What's less likely, however, is that you'll know anything more about Cottam. With the fourth Cottam release forthcoming, the only information to be found about the person behind the mysterious 12-inches is that they're the work of a DJ from the north of England. To say the producer has been elusive would be something of an understatement.
Cottam is in fact Paul Cottam; a friendly, surprisingly open but perhaps slightly shy 34 year-old from Preston. A family man with a real passion for music, his genial demeanor belies his slippery alter-ego. As Cottam explains in an interview before his first London gig, the reason he's been so cloak and dagger with his identity has had as much to do with his extensive use of uncleared samples as it has with a desire to avoid the limelight. When I ask him if it was a conscious decision or a bid to create some kind of Burial style anti-image; Cottam simply bursts out laughing. "I'm not intelligent enough to think of something like that!"
Contrary to what you may expect, Cottam's move from the bedroom to the racks of record stores has happened mostly by accident. After being sucked into Preston's early rave scene as a teenager, Cottam's musical taste progressed from acid house to techno. Smitten, he quickly turned his hand to DJing. Local gigs in the mid-'90s eventually led to a slot warming up for his techno heroes, Surgeon and Regis. But despite his developing talent, DJing never really took off.
As Cottam explains, "I never went out looking for work to be honest. With having children, I just treated it as a hobby." After the record store he worked at for several years in Preston shut, he pursued DJing less and less. And when his girlfriend became pregnant with his third child, he put his equipment into storage.
It was a turning point. "I'd kind of forgotten about my music. My girlfriend was pregnant so I'd packed all my decks away. I had a laptop though and my mate had given me a copy of Ableton. I've always had ideas about hip-hop tracks I'd like to make more house-flavoured. Then my mate Paul Watson came round with some tunes from The Revenge and Mark E. I just thought they were incredible. The sound blew me away. The slower tempo. I just loved it. So I just started fiddling about. I just sat in the corner of the front room working on tracks while my girlfriend watched America's Next Top Model."
Three months later and Cottam had a stack of about 12 tracks. Mixing everything from afro beat to the neo soul of Erykah Badu around a chugging slow-house template, the songs that came to grace the first two Cottam vinyls were among these first tentative steps into production. Unsurprisingly, when Paul Watson called back in to see how his friend's productions were getting on he was totally blown away by what Cottam had come up with.
"Paul (Watson) was just like, 'Whoa! How've you done this?' I didn't know what to tell him. He said, 'Why don't you get them out?' So I got in contact with a guy I know from Rub-A-Dub; a distributor I remembered from my days working in the record shop. I knew they were releasing some of The Revenge's stuff. So I emailed up there and they said, 'Yeah, we'll give you some feedback on them.' I got an email the next day asking if I wanted to release them! I was a bit gobsmacked really. I never expected to release them so when they said to me 'What do you want to be called?' I was like, 'Erm... Leave it blank.'"
The decision to leave the vinyl unaccredited combined with a press release (written by Paul Watson) that attributed the records to an "undercover techno DJ" is the real starting point for the speculation around Cottam's identity. The strength of Cottam's music has made people assume that the records are by a big name producer working undercover rather than an unknown keeping a low profile. When I tell Cottam about some of the high-profile producers who have been erroneously credited to his tracks online, Paul can only laugh nervously.
"I'm a bit of a computer novice, I only got my computer like three years ago. I've only had an Atari ST before that. Ableton's really user friendly, but I still don't know how to use it properly, even now. People tell me that they map tracks out in it. I just get my MIDI patterns and loops going then get my controller and set up all the effects on different knobs and just record them live. For me it's all about the groove. If I get a nice groove going, I treat it like a DJ set. Obviously it takes me a couple of goes to get one I'm happy with!"
don't know how to use it properly."
Computer novice or not, Cottam certainly seems to have nailed his own midtempo house sound. Despite making tracks at the unusually slow speed of around 110 BPM, his looping, grooving productions have a raw evolving energy that fully compensate for any lack of pace. Take his bootleg of "Pissed Off" that phases snatches of the vocal in and out of a glitchy electronic loop for five minutes before laying waste to the dance floor with the bewildering appearance of Angie Stone's beautifully soulful vocals.
As you would imagine, the success of Cottam's early releases has reignited his interest in DJing. "I've always loved DJing and I've actually got my decks out again. I started out going clubbing because I loved the music and once I got my decks I loved DJing. I never set out to be a producer."
Cottam's enthusiasm for mixing certainly comes through in his sets. During his set at London's Unwind he rarely left the mixer alone; quickly chopping in sections of tracks, doing full stops and spinbacks on the turntables and generally fucking around with every record he selected. Surprisingly, there was a rich vein of techno flowing throughout his performance with several Levon Vincent tracks pitched down to a slow, sexy chug to fit in with the pace of his own productions.
This love for techno—he regularly references Robert Hood, Sandwell District and Surgeon throughout our interview—is something that Cottam says will be coming through more and more in his productions. A forthcoming release on the suitably low key and mysterious German label Story Records is likely to showcase this sound. He's also just released a track on Wolf Records—a label that has already featured work from slow-mo house stars The Revenge and Eddie C. The interest in Cottam is quickly increasing; something the man himself is typically down to Earth about.
"Loads of people have asked me to do stuff for them, but time is fairly tight at the moment with the children; one of the children is only eight months old and I'm the stay-at-home Dad. I've been asked to do remixes for all sorts of people but I'm just taking it as it comes. I haven't got a master plan."