It’s Day 4 of Electric Forest and Chris and I are sequestered in the media area. It’s a good place to start the day: free WiFi and snacks, quiet, distraction free. I caught the tail end of PHO’s debut set late last night at The Observatory (a small late-night stage deep within the Forest) so I know they’ve all finally arrived. Hoping to use this WiFi to schedule an interview when “Oh, hey Harley!” Look who just walked into media. What perfect timing.
For those who don’t know Pho, they’ve been tearing up the Minneapolis funk scene for a several years now, even getting a Twitter shoutout from Prince just a few months before his death in 2016. Their sophomore album, two, dropped last year and you can stream it on Spotify here.
I got to sit down with the band for a few minutes and talk all things Electric Forest. A certain level of anonymity is provided here, not because anyone requested it but because I put a tape recorder in the middle of the table around which we were all seated and upon reviewing the recording, was unable to parse just who exactly said what! Anyway:
MIM: So you guys! Here we are, in The Forest!
PHO: Happy Forest!
MIM: Happy Forest indeed! So you (Joe – guitar) got in on Thursday. I got in on Thursday as well. The rest of you got in last night at six?
Pat (keyboards): Yeah, mid-evening.
MIM: So you guys look really clean.
Joe (guitar): Yeah we’ve got a private shower and stuff.
MIM: I’m very jealous. We’ve gotta pay ten dollars to shower in GA, so I’ve just been doing the old ‘baby wipes and cooler water.’
PHO: Yeah the showers are super cold but they work.
MIM: So let’s talk about the drive: did you guys do a van with all your gear all the way down here?
Spencer (guitar): Oh yeah!
MIM: It took us about twelve hours to get here when we came down. About the same for you guys?
Spencer: Yeah, we didn’t take the ferry.
MIM: Yeah, us neither, it’s like 500 dollars.
Pat: Not affordable.
PHO: Yeah we didn’t really think – when we were first leaving we were like ‘we’ll take the ferry, it’ll save us three hours.’ And then the next day I was like ‘I think the ferry actually leaves at certain times…’
PHO: and it like costs money…
MIM: So, there’s a lot of funk bands, a lot of instrumental groove bands playing the Forest, which I didn’t really know about before I came here. I thought it was all EDM. Do you think these two genres are starting to merge?
Spencer (guitar): A lot of funk music that we are inspired by uses drum machines and all that kind of stuff, so the elements of that are going to shine through in funk music just as much as in electronic music. The grooves are similar and the feels can be similar. That’s why people like both, ’cause they can dance to both. It really doesn’t matter what you’re listening to when you’re at the festival, as long as the music keeps you in the moment.
Joe: Going off what you’re saying – there’s a strong correlation between the feel of the music, as well as the layers and textures of sounds. If you’re talking effects with horns and things like that, a lot of electronic groups are using horns now in similar ways as funk bands, so there’s some crossover happening. Both genres have a connection to trance music: a vamp that can hang for five minutes, where the parts can just change a little bit.
(It occurs to the narrator now to mention Marian Hill, an excellent example of what Joe is talking about here.)
MIM: So you’ve already done one set, I think I wandered out at like 3:30 am last night, you guys were going late.
Spencer: We did 2:30 to 4:00. Tonight we’re just doing a short set, an hour and fifteen.
MIM: Did you have a crowd all night last night?
PHO: They trickled in. It got bigger and bigger the later it got.
MIM: So you guys have been branching out further and further from Minneapolis. Have you guys played Michigan before?
PHO: No. Wait! We’ve played Detroit.
MIM: Is this the biggest festival you’ve ever played?
MIM: How’d you get on the bill?
Joe: They reached out. Our booking agency is Madison House and they are partners in running the festival and I guess they wanted more funk music for Electric Forest and we were an option.
MIM: Have you guys met any of the other artists yet?
Joe: I mean we’ve gigged with a couple bands before that we recognize but it’s not like we’re hanging out.
MIM: Sure. Any specific bands you’ve played with before?
Pat: We ran into Nikki Glaspie from The Nth Power. Not sure if they were playing but I saw her on stage with somebody.
Joe: I got here early in the week and ran into Josh Fairman from Sunsquabi.
MIM: Oh man I missed Sunsquabi, they played at like three the first day and I didn’t get there.
Joe: Yeah they did like a VIP set Thursday night that I got to see but I didn’t make their first set either. We crash at his house when we’re in Denver. He’s a really good guy.
MIM: That’s what’s so cool about this space: how welcoming the community is here. It seems like you guys have already found some familiar faces from Outside the Forest. Have you met any of your camp neighbors yet?
Joe: Yeah, my neighbors, they’re in a band called Lawrence. They’re playing tonight. But they crashed at my house two years ago, and then I saw them here and was just like “hey guys, I know you.” And we toured with Noname’s band before. They were in a band called Woo Park out of Chicago. So we got to see some of them. Yeah, we’ve just been seeing a lot of random people like “hey, I remember you!”
Our time is up now, everyone’s got Foresting to do. What a distinct pleasure it’s been. Until next time, PHO!