Q&A: Girl Unit's Philip Gamble On Missy And Timbaland's Glory Days, The Suburbs, And Why Ciara Is 'Crazy Post-Human'
Philip Gamblea.k.a. Girl Unitjoined the constantly growing cast of post-dubstep producers to come out of the U.K. a little over the a year ago with the release of his EP IRL. The debutwhich came out on Night Slugs, the experimental dance imprint run by the London DJs Bok Bok and L-Vis 1990was full of expertly crafted, drumline-driven bangers. Taking cues from the clap-tracks behind Chicago juke, the chopped rhythms of hip-hop, and the wailing synths of electro-house, Girl Unit has since released a slew of remixes and original productions, including his signature piece "Wut." The track is indicative of his whole style, really: the DJ's obvious love for pairing echoing 808s and glitchy melodies with keen hip-hop sensibility makes his role in the diaspora of "post-dubstep" sound a lot like something that could be described as New Wave R&B.
We talked to Gamble about his introduction to dance music, love of hip-hop, Ciara worship, and upcoming performance at the Brooklyn Electronic Music Festival.
I know that UNIT is an acronym for "U No It's True." Is that a reference to the Milli Vanilli song?
It kind of is. When I started it, I had a sense of humor about it. I would use to start a lot of sets and mixes I did with the sample from the intro from that track, the spoken intro. So yeah it kind of just started there. It was supposed to be a light-hearted thing, I never thought that I would come this far with it really. [Laughs.] When I started producing I shortened it to the acronym.
Does growing up in a kind of slow, industrial town have any influence on your work?
To an extent, yeah. It's not like it's the most impoverished place in the world. I'm still really happy that I was born there, but at the same time it's not the most incredible, culturally interesting place. It's just like any kind of humdrum suburban town. It's home to all of these really boring, boring chemical and IT corporations. It's like stuck in the '50s as hell so the architecture is really abysmal. In a way it's kind of amazing as well. So, yeah, there's definitely something there. When I started producing, a lot of it was based on that kind of sense of escapism. I mean, the whole thing where people say my music brings out "dread," I can't really say where that comes from. I wouldn't relate that to the kind of environment I grew up in. I think I just pay attention to sounds that inspire that. I don't know why.
It seems like exposure to the dance music underground starts a lot younger in the UK than it does in the U.S. What was your youth like in that sense? I feel like people think that teenagers in the UK are like the characters on Skins.
That whole phenomenon is so current and so young. Watching shows like that, I would say that I never knew anyone like that at all. That's of a different generation than mine, I think. It's kind of amazing to watch. For the most part, though, I guess I went through all the phases that most teenagers went through. I went through phases of liking very different kinds of music. It wasn't until I was 17 that I got into dance music.
When I was 17, that was around 2002, was when all the electric-house stuff was popping up in Europe. I was just mad on a lot of the techno that was around during that era; it was really really minimal and medieval. I was really into this one track called "Space Invaders Are Smoking Grass" by I-F. It's kind of this really minimal, distorted, melancholy track. It was very typical of the time I suppose; the whole eighties-survival thing they were doing. So, yeah, I guess when I heard that it got me thinking about electronic music in general. And most of the stuff I was into was so sparse that I thought that I'd like to try to do it myself as well. That kind of got me on the bandwagon to start looking at software and doing stuff on my parents' computer.
Tell me about the creative dynamic within [your label] Night Slugs. Do you guys bounce ideas off each other and such?
Yeah. Between the core members of the label, the guys in LA like Kingdom, and some others, we have this small network where we trade tracks and ideas in general. It's more the case of where we all live very locally to each other. We're basically walking distance to each other. I think the main sharing comes together at actual events because everyone brings their own music and stuff they've found in the last couple of months. Obviously we're playing in different places in most of the time so we don't see each others' sets. So when we're playing together, we'll hear the new stuff people have or have been working on. That's where all the breakthrough stuff happens, when we're all playing together. Someone will either pull out something old-school that no one's ever heard before, or something new that they've been working on, or something new that they've just found. I think DJing together really helps keep ideas fresh for us.