Disco, house and vintage electro collide on the London producer’s second album. We asked him to talk us through how it was made.
Toby Tobias’s newly released second album is the long-awaited follow-up up to 2008’s Space Shuffle. His debut was widely filed under nu-disco, but listening back to it now, that clumsy genre pigeonholing feels overly simplistic. While tracks like ‘The Feeling’ and ‘Breakdown’ certainly tapped into disco tropes, the likes of ‘Eleven’ and ‘In Your Eyes’ channelled those influences into classic house fare rather than the retro pastiches the subgenre came to be associated with.
Rising Son explores similarly overlapping styles, from the disco-meets-bleep chug of ‘Friday Analogue Jam’ through to ‘Weird Danger’, which lopes and shuffles around an electro-tinged spine.
We asked Toby to talk us through the making of the album and discovered how it came together over the course of the last few years.
This track started life when as a re-edit of an old boogie tune. Before any of these parts or elements existed it was a re-edit, then I begin to want to add melodies over the top, but for some reason the bassline was very out of tune and it was too hard tuning all my instruments. It was easier to just replay the bass myself, so that’s what I did, kind of. Naturally, in doing this I made it more my own: adding bits, taking notes away for more funk moments, making mistakes and keeping the ones that worked.
This was about three years ago – before I got my 808. When I made that purchase, I also bought a Juno-60, which I immediately wanted to put in there for full chord power, and at the same time my old mate Pete Z was passing by. If you don’t know him, he’s pretty well known in the modern disco scene, playing on all early Idjut Boys records and as part of Block 16 with Ray Mang. He came by and laid down the progressive, uplifting strings. I felt in this case I wanted a properly trained keyboardist to have a go and take things up a notch. We had a lot of fun that day.
Then, finally, I got another old Brixtonian friend, Be Atwell, over. We had messed about on tracks years ago, and I had always thought he had a unique, very adaptable voice and crazy onstage presence (that maybe one day we’ll realise). He came over and sang over five songs with lyrics that he had in his head – songs that had been waiting to be put to good use over the years. And there we had the base of the track. I spent a while working on different versions, and in the end the label and I agreed on one of the first takes. It’s often the way – the first instinctive feelings are often the best ones.
This was my attempt at proper songwriting on this album. I was inspired by an old reggae tune, put the melodies together and got Be to sing vocals on a very lo-fi early version of this. It should probably see the light of day sometime, but we decided it wasn’t right for the album. I got a couple of female friends and singers to try this out too, but it seemed this worked better as an instrumental. I took a beatless version of the early track to my friend Kevin (Facade’s) studio. I wanted to use his MPC on the beats – I wanted something simple but chunky that I knew we could achieve. I guess I was looking at making a track that was a tribute to all my favourite Italo tracks: simple percussion, uplifting melodies.
The final piece of this jigsaw was when I was touring Asia, and was in Singapore. Me and my friend Danny were checking out a local club and there was a guy called Kevin Guoh playing live vocoder sax over some boogie. It was amazing! Right up my street – kind of Roger Troutman vibes. I approached Kevin and got his details and the rest, as they say, is gravy. He simply jammed over the tune, sent me the WAVs and I edited them in – and I am so happy with the results.
This is the label’s favourite track, and it’s really grown on me. This one really benefited from some good mastering. It started life as sketch on my laptop. For the melodies I was inspired by an old 80s track and played around with that. I guess this has quite an uplifting feel to it, but I wanted to keep the gritty house sound in there too, which is why I added the 808 drums. Most of the synths on here are soft synths – sometime it just happens like that.
This one started life as a techno track, inspired by a cheeky jazz percussion sample – that’s what started the whole creative process flowing. I added synths and bassline and an 808 bass drum, which is huge on this! Once again, the synths are plugins on this one: Korg PolySix and Mono/Poly. Usually I replace them with the Juno or other [hardware] ones, but this time I felt happy and that I wouldn’t be able to improve on the vibe.
I think I randomly slowed this track right down one day, and it gave it such a sleazy, weird swing and sounded more suited to me for an album track, so I continued the track at 100 bpm or whatever it is. If you have the vinyl, try it at 45 – it works! In fact, I think a lot of people might prefer it at 45 – it sounds kind of a bit Underground Resistancey… perhaps?!
Only Gettin Better
I did this before I had a lot of the hardware. This track really came to life when I added heavy compression over the master. It kind of made it sound a lot more interesting and grimey. Be had sung over a very early version of this, and I used his vocals throughout each version till this one in the end, bhopping and slicing to get it right. I’m particularly happy with pitch bending on the keyboard sounds in this – I think it gives it a nice weird cosmic vibe.
This is another one that has been around a while, and a particular favourite of mine. I think it sounds like a soundtrack to an imaginary film, which predictably is something I’d love to try getting into properly one day soon. I’m just happy with the flow of this one. It started life as a cheeky sample and I built around it with some bass and percussion. Sadly I lost the arrangement in a crash but luckily the original demo didn’t need much at all – if anything – so here it is in all its glory!