|Tom Demac: The more things change
In advance of his appearance at The Warehouse Project, Kristan Caryl catches up with the rising DJ/producer.
"We're sick of hearing about this music, son. All you ever do is lose interest in everything you do but this. Get on with it or forget about it, because we're tired of hearing about it."
So said Tom Demac's parents back in 2009. It's the springboard moment the man born Tom McDonald now recognises as pivotal to his music career. On their insistence, he moved into a basement room in their Wales hotel so he could live rent free, fill up on jam sponge pudding and focus on making music. For six months he continued to work at a design agency, before quitting to focus on music full-time, eventually feeling established enough to move to Manchester. Now, three years later from his new London base, Demac is one of the most talked about talents in the game.
"It's a tricky one," he explains in gregarious yet considered tones. "It's been one of the quietest years, booking-wise. Musically, though, it's great, because I've been quite frustrated for a number of years."
Doubt and self-questioning permeate our entire conversation. Odd to hear, maybe, if you've seen the man perform live, follow his irreverent, down-to-earth Twitter or if you've been lucky enough to catch him doing impromptu MC skits at various Hypercolour parties. Recently, though, Demac feels as though he has made a breakthrough of sorts, attributing it mainly to his girlfriend of the last 18 months. "I think getting my new girlfriend has had a lot of influence really. I play her stuff and she's really honest, so I got a lot more into experimenting when I was back in Manchester, trying to make really different stuff, whether it was drumming on tables, plucking on mandolins, just utilising anything for sound and being a bit more artistic in my approach."
"I've loads of ideas, but most
just end up binned or forgotten."
Such sessions spawned the first of two key releases for Demac, the Obstructing the Light EP on Hypercolour's boutique offshoot Glass Table. It was a twisted three-tracker, with wavy grooves and the artist's tortured mindset coming through in sinewy synth lines and strained vocals. Then came the big one, Critical Distance Part 2 on Hypercolour, a wobbly, slow-building monster with a sweeping and all-consuming bassline. Surely, then, he is in a happy place right now?
"I've been battling for the last three months since then. I'm a thinker, constantly overthinking things. Whether it's where I would place my music... is this me... you know, constantly thinking over things. I've not been trying to mimic [Critical Distance], but I've been trying to do something massive, you know, not in terms of people playing it, but just something different and genre-bending. I've shit loads of ideas, but most just end up binned or forgotten."
Though he recognises that "every standard interview ever" advises producers to do their own thing, it was good advice that Demac himself wasn't heeding until recently.
"I haven't been doing that. I've been listening to what people have been saying instead. I'd always get feedback like [puts on mockney accent] "Aww maaate, can you put a longer intro on that bit there for the DJ?" I think about those things and restrictions a lot less now. It's just taken time; I'm hitting the right notes now and using the right sounds. I just feel a lot more settled with my sound."
The sweeping tech house association that has loomed large over Demac's discography (on labels like Murmur, Electronique Audio and Four:Twenty) for close to a decade is an odd one given his formative music years and early listening habits. As a child he was a serious heavy metal fan, playing in bands with white make-up on and screaming into microphones during Battle of the Band competitions. One day, though, Demac found himself "heading off to a free party in my Metallica t-shirt. Pretending to my parents I was at a sleep over. We followed plastic bags down the lanes to find a rave and they were boshing out gabba, hardcore and acid techno. I was 15. I'd never heard anything like it."
Gobbling up any and all Helter Skelter and Dreamscape tape packs (thus explaining his penchant for MCing), Demac soon found himself buying new music at an addicted rate. He then signed up for a Music Technology course at Salford University... but never went to any lectures. Instead, he spent all his money buying techno at Manchester's Eastern Block Records and acquiring his first Nord synth.
"I used it a little bit, then a mate showed me how to use it properly and it kinda blew my mind really. The workflow on hardware is much better—and quicker. I find it more creative, less restricting. Sifting through menus in software, playing with the fucking options, Ableton crashing… I find that really creatively sapping. I'd much rather make it more difficult for myself because you'll never find your own sound if you use the same presets as everyone else."
There can be few things more difficult than having your laptop stolen two weeks before a gig at Boiler Room, but even that seems to have been a blessing in disguise. "I was getting really lazy, just playing the same set and adding new things as I played. The basis of my live set was the same for a year. It was getting boring and uninspiring to play so [when my laptop was stolen] I thought 'fuck it, I'll start from scratch.' I spent two weeks rebuilding it, was doing loads of live jamming, recording it all and splitting it into individual sounds like kick drums, hi-hats, the bass... I've just done the same again ahead of my gig at The Warehouse Project too."
That might seem like a lot of work given how well his Boiler Room set went down. Why not use the same set-up again? That's just not his style. Demac is a restless soul, almost trying too hard to outdo himself on every release: "With the challenges I set myself, sometimes I feel like I'm at the bottom of a mountain looking up after an epic, four-day sleepless bender. When I just jam and it's raw, I love it."