Interview: Toddla T
There’s a word which is liable to crop up quite often whenever you speak to Toddla T…
In fact, to be precise, the aforementioned and a couple of related terms, including ‘Sheff’ and ‘Sheffielders’, appear a total of 17 times in this article; but he, nor I, will make any apologies for this because it’s when the Park Hill producer/DJ is at his inimitable best: talking passionately about the city he adores and bigging up the talent within its seven hills.
Almost seven years since the release of his genre-fusing debut Skanky Skanky, a recent Steel City link-up has seen Toddla join forces with the up-and-coming MC Coco and producing a number of unmistakeably northern grime tracks, while continuing to big up the wealth of underground music from South Yorkshire yet to make it onto the 1Xtra playlist.
Following a recent trip home to play at the city’s final Kabal event, and with his annual Tramlines mash-up just around the corner, I collared the 31 year old bass don for a chat.
Let’s start off talking about the early days. When did you first start falling in love with music?
Obviously a lot of kids like music, but when I was a teen I started to realise it was more like an obsession, you know? I’d religiously tape Westwood, MTV Raps and local radio stations like SCR and I’d always be ringing up to get shout-outs. I’d never go to school without my Walkman on me.
And what would be playing on little Toddla’s Walkman?
All sorts really! Because I was from the Park Hill area I had to get two buses to get to school. So I’d get on the 120 and, if it was empty, I’d sit in the little luggage area behind the driver at the front, blaring out tunes. I’d often be playing early Eminem tunes taped from Westwood, and I can clearly remember one day when this guy started bopping along to what was coming out my earphones. I can recall thinking how sick it was that he was enjoying the music I was playing. That always stuck with me.
Niche/bassline were the big sounds in Sheffield when you were growing up, so what got you into dancehall?
The niche thing was big, for sure. But most of the Sheffield genres, from niche to the early Warp music, is essentially soundsystem music when you strip it back. So, for me, going back to dancehall was like visiting the roots of it all – that’s why I love it.
Can you remember where you played your first DJ set?
My first public DJ set would more than likely have been a mate’s house party or summat during high school. In terms of the venues I started with, I played a night called Smoker’s Corner at The Forum; I also played a bar called Hush on Div Street, which is The Great Gatsby now; and I’d play bars like Bungalows and Bears too – just loads of places, man!
Let’s talk about the Sheffield scene. Obviously you’ve been working closely with Coco recently – how did that link come about?
Well, I’ve obviously kept a keen eye on the Sheff scene and it’s always been full of talent, from the sound engineers to the artists. I always thought Coco was a talented artist; I just liked how he could be so witty with his music. A fellow producer, DS1, told me that he was moving to London so we decided to link up – and it just went off instantly.
Plus, it must have been nice having a fellow Sheffielder joining you in the big smoke?
He’s a pleasure to work with, man. But yeah, it’s good to have two Sheff boys together and it’s even more of a pleasure to fly the flag for the Sheffield scene like we have been doing.
People from outside the city won’t understand how big Coco was in Sheffield when he was doing things with Remz years ago – he’s got a lot of love here!
Yeah man. Coco was telling me just the other day that he used to not be able to go Meadowhall without people stopping him for a picture!
And I’d argue there were just as many young’uns here with Remz & Coco tracks on their phone as Arctic Monkeys’ ones, if not more.
I’d say definitely in some areas. But the thing with Sheffielders is we’re proud of everything and everyone that does well – whether that’s guitar music or dance music – it’s the foundation of our mentality. I’ve actually done something with Remz and Coco recently and it’s sounding big – so keep an eye out for that!
I suppose, even though we’ve more recently been touted as a guitar band city, people forget that a lot of its music heritage comes from underground electronic styles of music – whether that’s Cabaret Voltaire pioneering industrial music back in the 70s or the early niche DJs and MCs.
Exactly. You need to be from the city to know. Like, you know who’s one of the biggest fans of [underground Sheffield rave] Kabal nights? Louis from Milburn. He’s always asking for me to sort him with music played at those nights. Like, I think that sums up how we all support the different genres.
I saw that you played the final Kabal in Sheffield the other week. We’re losing something of an institution there! Favourite memories? Can it be replaced?
Yeah, I’m actually still recovering from it! I have so many fond memories of that place, man. I remember when I first started going and I was instantly blown away by the soundsystem; there was just all these bass-led genres blaring out creating utter madness. Kabal was special and moulded me into the DJ I am today. The reason why I’m talking to you today is because of them, so massive shout-out to those guys!
That brings me on to the short doc you did recently with Noisey, in which you created your own Sheffield track using sounds from around the city. If you could produce a ‘Made in Sheffield’ album featuring only local artists, who are you bringing along?
Nah, that’s a big question! There’s so many though! Ok, here we go: Winston Hazel, Pipes, Ross Orton, Walter Ego, all of the Arctic Monkeys, Sticky Blood, Kate from The Long Blondes, Shinobi, Matic Mouth, Deep Green, Cab Vol, Roisin Murphy. There’s loads! But this is the sick thing about Sheffield: I reckon Alex Turner would do a track with Deep Green and produced by Cab Vol if it felt right. We all like working together.
So you went to school near Park Hill estate and your parents lived around the corner. We’re going on a bit of a tangent here, but I was wondering what you think about the redevelopment of Parkhill – obviously it’s a divisive topic…
Yeah, it’s a touchy one. One thing I do know is that the spirit of the community there was electric; some of my earliest memories are of walking through the tunnels of the estate to my nursery. Obviously I’ve got a special connection with it all, and I had mates who were turfed out for what is basically the commercialisation of the place, so I don’t know how they are progressing with the redevelopment, but if it isn’t turned into something positive then it’s all a big bag of fuckries.
Sticking on local issues, you also linked up with Coco again to show your love for the Save Sheffield Trees project. How’s that going?
Yeah, we had fun putting that little video together! But, still, it’s a serious issue that’s important to so many people. I got involved when my old manager, who’s a part of the campaign, got in touch and asked if we’d take a photo with some t-shirts to show support, but Coco was in the studio with me and I thought, ‘why not do something different with this?’ So I put together a beat and Coco wrote a quick 16 on the spot. The reaction we got was mad. The next week I saw us in The Star and I was like, ‘Wooooiiiii!’
It got a great reception on social media, and considering the bad press grime music sometimes gets, it was good to see it being shown in a positive light.
Definitely! When Coco supported Bugzy Malone a week later at Plug, he did the Save the Trees tune again – and it sounded sick! That’s a testament to his ability though: he can take something on the spot and make a clever bar out of it.
Let’s talk Tramlines. Obviously you’re returning this year for a massive do at the O2 Academy. First of all, what are you thinking to the line-up so far? Kelis and Dizzee are huge collars!
It’s sick! Dizzee is a proper festival artist, you know? His songs can translate to anyone from my little cousin to my uncle. The line-up so far has got everything for everyone, and that’s testament to the city it’s hosted in and the people behind it. Also, make sure you check out Paranoid London – they’re sick!
Will you be kipping back at your mam and dad’s that weekend then?
Of course! They’re into it all too! I always stay at mum’s when I’m back in Sheff.
What makes Tramlines so special for you? There’s definitely something undeniably Sheffield about it all…
Yeah, it’s like everything we do – we make it our own. I can still remember playing the first at DQ and look at how it’s travelled. What are we on now? The 7th year? It’s become the pride and joy of the city, and bear in mind that this is a very honest place, so if something is shit then people will let you know about it. It’s a festival, so it’s about the celebrating the people and the place – and Tramlines does that really well.
Who’d be playing on your dream bill?
Can I have dead people an’all?
Sure, have fun with it.
Woiiii! Ok, let’s do this.
First of all, we’re turning the top of Fargate into a massive festival stage. Here’s the line-up…
Opening we’ve got Pipes on the decks.
Then we’ll have some local bands.
Followed shortly by Notorious B.I.G., playing the Ready to Die album from the start to end.
Afterwards Remz and Coco will take to the stage and do their thing.
Next up will be Human League – because you can’t forget about the oldies.
Then we’ll have Winston Hazel.
Following Winston will be Moloko.
Later on Bob Marley will come along toget everyone nice and chilled.
Then I’ll come on with a load of local MCs and do my stuff.
After me there’ll be a bunch of niche DJs playing ‘til the early hours of the morning.
Finally, just as the sun’s coming up, Helders will take to the decks to play some of his chilled RnB.
One tune guaranteed to buss up a Toddla T rave?
Right now? I’d have to go for Rude Kid – Fabric.
What is Toddla T’s ideal tea?
Yorkshire tea, obviously. Oh, wait, you mean as in a meal? Then definitely my mum’s spaghetti bolognese. There’s just summat about your mum’s cooking, you know?
Since having a little toddler himself, what lessons has big Toddla learnt from fatherhood?
Ha! Bruv, I’ve learnt a lot. Erm, how to change nappies, how to have less sleep, playing in sandpits again – absolutely loads!
Catch Toddla playing the O2 Academy at Tramlines Festival. Tickets and full line-up available at www.tramlines.org.uk. Head to soundcloud.com/toddla_t for the latest tunes and mixes.