Tommy Four Seven is among an select group of accomplished new school techno producers who are potentially crafting a new sound from concrete breeze blocks, pumping pistons or in Tommy's case his washing machine's 3/4 cyclic pattern.
Looking back on the road travelled by Tommy Four Seven his productions today do little to resemble his acidic and electro tinged minimal house records once made with French label Brique Rogue. In 2008 Tommy set up his own Shooting Elvis imprint which focused on the deeper side of techno with a peak time approach. It wasn't until experiencing Berghain for the first time and remixing 2009 pop hit London Town by Man Like Me (to such drastic effect it was reclassified as Man Like Me Vs Tommy Four Seven) that the foundation for the Tommy Four Seven we now know was laid.
CLR's primate took some time out with TEA to talk of scary dogs, maxing out credit cards, Finnish obscenities and ginger tisane tea.
You’re a Londoner, tell us a bit about growing up in London, listening to music to then DJing at Fire Club at seventeen.
I was living in London's suburbs near Kingston, it had an awful scene despite at the time having some great record shops. There was Beggars Banquet for the alternative stuff, Slammin’ Vinyl for Breakbeat, UK Garage and D'n'B and there was one more whose name I can't remember but it sold mainly House and Techno, I remember it had a scary dog in the window. These were the record stores I visited when I got my decks when I was around fourteen years old, my friends at school really only listened to UK garage and D'n'B so through that I got gigs at our local youth club. Our only insight into actual clubs was through mix tapes such as Innovation, Best of British and of course pirate radio which I soon began to play, appearing on Kurrupt and Rampage FM. We would be in the middle of some dodgy estate in some crack house paying 10 quid to play a show. When I hit college at sixteen I found out my media technician was a techno DJ so we had prime access to his Brixton warehouse raves. I was soon spamming promoters with my inspired mixtapes. Soon I got offered a gig at Fire Club which followed another until they offered me a residency. You could say this was my training ground as I played 8am - 10am every Sunday in the backroom sweat box. I dropped everything from acid to breakbeat, house and techno. Playing to a weekly audience was a major learning curve as you really had to get creative.
And the move to Berlin, how did that come about and how is it going?
Towards the end of 2008 I became a little uninspired with the happenings of London. Many clubs were closing and the sound I wanted to push just didn’t have a home. Combined with just graduating from uni and still living with my parents I felt it was time to change things up. After a few visits to Berlin I fell in love with the city and decided it would be a worth maxing a few credit cards to give moving here a go. Two years and a few months later I’m still here enjoying Berlin. I was even lucky enough to find an empty warehouse just 10 minutes on foot from my apartment and with my friend we built two studios. It’s crazy how everything worked out, for a while I didn’t think it would, for 3 months I had no gigs but not long after Chris had asked me to write some material for CLR they asked me to join their agency. Now I’m firmly settled doing my passion full time, I’m extremely grateful.
You have a degree in Music Technology. How much has this helped get you where you are today?
One hundred percent, university broadened my perspective with music technology. I explored new areas such as sound design and foley, working more closely with microphones and live instrumentation, which of course I applied to my production methods with techno. I also think it really helped me to slow down, evaluate and develop even the simplest of skills such as listening to the environment. After finishing university and just before I moved to Berlin I had spent a little time gaining experience with Radium Audio, a sound design company based in London.
You’re regularly playing in many of Berlin’s established techno clubs. Has playing and being a part of these clubs helped your productions?
To a degree yes. It helps when in the studio to imagine a space like Berghain, it can help with direction but I try not to get stuck in a ‘sound'.
You’ve been releasing music since 2005. Tell is a bit about your early productions.
A lot of my early productions such as those on Brique Rouge were influenced from my time in London and were more techno and house orientated. It was where I first started experimenting with programs such as Logic. In 2008 I founded Shooting Elvis, a platform to reflect a different direction that excited me, this also helped me to focus and develop my productions. So I’m told, it was my remix for Mazi & Duriez, ‘This Is Not A Follow Up’ on Brique Rouge that caught the attention of Chris and prompted him to get in touch.
It seems as if since releasing London Town on your own Shooting Elvis imprint you have hit your stride in terms of production and developed a definitive Tommy Four Seven sound. Tell us about your productions over the last 2 years?
It’s funny you mention that as the London Town remix was the first record I produced in Berlin after experiencing Berghain. I guess that says it all, Berlin has been key in helping me focus on a sound and for the first time I feel comfortable with what I am producing. It feels much closer to my heart and I’m not chasing anything, I'm writing music for myself.
What’s the connection to Man Like Me's 2009 pop hit?
When I was hanging out in London we met at a few gigs and their manager asked for a remix. I don’t think the label was expecting the results as there was little resemblance to the original and I suggested releasing it as a “vs.” on Shooting Elvis.
You have formed a close relationship the CLR and Electric Deluxe crews. Tell us a bit about that.
Well Jochem got in touch through myspace soon after I launched Shooting Elvis and asked for some music for a new label he was about to start, Electric Deluxe. Around the same time Chris also asked me for some music including a remix for Brian Sanhaji’s album. It was a bit of a surprise to be asked but I was honored and naturally began to write and send them material.
Then there was your at one time anonymous collaboration with Chris Liebing, Bauhaus. Is it true you sampled carpenters working at Chris’s house?
Yes I was at Chris's house in Frankfurt when it was undergoing some construction, some of which he recorded and later used in the studio. We went through the sounds and began to sound design and construct.
Will we be seeing anymore Bauhaus in the future?
We’ve both been really busy but it’s in the process and coming soon.
Your monster of a track Sor. Is this a whimsical nod to Tresor?
No. It was just a made up word that came to mind when writing. I actually found out later it means ‘shit’ in Finnish but I could be wrong.(Laughs)
You’ve unveiled your new LP Primate. You said you went with a concept of not using any generic percussion. Tell us about the recording process of Primate?
The process would begin exploring found sounds, this could be from anything around the studio to field recordings. For example the mechanics of a bike, taking a shower, crushing tin foil, trains passing by, washing machines or slamming doors, pretty much anything around me which I thought sounded good. After recording I audition sounds and began to select interesting movements or elements that inspired me. Whilst a small loop is running I would create percussion grooves or pad like elements, whatever I felt was right. At the same time I would manipulate these sounds with multiple effects and trip out the sound until I reached a point that it would grab me. The recordings are really just catalysts for inspiration, I didn't use the sounds in their pure organic state which is why most of the elements are totally unrecognisable. An example of a good “catalyst” would be with the track Talus. This was designed from my washing machine, the rhythm of the spin cycle was in 3/4 time and so I went with that for the track.
You also worked with Emika?
Yes we became good friends from meeting at various hang outs around Berlin. Both being fans of each others style and sharing a passion for recording and sound design, we always thought it would be fun to work together. My album gave a us a perfect opportunity to collaborate and her voice really became the melodies that replaced the need for synthesizers. She really is a phenomenal artist as I witnessed from her live show at Berghain, her album is going to be immense.
Are synths and percussion something you generally stray away from?
Only for the album, I decided not to use generic sounds like synths and percussion such as rides and hats. The idea helped me to stay coherent and push for different textures. It’s not a statement for life, in fact a modular synth is next on my 'to buy' list. Of course the roles in which synths and percussion are used in electronic music are also used in the album, they just haven’t been created by synths or generic percussion sounds. For example the synth like elements and pads were created through Ema's vocals.
Is Tommy Four Seven live something we can expect in the future?
Perhaps, but I need to take time to devise a set-up. I’m not into the ‘ableton live’ shows. I find them pretty boring most of the time, unless a lot of hardware is being used, maybe that’s snobbish but I want to see someone sweat over their tools. For me 'live' is best when performing with others, so let's see.
And your favourite tea?
A simple ginger tisane.
Pic credits Kerstin Zu Pan