Dragging Sheffield’s legendary bleep scene kicking and skanking into the future is boy wonder Toddla T, whose unique take on digital dancehall and rudeboy electronics has been honed in the Steel City’s studios and warehouse dances until it’s sharp enough to kill.
It’s a tight-knit community and it’s not really split by genres
Mentored by the likes of Warp Records’ original bleep king Winston ‘Forgemasters’ Hazel and all-round house don Chris ‘Swag’ Duckenfield, the likeable 22-year-old – real name Tom Bell – has unleashed his first solo material, four versions on his ‘Do Ya Know?’ riddim with various vocalists, spread over two delicious 7” plates, and his profile is starting to blow up. “Things are finally getting there,” he laughs, “and I’ve been doing it for a while. I’ve been at it since I was 15 and I’ve put some stuff out as Small Arms Fiya with another producer, Monkz, but it’s all kicked off properly off the back of these 7”s. I’ve always tried to make songs rather than just tracky things – using vocals to make stuff you can play to anyone, but using the elements of things like from techno and dancehall.”
He’s enthusiastic about his home city, and the influence of its vibrant musical landscape on his own sound. “Sheffield’s amazing in terms of people making music, and even though it’s getting a lot of attention at the moment cos a lot of bands are doing well, it’s still quite a small scene. You bump into people all the time, all the studios are in the same area, and a lot of the people who are blowing up now have been doing it for ages and it’s nothing new really. It’s a tight-knit community and it’s not really split by genres – hip-hop heads will know your indie boys, and the indie boys will know the techno heads, people hang out with each other and it’s wicked, cos people collaborate with people they might not normally collaborate with.”
Toddla’s DJ skills are as devastating as his studio wizardry, and he’s become renowned for his unique, genre-bending sets. He adds: “Up here my sound’s never really worked in the big clubs, it’s always been a party thing. There’s a night called Kabal, where I play with Winston Hazel and Pipes, which has massively influenced what I’m up to. It’s got a right individual sound that I’ve never really heard anywhere else, a mash-up of dub and dancehall through to your bleepy techno, and your old Warp-y bits, soul and R&B bits, housey things. I can’t really imagine that sort of thing working in a big club. Even when the whole Warp thing was kicking off it wasn’t really like a main room thing; it was more of a warehouse vibe. The only gig I’ve done outside the UK so far, though, was New York earlier this year. It was great, although I got food poisoning and it started to kick in as I was DJing, so the minute I got off the decks I had to leg it… that wasn’t the best experience!”
Sheffield’s amazing in terms of people making music
Big Chill Festival 2010