Tolliday's musical upbringing was a little different from that of your average house head. Right from the early days, his musical education came from working in a record shop rather than going to clubs, and after falling in love with hip-hop he soon began lapping up everything from jazz to old soundtracks. In his time, he has also flirted with fame as part of the now defunct downbeat duo Bent. And as you'll find out in this Playing Favourites, he has had some very personal battles with cancer, drug addiction and "being a cunt."
This is dark and weird.
This is a track from the Clockwork Orange soundtrack. My dad used to play it to me when I was very little and scare the shit out of me. I'd obviously no idea what the film was about at that point, so he'd tell me it was about a monster in a cave. About half way through you hear the music pick up a bit—this was when the monster would be chasing me. Still shits me up now.
Musically, did it make any sort of impact on you at that age?
It's important because this was an early introduction to synthesisers. Wendy Carlos famously did the Switched-On Bach album and a few others, recreating classical music with early Moog Modular systems. On the same album as this there's a version of "Ode To Joy" from Beethoven's glorious 9th, which uses an early version of the vocoder, which used to bend my head as a kid.
She has a lot to answer for in inventing the vocoder, then.
Well, I think when a vocoder is used well it really works. Air did a good job on their early stuff, Kraftwerk, Herbie Hancock, Stevie Wonder, Zapp… all good stuff, so not a complete disaster.
Why this one in particular?
To be honest it could have been one of many from the BC catalogue. I did a tape edit of it once (as I only had one copy on vinyl) that joined sides one and two together, but I played the record at minus 8 on my deck, so it would last even longer!
I think the first one I bought was Domina. I was blown away by the Maurizio version, even though the labels on my pressing were the wrong way round so it took me a week to realise it wasn't Carl Craig's mix. After that I had to have everything by Basic Channel, Maurizio, Rhythm & Sound.
Does it have the same impact now as it did in 1994?
I still listen to all that stuff regularly. Just this weekend I was listening to Basic Channel on my flight back from Madrid. To me, it still sounds like it's from the future, even though most of it is 20 years old. Genius. I met Moritz Von Oswald in Berlin last year when he and Juan Atkins first performed their Borderland project. He was very nice, actually. Mr. Atkins, however, was less pleased to be having his photo taken with a middle-aged nerd right after a show.
What were you doing in 1994 when this first came out?
I was working at Selectadisc, a record shop in Nottingham, which sadly is no more. I guess I was listening to a lot of techno and more jacking stuff around that time. I bought everything I could afford on Djax-Up-Beats, Peacefrog, Plus 8, UR, Axis, Dance Mania, plus Relief Records were getting going around then as well. Warp were still putting out great albums back then, too.
That's a fair spread, covering most bases, then.
Generally I'd listen to most things across the spectrum of music. I had to, really. Working in a record shop you need to know what's going on in more than one area of music.
How much of an influence have Basic Channel been on you?
They definitely influenced me back then, and they still do. The space they created within the music was something I'd not really heard, at least not with all the tape hiss and grit they just left in. As time went on, I learned who their influences were, like the way Bullwackies used to produce and mix their reggae stuff in the early '80s, and it kind of made sense—a lot of top and bottom frequencies with the effects kinda making up the mids.
Everything's Gone Green
Did you ever make it to the Hacienda to see New Order live?
Never went to the Hacienda, no. I used to have to be in bed by 9 PM even when I was 14, so the chances of me getting the train to Manchester for the evening were non-existent. I'd heard about "Blue Monday," but the first New Order track that really grabbed me was "Bizarre Love Triangle," which I heard on the radio, then "True Faith" made me go out and buy the Substance compilation. I got it on cassette, as you got all the B-sides as well.
I chose "Everything's Gone Green" because I loved the mix of arpeggiated synths and live and programmed drums. It sounds really live, and by the end everyone's going for it on their respective instruments, and Barney starts going "OW!" which he always does when he gets excited.
Your other project, Bent, used a lot of live recording. Can you play any instruments yourself? Are you a frustrated rocker at heart?
I originally wanted to be a drummer, Roger Taylor from Queen being my kinda drum hero. Growing up I had friends who all played different instruments, so we'd go round each other's houses to jam and mess around, swapping instruments. I can play a bit of everything, guitar, bass, drums, keyboards—but not brilliantly.
Did Bent ever play live in clubs?
Yeah, we played live in fabric and a few clubs around Europe, but it was mainly gig venues rather than club nights.
Bent was also famous for iffy sampling, at least early on—has your approach changed much nowadays?
Well I'm still into sampling pretty much anything from any era. Using Ableton means you can be quite creative with samples and really mess around with them to make strange melodies, rhythms or loops, although just recently I've noticed I'm getting a bit too reliant on sampling. I need to start playing more, I think. Getting lazy, perhaps, in my old age!
Of all the classic house tracks, why this one?
Well it was one of the first house tracks I heard, on the radio again—I was only 12 or 13 at the time—not long before "Jack Your Body" got into the UK charts. It was so simple, synthetic and repetitive, but with that relentless vocal sample. At first I thought it was called "Fascination," which didn't help much when looking for it in the local record shop, Oasis Records in Beeston. For a small shop, it had a pretty good selection and was on the ball most of the time. I remember there being an acid-house-themed display in the front window just before it went massive.
I read you didn't actually like clubbing at first, and were just a record nerd.
I probably would have loved clubbing, but was never allowed to. So yes, my voyage of discovery was in the record shops and not nightclubs. I'm kinda OK with that, although it was fucking frustrating at the time. But it meant I got to hear the whole of the track instead of it being part of a DJ's set, so perhaps I studied the production and arrangement in a different way.
What made you want to get into DJing and production if you weren't experiencing it first hand?
I just loved the records I was buying and hearing on the radio. Music has been my main interest, or at least the thing I responded to the most since I was really young, so it was inevitable I'd seek some kind of career or direction involved in music.
Rebel Without A Pause
Hip-hop was your first love, right?
Nottingham has always been a big hip-hop city, so it used to filter down from the older kids at school, or in this case the Scouts. One of the older Scouts asked me if I liked rap music, I said I liked things like "The Message," "White Lines," "The Show," stuff that had charted in the mid-'80s. Plus I loved breakdancing when I was at junior school (I was terrible at it, by the way) and so he lent me this cassette with Public Enemy on it. The first track was "Rebel Without A Pause" and it blew my fucking head off. I'd heard rap and hip-hop before this, but nothing like this. It made me want all of Public Enemy's music, which at that point was just the first LP and a few singles. When Nation Of Millions came out, I listened to that tape almost constantly—to and from school, on my paper round every morning, and at home.
Did you relate to Public Enemy in an "us vs them" sense as some people say they did, even thousands of miles away in the UK?
It definitely taught me a thing or two about people from history we'd never have covered in school, and of course offered a different perspective on how society and things like the media operate. I had things in my own life around that time that made me feel like it's me against the world, and that justice and fairness were things for other people, so the powerful attitude resonated with me too, even though it came from a different set of circumstances. It most definitely changed the way I thought about things.
I Wish I Knew
Are you a proper jazz head?
I like a bit of jazz, yeah!
Do you like all styles?
I've got into more out-there stuff in recent times, but Ballads by John Conltrane is probably my favourite album, along with Kind Of Blue. Obvious choices perhaps, but you can't deny how good they are.
There's a repeated phrase in this track which occurs when John comes back in after McCoy Tyner does his piano section, and on the third time 'Trane plays that phrase, it happens on a chord change, and I remember hearing that for the first time and I actually started crying. That doesn't happen very often, so this song will always be special to me.
Apparently this, and every track on the Ballads album, was recorded in one take with only half-an-hour practice.
Well that quartet was tight as two coats of paint, so that doesn't surprise me. Proper musicians.
Classic break-up song. What does it mean to you?
Never really thought of it as a break-up song. I went through a period of being obsessed with Jim and the lads when I was at college. Me and my best mate used to take a lot of acid and stay up for days, and The Doors provided a suitable soundtrack to our LSD missions of mind and soul. I remember hearing the unedited version of this for the first time when I was on acid. For years, the only version available had all the "fuck fuck fuck yeahs" edited out, but I was at a house that had an original copy from '67, which of course had all the swearing still on it. I started to freak out, as I thought Jim had kinda returned via this 25-year-old piece of vinyl to fuck with me.
Quite an experience to have on acid, and an apt way for me to bring up the lost decade on drink and drugs you've mentioned in other interviews.
Well to be honest it was longer than 10 years. I'd been drinking since I was 14 and taking drugs since 16, I think. There was just a 10-year period where seemingly everything that could happen, good or bad, sort of happened. It escalated around 2005, I guess, at least that's when everything started to fall apart. I moved to London in 2008, not really thinking I'd come back. I very nearly died a couple of times, so it nearly worked out.
What role did music and music-making play in these times?
I gave too much importance to music, as in, "It'll get me through, it always has," but in the end I lost my passion for it. I'm not saying music wasn't or isn't important, I just put all my eggs into one basket where music was concerned. Once I'd got bored and exhausted of music, all that was left was drinking and drugs. I had no plan B.
And you also got cancer around this time?
Yeah in 2003, it was external so easier to treat, but now I can see every day that I'm not the same physically. It fucked my head up for a while, the fact I can't have any more kids. But I also dined out on it, as in, I used that bad experience, along with other negative things that have happened to me down the years, as an excuse to wallow in self-pity and justify poisoning myself every day with alcohol and being a cunt to people who deserved better, including myself. They say treat others how'd you want to be treated yourself. Well I think that can work both ways. I was a dickhead to people because I hated what I'd become.
How did you turn it around? Has music been like therapy to you?
I don't turn to music in bad times as much now. I used to, but there's other things that I find work better for me if I need perspective on my life. I love music, it's got me through some proper shit in the past, but as I mentioned earlier, I needed to find other ways to cope, as I'd kinda wrung music dry and had lost my passion, which was quite frankly terrifying. But I listen to music a lot of the day, so I don't really ever turn to it, as it's usually already there.
Are you a fan of everything Kraftwerk have done? Does anything about their music directly influence you?
I think Computer World is the last album of theirs I like all the way through. Electric Café has its moments, it's bookended by two classics, but it's a bit wafty in the middle for me. The Mix was OK I guess, but they'd been gone a long time up till that point, and now I was old enough to go see them, which I did a couple of times on that tour. It was amazing to see.
I chose "Home Computer" because when listening to it for the first time I thought I was hearing things, as in: "Did it really just do that?" The second and third kinda bubbly arpeggiated sections are so dynamically ahead of their time, almost disorientating. In my mind's eye, I could see myself floating about inside a computer, which was quite fun for a 14 year old who had never actually owned one at that point. We didn't even get a VCR until I was like 13 or something. Pathetic!
Home King Tubbys Meets Rockers Uptown
A real mother of a dub this one.
I love reggae, dub, dancehall, old mento, rocksteady and ska. This is quite an obvious one, there are far more harder and deeper dubs than this I could've chosen, but it's probably the first one I heard properly, on very loud speakers, and it's another one of those that just took me somewhere else for the duration. I think my mate's homemade coconut bong may have had a hand in that particular journey, but either way, it's an absolute killer, for me one of the benchmarks in 20th century music production.
Your selections are pretty diverse overall—how many records have you got? What would you say you listen to most of the time?
I sold about 1,500 records a few years ago, much to my annoyance now, considering what I used the money for, but I think I have around 8,000 now. I need to check, I stopped counting a couple of years back and it was about 7,000 then. A lot of what I sold was kinda filler dance 12-inches, so of the 2,000 house and techno records I have, it's all stuff I love, DJing aside.
I have a surprising amount of black metal for someone who's known predominately as a house music producer. I'm also a fan of noise, experimental and non-music. There's been a lot of punk, hardcore and garage rock coming out of Australia, the US and parts of Europe that's caught my ears, too. So much good stuff out there. I like to keep an open mind with all music, although I've a silly habit of ignoring things if they're too hyped, sometimes missing out on some genuinely good stuff.
Close (To The Edit)
There are tons of samples and found sounds in this, which in 1984 was pretty avant-garde
It was amazing to me at the time; I was only 10 when this came out. Both visually and sonically, Art Of Noise were pretty out there. They were among the first to use samples, or more specifically the Fairlight CMI, as a lead instrument. In the same year Jean-Michel Jarre released Zoolook, which was again almost exclusively made around the Fairlight and is for me his standout LP for that reason. Art Of Noise kinda formed as a non-band, being studio-based with lots of imagery and aesthetic, and also Paul Morley wrote all the weird stuff on the sleeves. I loved that whole idea, it had style and content, rather than one over the other, and the artists themselves were faceless.
I wonder how you found the music industry had changed between your first and original stint and then your more recent comeback. Do you feel at home still, or do you feel like an outsider?
Well I experienced a little of what it's like in the industry with my time in Bent, some of it was great, some of it was soul destroying to the point where one becomes dangerously cynical. But I guess I'm more annoyed with myself for, in my eyes anyway, blowing more than one opportunity to have a proper crack at doing things big, but I was too busy being pissed or coked-up, not to mention my lack of balls and small-mindedness at times, too, so I'm not blaming it all on the booze and gear. But I have turned things around and I'm incredibly grateful for what I see as a miraculous chance to have yet another go.