Dance music has always been open to experimentation. From grime MCs riding electro riddims to Swedish trance producers applying (shockingly catchy) country elements to their “EDM,” we’ve all been kinda spoilt for choice. Now, whether it always comes together for the good of our ears, that’s a whole other story. One dance music manipulator whose club-ready, “digital dancehall” cuts have consistently banged since his start three years short of a decade ago, is DJ and producer Thomas Bell, 29, who performs under the buoyant moniker of Toddla T. A representative of Sheffield, England, his unrelenting penchant for intermixing bashment, R&B, and rap vocals with electro, house, and garage backdrops has prepared plenty of room for him in the upper echelon of underground dance. And with countless major artist remixes and three long-plays to his name, despite the quirky alias, it has to be said: this Toddla is far from a minor.
Ironically, Bell became a proud father to his own toddler recently (“I got up about 5.30 to play with my little’un this morning. I’m at my mum’s in Sheffield at the minute; she grabbed him and I went back to bed until 10 a.m. … Zonked out!”). However, by no means has early a.m. feeds been the cause of a slipping work life: he remains at the top of his game at BBC Radio 1, continues to pluck sonic gems for his Girls Music imprint, and still finds time to tour as Toddla T Sound—the London-based super-group which includes members Shola Ama, Serocee, and DRS. But, if that wasn’t enough, the Yorkshire lad’s also set to release a new EP on Defected Records come April 28.
“It was a complete fluke, I’m not even gonna lie,” says T, on how the forthcoming On Acid EP came to fruition. “What happened was I made a tune with Shola Ama called ‘Phoney.’ I was just dicking around at home one day, and put the 303 plug-in on — the 303’s the main sound in acid. I made a riff and Shola was there, who then wrote with DRS and we got that ‘Phoney’ tune together. I showed it to Andy at Defected, not to sign it or anything, I just really trust him when it comes to house, and wanted to make sure I was in the right lane and not whack.”
“A week later,” he adds, “Andy told me that he had played it to everyone in the office, everyone really liked it, and wanted to put it out. I was like ‘Fuck! Jesus! This is amazing!’ I told him I had another tune with Roses Gabor called ‘Pandoras Box’ and mentioned about putting them together. I thought instead of me just doing a random house tune, it’d be good to do a little set. And that’s when I went down to the studio by myself, twanged it out, sampled Serocee’s voice from a session we’d done and the lead track, ‘Acid,’ came out.”
Toddla T Sound’s On Acid EP, T says, is a tribute to his younger raving days in Sheffield, “when acid house was just as vibrant in up North clubland as garage was down South.” Ten years on, these are the classics that left a lasting impression on him:
Adonis – “No Way Back”
“I used to hear ‘No Way Back’ a lot growing up in Sheffield. I didn’t actually realize how old it was! It just always felt like it was from the moment. I’ll play this track now in raves and it’s the same story; play it next to new house records and it sounds just as current. This track really is the palette and basis of so much house music in this country, even though it’s not British. And I love the simplicity of it, too: it’s one riff and then it just rolls, and rolls, and rolls. The footage of people in Manchester going in to it back in the day, the exact same thing is happening in 2014. Fuckin’ genius.”
A Guy Called Gerald – “Voodoo Ray”
“To me, ‘Voodoo Ray’ sounds like home — it sounds like the North. It was made in Manchester, so that would probably explain it [laughs]. A DJ from Sheffield named Winston Hazel used to play it all the time, and all the older crowd used to run to the dance floor when it played. ‘Voodoo Ray’ was really important to a lot of people. It’s got that soul, but it’s still quite rough. The rough equipment, old drum machines, it’s really warm — I never get bored of it. I played this record at Sonar a few years ago to a massive crowd of 9,000 and it felt like the moment of the night, even though the record’s from 25 years ago.”
Cajmere – “Midnight”
“I guess you’d call Cajmere AKA Green Velvet’s ‘Midnight’ acid house, but it’s not necessarily, like, classic — it’s not even that well known. It’s like a pop-R&B song but the backing track is really tough, electronic acid vibes. It reminds me of Sheff, with the bass and synth tones; they’re so aggressive and it has a right-good groove. I love that marriage of rough and smooth. DJ Pipes used to play it all the time in my hometown, and it was always the most exciting part of the night. If ‘Midnight’ was re-released, it’d probably be more popular than when it first came out. Green Velvet is such a don! He makes music effortlessly funky.”
Mr Fingaz – “Can You Feel It”
“It’s so easy to go into classic territory but, when a lot were made and were in the rave, I was probably 4/5 years old. Looking back, some are quite obvious. ‘Can You Feel It’ by Mr Fingaz is so soulful it’s ridiculous! There’s a pad in the background that just makes it really deep but it’s got the repetitive groove of the 303, and that’s one of the things I love about acid house: its repetitiveness.”
Riva Starr Feat. Trim – “Dance Me”
“Riva Starr’s ‘Dance Me’ actually features the vocals of grime MC, Trim. I didn’t know it was him on the track until later on because, initially, he wasn’t credited. It made me like the track even more when I did find out, though. It’s like bashment versus house, in a really interesting way. The arrangement is so fucking smart! The vocal is Jamaican styled, which is another reason why I never knew it was Trim at the time. Although it’s a modern one, ‘Dance Me’ shows you just how great it can sound when you put sound system-style music with acid house.”
Toddla T Sound’s On Acid EP is out on April 28.
Joseph ‘JP’ Patterson is MTV IGGY’s UK Correspondent. He lives for underground music, and you can find him on Twitter @Jpizzledizzle.