The 10 year-old DJ: Toddla T talks to FAULT about his career, the changing music industry & his fresh new album

With practically 20 years in the game under his belt, it’s fair to say Sheffield-born music-head Tom Bell (Toddla T) is far from average. Having produced for the likes of Tinchy Stryder, Roots Manuva and Ms Dynamite and collaborated with huge names including Hot Chip, Gorillaz and Major Lazer, he’s no stranger to top talent and this is reflected in the style and diversity of his incredible work roster.

Probably one of the only DJs who can work the floor as well in Ibiza’s Defected as Kingston, Jamaica, Stone Love’s Weddy Weddy street party, it comes as no surprise that his new album Foreign Light, for the first time based purely on his own artistic licence, could perhaps be his biggest and best yet…


FAULT: You’ve been in the game for quite a while…since you were in your teens, right?


T: Yeah, I started getting records and putting them together from as young as about 10 I think…basically I just got really into hip-hop as a young teenager, to Tim Westwood on Radio 1 and a local community station called STR and MTV Raps which I used to tape and watch at home. I always used to see and hear the DJ in the video and really wanted to do what he was doing.


FAULT: Wow, that is young!

T: At that age no one’s going to be spending much money on their kit and stuff because for one you can’t afford it, and two you go through so many fads as a young boy; so I basically had hi-fi turntables and managed to blag a mixer and that was kind of the start. It was impossible to mix but it was still like putting records together.

It wasn’t until I was 14/15 that I was actually able to gain access to equipment that I could properly DJ with to mix records and start scratching.


FAULT: So you’ve always just felt compelled to play?

T: Yeah, I just loved the music so much I had to be a part of it and that was all I could do to get close to it to begin with – and yeah still doing it now so it’s been a long, long time. It’s all I know really – and all I’ve ever wanted to know. I’m super blessed.


FAULT: You must have seen some big changes in the music industry then over the years?

T: Totally. From when I started getting bookings in bars when I was 16/17 to now, I’ve seen a massive change in the industry, particularly in club land. I’ve really noticed the clubs changing due to social media and the wider options that are available now for entertainment in general. It seems there’s less of a desire for people to go out now they can access experiences elsewhere, and to be honest the greed of the promoters giving artists loads of money to play exclusively at festivals has really been a drain on the club scene.


FAULT: The number of day festivals does seem to have sky-rocketed over the last few years…

T: It’s really quite hard because if I was a young person and I had enough money to go out then I’d definitely use to it pack in seeing all my favourite artists over two days rather than having to spend little bits here and there all over the year to visit different events and club nights…but with that you do get a totally different experience, certainly not the intimacy of the club scene.

I hardly DJ now in clubs like I used to – I do loads of festivals to big crowds, but the little club nights I used to do all the time just simply don’t exist anymore, and I think that’s because they can’t because the bigger festivals and promoters have basically taken them out.

I think it’s sad really because growing up, the way I could just go and lose my mind in a little rave, you can’t do in a festival as it’s too big and there’s far too many eyes on you. That moment when the music hits you in the back of a sweaty little club and you totally lose yourself to it? I loved it. I do think it’s hard to access that nowadays because everything’s so grand. Someone’s bound to stream you acting like a fool(!)


 FAULT: How about the industry in terms of music production?

T: Thanks to developments online there are so many platforms that are open now and I think that’s really healthy because there’s so fewer barriers for artists and producers. In theory it’s an equal playing field on somewhere like Soundcloud – it doesn’t quite work like that because labels do still have access to certain things – but in general it means if you make a tune then you have a platform for someone else to hear it, and I think that’s great.

They say the cream rises to the top so it at least gives people an opportunity to share the music. There was a time when you needed a label for all that but you just don’t anymore.


FAULT: Tell us about your own label, sTeeze…

T: I set that up really to gain complete control over everything I release and what I put out there. Like I say I’ve been in music for a while and I feel I’ve finally gained the confidence in myself to be able to believe in what I’m doing to the extent of taking it 100% into my own control. It’s just my little thing that I felt I could finally do so I did just that.


FAULT: It’s great that you just threw yourself in there

T: It’s much easier because you don’t have to physically make a product these days like you once did –  when I first started putting records out on vinyl you had to find a load of money to have them produced and it was far riskier if they didn’t do well, but now if you’re clever and creative about it, you can basically put stuff out for free.

A lot of the time your friend who’s a photographer might be better than someone you pay a load of money for because s/he knows you and he knows your vibe. It’s just brilliant that it’s power back to the people and not relying on a label or someone with money. Power to the artist.

FAULT: Chuck some T-shirts in there as well, why not!

T: Yeah of course! We’ve got a batch you can buy with my latest record as well – items that are unique to the songs.


FAULT: You streamed a live remix of your track, ‘Beasts’ the other week – do you think this kind of interactive style of mixing might be something you’d consider for your live sets?

T: Potentially yeah! The thing is when you’re in the studio and working on a tune, you don’t know until the end of the day if what you’ve done is even worth sharing to the world…so to do that on a big platform in front of people might not be great if you’re having an off-day!


So in a live DJ situation maybe not because you want people to enjoy themselves and you have a job to serve, but if someone’s sat at home and they have the option of switching off, why not!


FAULT: Tell me about the album Foreign Light…the ethos behind it is pretty different to your previous work, no?


T: Basically I’ve been mixing and playing records for so many years and a few decisions I’ve made in the past were based on what other people wanted or what I thought they wanted, and I’ve not made a full batch of music for a long time. With my age and experience, I decided that I wanted to make a record that isn’t necessarily what people want from me, but that I really want to do myself.

I didn’t work with anyone on it apart from the musicians and my colleague Benji B, who helped me form it in terms of some of the decisions I made. I’m so proud of the finished work because it feels like purely me and not what other people wanted or expected.

The music I make is different but it’s all rooted in the baseline of the reggae roots & sound system, but that’s the ethos of the record and I didn’t know how it would be received. It’s just been incredible that people have gotten behind it. I felt like I needed to do it artistically for myself and the fact that people have latched onto it is a massive bonus!


FAULT: Tell me about Andrea Martin, who features heavily on the album, how did you meet her?


T: I met her two years ago… I was in New York for work and had some spare time and thought well, I might as well use it to make music. I spoke my mate, a producer called Switch, who put me onto her and as soon as we were in the studio it just felt like magic. I completely fell in love with her song writing and delivery – it’s the realest of the real deal. After that session I knew this was the lady to glue my album together. She totally made me up my game in terms of production to match her spirit!

I think a lot of the time when things are hooked up through more contrived ways through management or the like it doesn’t work so well but those natural connections you end up working with the most. It was just a right time, right moment thing.


FAULT: Finally, what’s your FAULT?

T: I’ve got many! I guess mainly because I’m so focused on my music and my kids, things always get abandoned. Even simple things like washing or tidying up, or being on time – basic stuff in life is definitely my failing because I’m always totally preoccupied by other things. It’s got worse since having a family – nappies and bottles need some real work I’d say!


Catch latest single Magnet below. New album Foreign Light is out today.

Words Josie Carder