Tourist isn’t the most prominent artist online. Google and you’ll find the man’s music – but not all that much about him. For now, you have to seek him out; he’s not going to find you. But this is about to change.
A Tourist performance is a live production, not a DJ set. His musical repertoire is an eclectic mixture of smooth synth textures and instrumental hooks, and his most recent work has shown a preference for emotive, powerful lyrics supplied by the likes of Will Heard (‘I Can’t Keep Up’) and Lianne La Havas (‘Patterns’). His music has a habit of making you feel good inside.
Tourist’s early EPs, ‘Placid Acid’ and ‘Tonight,’ attracted the interest of Jack Street and Sam Evitt of Method Records, who snapped him up to their Disclosure-affiliated label in mid-2013. Subsequent high-profile indie remixes of London Grammar, Chvrches and Haim, alongside his new EP, ‘Patterns’, have created a small, close-knit fanbase all waiting to tell their friends that they saw Tourist before he really scaled the heights of modern-day electronica.
The man behind Tourist is London-based William Phillips, a graduate of Thames Valley University. His music career started with a string of indie-dance remixes under the moniker Little Loud, none of which were particularly well-received or illustrative of the his modern day work under the Tourist alias.
“I like the word,” he says, explaining his current moniker. “I like the meaning, and I like being a tourist. I like the feeling of unfamiliarity. I like the idea of being a musical tourist. It’s not like ‘Skrillex’, which linguistically ties you to a particular genre. I can go [musically] wherever I want.”
Conversations with Phillips before a sold-out London show reveal a profound thinking, wonderfully articulate, intelligent young man who is “just lucky enough to write music that he loves and get paid for it”. He illustrates a love for philosophical thought and a love of art: “I like thinking about how unimportant we are. I love that feeling.” He describes himself as a “positive, excited, interesting person”, before continuing: “I like writing [music] in the morning. There is something more exciting about the beginning of a new day as opposed to the end of one. I think a new day holds promise and hope.”
It would appear that music found Phillips as much as he found music. He confesses to have always had musical tendencies, describing how he used to listen to records and analyse the sounds before joking, “Maybe I am a bit autistic or something! Music is the only thing I am not shit at. For some reason, my brain is wired in a way that I get immense pleasure from sitting in a room making sounds and listening to things.”
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‘I Can’t Keep Up’
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But talent is nothing without perseverance, and Phillips’ development has been a continuous process of experimentation. Evading conventional learning methods because he has “no respect for authority”, he can trace the start of his musical odyssey to teaching himself to play his parents’ piano. “I just used to sit down and teach myself to play. Why should anyone else tell me how to do it?”
And this penchant for experimentation and love for all things melodic is reflected in his musical catalogue to date. Listening chronologically to his repertoire on SoundCloud reveals a gradual evolution from the playful and naive artist on ‘Placid Acid’ (2012) to the more haunting, deeper and darker electronic musician illustrated in later work. Asked about this development, he suggests that trial and error – or “error and error” as he jokes – has played a fundamental role. “I never really wanted to have somebody to teach me how to play. I love the fact that I taught myself, because I have made so many little mistakes along the way.”
Quizzed further, Phillips reveals that this lack of a common theme in his musical pathway is also a result of his state of mind at the time. “Each EP is not intentionally different, but is so because I change,” he says. “My first EP (‘Placid Acid’) was written down in Brighton. I met my ex-girlfriend when I was there, and I was in a really happy place.”
Phillips talks with wonderful enthusiasm. He is quite evidently an astute perfectionist, pondering before answering each and every question and responding “Could. Be. Better” when asked to describe his music in three words. He continues to explain how the most played tracks on his iPod are his own, because “I melodically listen to my music all of the time. It sounds really self indulgent, but I am an artist and all artists are self-indulgent. I hear a lot of dance music these days and I get so depressed. I feel almost embarrassed to be human. I am critical because I want it to be good.”
And make no mistake: Tourist still has a lot to learn. His live set requires some tweaking to maintain energy levels throughout. This will come, though, along with a longer-term creative voice. For now, his focus rests on producing a strong debut album, one that reflects the stirring, melodic nature of recent EP material, and that will do justice to his obvious talent. Not that his music will ever sit still.
“As long as my life keeps on changing, which it most certainly is, then I think my music will. If anyone likes Tourist then they should be up for the idea that the music is going to be different. Not everything is going to be 125 BPM on my album. I like things that are melodically interesting, and that is was Tourist is.”
Tourist, for Phillips, is just an alias offering him the freedom to explore his musical whims with complete liberty and ease, but it is perhaps also an apt word to describe the circumstances in which he finds himself. Phillips is, by all accounts, a tourist in the electronic music scene: experimenting, exploring and discovering previously unfound avenues to further his artistic development. Exciting times are ahead, of that there is little doubt, and if his most recent work is anything to go by, you have to wonder for quite how much longer a ‘Tourist’ he shall remain.
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WHAT: Melodic electronica that isn’t afraid to stretch itself creatively, casually moving into deep house territories
GET 3 SONGS: ‘Patterns’, ‘Trust In You’, ‘I Can't Keep Up’
FACT: Tourist hates milk.
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Words: William Ralston (Twitter)