DJ Spotlight: Philip Bell

DJ Spotlight: Philip Bell

Welcoming Philip Bell to our Fusion Dance NYC community! Philip is an experienced DJ, organizer, and dancer who has been spending his free time immersed in the greater fusion community for more than a decade.

1. What is your partner dance background?
I started folk dancing in kindergarten and never stopped dancing. I have minimal formal training but have dabbled in many dance styles and communities.

2. How did you discover fusion dancing?
I started blues dancing in San Diego in late 2012, then found my way to Fusion in LA, and within my first few months ended up going with some friends to Vegas Fusion Exchange in January of 2013, and the rest is history.

3. How did you get started as a DJ?
I shared a lot of music I wanted to dance to with various DJs in Southern California and noticed a lot of them using my music, as well as posting often to the Fusion Hit or Miss group on Facebook and getting positive feedback. One friend asked why I hadn’t started DJing myself, so I made a small 25 minute set that I had ready on my phone. I was at a Mike and Dan Legenthal workshop in San Luis Obispo in early 2013, and there was an after party hosted by John Schoeman. It was getting late and many people were relaxing, the dance floor in the garage was empty, and John had put some music on shuffle. I asked if I could DJ, I threw on my first song, asked a friend to dance, saw a few couples get up, between the first and second song ran into the kitchen to ask Nathaniel Abrea to dance for the first time I’d ever asked someone else who was male-presenting to follow me, and soon the dance floor was packed again.

4. What do you find to be the biggest challenge as a fusion DJ?
Teaching new DJs, like with fusion dancing, you have to mentor people out of certain habits and ideas they have about music, DJing, dancing, everything. Like good art or engineering, if you do it right it’s barely noticeable; helping a whole room achieve flow state when none of the music is the same genre, tempo, mood, or beat is a true challenge that maybe only WCS DJs understand. From very early on, I decided to push the boundaries on what we were dancing to and what was possible in a set, and to break every rule I’d heard. Maybe most of us that became national Fusion DJs were trying to in our own unique ways, but the challenge ten or five years ago was different. I think as a community we’ve set a standard, and now it’s our responsibility to teach a new generation of DJs to go even further than we ever did.

5. What is different about how you listen to music as a dancer vs as a DJ?
Honestly, nothing. I don’t DJ any song I wouldn’t listen to on repeat at least five, if not ten, times back to back. I love layers and fun lyrics. I love songs that push us to move or help us slow down and live in a moment. I got very good early on building sets I could hit play and maybe need to change one or two songs rarely and could dance most of my set. Sometimes in my first few weeks as a DJ, no one knew I was DJing since no one was at the computer and no one knew who I was. (Don’t do this at a real venue, I was young, cocky, and helped organize a lot so I had rapport with organizers). But spending my early sets deep in the crowd also gave me a lot of great non-verbal feedback on my set, and kept me with a dancer’s ear throughout.

6. What do you love most about being a fusion DJ?
That if you do it well, you can play nearly anything. One of my proudest moments was being able to end my set for Dan Printz’s memorial dance at Firehouse5 with the Bo Burnham song “Five Years” (and yes, I included the intro), and in the same way being able to craft a flow that allows me to play John Lee Hooker’s “It Serves You Right to Suffer” at 10:30 p.m. You have to earn each and every tempo and mood change in your set, but it is a phenomenal feeling when the crowd enjoys whatever shenanigans or emotional roller coaster I am trying to create.

7. What’s a track you’ve discovered recently that fusion dancers will love?
So hard to choose. Something I had on repeat recently is “This is a Photograph” by Kevin Morby. “Stronger Than” by LANKS is also a track I came across recently. “Vegas” by Doja Cat is a banger, but the fast-paced rap in the middle is a little hard to make work; probably best saved for house parties and fusion practicas.