I first encountered Phil Spank on a mountaintop in Santa Barbara, slapping the crowd with four-on-the-floor smackers. I've been following closely ever since through the Space Milk mix series, as well as his own Spank's Danks, where I've particularly been digging his selections.
In the Bay Area in particular, Phil has been active in the scene through new party endeavor Room 4 Improvement, and through Space Milk parties, like their epic anniversary at CTRL Disco.
With these parties still fresh, it seems there couldn't have been a better time to catch up with Phil. And what's more, but with an all vinyl mix of deep cut disco gems straight from his collection.
We got Leila's side of the story earlier this year on Space Milk but I'm curious to hear yours. How did it all get started, and how has it grown and changed?
Space Milk was originally myself, Clay (Klaytron) and our friend Steve Fetterly just filling our cars to the brim with sound, lights and structures and driving into the Santa Barbara hills to see what we could get away with. Those early ones were still some of the most fun parties that I've ever been a part of, particularly the one we threw in Big Sur in 2017. I think what's really so special about a mountain party is the DIY nature as well as the kind of, Field of Dreams, "If you build it, they will come" vibe.
Eventually we started making friends locally in the 805 and were allowed to come down from the hills. Bix and the team at EOS in Santa Barbara were really influential in helping us to grow both musically and socially and start evolving our party potential. Now we've grown to a team of 10+ DJs and artists and have held residencies, built and run stages at festivals and operated a pretty successful stream during the pandemic. Clay lives in Vietnam now so he's our international head working on spreading the Milk to the edges of the Earth.
Of course there was a proper anniversary party for Space Milk this year. In addition to that, you've been busy behind the decks with Room 4 Improvement, a growing presence at Lucidity, and more. What's organizing parties been like for you lately?
Yea Space Milk had its 6th anniversary this year, pretty wild (also a shout out to the team running the CTRL spot in Ventura, they really do it proper). I actually moved up to San Francisco in December of last year and soon after, my friends Nate, Chris, Clancy, Abby, Tris and myself started Room 4 Improvement as a means of throwing parties up in the Bay area, which has been sweet.
I'd say recently I've found myself a part of organizing a lot more parties in cities as opposed to out in nature. That comes with dealing with venues, promoters, decibel meters and money things, which is its own beast. I think the general idea is still the same though, play the tunes you like and let good people know about it and it's hard to go wrong.
Between collecting tracks, whether digitally or physically, and throwing parties, not to mention acquiring gear, DJing has become increasingly expensive. I'm curious what your thoughts are on this.
I'm really glad you asked this because I've always been conflicted about how high of a financial barrier to entry exists within becoming a DJ. Obviously owning all of the equipment is very helpful in helping you develop your skills and get comfortable behind the decks but it's pretty ridiculous when a mixer and two XDJs can cost nearly $3k brand new. Most people don't have that just lying around. Of course, buying a couple turntables is a bit less expensive gear-wise but then you often find yourself paying $20 or more for a record that you're really only going to play one track off of, as opposed to maybe $2 digitally.
I guess my thoughts on this would be that it doesn't really matter what gear you're using, if you play good music and mix it decently well then I'm a fan. There's nothing wrong with getting a cheap controller and buying some tracks (support artists if you can) and developing your skills that way. The jump from a controller to CDJs is really not as intimidating as it seems and if you'd like to learn then hit me up. I've helped a lot of people learn how to use CDJs and turntables and I really enjoy teaching and sharing something I'm passionate about with a friend.
Also myself, and I think a lot of other friends that spin, would say that it's kind of exciting when a mix is a little bit off. That's the human element and it's fun to ride along with the DJ and see if they can fix it or not. That's also why I dislike sync so much, it just feels too perfect and robotic. If you're gonna use sync you might as well just plug your phone into the aux and play something pre-recorded so we can all stop pretending.
Aside from just partying, music has connected you to a global community, including some folks who are making names for themselves in dance music. Can you talk about the relationship between music and your community?
I've been very fortunate to meet a lot of genuinely good people and make a lot of lifelong friends through music and these interactions and people have had a huge influence on shaping the person I am today. In terms of friends with a global presence, I'd say Steve Huerta, or Huerta, is someone that I've known for a while and definitely look up to musically. He comes from Southern California, just like me, and he's done such an incredible job of carving out his own path as a producer and DJ on a global scale and I've often drawn inspiration from his journey. In general though, I really feel privileged that, through music, I've made friends in a lot of major cities around the world and I feel the freedom to know that I can travel anywhere I want and usually find good people and good tunes.
Now all dance music aside, what are you up to when you aren't selecting or behind the decks?
Besides dance music I'd say two other passions of mine are soccer and video games. I've played soccer all my life and am a massive Liverpool fan so I'm often up early (or up late) on a Sunday at 6am to watch them play. I'm also a lifelong gamer and have spent an endless amount of days on Halo, CoD and LoL. I usually don't tell most people this but I actually used to compete semi-professionally in CoD in high school. Right now though I'm working my way through Hogwarts Legacy and I also play Gran Turismo 7 pretty consistently.