In 2009, Bradley Zero Phillip was studying fine arts at university, collecting records, and DJing at his friend’s house parties — or as he tells it, playing music anywhere he could manage to “stick a record on or plug in a phone.”
Those days of searching for a place to plug in are long gone. Outside of his frequent collabs with Boiler Room, residencies with BBC radio, and touring as a much sought after DJ, he’s also the founder of Rhythm Section. The ever-expanding record label, radio show, club night, and concert series is set to launch on Patreon this week to give its international community of musicians and music fans a way to mirror their in-real-life connections online.
Bradley’s journey towards establishing a thriving global community didn’t happen overnight. In fact, it started more than a decade ago, at London’s South City radio. An “urge to share” drove him to approach the station and ask them about hosting a show. “I don’t know why they said yes because I didn’t have any kind of history of broadcasting experience,” Bradley laughed. He decided to call the show Rhythm Section, since on the first broadcast his co-host played double bass and Bradley played drums. “It was such a buzz. It’s hard to explain. There’s something about being live and knowing that people are listening. It stuck with me,” he shared.
The radio show initiated the path of his career but like most hero’s journeys, there were ups and downs and even some literal signs along the way. When the radio station shut down, rather than dwell on the cancellation of his show, Bradley focused on the initial buzz and fresh realization of knowing what he wanted to do.
That buzz kept him going, even though there was a brief interlude when Rhythm Section was put on pause. “There were a couple of years of a hiatus where the idea of Rhythm Section was still in my head. I did a couple of parties here and there but nothing regular and I didn’t manage to find another platform for radio,” Bradley shared. Then, fate stepped in. “I walked past a sign on a street in Peckham called Rye Lane that said, ‘Have Your Party Here’. It was an old pool hall that I’d never seen there before. Very old school London, you know, lots of dodgy goings-on.”
If you, like me, have never been to the diverse, vibrant, and populous Rye Lane, a visual may help. One article described South East London’s Canavan’s Pool Hall as a “low-ceilinged pool club hidden down a pokey corridor… the place is little more than a tiny bar, a barely-larger dance floor and, beyond a sound-proofed wall, a dozen or so pool tables where a mix of students and locals play late into the night.”
Bradley walked in and asked if he could throw a Motown night to ease them in (a genre he knew would be more palatable than asking if they could have a rave soundtracked by acid house in the pool hall). Again, they said yes.
“We ended up doing a party there every fortnight for six, seven years. It grew from doing it with a few friends and playing every other week to what it is now — an international network of friends. It’s still about the people you meet along the way but it has grown far beyond this bi-weekly get-together to something that crosses continents and has allowed friendships to blossom all over the world.”
The past few years have reflected the success of that international network of friends, with Bradley hosting a BBC Radio 1 Residency (which he plans to share exclusively with patrons), being recognized as one of the top 10 DJs in the world in 2019 by MixMag, and multiple features and documentaries on Rhythm Section with industry mainstays like DJ Mag. But even with those successes, like most artists in the music industry, they were immediately impacted by the pandemic.
Bradley had been in the office and studio, outlining plans for 2020 parties, and in the midst of a US tour when the global lockdown hit. “Do you remember the day the panic set in? When Trump announced that it was a pandemic and America started to panic? I landed in New Orleans that day,” Bradley shared. It was while watching the chaos unfold in a “surreal and quiet” New Orleans that it became clear that his touring schedule would be canceled indefinitely. “I was traveling most weekends. Most weekends I’d be playing in Paris, playing in Italy, playing in Scotland, Amsterdam, all over, back and forth. Then, during the week, I’d be in the office with the team. Instantly that was just impossible.”
Bradley and the team were no longer able to be in the office, making it harder to share ideas, but they found new ways to collaborate through weekly Zoom calls. However, Rhythm Section’s business relies heavily on live events, an avenue that was shut down overnight. The first event they had to cancel was on March 21st, Bradley shared, “I don’t want to think about how many gigs I’ve missed. I haven’t even been keeping count.”
But now, away from his office, studio, and world tours, Bradley is appreciating the space to slow down and find new ways to make things happen.
“When we first heard the news, it was a huge shock. Like, how are we going to keep afloat? How are we going to pay the rent? How are we going to keep everyone employed? But luckily the response from the public, largely through the Bandcamp initiatives, has been huge. We’ve managed to keep afloat — I wouldn’t say comfortably, but out of the danger zone — just through the label, streaming, selling records, and shifting merch, which has been a blessing.”
Realizing the success of those digital initiatives, combined with the desire to not just release music but to deepen collaboration with its community, is what brought Rhythm Section to Patreon.
Like many Patreon memberships, patrons will have access to exclusive content and sneak peeks of music and happenings before anyone else. Rhythm Section also plans to give a percentage of their pledges to charity and an option for young artists who may not be able to afford a membership but are still interested in collaborating. However, one of the membership perks that stands out is Rhythm Section’s studio program, where they plan to build a one on one relationship with burgeoning artists, meeting with them every week and giving them feedback on mixes, demos, and even crash courses on starting their own labels.
Bradley wants to create an ecosystem of tools and experiences Rhythm Section can use to develop young talent. He was inspired by an experience he had as a mentor for Future Bubblers, a project to help discover, support, and mentor left-field musical talent, created by broadcaster and DJ Giles Peterson.
“I met this kid who I didn’t know much about, who showed me his work. We brainstormed ideas on how to promote it, the best way to approach labels, and how you go about getting gigs, how you develop, and how you think as an artist operating in this business. Then, it came full circle when he performed our show.”
For now, those mentoring sessions will have to happen online, but Rhythm Section is still set on a future where they can get back to the studio and back to sharing the experience of music in person again.
“When you’ve got nothing to look forward to in terms of an event or a gathering, you think in a different way. We find ourselves realizing what we had around us and the things that we perhaps took for granted. Whether it was the space that we had, the equipment that we had, the knowledge that we gathered, and the fan base essentially, who not only cared about what we say and what we add to the conversation in terms of contemporary music but also have a lot to say as well.”
To learn more about Rhythm Section and become a patron visit https://www.patreon.com/rhythmsection.