Williams is a veteran of the "bass"/hardcore continuum scene, someone whose sound has moved with (and often ahead of) the zeitgeist. "I did a music tech course [in college] and from that I started making garage, but a lot harder than what was out there at that time." From that darkness came grime, which Williams was naturally attracted to. The relationship was mutually beneficial. "Jon E Cash picked up one of my tracks when I was 17 and released it, it was played by everyone—it was called 'Invasion,'" he reminisces. "I used to go by the name DJ Dread D, and it just took off from there; from him bringing me into that, I just kept making more and more tracks for him and his collective called Black Ops. The grime scene was really good at that time."
"In comparison to the majority of the people who came from the garage scene, which had loads of labels and loads of financing, loads of parties, grime just fell apart; there wasn't even a party to go to, there wasn't even an outlet to play that music!" he remembers. Williams blames the scene's problems for his fall from the public eye: "There was no such thing as grime DJs anymore. It became more and more based around the MCs, who didn't sell records because they weren't making vocal tracks, MCs were just collecting as many instrumentals as possible. There were a lot of times where tunes weren't getting released because DJs maybe didn't have enough finances to get them to shelves and there were no labels to pick up those tracks." It's a problem that still hasn't been rectified: "Even now, in this country, there are about five or six grime DJs that are known for doing that style whereas back in those days everyone was a grime DJ."
"I fell out of grime because of the production values," he adds. "I'm still a strong believer in the idea that if you're going to be a producer, learn your craft. Be a geek, be that guy, be immersed in it and become a producer and person who can fully take that track from beginning to end. You have to be an engineer these days because your tracks can't be 50/50 when they're played out in the club." In 2006, "I couldn't carry on playing [grime] because nothing was getting finished or particularly tickling my fancy."
Luckily, there was an alternative that would appear in Williams consciousness around the same time: "broken beat and the afrobeat-style house was popping off in London, as well as funky house—so for me, it happened naturally. I just wanted to party, and there was nowhere to party for grime."
It wasn't an overnight transformation for Williams, who took a careful stance towards his new infatuation. "For UK Funky I was really there when it all began: we all had a common love for certain kind of beats, for a certain style of house music. We went to a party called Liberty… there was a lot of partying," he remembers, "but I didn't feel like I could just put tracks out there and say 'I make house' when I had only been listening to it for the last six months." Applying his professional stance, he "basically took the time between Dread D and T. Williams arriving to really study the music and know what was going on." Pretty much everything was different the second time around: "With Dread D I was working on a PC, and T. Williams I've been working on a Mac. It was about three or four years to work out my sound, getting it how I wanted and how I wanted it perceived," he says thoughtfully. "The tune 'Flooring,' was one of my earlier attempts at house, and then the UK Funky sound started getting bigger and better, and that's where 'Anthem' came along. It was just me listening to bits and bobs and slowly making music along the way," he explains.
because your tracks can't be 50/50
when they're played out in the club."
With a new outlook and style, Williams needed a new name: "In the UK basically if you get a name in a certain genre, it can stunt you in the industry and keep people from taking you seriously as an artist or at least a producer in another style. It was just Sef and I that were running [the label] Deep Teknologi, and we made a conscious decision to call ourselves something else." Deep Teknologi managed to find success, but not in the places they expected: "We were targeting the UK funky crowd, but it just so happened the bass-oriented guys liked what was happening. But we were doing well; every day was a shocker. Every day some new message, some new person wanting to get involved," Williams recalls.
Ending up with the "wrong" audience might have been fortuitous, however. Williams says that "if you look at that bass music scene right now, the majority of guys are into house anyways. They like techno or acid and they're taking it back to the roots now, even though they came on a train from dubstep or whatever..." But while Deep Teknologi was a starting point for Williams' reinvention, it's no longer the main concern. "The record label still exists, yes, but as a crew or collective, not anymore," he admits. "People will still group us together, and it is what it is, but it's become evident that some people want to go X-Y-Z path and have particular tastes or distastes for other styles of music. It just makes more sense for these guys to represent their sounds individually."
Over the course of the launch and fall of Deep Teknologi, Williams became closely involved with a member of FACT's editorial team Tom Lea and his Local Action label, who scooped up his debut release. They've been working together ever since. "We decided at the time it would be a good idea for someone bigger to house one of my EPs, to spread the word of Deep Teknologi a little further than we could at the time. It was around the same time that FACT picked us as part of the top ten producers to watch in 2010, so that was how we got into contact." After that first EP, the funky-inflected "Anthem" / "Afric" / "Flooring," Williams delivered a pop-calibre stunner with the yearning vocal tune "Heartbeat." "I've worked with Terri Walker before and have always dabbled with vocalists, but 'Heartbeat' was really golden for me personally." Not just for him: "Heartbeat" was lauded across the board, even landing in retailer behemoth iTunes' top 3 electronic tracks of 2010.
Williams' latest salvo is the storming "Break Broke," a grime-influenced track removed from the smoother surfaces of his previous work. "Just something I did for fun," he brushes off, claiming it's not a sign of a future direction. "Someone once said to me that they found me interesting because they never know what they'd get, and I really like that idea of not knowing—maybe even shocking sometimes." Of course, to deny Williams' music a personality would be just as incorrect. "There's always that tribal kind of element, that African beat, of stuff that I do. There's a calypso swing to it—so I guess I always have that undertone," he admits.
But why is house music suddenly the big thing in London? Williams has a theory for that too. "I feel like everyone is growing. It's not like house music is for young people, but... it's not a cool thing to actively want to be doing 'brostep' or anything like that style. Whereas, if you have done bass music and you are more interested in different things and experimenting, and you want to do something that is a little more stable, something that is a worldwide genre—I think a lot of people are going with house music for those reasons." Recalling how he could barely stand anything under the dubstep/grime standard of 140 beats per minute back in the day, now he finds himself "sitting in the studio listening to a 110 BPM groove and totally fine with that."
So what's next? More music. Music is his "day job, it's all I do," he says proudly. He remains steadfastly dedicated to having "no plan" for the future, but claims that albums are on the way, a live show is in the works and that he'll be collaborating more closely with vocalists.
"Definitely ambitious, mate, but, to be honest with you, a lot of people thought I was ambitious last year. The fact that I released all those tunes last year, people said 'keep it to a minimum of two and keep it fresh' but… Tesfa Williams has been doing music since he was 13. I'm 28 now."
It might seem like this new phase of his career is the most fruitful—certainly well-timed—but Williams is not so sure. "I can honestly say that I still meet people that, when they find out I am Dread D, their whole way of acting towards me changes completely. Because that sound is still stuck for that time and that time only. People still make grime, but they don't make that particular sound of grime. People still really want to find that genuine grime sound from back then and re-create it. Just how naturally that all happened, and how it is going, it will take a lot for me to feel like I've topped it. A lot of people will think I'm really successful now, but my first single as Dread D sold about 7000/8000 copies on vinyl and I think it's going to take a little bit to top that right now."