The Night Slugs producer celebrates his debut album Song Feel with a romantic mix
Song Feel is an appropriate name for Girl Unit’s debut album. The UK producer – real name Phil Gamble – is all about the feels, drawing on the romance of late-night R&B for the album’s 11 tracks, and enlisting a number of collaborators including Kelela, UK up-and-comer Taliwhoah, and Brooklyn rapper Ms Boogie to achieve his vision. Tracks like “WYWD” and “B.A.C.K.” are pure lushness, and even the record’s most hard-edged moments, like the Thast-featuring club beat “Pull Up”, are as heady as they are grimy.
For fans of UK club music, the album has been a long time coming. Gamble first broke through at the turn of the 2010s, when a clutch of new producers, collectives, and record labels shook up the UK underground club scene. He was closely connected with Night Slugs, an ultra-modern label and clubnight who effortlessly drew connections between disparate genres: the mutant futurism of grime, the rattling drum patterns of Southern rap, the raw grooves of Chicago house, the swing of UK funky, and so on. Girl Unit’s 2010 track “Wut”, released by Night Slugs, best captured the creative energy of the era – it was an enormous (and inescapable) dancefloor melter that contrasted its yearning emotion with sheer bass weight. Its follow-up, 2012’s Club Rez EP, featured the equally unmissable “Ensemble”, but after that, Gamble kept a relatively low profile, releasing only the occasional white label 12” and DJ mix, adopting the Hysterics alias for a couple of club-focused EPs, and contributing additional production to music by Kelela.
As they say, though, late is better than never, and Song Feel shows just how distinctive Gamble has become as a producer and as an artist, able to create an instantly identifiable sound even while jumping between genres. It also shows how adept he is at working with vocalists across the board. We caught up with the producer following the album’s release to coincide with his new Dazed Mix, which traverses trap, boogie, R&B, and club music.
So, you’re releasing your debut album. Without meaning to sound rude: why’d it take so long?
Girl Unit: I just needed to take some time to hone some more skills and generally get a bit better at producing. I had to learn more about writing and recording songs. The upside is that the record has a lot of variety, since the tracks that made it onto the album were made over a long period of time and encompass a lot of different phases I was going through.
How did it all come together?
Girl Unit: It really just started out with a lot of instrumentals that I played to different vocalists and writers, both in London and LA. Most of the artists I worked with, I was already friends with or had established a connection with through mutual friends. Some tracks were completed in a couple of sessions and others needed multiple rewrites, so much of the final stages of making the album was just making tweaks to get each track to the same level that I was happy with. I did a lot more sessions than what made the album, but hope to put out some more from the album sessions in the near future.
How has your production style grown over the years?
Girl Unit: I have a better grasp on harmony and melody, and am better able to build songs around vocals. I find myself using samples a lot more and generally experimenting with a broader range of sounds. When I start writing a track, I wanna chase a feeling before I’ve considered genre specifics, so a lot of the early demos didn’t feature any drums or percussion, and I added them in once I’d established that. I find just trying to create a mood with a few loops is a good way to work through writers’ block.
How did you meet some of the vocal collaborators on the record?
Girl Unit: I’d known Kelela since around 2012, I was introduced to her through the Fade to Mind gang. Ms Boogie I was linked up with through Sweyn J when she came down to perform at PDA in London back in late 2017. Thast I just reached out to via email and got the vocal back straight away. Taliwhoah I was also introduced to through mutual friends, she’s the most local so was always down to record. Rush I was linked up with for a session years ago and we’ve remained good friends ever since, and Brook I was introduced to via Bok Bok, as she'd done some demos on his tracks previously.
What are the hallmarks of a Girl Unit song?
Girl Unit: No idea. I guess I try to find a balance between two or more different styles. I think tracks like “Pure Gold” are a good example of that.
“I like going clubbing to places that are outside of the immediate sphere that I DJ in. I’m interested in the musical tropes that shape the sound of pop music, and how that’s always changing” – Girl Unit
I remember reading an interview with you after “Wut” came out where you talked about being tapped for a studio session with a more established artist and finding the whole experience uncomfortable. What was it about this working method that didn’t gel with you?
Girl Unit: I was still just very green at that time, and it was a lot of pressure put on me too early on. I’m glad to have taken a step back and entered into recording with artists that are up-and-coming. The whole thing feels a bit more organic that way.
How did it feel celebrating ten years of Night Slugs last year?
Girl Unit: It was great. I don't really feel like ten years has passed at all, but we threw some great parties, and it was really fun to have an excuse to dig into tracks I haven’t played for years.
Where do you get most of your ideas from nowadays?
Girl Unit: I like going clubbing to places that are outside of the immediate sphere that I DJ in. Listening to the radio a lot helps, too. I’m interested in the musical tropes that shape the sound of pop music, and how that’s always changing.
Do you have any advice you’d give to your 15-year-old self?
Girl Unit: Don’t worry so much, and do some exercise.
What’s the most exciting club experience you’ve had recently?
Girl Unit: I saw Honey Dijon in LA last weekend at some huge warehouse, I just went on my own and sweated for six hours. Night Slugs at Mick’s Garage back in March, and Fade to Mind in New York last Friday was great too – Ms Boogie performed and was incredible. I’m also looking forward to the London Song Feel launch coming soon.
What other artists are you feeling the most right now?
Girl Unit: City Girls, Aya Nakamura, Chynna, Slayyyter, Architect, Jael, Semma.
Tell us what’s going on in this mix!
Girl Unit: I just woke up this morning and started mixing. It’s a very beautiful, sunny day in Los Angeles, and I was in a good mood, so the mix reflects that.