At the peak of his commercial success, Tim Deluxe quit the music industry. Now back after a five-year break, Greg Scarth finds out the full story.
Tim Liken’s career in music has been evolving and mutating ever since he left school as a fresh-faced 16-year-old in the early 90s to work in a record store and set up the iconic Ice Cream Records label.
As one half of Double 99, he created an all-time garage classic while still in his teens, in the form of the evergreen ‘Ripgroove’. As a solo artist, he went on to demonstrate his versatility with tracks like ‘Sirens’, and the latin-tinged ‘It Just Won’t Do’.
Then, around 2009, Liken suddenly disappeared from the music scene. Feeling burnt out from the relentless pressure of the touring DJ lifestyle, he passed out behind the decks while on tour in Australia and realised he had to make major changes for the sake of his own health.
Back with a new album, The Radicle, to be released on legendary house label Strictly Rhythm later this month, we spoke to Tim to hear what he’s been doing for the last few years and discover why he’s not interested in returning to his garage roots.
Attack: You’ve been keeping a low profile for a few years. For those who don’t know the story, can you fill us in?
Tim Deluxe: Yes. Around 2008/09 I just fell out of love with it all. Essentially, I just felt burnt out. Looking back, I was in a bit of a low place spiritually, and along with the relentless touring that I had been doing year in year out, it kind of all just caught up with me mentally and physically.
I’ve never taken class-A drugs, but I was drinking quite heavily by the end of it. The lifestyle itself is pretty lonely and the hours of a touring DJ are not that healthy. Throw in airport food and you’re on the road to lowering your energy and general creativity. I’d been DJing pretty non-stop at that point since I was 19 off the back of the success of ‘Ripgroove’ and then later my solo projects with ‘It Just Won’t Do’ and The Little Ginger Club Kid, so I never really had any real serious time completely away from music.
So what was your approach to dealing with that situation?
To stop completely. I remember getting back from an Australian tour and going to see my agent at the time – I told her I needed a year off.
I had to totally step away from it all. I then began going to watch Arsenal play. It was something I’d always wanted to do, but never had the opportunity on weekends as I was always working. I travelled to almost all the matches, home and away, for a couple of seasons, going to grounds that I’d always dreamed of seeing when I was a kid. I went to the San Siro in Milan, The Nou Camp in Barcelona, Old Trafford, Celtic Park, Anfield, St James’ Park and at the other end of the spectrum charming old grounds in England like Turf Moor, Bramhall Lane, Craven Cottage and Fratton Park. It was nice to be able to forget about nightclubs and music for a bit. I didn’t once step foot into a nightclub during that period.
Were you tempted to quit music entirely? What would the alternative have been?
Yes, the thought crossed my mind many times. I’d always said I wanted to stop DJing by the time I was 35 and move more towards production regardless. It just happened a bit earlier than planned.
I feel DJing is a young person’s game, especially at the peak end of it. It’s hard on the body. In some ways it’s like being a pro sportsperson: you have a window of relevance once you ‘make it’, and then the next wave begin to come through. You are limited by your body as time goes on. We’ve seen it time and time again with DJs needing a break due to overdoing it or health issues and for female DJs, the question of “do I want children and to start a family” begins to become a thought process.
Around this time I had begun to take ownership over my body and mind again by stopping drinking alcohol. I took up running and changed my diet completely to become vegetarian. Small steps over time, and slowly my mood lifted. I was reading a lot of Jung and eastern philosophy as well, which helped with give me a better understanding of my feelings and moods.
I left school when I was 16 and went straight into full-time work at a record shop called Time Is Right Records. I never studied, so part of me was thinking about going to study, something connected to psychology or sports psychology. I had noted how fascinated I was with how the mind works through my running and how inwardly it shifts your perception – especially long distance running. I have completed five marathons to date and I’m really into the introspectiveness of running. It’s also a great way to begin to become comfortable with yourself: it is such a solo journey.
DJing is a young person’s game, especially at the peak end of it. It’s hard on the body.
So what prompted you to start taking piano lessons during this hiatus?
One of the things that came up on my runs would be the question of “what do I want to do now?”. I had always wanted to learn the piano and to be able to play – or at least better than I could. I was listening to a lot of jazz at the time and have always had a huge amount of admiration for the musicians who I’ve worked with previously. At Time Is Right we used to sell loads of old jazz, rare groove, soul, disco, funk cut-outs as well as house, techno, rave, hardcore and progressive, so I think it’s always been strongly present in my sphere and musical upbringing.
I stopped drinking alcohol, took up running and changed my diet completely to become vegetarian. Small steps over time, and slowly my mood lifted.
How did the lessons go down? Did you keep quiet about the fact that you were already a successful dance musician?
No, I was honest from the start. I looked online for a teacher in my area and we had a meeting first of all to connect and see what it was all about. I always remember saying, I don’t want to learn to read, I just want to concentrate on the playing/technique aspect, which shocked Cherry, my teacher, a little. She did warn me that that approach would only get me so far, but I was so eager to get under the bonnet of the music and technique that I came back to that later. I still am – my reading is very bad.
Cherry didn’t know of my music – or care, to be honest. It was good and humbling. I felt like I was back at school in some ways.