Clarks Originals have teamed-up with legendary record label Trojan to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the iconic Desert Trek boots and have revived Jamaican vocal trio The Pioneers' Let Your Yea Be Yea by asking four renowned DJ producers to bring exclusive and diverse mixes of the track, the first of which will be by Toddla T and will drop July 2 as a free download from clarksoriginals.com. We grabbed a word with our favourite Steel City alum to talk Jamaican influence over his music, his Radio 1 show, Clarks and a whole lot more.
A few words about what you do...
I’m Toddla T, from the steel city. I’m a music producer, DJ and Radio Broadcaster. I have produced records for the likes of Roots Manuva, Tinchy Stryder, Wayne Marshall, and Ward 21. I’ve DJ’d all over the world from Tokyo, Japan to Kingston, Jamaica; Los Angeles to Brighton and I’m just a complete and utter music lover first and foremost.
Where do you currently live or spend most of your time?
I currently live in North West London even though I’m from Sheffield; I’m based down here due to different reasons. I spend most of my time in the studio or on the motorway on the way to a show or on an aeroplane or… on YouTube listening to new music.
When did you start DJ’ing and making music and what got you into it?
I started DJ’ing when I was ten years old; I was completely and utterly obsessed with hip hop due to programmes like Tim Westwood’s rap show on BBC Radio One, MTV raps on MTV and mix-tapes circulating around my area and my cousin who gave me a load of music on cassette. After watching stuff like ‘Wild Style’ and ‘MTV raps,’ hip hop consisted mainly of a DJ and an MC… I wanted in on this and I became the DJ.
I got two turntables; my mum & dad were not going to spend much money on turntables at that age, because the previous week I might have wanted roller boots or some golf clubs or a Nintendo or anything like that. So, they went and got me two belt driven turntables from a second hand shop and it meant from there I was buying records since I was ten. It wasn’t till I was fifteen that I got a pair that I was good enough to DJ properly with and that’s what were going to do today.
My biggest inspiration music wise… was probably, after hip hop in general, was all the local DJ’s in Sheffield that I started watching when I was old enough to go partying, sort of 16/17. DJ’s like DJ pipes, Winston Hazel, Chris Duckenfield; these were all local DJs that used to play music in such an individual way. It inspired me to listen to different types of music and therefore make different types of music and DJ different types of music. I think that little transition period of my life about 16-19, was probably the most influential moment as far as moulding my own sound.
Who’s been your biggest inspiration style wise?
I presume with style wise, you mean clothes and stuff like that; so I guess just… well I wouldn’t have an individual person at all. Living in England we’ve got a wicked individual style, similar to the music that we make and play where it’s kind of influenced by a lot of different types of vibes. I guess it’s just like that isn’t it? It’s just day to day life.
How would you describe your music?
My music is not one particular thing; it draws from a lot of different styles. Living in England… that’s kind of the norm. There’s like that reggae and dancehall influence, heavy base influence, heavy garage, house, hip hop, electro… all that stuff just malted together in an unconscious way that altogether creates the Toddla T sound.
Has your direction changed over time?
I suppose my direction has changed over time, but like anything you evolve and you change; but, also I’ve been into all different types of music since I was 16/17. All the way from like really minty R&B to really hard grime and it’s only really been the past couple of years where I’ve had the confidence to express the soft side or the more mature side. That’s just part of growing up, and having the confidence and not caring compared to how I was when I was 22 and what people would think. I guess that’s going to come out over time, and it has done. For example some of the stuff on my last album was so different to my first record, but when I made my first record I was into that kind of stuff but wasn’t really prepared to go there.
Explain a little bit about your infinity with Jamaica and previous artists which you worked with there…
Jamaica is the root of so much music that I’m in love with and being from England it’s hard to not be influenced by reggae culture and music. It was only right that I had to go there at some point… a bit of a musical pilgrimage; but also to work with people and gather instrumentation and lyrics and vocals for my own stuff.
I’ve been there five times in the last couple of years collaborating with a heap of artists such as Wayne Marshall, Esko, Ward 21, Cecile, Tiffa and Massacre. I DJ’d over there a couple of times, linked up with a whole heap of people, interviewed people for my radio show such as Mavado, Steven McGregor etc. It’s a place that’s become part of my musical process; to go back and forth from there and get inspired and work with these artists with the root of so much of what I’m in love with. It’s only right we go there and rep.
What do you think is so special about Jamaican music and its roots?
Well as I’ve said before, living in England, reggae music is so important to our culture especially within music… and you know the lifestyle. The culture is so influential. People always ask me why did you get into reggae and dancehall? and it wasn’t that I ‘got into it’ it was just there. It was always going to be influential. I remember being ten years old… nine years old, going to my youth club and a big tune of youth club was ‘general league-incredible’ which was a big jungle record. It so heavily, heavily consists of reggae elements; it’s like pretty much a British reggae record in a way. That was ten years old being in a youth club… you know, it’s just on our doorstep and it’s a beautiful thing. It’s always existed and will always exist in my life time as well. It’s only right that we’re involved with that… because we’ve got no choice! It’s beautiful.
What you do is pretty unusual, how did you come up with the idea?
Well, I kind of just answered that! Again it’s just on my doorstep; I mean I haven’t got any Jamaican heritage or Caribbean at all. I grew up in Sheffield which is a nice mixed community and music was there. It might be ‘unusual’ to some but to me that was pretty normal… I just find it pretty exciting. You know, a lot of us listen to American hip hop, European dance music and stuff like that; but that’s never really flagged up. For some reason, when people hear people like me listening to Reggae music they find it unusual. I still don’t know why cause in Britain it’s absolutely everywhere. It’s blasting out of cars; it’s in our music… its part of our life, man. We should celebrate it.
Recently you’ve been on Radio 1, How do you feel about that?
Getting my own Radio 1 show is incredible. I’m all about (on radio) sharing brand new exciting music no matter what genre it is. It could be dancehall stuff, it could be house or garage… it doesn’t matter. It’s all about what’s fresh… pushing the boundary of dance music. Not necessarily dance music as we know it, but stuff with a good vibe that’ll make you skank about.
To be given that platform to do that on BBC Radio 1, to be able to express that to more people that I could ever do in any show ever (live show, in a club), is just a beautiful thing. I’m gonna put so much concentration on that this year to make it really tight and ensure that the music is represented correctly… the guests are coming through… the production and everything about it; that is the focus for this year for me.
Also got another single coming out with Shola Ama later on in the year. I’ve got a new show on the road called The Toddla T Sound which consists of me playing an hour of my own music with a visual aspect to it that’s been designed for the show which features Shola Ama and Sarah C on vocals and DRS on vocals. We’re going to go on tour with Major Lazer, supporting them and then hit the festivals as our own entity.
Also my record label, Girls Music, big focus on that this year; some wicked releases coming up. That for me is all about nurturing talent and the music out there to as many people as possible. That is what two-twelve is looking like for me.
Could you mention a top tune for two-twelve that works for your dj sets?
Yes, a tune I always seem to be going back to is by a Brighton producer called Dismantle, a massive tune that he had running called computize. He’s just done a VIP version, it’s kind of like dubstep but it’s not at all. It’s got house elements and dutch house elements. It thumps in the club. No matter where I am in the world it seems to work, which is rare for a lot of records. I salute a man like Dismantle on that one.
What do you think of Clarks Originals and what it’s been doing with musicians?
I loved Clarks anyway, before Clarks Originals approached me I was wearing them… standard. I love the style, I love the heritage… it’s got such a big part in music in general. I think what there doing with linking up all the artists and cultures is amazing. Its does genuinely join dots between cultures even though it’s a British brand. It’s known for a very typically British style, but I go Jamaica… I see it there, I go America… I see it there. It’s got a thread between different types of people but they’ve all got the same love for it. With this musical collaboration, there joining it all together and it’s great.
Why do you think Clarks Originals have been a huge part of Jamaican style and culture?
I don’t know to be honest. I guess the desirability of a British shoe… the cross-pollination between the UK and Jamaica. Maybe people came here and saw that they were a desirable shoe, so they took them home and there wasn’t any Clarks shops in Jamaica. This made them want them even more and made them highly desirable. Where as in England you see it a bit more, there fore people started talking about them within their lyrics and they became an iconic shoe in reggae and dancehall. We still talk about it today. Popcorn, the latest guy cracking on about it in his song. I could only guess it’s that.
Are you a Desert boot or a Wallabee fan?
I’m a Desert Boot guy… 100%. Strictly because they fit on my feet better and suite more. Now the Wallabee for me, I associate with Wu Tang Clan as a kid growing up, Wu Tang got on Wallabee’s hard. Then as I got a bit older I started listening to different types of music. I saw it in Reggae a lot, I saw Cartel bust them… I saw a lot of artists wearing them.
So, yeah out of the two… the Desert Boot is my vibe, simple fact! I salute the Desert Boot for 2012!
Download Toddla T's version of The Pioneers' Let Your Yea Be Yea from clarksoriginals.com July 2.