels like a breath of fresh air, compared to many years of pretty rigid deep house or minimal-ish kind of stuff going on.

“ I got crazy about sound, bass and sound system culture by making very basic, rudimentary music in my friends’ basement. ”

— How and when did you get involved in music?
It’s difficult to pinpoint the exact moment where it happened. What’s important to understand beforehand: my roots lie in Syria. Especially when I was younger, it wasn’t always easy to pair my migrational background with my musical interests and traits.

At one point, my brother took me along to a drum and bass party. I was way too young and didn’t know what it actually was but at the same time I liked it.

At the same time, between the ages of 14 to 17 let’s say, I was heavily involved in the anti-racist skinhead movement. In that scene it was all about early-reggae, rocksteady and ska. I started collecting these kinds of records, started playing them and also started to promote early-reggae nights. As an artist, I didn’t get booked anywhere else though. This early-reggae scene was irrelevant in the Swiss club scene.

“ People are looking for something; whether it was during a Northern soul-party in the 60’s or during a rave nowadays. No matter the moment in time or the genre. ”

— How did you evolve from there to bass culture?
You can basically boil it down to an intense friendship which blossomed in a friends’ basement. There, we started making very rudimentary music. It was basic and it felt like we were breaking a lot of rules. This is where I got crazy about sound, bass and sound system culture: an important moment in my musical bildung, let’s say.

From those basement sessions flowed Dubtopia, 2011 or 2012. Our main motivation was to get our songs out there - through a decent sound system preferably. Again, finding bookings wasn’t easy, as the scene was all about minimal back then. We played dubstep which, I believe, is also very minimal in a way but somehow it didn’t work out. Hence we just did our thing.

Maybe that’s why it feels like with Dubtopia it’s us against the world. We’re just doing it, whatever. Through time, we were able to bring acts like Mala, V.I.V.E.K, Commodo and Sicaria Sound to Bern - which is cool. Nowadays we are lucky to be backed by Dachstock, a seminal venue  that appreciates what we’re doing and finds it relevant, although financially it doesn’t make a lot of sense. We have a super loyal audience of some 350 to 400 people, always showing up early to the party. That’s enough people for a perfect vibe.

“ One of my greatest joys is to take the music (and the audience) to completely different places - without them even noticing. ”

— Apart from Dubtopia, you’re also part of the Midilux collective. If Duptopia is your baby, Midilux is your …
… best friend? I guess something like that (laughs). Midilux is a ground of friends; we speak the same language and there’s full trust among us, which isn’t always the case in a collective. For instance: I’m responsible for the bookings and I don’t have to fight for my lineups.

It all started by accident almost. In 2012 they were throwing a big rave. One of the artists on the bill had to cancel last-minute. I jumped in and suggested some other possible DJ’s. It worked out really well and that was the start of it, I guess. Although I officially joined Midilux a few years later, in 2018.

In terms of music, Midilux is oriented around house and, mainly, techno - with a modern twist to it. Throughout the years, we booked artists like Bambounou, Dr. Rubinstein, A Made Up Sound and  Aleksi Perälä. It is still revolving around the idea of techno but at the same time, it’s more fractured. It’s about good energetic music - not too heady, still understandable. Booking is all about finding the balance between these aspects.

— Along the way, you touched upon a lot of different genres - to say the least. How do they compare?
In the end, it’s about escapism - although that’s probably not the best word to even describe it. People are looking for something; whether it was during a Northern soul-party in the 60’s or during a rave nowadays. No matter the moment in time or the genre: people are always looking for something. Sometimes they find it, sometimes they don’t. But it’s always worth a shot.

In terms of music, I’m sure you can find so many parallels between so many genres. It’s all fluid - especially nowadays in contemporary music - everything is cross-pollinated in a way.

During my sets I strive to connect some of these dots. It especially works well for me during a closing set: taking the music (and the audience) to completely different places - without them even noticing - is one of my greatest joys. In a way, I’m hypnotizing (or seducing) the crowd by sneaking in new elements and making them listen to a sound that they might not even like in a different setting.

— How do you prepare for these (often very versatile) sets?
I’m a very spontaneous DJ. I do prepare playlists and my record bag but I leave these playlists very early on usually. But I obviously check out the lineup to see who’s playing. I try to get as much information about the other artists as possible; especially when I don’t know them. Sometimes I even contact them to gain some information - especially when I’m warming up for the main act.

Because things can take a turn for the unexpected, I always bring two SSD drives - one is basically a mirror of the other one. They basically have everything on it, so I can roam wherever I feel like going. I always take everything because you never know what’s going to happen.

One time, when I was playing outdoors, there were noise complaints and the police came over. The music had to be turned down. I told them to wait. I started playing stuff without bass, which was still groovy - rhythmical ambient let’s say -, for about thirty minutes and it worked. Everyone - even the police - was happy with this sonic solution. But it was a huge relief when the bass drum could kick in again.

Interview with phrex + words by Hans Empereur

a momentary selection by phrex in no particular order

agonis - king cobra not happy

150bpm was for a long time a deadzone for me. amenthia recordings creative buttonpusher agonis changed my mind.

the lysergic and energetic, yet spacious feel of this tune — and the whole album — is just beyond!

colliding fields - love

it was a rainy sunday evening. an ambient session with two live sets at a beautiful location in the heart of bern.

Colliding fields were playing the last tune of the night when it struck me: the sound of a synthesizer paired with a heavy 808 subbass shook the dark room and dissolved into a wonderfully composed edit/remix of the 1986 released seminal tune „moments in love“ from art of noise.

you could feel that everyone in the room was fully immersed into the emotionally driven grimesque proto-dubstep soundscape.

i decided on the spur of the moment that this needs a proper release.

this is still a dubplate to be released on dubtopia records. coming later this year on 12“!

telepathテレパシー能力者 - アンドロメダ

i have a softspot for the hazy sound of the more ambient-leaning side of vaporwave.

the misty a e s t h e t i c of the whole album is the perfect companion for massively stoned and lazy post-rave sundays.

LDS - organic computer awareness

clocking at almost 160bpm this fast paced yet spacious LSD-peaktime-triggering tune aimed at late-night psychedelia and perfectly tuned to resonate in a forestrave has all the elements needed to transcend the audience into wild hallucinations on a dancefloor. needless to say that this tune needs to be well placed in a set to unfold all its power. rarely played — but when I do it creates a very special atmosphere.


vivian jones - flash it & gwan

after jah shakas passing i swayed in memory of the few sessions i was able to experience. this tune struck me on a different level when the zulu warrior played an allnighter. this was played pretty early on that night but it went deep and still resonates.