But perhaps we shouldn’t be too surprised: Tayo has been doing things his own way for a very long time. Though only 31 years old, Tayo Popoola can undoubtedly be called an “elder statesmen” of breaks. In 1996, together with Rennie Pilgrem and Adam Freeland, he rolled out London club night Friction, the veritable birthplace of nu-skool breaks. The three found instant success pushing a tougher, more syncopated sound at a time when house, prog house and trance were ruling the charts. Along with fellow pioneers Ali B and Meat Katie, they all eventually broke ground on their own labels, each with a slightly different approach: Meat Katie’s Lot 49 was a little bit tech-house, Freeland’s Marine Parade a little bit rock ‘n roll.
In 2007, however, Tayo is the only one among his peers without his own record company. Though he started Mob Records in 1999, five years later he’s on his own, after growing “increasingly at odds with the guys who owned the label,” Tayo explains. “I think it was a very difficult time with people getting used to downloads, etc. so my people ‘upstairs’ were getting a bit twitchy and wanting to play a part in the A&R side of things.” The primary point of contention was control: while Tayo founded and ran Mob, he didn’t actually own it. Tayo puts things more diplomatically: “Ideas I had for artists and for the progression of the label were met by the views of people more…pragmatic than me.”
Look closely at the rear cover of ‘FabricLive 32’ and all of his productions and co-productions have but one non-label label: Tayo. Staying outside the system has plenty of perks, including relief from the pressure of A&Ring for a whole label; these days Tayo only has to mine new, unique sounds for his DJ sets. Even for a wizened breaks don, that’s a tall order – acquiring exclusive tunes, DJing every weekend, and genre bending, breaking, and re-creating just to stay relevant.
The result is Tayo has been spending his playtime finding new, off-the-radar music than his fixed-course peers. But there’s a method to the madness: The ‘FabricLive’ comp might be stuffed with more genres than HMV, but in the end it’s all tethered under one umbrella: bass. “I’m from South London, and bass and beats – be it drum ‘n bass, be it hip-hop, be it the kind of breakbeat stuff I’m known for – it’s a sound that you feel as well as you hear. It strikes me as very urban, not in the way that ‘urban’ has been appropriated for R&B, but it’s an urban sound.”
Pursuing this sound is a full-time job. “That’s what keeps me active, keeps me up and playing records,” Tayo explains. “For me to get out of bed, and to get excited, means for me to keep finding new music, and I need to keep thinking of new ideas to put in my sets.” In between organizing the lineup for his own ‘Cool & Deadly’ residency at Fabric, Tayo casts his net over London’s less well-lit regions, notably the dubstep dirt of FWD and the sweaty Baltimore club sound booming from a Hollertronix night.
Dubstep is the most oft-recurring motif on his ‘FabricLive’, with a heavy load of wicked basslines from some of the scene’s best and brightest: Skream, Benga and Digital Mystikz. A sound that’s been pushed for five years down some of London’s deepest and darkest clubs, dubstep is blowing up as the twisted younger brother of dub, drum ‘n bass, and breaks. It shows you that you can rock a dance on a half time,” Tayo says. “There’s just a load of beats and breaks stuff with different time signatures, with different kinds of syncopation that is out there. There’s a load of really disgusting electronic stuff coming out of England right now, and it’d be a shame not to play it.”
Same goes for Baltimore, Maryland, home to the sleazy, screwy sound known as B-more Club. Its foremost ambassadors, Spank Rock, will be taking on the next ‘FabricLive’ installment, and DJs like Aaron Lacrate are taking Baltimore club on worldwide tours. Lacrate’s ‘Blow’, which features Spank Rock lyricists Naeem Juwan and Amanda Blank, was originally included on Tayo’s ‘FabricLive 32’ mix. But drawing too far outside the lines can have its pitfalls. “Aaron Lacrate owns that tune, and he gave me permission to use it, then withdrew permission,” explains Tayo. “We appealed to him, from one DJ to another, but he wasn’t having it so I had to change the mix…whilst on holiday in Brazil.” Thus, ‘Blow’ was axed and replaced by the Radio Slave remix of ‘Blaze N Cook’ by Stereotyp Meets Al’Haca – an unfortunate victim of pointless label politics.
Many of the “FabricLive 32” contributors operate outside the system and, along with Tayo, promote themselves via MySpace. As crate-digging has given way to MySpace prowling, mapping sounds from across the world has never been easier. Take it from Tayo: “I’ve found an amazing grimecore, kind of techno guy from Zimbabwe called Rotator. I never would’ve known he existed, if he hadn’t clicked on my page. I want to know about other people, and I’m pleased if there are people who want to know about me.”
That they do, compelling Tayo to maintain a hugely active online presence: “My MySpace page has been a whole load of fun. Obviously no one cares about my football team that I play for, apart from the ten of us who play, but it is quite fun doing it. And I’ve had some quite good comments about it, funnily enough. But there’s a point to it now because there are three-and-a-half thousand people, and rising, who are into what I do, and there’s a mailing list which is useful for telling people what I’m up to.”
Tayo is also seizing the chances afforded by the age of self-broadcasting with a new podcast, FuriousStylesRadio. “I believe strongly in radio, and I’m just going to play a mix of music in whichever way I fancy on a weekly basis,” he said. “I’m also working on a few music documentaries as well, which I will put out as podcasts. Beforehand, if you wanted to do any of this, you needed a production company or whatever…now you can do it yourself, and I fully intend to.”
On the more mainstream side of things, Tayo played for the first time at this year’s Breakspoll Awards in February, and served up his inaugural Radio 1 Essential Mix two days later. Breakspoll, now in its sixth year, has never rewarded him for production or DJing, whereas Tayo’s peers Freeland, Pilgrem and Meat Katie have armfuls of best DJ, best compilation, and outstanding contribution awards between them. Perhaps this is the primary consequence of staying independent and niche-free: Tayo was “pretty confident that not one record in my set was played by any other DJ that night” so perhaps it’s the comfort of familiarity that is behind his repeated snubs. What else could explain Krafty Kuts’ fourth-in-a-row win for Best DJ? “It sounds blasé, but I don’t really care about those awards,” Tayo insists. “I’m happy with what I’ve done, and I’m happy with what I do. I know how long I’ve been doing it, I’m pleased with how I got here, and there’s a whole lot more that I want to do. So I’m not going to rest on my laurels. You know, an 18-year-old doesn’t care that I started Friction ten years ago, because they were eight. They’re like ‘What are you doing today? What are you doing that’s of relevance to me now?’”