Get To Know: Auckland’s experimental producer P.H.F.

Sometimes grief, in its unyielding intensity, just needs to be drowned out. At times on Purest Hell, the new album from Auckland’s genre-hopping innovator P.H.F., it sounds like the musician is attempting to do that literally.

The musical project of the prolific and provocative Joe Locke, Purest Hell is an ode to close friend and longtime collaborator Reuben Samuel Winer (Totems), who passed away in 2020. A dizzying collection of heaving electronic beats and hyperpop freneticism, the album is an unrelenting listen.

At times, P.H.F. sounds like Jay Reatard by way of 100 Gecs, while always remaining truly idiosyncratic. The production is winningly experimental, underpinning sincere lyrics about grief and mental health.

Purest Hell is the latest strong entry in a growing catalogue of innovative music from P.H.F., an off-kilter artist always intent on making music their way.

To celebrate the release of the new album, we caught up with P.H.F. as part of our Get To Know series to find out more about his life and music.

P.H.F’s Purest Hell is out now via Danger Collective Records.

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How did your artist name come about?

It’s taken from an Adult Swim show from the early/mid-2000s. I didn’t even really watch it, to be honest, I just really like the name. Then I ended up abbreviating it because my friends just started saying P.H.F, so it stuck.

How would you describe your music to your grandma?

No idea! I never met any of my grandparents but I’m assuming they would only like the softer stuff. My friend used the term “genre hell” the other day though, and I really love it to describe my music. I like “post-genre” too, but the other one seems a lot more fitting.

Tell us about a few of your tracks; their titles and what they’re about?

About 90% of the new album is dealing with loss and the grief process after my best friend died. I think all the songs, in one way or another, come from the exact same place, and then a lot of the production is a tribute to him. Reuben introduced me to a lot of the styles of music I work with on this album electronically, so it’s less dedicated to him, and more of a love letter.

Grief is ultimately very ugly I think, although there are elements of positivity in there – like bringing you closer together with people – but it can also have the opposite effect. Dealing with suicide is so difficult and after the loss of my friend Adison a couple of years before that, I almost thought I would have some sort of framework in place to deal with it.

It’s a super personal album. I mean I think all my work is – I always just hope it helps other people listening to it at the end of the day.

What do you love about your hometown?

I would probably say the familiarity – I really like routine as it helps to have some sort of structure for my brain, so doing a lot of the same things, and seeing the same people around is really comforting. I pretty much do the exact same thing every week and I know that might sound boring to a lot of people, but I really like it.

Career highlight so far?

Not really one singular highlight but I would say all the angels I have met doing this. Truly met some of the best, kindest people, and the environments that are out there are so supportive and positive. I really like that someone I DM’d on Soundcloud like six years ago to collaborate with is now a super close friend.

As someone that doesn’t really like being around people a lot, the element of still being able to collaborate with other artists, a lot of the time on the other side of the world, is really cool. Then at the end of the day, music aside, you just form these really strong personal connections with people you might otherwise not have ever crossed paths with. I love it.

Fave non-music hobby?

I feel like I’m really boring. I don’t do much, I’m almost agoraphobic at this point. Mostly I just hang with my friends, Discord and maybe graphic design. I like making all my own merch and album art, and I also do a lot of design for other people and my friends.

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What’s on your dream rider?

Fill the whole green room with tiny dogs. Just like 80 pugs and chihuahuas would be so fun. Fuck the show – I just wanna hang out.

Dream music collaboration?

Chino Moreno from Deftones – I would die if I got to work with him. Also, for a local collab, I would love to work with Kody Nielson from the Mint Chicks. I grew up idolising that band so much, and without a doubt they’re one of the biggest influences in everything I do.

I listen to so much different music now than I did back then, but that band legit changed my life. He still puts music out under Silicon these days, and I love that he’s just on his own buzz doing whatever, he’s a super amazing producer too.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

Hopefully still doing something creative – I would love to get into producing for more people and less doing my own stuff. I would love to produce and make music videos for other artists too; I find it easier to work on other people’s projects because you’re less tied to the context in a way. I think there is more freedom in interpreting someone else’s work than your own, so I would love to do more stuff like that.

What’s your go-to karaoke song?

‘Lovefool’ by the Cardigans. One of the best pop songs ever made in my opinion.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

I like how Kenny Beats says, “Don’t overthink shit.” I think going with your gut instinct is real important when it comes to creativity, so usually the first instinct is always the best. You can always tweak it later but never dismiss it initially I reckon.

I guess also just put everything you can think of down then edit later, better to have slack to cut than it feeling empty because you left ideas out.

What’s one obsession you have that no one would guess after listening to your music?

I don’t know honestly, because I have no idea what people think about me in general when they hear my music. My obsession is spending hours and hours a day watching makeup tutorial/commentary YouTube videos. I don’t even wear makeup, but I love watching people paint their faces.

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