Throughout the #BeatCulture series we’ve taken a look at the new producers making a name for themselves despite the changing landscape of nightlife and the death of rigid genre lines. In our fourth and final part of Beat Culture, we examine a producer’s career path, the shady corners of the music business and the huge wins that make this such an enticing industry for music lovers of all ages; with three producers whose paths to success have taken many turns.
Original Dodger (pka Artful Dodger) , Hannah V and Toddla T represent three British music makers who have engineered their own styles, reinvented themselves along the way and consistently crafted fresher and fresher sounds.
‘I’m kind of like a proper broadcaster now, and there’s a big responsibility that comes with that’
Coming up as a DJ throughout his adolescence Toddla T grew up engrossed in Sheffield’s sound system meets Dance music scene, and at the turn of the millennium he was “one of the first generations of having a computer in the house. These days, it’s more smart stuff. But there was a time I had a computer in the house and I could access Hip-Hop DJ and Fruity Loops and things like that, and [I] just started putting tracks together with samples from my vinyl and building beats. I discovered the extension of being a DJ was the producer. And, I think when I started doing that, that’s when it clicked what I actually wanted to do – I didn’t realise until that moment.”
Producer, club DJ, remixer and broadcaster Toddla T was always enamoured with radio, and it was a natural transition to take the sounds that influenced him to the airwaves, “the beauty of my show is very free, very open in terms of the music I can play because of the time slot. It’s a stage for me and whoever I invite to come, whether it be a massive artist like Skepta or someone new like Lady Ice from Manchester. The stage is yours. Radio is funny, because I did radio in Sheff a little bit but I was always a DJ and producer – long story short I was given an opportunity to work with the BBC and it just kind of spiralled, and I’ve found myself in this position where I’m like rah, I’m kind of like a proper broadcaster now and there’s a big responsibility that comes with that. And there needs to be respect for the scene, and there needs to be respect for what I’m projecting but the same time I need to keep it 100 of who I am because that’s what got me here in the first place. One of the things I love most about radio – if not the thing – is getting in these newer artists or even bigger artists and putting them on the same pedestal as roadman Shaq was on or Rita Ora was on and going ‘that’s the stage – let people say what they want after – but right now, it’s completely exclusive. This is your thing let’s just see what happens.”
Since the release of his first ‘Do U Know’ EP back in 2007, Toddla T has played festivals across the world, collaborated with global talent, started his own party, fashion, lifestyle and music label ‘Steeze’ – all while keeping one ear to the ground and mentoring the next wave with MC’s like Coco proving that all anyone really needs is the opportunity to pop.
For me, it’s just about doing sick shit that will stand the test of time
When we sit down in his London studio, T breaks down his perspective on the celebrity culture that seems to engulf pretty much everyone and everything in 2018, “the word ‘celebrity’ is weird because I’m not a celebrity like, I’m just someone who makes tunes. I can walk the street or get the tube like, its not deep – do you know what I mean?” But, as a producer the temptation to believe your own hype with every passing hit must be a great one? “I’ve never been comfortable being on a stage bizarrely,” he says candidly, “so it’s only the last few years I been really confident and happy with DJing and getting on the mic and being in front of people. But that just comes with doing this. You may perceive certain aspects of my life as being famous or celeb driven but it’s just an offshoot of all this.” Celebrity culture and social media seem to go hand in hand. In the modern sphere, to be seen as legitimate you need a ‘respectable’ few thousand followers after your name on each platform, especially as a brand new musician hoping to carve out a career “And what’s happening now with social media is that I think loads of people try and get a buss off being famous rather than the music. For me, it’s just about doing sick shit that will stand the test of time and ‘celebrity’ – which I genuinely don’t believe I am – that’s something that you have to balance. And I’m not comfortable with it, to be brutally honest – if I could do all this without that, I would.”
“We were like the ‘anti-artist’ really”
Artful Original Dodger
Mark Hill and Pete Devereux began life in music over 15 years ago in Southampton, from there they would go on to form one of the most influential duos, penetrating the UK Dance music scene as Artful Dodger. Mark Hill, originally from Wales, was in Southampton for university and decided to stick around opening up a recording studio later on. Without social media or the internet at his disposal at that time he met his recording partner originally as a client, “Pete found us in the good old Yellow Pages and I kept taking his money for a little while,” he says with a laugh, “and then felt sorry for him because it wasn’t going anywhere. I said ‘ah, you know what? I’ll help you out’ and yeah, we just started making music together.” By the mid ‘90’s Mark and Pete were testing out their evolving sound, “yeah, mid – late ‘90’s. I’d come back from London” Pete tells me, “I was studying, came to music college – hated it – bought a set of decks with my student loan. Started buying records, ran out of money. Moved home – got a job in a club in Southampton, had the bug too – through DJing, wanted to make music.”
As Artful Dodger, Mark and Pete became one of the biggest UKG acts to crossover into mainstream chart success and ‘Re-Rewind’, ‘Movin’ Too Fast’, ‘Please Don’t Turn Me On’ and ‘Women Trouble’ continue to stand the test of time musically. ‘Re-Rewind’ was not only a seminal track and marker of the breakout success of UKG but also a launchpad for Craig David’s own chart-topping solo career. Both Mark and Pete surfed the waves of their newfound success but the politricks of the music industry soon caught up. “We were like the anti-artist really,” Mark says of their climb to fame, “we only became artists because Craig signed the deal to a different label and we couldn’t – ‘Rewind’ was our first single. And, we had no one to front it because Craig had signed a deal, his manager and label refused to let him appear in the video. Basically said, ‘Oh nah that’s shitty Dance music. We don’t want Craig involved with this, we want Craig to be a proper artist.” Pete adds, “Craig was gutted…he loved it, he loved Garage – he wanted to be in the video.” Mark continues, “he was a 17 year old influenced by management, influenced by the label, he wanted a career and you can’t blame him listening to those guys and thinking they know what they’re talking about. But we tried to say ‘Rewind’ is blowing up and we felt it was going to do well – we had no idea it would reach the levels it reached. It was only when we started doing shows like Top of the Pops that Craig was allowed to appear with us really. It was never a dream of mine to be a celebrity – I just loved making music.”
“Accidental popstars!” Pete says of the time, “I think the scene blew up, we blew up…”
The scene had changed, the music had changed. The whole Mp3 and Napster thing had kicked in – we were just sort of done.
Pete and Mark have only returned to making music after more than a decade. Their mixtape is due to drop imminently and will host a who’s who of UK talent with Donae’O, Big Narstie, P Money, Prez T, Shakka and Avelino amongst them. But the duo, previously known as Artful Dodger, have now been renamed Original Dodger. So, what happened? “We enjoyed it.. I enjoyed every minute of it. Stressful. But good fun. One hell of an experience, a great thing to tell your kids – but it was never planned” Mark says. “It all went wrong on so many levels,” Pete continues, “I think Garage was sort of burned out -”. “I think we had burned out,” Mark joins in, “management and labels were all over the place – we had records signed to so many different places we just – I think the stress got on top of us and the financial side of stuff. I think we just got to an end where we’d had so much grief with the label, it wasn’t worth the effort. The scene had changed, the music had changed. The whole Mp3 and Napster thing had kicked in – we were just sort of done, really. And then the guys that we worked with, Public Demand at the time registered the name after we left and carried on. Put another DJ in, used our old MC and they just kind of carried it on.”
A return to music was almost the inevitable conclusion for these two musicians who could quite literally do nothing else. More than a passion, music has clearly been their driving force, having shaken off the shady tricks of the old days Original Dodger return to the game with a fresh perspective. Although they’ve never been shy about owning their history, it’s now their future collaborations that are soon to set tongues talking.
‘People come here, artists come here to make music and it’s about survival.’
Producer, songwriter and pianist Hannah V was born and raised in Berlin, Germany. A self confessed “MTV kid” Hannah was “more influenced by whatever was on tele, whatever was on radio,” when growing up. Hannah got her start in music taking classical piano lessons during her childhood, “I got to quite a high level of competing and all that, then I became a teenager – couldn’t be bothered to do piano lessons anymore.” But, things changed when she was introduced to Jazz “that was where everything kind of shifted for me. I went to an American music school in Berlin that had a really strong music programme”. Through a teacher’s recommendations Hannah found herself immersed in the world of Jazz, “I came to London to study at the Royal Academy of Music conservatoire – to study Jazz.” For someone who’s not a native Londoner, what are those stand out musical differences between London and Berlin? “London is a hard city, for all of us. We’re working tons of jobs, we’re tired, we’re overworked, we’re a bit skint. And something happens to the music when that happens. I don’t know what it is but people come here, artists come here to make music and it’s about survival. There’s an urgency about it that I don’t necessarily think is in Berlin. And that urgency – that’s groundbreaking stuff for me. People come here – we ain’t got time to work on stuff for too long. It’s gotta be fast because people have to go to other studios here, there and something about that urgency, that stress – makes amazing music.”
London is a hard city, for all of us. We’re working tons of jobs, we’re tired, we’re overworked, we’re a bit skint
Hannah says her career thus far tells two distinct stories, “I feel like I’m really blessed, I’ve almost had two careers. One as a session musician, a session keyboard player – so I played for Rihanna, I was with her for a year on the road. I played with Jessie J for three years, I have been on the road with Anastasia, played with Jason Derulo, Tiao Cruz, Jay Sean. The bookings began to get bigger and bigger, I learned what the skills required to be a great session musician, so I toured the world for a long time and it’s amazing. Especially when you’re with artists like Rihanna, it’s five star treatment – so it’s the jets and the yachts and the parties in Miami – it’s all of that! And more than that you’re with the best musicians in the world, so I’m on stage with these crazy ass musicians thinking ‘how the hell did some Indian chick from Germany end up on the biggest tour in the world!?’ I’m just grateful for it, the big stages – Wembley Stadium, Staples Centre, Madison Square Garden – I mean it’s nuts! It’s surreal that life, but I got to a stage where I was just thinking ‘wow’ first of all touring is hardcore I was gone eight months a year so it’s hard in terms of friendships, relationships. After a while your people stop missing you, because you’re just out all the time and also I started to get an urge in my stomach to do my own stuff.”
Starting out as a producer, particularly following a successful career, has to be a challenge all of its own, so why do it? “When I made that move from session musician to studio it was the scariest thing I’ve ever done – because I was at the top of my game. And how many people were like ‘are you serious Hannah? You gonna quit?’ I was like I gotta do it man! And I quit. And the first two, three years were hell! Because you have to establish yourself from the bottom up again – nobody cared in studio world that I was playing for Rihanna – they were just like, ‘have you written for her? Have you produced for her?’ So you start from the bottom and build yourself up.”
Hannah V is a testament to taking that leap of faith. Shifting gears at the peak of her career has definitely paid off. Hannah now works with some of the UK’s most in demand musicians and counts production and co-writing credits, on JP Cooper’s Top 10 debut album ‘Raised Under Grey Skies’ as well as working with Stormzy among some of her proudest moments. Having spoken this year on panels at some of the industry’s leading events on female producers, she’s adamant that your skills should speak for themselves, whatever your gender.
At the end of this journey into UK Beat Culture, one thing has remained consistently clear, whether producers are just starting out, returning to their love of music or elevating their careers; progress and innovation wait for no man. For an island as small as ours to have birthed multiple global genres it’s obvious that the endless interchangeable human perspectives – coming together through genre or style – is what drives music in the UK. Our love of community, dance, celebration and expression are steeped in the history of immigrant stories and experiences of the diaspora. The head, heart and hype of being a beat maker is a story with limitless possibilities.