Piers Harrison

Let’s get mystical: An Interview with Piers Harrison

Mysticisms label runner, DJ, writer and artist Piers Harrison answers some questions via email 

Piers Harrison is a music enthusiast of the most intense kind. Everything he does between DJing, running a label, making music, reviewing records or even writing liner notes in other peoples albums, stems from an almost obsessive dedication to the music. 

It’s a very special dedication that goes to the deeper ends of our collective music culture. Since his earliest expressions in music, he’s been devoted to the margins of popular music culture, where obscure dub cuts and chugging disco edits lived side by side in a colourful sonic melange of sounds. 

He’s earned a reputation for his digging habits amongst his peers and when it on occasion manifests into its own artistic creations it folds in the same eclectic approach. He started making music as part of the Disco-infused group Soft Rocks and from there he’s made notable contributions both as an artist and remixer while Djing all over the world. 

Today he runs label Mysticisms alongside Stuart “Chuggy” Heath his devotion to the music has never waned. Mysticisms has been at the forefront of that UK digger scene where it has provided a steady stream of future discogs “wanted” releases. From icons like Scientist, to headlining artists like Tornado Wallace and on to our very own Øyvind Morken, Mysticisms releases have garnered a lot of attention amongst record collectors and DJs alike for its broad yet concise approach. 

Behind every occultish record sleeve from the label lies a cult-like musical phenomenon whether it be an original track or a re-issue. It’s as much an expression of the versatile and truly eclectic people behind the label, as it is for the artists featured on the label and recently its subsidiary dubplates has expanded on that vision with, as the title suggests, a reggae/dub informed sound. 

Between running the label and the myriad of other things Piers does behind the scenes, he is first and foremost a purveyor of sounds and a DJ, where he brings his idiosyncratic tastes to various dance floors around the world. 

He comes to Jaeger this Friday, playing alongside mysticisms affiliate Øyvind Morken, so we caught up with him in London over email to find out more. 

Hey Piers. Thank you for taking the time to talk to us. Let’s talk about London. Where are you going out and /or playing at the moment and what do you find your audiences are particularly reacting positively too?

I’m quite an old man now, so maybe not the best barometer of London clubland. I hope there are kids out there smashing it up to some wild sounds and having the time of their lives. I sometimes come across free parties out where I walk my dog. It’s lovely to see that the joys of repetitive beats and various refreshments have not lost their allure for the youth of today despite constant news pieces suggesting otherwise.

I really enjoy the Giant Steps Sunday dances. They’re a wholesome and life-affirming way to close out the weekend. It’s a nice social thing, with an appreciative, knowledgeable crowd and great music on an excellent sound system. Ron Trent, a month or so back, was a total masterclass. I was there from the first tune to the last.

Brilliant Corners is probably the place I play the most. I recently did a late session there with Brian not Brian; that was an absolute hoot. It seemed well received, too, so I think we’ll be back for another one at some point. I loved playing in the studio at Little Portland Street, a semi-private spot with London’s most bananas sound system. It’s a complete DJ’s dream: everything sounds so lovely, super intimate, flexible hours, the biz.

After dubstep (and to a lesser extent Post-dubstep) the attention in terms of club music moved to Berlin, and then Brexit happened. How has that all affected the scene there, specifically for more obscure artists and DJs?

I think London is like New York, y’know. Reports of its death will always be exaggerated. Yes, the city is horribly expensive; I’m sure running parties is a nightmare, but it will always attract people who want to make something happen.

I have nothing good to say about Brexit whatsoever. The least of it is that it’s made touring more expensive and complicated for artists lower down the food chain.

What’s at the core of what you like whether it be Djing, making music or simply listening to something at home?

Tough one. I guess my tastes lie at the intersection of house, reggae and balearic stuff. I like some humour and lightness of touch in music. I’m not into super austere stuff; I love vocals and don’t shy away from things that might be a little quirky. Records with a lot of personality. Hence, the name of my little edit label.

What led you down the path of Djing and making music initially and what was always at the heart of your musical explorations during the early stages of your career?

I first started trying to make mix tapes at the age of 12 or so. I was equally obsessed and frustrated with figuring out how and why songs would fit together in sequence. That’s not changed at all. I’m pretty basic, really. I have no desire to make albums, soundtrack films or play live. I want to find and present interesting music to the best of my abilities.

Your first musical outlet was the group, Soft Rocks if I’m not mistaken. It seemed to emerge from an era when older elements like disco and synth-wave converged with modern club music genres. How did you arrive at that intersection of music?

Yeah, we were in the second wave of nu-disco. We all hated that term at the time and saw ourselves as anything but. In retrospect, a lot of brilliant and creative music emerged from that period. And a lot of utter dross, too. I started learning about a wider world of music then – afro, rock stuff, post-punk, just leftfield dance music. It’s still a massive part of who I am musically and what I do.

I owe a debt to Chris Pure Pleasure, my friend, a partner in Soft Rooks, and record dealer, from whom I gained a great deal of musical knowledge. Then again, I paid a decent chunk of his mortgage for a couple of years, so I guess we’re about even.

Calling you a vinyl enthusiast would be something of an understatement. What continues to draw you to the format between DJing, your own music and Mysticisms?

Well, there’s been a bit of change there. I previously only used vinyl, mostly just because I was really comfortable with it. I’ve been at this for a while; for the longest time, this was the only option. It wasn’t a choice; it was just what you did.

I am now at least 75 percent digital. I lean heavily on my own edits and play loads done by friends (shout to Jonny Rock for coming through with heavy artillery!). I enjoy finding music on Bandcamp, too.

I still constantly buy records but only take them to places where I know they will sound okay or where there is no other option. Brilliant Corners is vinyl only, for example. I’m bringing a bag to Jaeger as I’ve heard nothing but good things about the system and setup there!

What are the challenges in finding and presenting music in that format today?

The obvious one is the expense. Records are a serious financial outlay, and I’m endlessly thankful to the people who buy what we put out when other cheaper formats are so readily available. Logistically, it’s a nightmare, too, with pressing plant delays and so forth. Still, I can’t say I’d released something properly without it existing in a physical format.

Mysticisms is such a concise and very unique expression, and even though the music is always different, there’s something at the nucleus of it that ties it all together. What is at that nucleus for you?

I have always wanted Mysticisms to be a house label like On-U Sound was a reggae label. It loosely adheres to the conventions of the genre, but there’s a huge amount of freedom within those limitations. It just has to make sense to Chuggy and me. A relatively knockabout filter disco record can sit next to something super deep, like the Scuba record. It works in our minds. I can only hope it does the same for others.

From iconic artists like Scientist to in-demand artists like Tornado Wallace, and then onto more obscure ones like Øyvind Morken, the artistic scope is quite varied. How do you and Stuart pick these artists for the label and how does it reflect your own tastes?

We now have the dubplate sub-label, so that’s home to the more reggae and dub-informed, downtempo stuff we both love. We want to support new music, but selling it is a challenge, which makes us sad. We had hoped that Mysticisms would be 50/50 reissues and new releases, but in reality, it’s weighted in favour of the reissues. We try to get new stuff out there by doing the various artist Alchemy samplers.

Obviously the art is a huge part of the label’s identity, too and the occult theme that runs through it all. What and who planted the seed for that, and how do you feel it reflects the music on the records? 

Chuggy had the name and the idea of the little triangle chap, who has ties to the ancient British occult. I worked up some crappy line drawings, and then we handed it over to the designer. The designs have mutated and developed from there, depending on the release. Chuggy is the creative director visually. I say yes or no and lob in the odd idea.

My girlfriend is a practitioner of magical arts, so our home is equally full of records and tarot decks. I love the iconography, even if I don’t fully buy into it. I suppose it’s a belief system that is as good as any other and much better than some, such as capitalism.

Between DJing, making music, running the label and writing liner notes, what continues to keep you motivated in terms of music and if the love for it ever wavers, what usually draws you back into it?

Music has been an obsession of mine for 35 years. I think about it constantly, and I’ve made most of my friends through it. I’ve been having an eight-year-long WhatsApp conversation with Toby Tobias about it. I am always excited about music and prefer to avoid looking back and falling prey to nostalgia.

Besides your gig at Jaeger, what else do you have to look forward to in terms of music in the near-future?

I have a few nice gigs incoming. Over the next couple of months, I’ll be in Ibiza, Bucharest, LA, San Diego, and Istanbul. I have to give a special shout-out to the Love International festival, which is super special each year, and I’m looking forward to doing another morning session there for Test Pressing.

The best thing about DJing internationally has been making friends along the way, so I’m excited to be playing with Øyvind in the basement at Jaeger. He’s a proper DJ, putting in those hours at residencies, playing at all parts of the night, working with guests. This is stuff that makes you. 

He absolutely killed it at Koko when he opened for Chaos in the CBD last year. Uncompromising but accessible. Pure Morken! I’m going to have to stay on my toes!

Lastly, can you play us out with a song?

It’s not something I’ll be playing in the basement at Jaeger, but I’m currently obsessed with this slice of deep, lofty jazz-funk.

Ralf Moufang & Elastic Headache – Still On My Mind