From the pages of JUMP: Illvibe Collective: The Brotherhood of DJs.
This article originally appeared at JUMP.
Tucked away in a parking garage in the heart of West Philly, in a living room-sized studio next to the rehearsal space of a thrash-metal band, you’ll find the headquarters of some of Philly’s best party people.
The Illvibe Collective DJ crew members have been throwing parties around the city since 2000, selling out venues and winning competitions, like the Red Bull Public Assembly competition over the winter. They topped local legends from Mad Decent and the Shakedown crew.
“We love music so much, we treat it delicately,” says DJ Statik, aka Mr. Sonny James.
When they run the party, they plan it as an all-nighter. They build up the energy in the audience over time, moving from DJ to DJ, dropping just the right tracks at just the right moment and never, ever playing the same song twice in one night. That’s lazy. They react to the guy bobbing his head while talking to a young lady by the bar, or to the pack of people on the dance floor who start getting wild.
“When we’re DJing, we’re watching everything,” Sonny says. “It’s a psychological thing as much as anything.”
Everybody knows the popular radio bangers of the moment. The Illvibe DJs try to find just the right moment to play them, and not waste that momentum. It’s a formula they started when Sonny, Panek and Phillee Blunt met while working on the radio station at Philadelphia University in the late ’90s.
“We all had a common love of hip-hop and just being a DJ,” says Panek.
They started spinning at college parties together. There was always a foundation of hip-hop but they’d blend in Prince or funk tracks. There was an appreciation for all sorts of music and they dropped random stuff in their mixes.
“There weren’t a lot of DJs who rocked like us,” says Sonny.
“We play party records,” says Lil Dave, who, along with Skipmode, joined the original trio shortly after the group formed.
“But we don’t rely on top 10 records,” Panek adds. “We have more of a music- connoisseur mindset.”
“It’s like a B-side mentality,” Sonny continues.
The youngest member of the crew, West Philly native DJ PHSH, 24, joined in 2011.
“He’s like our age but trapped in a young man’s body,” Panek jokes.
Lil Dave listened to PHSH spinning at Medusa Lounge one night and they became friends. Dave invited PHSH to warm up the crowd at The Arts Garage for an Illvibe party shortly afterward.
“I remember how excited I was the first time you guys gave me a shoutout,” says PHSH. “I was gassed.”
They ran in the same circles for so long that PHSH just eased his way into the Illvibe family.
“We didn’t need anybody,” Skipmode says. “It was organic.”
“It was, like, the obvious thing,” says Panek.
They do everything themselves – book events, create their own artwork, design posters, master, burn and package CDs, promote shows, etc. Last month, the Illvibe Collective dropped an album of remixes of their 2011 debut album, All Together Now.
They meet in their bunker every Monday and they operate like a family. In fact, Phillee, who has since moved back to his native North Jersey, is the godfather of Sonny’s kid.
“I’d take a bullet for anyone of these guys,” Sonny says.