THEY say it’s not necessarily what but who you know...and Toddla T has got to know plenty during his time on the road.
One of the top new faces/voices of Radio 1, the Sheffield DJ and musician wasn’t short of help for new album Watch Me Dance, released on Ninja Tunes this week.
“It’s mental,” says Toddla – aka Tom Bell - finally finding a window in his schedule.
“I’ve had the best year of my life. I’ve played gigs I’ve wanted to play since I started. I’ve got to work with people I’ve always wanted to work with. I’ve had support from my label that I’ve always dreamed of. I can’t really moan about anything.”
Much of that unbridled enthusiasm, experience and the people he’s met along the way have fed into a second album hugely more accessible than his 2009 debut Skanky Skanky.
“On that first record I was in Sheffield; the only time I was going out of it was to play little gigs and it was kind of referencing what me and my mates were into at that time of my life.
“But I’ve listened to so many different styles and I thought on this record there’s no reason why I can’t represent that. Also I don’t want to make the same record again because there’s no need. But I was kind of nervous about doing it because I didn’t want to lose anyone who was into the first type of vibe.
“I’m not in Sheffield as much any more, I’m travelling a lot of the time, I’ve worked all over the world on this record; that’s obviously going to effect the sound and the writing and I wanted to do that as well, get away from the vibe of the first one and switch it up a little bit and I’m sure the third one will be even more different...just keeping it moving.”
In for the journey were the likes of former Moloko singer Roisin Murphy, Shola Ama, Skream, Roots Manuva and Miss Dynamite, with whom he shared a Sonar festival experience.
“Sonar has got such a good reputation, is so highly respected. We did it as part of a Radio 1 event, me, Annie Mac, Ms Dynamite, Katy B on this stage outside. It was the biggest gig I’ve ever done, maybe 12,000. I couldn’t see to the back.
“It was just one of those moments ‘bloody hell, how have I got here’. I was so nervous before but it was such an amazing experience. I kind of get on with things and take them as they come but sometimes you sit back and reflect and think ‘hell, this is mental’ and that was one of those moments to be honest with you.”
Then the Park Hill performer’s popularity has mushroomed since his Skanky Skanky. Already a Radio 1 regular, his name began appearing on remix wishlists of acts such as Hot Chip and Gorillaz and his DJing and production work took him global.
While Watch Me Dance has a huge feelgood factor, the 26-year-old admits the songwriting was more complex with the process split between co-writes and self-penned tracks.
“Every situation is different. Some tunes I’ll make the instrumental, then I’ll have a vocal idea and the vocalist will sing it. The last song on there is Fly, a reggae song I built in Jamaica two years ago with a guy who played all the instruments. We worked out the melodies together, then I brought it back and Ms Dynamite wrote the song on top.
“With this record I made 30 tunes and stripped it down to 11 I thought would sit well. I’ll try anything, basically; ‘we’ll work with this guy, it seems a bit bonkers because he’s different but let’s see what happens’. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t. I was lucky I had time and the people around me to do that.”
Respected fellow city musician producer Ross Orton also aided. “He did a bit of mixing and co-production on a couple of tunes. He’s the essence of so much of what I’m about we’ll probably always be dabbling together in music.
“Roisin’s song was one of the first things I did when I finished my last record. That was initially going to be for her project but it never materialised so I took it.
“And I recorded a load of stuff in Sheffield. I got bits and bats of instrumentation off friends. It’s running through the record, obviously not as much as the last because I was there all the time and this time I’m working with a bigger range of people.
“It’s definitely present and it always will be. I still find that type of sound, that bleep Sheffield electronic sound, one of the most exciting ever and something that is so over-looked and under-rated.”