- Fri, 2008-02-08 09:29
Tom Middleton talks about his new 3D album, what makes him groove and his advice for new DJs and producers.
ILM: Hello Tom, thanks for taking the time to talk to us. You have your new album out at the end of the month, tell us about it?
Tom: I’ve been itching to do a Sound Of The Cosmos part II triple CD compilation for a few years now so I was very excited when Renaissance approached me to do the next instalment in their 3D series. On disc one; Club, I’m blending strictly timeless, warm, deep and sensual house grooves. No room for any hit’s or obvious noisy bangers I’m afraid. On the Home disc I’ve dug up some textbook Middleton tribal monsters and super deep dubs from the vaults plus some fresh unreleased nuggets too.
ILM: You have a Studio CD which have a few exclusives on there – who did you enjoy remixing the most?
Tom: Kerri Chandler’s classic ‘Bar A Thym’ was initially a daunting task as it’s such a classic... almost unremixable but therein lay the challenge and I was very happy with the result. I even had Andy Cato (Groove Armada) on the phone keen to learn about my beats and production for it. I think the most satisfying was Ulrich Schnauss’s ‘In All The Wrong Places’. It’s one of my favourites from his awesome repertoire. It wasn’t commissioned, I just had to give it a dancefloor context with it’s U2 like epic and optimistic harmonies.
ILM: Do you think there is a limit on how much you can interfere with someone else's music?
Tom: Good question. My belief is that one should isolate the message in the original, simplify it, select some key motifs to embellish the emotional content and then apply your own distinct rhythmic and generic flavour. The bottom line for me is to be sympathetic to the original, not to distract too much from it (if it’s an un-remixable anthem!) but give it a solid dancefloor context.
ILM: Who would you like to remix your work?
Tom: Easy, a Brian Eno treatment, Ulrich Schnauss, Jon Hopkins and then the likes of Jimpster, Shur-I-kan, Funk D’Void and Josh Wink. The kings of emotions in sound and in JW’s case, the original master of minimal funky grooves. However, I would entrust any one of the artists on my compilations as they all have something special to offer in terms of emotional content.
ILM: Do you have a specific concept in mind when you are doing an album?
Tom: Always. I’m quite scientific in my approach… Months, even years of research and very meticulous auditioning and selecting of tracks, then the precisions harmonic and digital tempo mixing. Every album has a flow to it and a narrative. Home on 3D is a prime example; it starts with energy and drama, travels through various moods and eventually starts decelerating into pure blissed-out chilled grooves and ambience.
ILM: As an artist you are extremely diverse, do you think that hinders you as a DJ or enhances it?
Tom: It could be said that had I focused on just one musical direction and genre I’d be in a different league now, but it would be too easy, I prefer to continually explore new territory. There are plenty of exceptional style masters but only a few Jedi really exploring the ever expanding and perpetually fascinating world of music.
ILM: What makes you groove?
Tom: Top question! Apart from degustation with matching wines at top restaurants or err... skydiving... then it would be loose and naturally gifted freestyle dancers and breakers who inspire me to get on the dancefloor and bust a move or two. Nothing better than to watch someone flowing with the music!
I started as a B-Boy before getting into Acid House, Techno and House so I’ve always had both feet on and off the dancefloor. It’s all about ‘funky’ rhythms that I’ve never heard before to inspire new movement. By ‘funk’ I mean it should have a natural feeling, a swing, shuffle or un mechanised, non hard quantised groove to it. Check Mood II Swing’s track ‘Passing Time’ on the Club disc. Frack me if that isn’t one of the most rump shaking shuffles I’ve heard in ages. Weirdly, I play mostly 4/4 mid tempo House in my sets but the beats that really get me moving are Hip Hop and Drum and Bass. I could skank and step with DJ Zinc at the helm for hours. I love the feel of Dubstep too, particularly when it’s rolling along at 137 bpm.
ILM: Have you ever had to take a massive risk musically?
Tom: Every set! I’m never one to play by the rules. I like to bring the energy of a festival into a club and make the room bounce and sing along. I’ve been dropping rock, drum and bass and hip hop into house sets for years and as long as you have the balls to go for it, it’ll work everytime. This was my advice to Ryan Shaw before his final DJ face off on the Joy Of Decks TV show. He walked it by playing the D n B Hype remix of Fugees, and Jet’s ‘Are You Gonna Be My Girl’ at the end. The club went nuts. QED. ; )
ILM: You are remixing some music for the new Fiat advert – tell us about it?
Tom: I’ve just remixed a second Italian anthem for Fiat. The first was Louie Prima’s ‘Oh Marie’ last year. Now I’ve given Connie Francis’ ‘Quando Quando Quando’ a new Latino-house dance floor groove. It’s for a campaign concept called The Italian Job Remixed.
ILM: If you could write a score for any film from the past, which would it be?
Tom: That’s a hard question to answer. I’d definitely have a crack at re-scoring Fritz Lang’s Metropolis. However, my oblique answer is that there are many films I love which are ruined by poor soundtracks. Those are the ones that would be a greater challenge to score. I can also say that there are some composers who consistently produce stunning soundtracks that work sympathetically with the movie and enhance the drama and tension. Thomas Newman is a master of atmosphere.
ILM: You’re well known as a person who likes to help other upcoming producers/DJs – any advice for them now?
Tom: Always! My five top tips...
1. LEARN ABOUT MUSICAL ROOTS
“First things first, expand your knowledge and understanding of the history of dance music (or music in the broadest sense!). Trace back the sound you love. You'll find inspiration in your discoveries.”
2. LEARN FROM THE MASTERS
“If you love a style or a particular artist or DJ, first emulate them to learn their techniques. This will give you the basic skills to mix or produce. It takes a lot of trial and error, hard graft and studying but it's worth it. Take a course if necessary to fast track your skills. Then impart your own individual, original style on your sound. Be different by being you!”
3. THE WORLD IS SOUND
“A big concept once you're made aware of it. Think about it – anything you can hear has the potential to be recorded, digitised/sampled and turned into music. Tune into the natural rhythms around you. Matthew Herbert has made a career out of sampling the world using natural rhythms and those he has created using everyday objects. Just use your ears and let your imagination run wild.”
4. GET SOME BASIC KIT
“You'll need a few tools to help unlock your creativity. Decks, CD players, Mixer, Computer, Soundcard, Microphone (optional MiniDisc or similar sound recording device) and some software. I'd recommend Propellerheads Reason, Ableton Live and an Apple Macbook inc Garageband to get started. (£1250ish) Then Logic Pro if you're serious about a career in music production.”
5. BE YOURSELF
“If you're honest about who you are, what you want, and you let your personality shine, you could realise your dream. Forget about being the next big thing, and following a current fashion. Think timelessness, think emotional quality, think about what you really want to say and communicate that through your sound. Just have the integrity and sincerity to follow your heart. And smile!”
ILM: Who do you think is going to blow us away this year?
Tom: Apart from Jon Hopkins whose music took my breath away last year (check Second Sense on my Home CD... stunning!) no-one else blew me away last year. Shur-I-kan is definitely rising exponentially and owns the deep house sound genre for me. Without sounding too cynical, I’m hearing far too much dull and derivative middle of the road tech-elec-maxi-mini-schmall at the moment. Dubfire was on fire last year as was Pryda and Deadmau5. Jimpster and Freerange Records are consistently brilliant.
I’ve heard some forthcoming Lovebirds (Sebastian Döring) tracks on Winding Road that are frickin stunning. ‘Love On My Hands’ is a whopper and for the deeper floors go for ‘The Night’, both forthcoming on Winding Roads.
ILM: What piece of kit can you not live without?
Tom: Beard Trimmer and a universal plug adaptor!
ILM: What was the last book you read?
Tom: I haven’t read a novel in a while now as I’m working on a few creative projects... instead I tend to delve into useful research books. One of my current projects is a boutique self-catering villa I’m designing from the scratch, so I have been immersing myself into Architecture, Interior Design and specifically traditional local rural building construction and materials in Puglia.
ILM: What’s your most treasured possession?
Tom: My energy.
ILM: Tell us more about your involvement with the Anthony Nolan Trust?
Tom: I’m just a voluntary ambassador helping to raise awareness. They need more ‘healthy people, preferably males aged between 18-40’ to consider signing up to the national bone marrow register. It’s not cheap for them but everyone who’s on the register could potentially save a life. It’s all about a genetic match, and being prepared to undergo a pretty straightforward blood filtering process not unlike being plugged into a dialysis machine. As a donor you basically share some of your healthy immune system with Leukemia patient.
ILM: Tell us something you’ve never told an interviewer before?
Tom: I collect Nike Air Woven HTM trainers and Presto’s known as ‘T-Shirts for Feet’... the most comfortable footwear ever made... I also hunt down matching hats for each pair.
ILM: Would you ever shave your trademark beard off? What would it take?
Tom: I stand proud with all my hirsute brothers defiant in the chant “life’s just weird without a beard!” Besides that... can’t be doing with a horrid shaving rash... itchy... scratchy... blotchy… tres non bon!