Sheffield’s dancehall maestro, Toddla T, returns to the city this week with a specially-curated show.
But it wasn’t that long ago that Toddla T – Tom Bell – was working at a Division Street shoe shop.
However, unglamorous as it sounds, it was here where the dancehall producer and DJ’s eyes were opened to the sonic world in which he would later immerse himself. His colleagues were part-time DJs, artists and producers, and introduced the very young Bell – who they referred to as ‘Toddla T’ – to Sheffield’s underground, industrious musical world.
Now of course, Toddla T – aka Tom Bell – is one of the best-known artist-cum-producers in the world.
And while, like many artists, he may have flocked to London, the Steel City DJ is still loyal to his city.
This week, Bell’s aural love affair with Sheffield takes another turn, with a huge night at the University of Sheffield’s Student Union called It’s a Sheffield Thing.
“I was asked to put on this night on behalf of Boxfresh, who are sponsoring it, so I selected some of my favourite DJs to do sets on the night and I will be doing a set myself as well. The line-up’s fun but also cohesive.”
Among the DJs performing on the night are Jus Now and Tun-up.
“Jus Now are based in Bristol but they are from Trinidad. They play a Soca fusion and their sets are really, really good fun.
“Then there’s Tun-up, who plays carnival and party vibes. It’s just going to be a massive fun party basically.”
Bell’s expertise on bass culture has taken the young producer from Kingston, Jamaica, to Kingston-upon-Hull.
He’s produced tracks for the likes of Roots Manuva, Hot Chip, Gorillaz and Major Laser and has also launched his own label, simply known as Girls.
But it’s not always been easy.
As a DJ novice, new to playing sets outside Sheffield, Bell was concerned that his audiences wouldn’t ‘get’ what he was trying to achieve. Of course, at the beginning, many didn’t.
But after months of hard graft and endless sessions, the bass-and-rhythm-obsessed producer started to cultivate a cult following. That cult following is now enough to fulfil Toddla’s slot on Radio One and his own online TV channel.
Now, Bell is an aficionado of bass.
“There are so many different bass cultures within the UK and a massive dancehall scene.
“Sheffield’s a really vibrant place for music too, along with Birmingham and Manchester.
“But bass culture has spilled into music more than people think – reggae spread into bands like The Clash and then there were bands like Madness too.
“The UK’s a melting pot of different cultures and that’s been a very good thing.”
But this particular event, in Bell’s home city, will be a special one.
“I’m really looking forward to being back in Sheffield and making a weekend of it.”
The Boxfresh-sponsored It’s a Sheffield Thing takes place at the University of Sheffield’s Student Union from 11pm to 4am.