Do U Know Toddla T?
In 2007 Toddla T (aka Tom Bell) was working in a shoe shop in his hometown of Sheffield, then just 19 and living at home with his parents, he DJ'ed at weekends and was producing beats and tracks with his friend Scott as Small Arms Fiya.
Now it's 2011 Toddla T is making the finishing touches to his second album on the legendary Ninja Tune label, has a regular slot on BBC Radio 1, has produced tracks for some of the UK urban scenes biggest stars (hands up Tinchy, Jammer, Bashy, Roots Manuva and Ms Dynamite).
He DJ's around the globe, has a slew of remixes under his belt, (Hot Chip, Gyptian, Gorillaz, Major Lazer for starters) is a star of his own Toddla TV channel online and has worked in studios from Kingston Jamaica to Kingston upon Hull. Not to mention the recent launch of his Girls Music Label which, after only 3 releases has already featured productions by British dance music heroes Sticky and Roska.
So how do you get to be one of the leading lights of UK dance music in 4 short years?
Much can be attributed to Toddla’s phenomenal talent, drive and ambition. He has good taste and keen eyes and ears in all elements of British youth culture. However, the man himself modestly explains that it has just as much to do with the sea change which has taken place in British Pop music in the last few years.
When Toddla first started taking to the decks outside of his home town he was worried that no one would "get it" and to start with, many didn't. (Listen to the track "Roadtrip" from debut album Skanky Skanky to hear an amusing account of just such a night). No one could quite work out who Toddla was. Was he an MC? or the producer at the front of a now forgotten, media created "UK Digi-Dancehall revolution" Was that skinny white kid the voice singing about Rice n Peas? Surely not.
Not allowing this confusion to get in his way T stuck to his guns. He could smell a change in the air and knew that what he was doing was worth sticking with. He made a mixtape, The Toddla T Ghettoblaster Vol.1 in 2008 and put it up for free online. It was downloaded by more than 10,000 people, was brilliantly received and announced Toddla as a talent to be watched. People other than club promoters and other DJ's started to hear about him and his club sets started to get more and more busy with people who were there to see him. Longtime studio spar and MC Serocee joined him on the road and the pair started to travel far and wide around the UK spreading the good word.
His debut album Skanky Skanky was released in January 2009, this was followed by a Fabric live mix album and a lot of requests for his production skills with everyone from Major Lazer to Grandmaster Flash getting in touch. Over a Guinness or two in his new London local (he decamped from Sheffield to the capital in 2010) Toddla reflects on the last couple of "pretty crazy years", the current UK scene and sets out his stall for what promises to be a very busy and successful 2011.
"When I was first signed (to 1965 Records) every kid wanted to be in a band. The Arctic Monkeys, The Libertines and all that were really popular, me and my mates who were into Notorious B.I.G and dancehall were really in the minority. Nowadays kids want to be Skream and Benga, or Tinchy or N-Dubz and because of that all their points of musical reference have changed"
It's true, there has been a huge shift in musical aesthetic, away from the skinny jeans and Chuck Taylors of The Strokes and the seemingly never-ending bandwagon that followed. What Toddla's saying here is borne out of the recently released statistic that rock music has had its worst year in the UK charts since 1960 with only 3 rock bands making it into the top 100 songs of 2010.
As a backdrop to Dizzee, Tinie, Tinchy et al storming the charts, the explosion of dubstep and subsequent re-evaluation of bass-driven, UK club music has seen a major shift in what people aged 15 - 25 are raving to. Where Soulwax and SMD and their like were ruling the clubs 2002 - 2006 nowadays seasoned campaigners like Shy FX and David Rodigan are championed by kids who weren't born when they were first spinning records.
‘Watch Me Dance’ is a bold step forward for Toddla T. Fans of Skanky Skanky will find plenty that will please them but for the countless thousands of clubbers who know Toddla T the DJ but haven't heard his productions this second album may come as a surprise. Toddla explains...
"I've been busiest in the last two years as a DJ, so of course this album has a big dose of the sounds and production techniques that i'm out there representing in the clubs every weekend but if you're looking for tops-off jungle or 4x4 bassline tearouts you won't find them here. This is definitely still a record for clubbers, but it's the one they'll listen to at home with their mates or every day on the way to work"
In ‘Watch Me Dance’ Toddla has created a dubwise, street-soul masterpiece. In a typically precocious reference to records that were made when he was 4 and 10 years old respectively Toddla sums it up. "A bit of the Soul from Soul II Soul Club Classics and a bit of the Left-field from Leftism, I've been listening to those now and again, they took in a whole load of club music and made an album that summed something up and were great to listen to at the same time."
Amen to that.
In ensuring ‘Watch Me Dance’ was everything Toddla envisaged it could be he’s carefully selected an impressive line up of friends, peers and musical icons to guest vocal, co-produce, remix, co-write with him on the album. Names including previous collaborator Roots Manuva, fellow DJ, producer and remixer Skream, Ms Dynamite, Ross Orton, Wayne Marshall, Timberlee, Roisin Murphy and of course Shola Ama.