Tom Kerridge of the disco-leaning house collective on drag culture, the rising profile of queer artists in electronic music and getting back to his musical roots
Girls Of The Internet burst onto the global house scene in 2017 with When U Go, and have kept up an impressive release schedule ever since, with a whole raft singles on such well-respected labels as Defected, Classic and Midnight Riot, as well as their own Drab Queen imprint, and two full-length albums under their belt(s) already.
Belt(s)? For anyone that doesn't already know, the optional plural is there because Girls Of The Internet are a collective rather than a band or an individual, the name an umbrella for main man Tom Kerridge and whoever he happens to be working with at the time.
Specialising in midtempo, pop-tinged house grooves with strong disco and soul influences – Kerridge describes new single Above, which is out today, as "Patrick Adams meets Basic Channel" – it's all quite a long way from Kerridge's former life as head of the Ramp Recordings/Brainmath label family, where he brought us glitchy dubstep, downtempo hip-hop and leftfield electronica from the likes of Flying Lotus, Zomby, SBTRKT, Falty DL and Count Bass D.
Girls Of The Internet have in just a few short years carved out their own distinctive niche in electronic dance music, perhaps because Kerridge is a man who takes inspiration from a lot of places other than the dancefloor of his local nightclub or the Beatport Top 100. See, for instance, Drab Queen's record sleeves, which all feature Kerridge's own portraits of drag artists.
Anyway, most of you knew all that already, and those that didn't do now. So here's what Tom had to tell us when we spoke…
As you haven't featured in iDJ before, can you start by telling us a little bit about your background, and how you came to be making/playing electronic music in the first place?
“I worked behind the scenes in music for many years, which didn't end so well. My experiences, and finding out some of the secrets behind the curtain, made me weary of the whole industry and I had a few years where I barely even listened to music at all, as I just wanted to distance myself from it completely. Late 2016, I started rediscovering the music that got me into the electronic scene originally: Basic Channel, Cajual, Daft Punk, etc. Girls Of The Internet was born from those things coming together. When U Go was the first thing I made. I randomly sent it to Luke Solomon, and he signed it!”
I understand that GOTI is essentially you plus a revolving cast of musicians and collaborators – is that right, or is there a 'core' team apart from yourself?
“I’m the producer, and I write almost everything now, too. I have collaborators I work with on the recording side of things, and we’re also building a team for the live side – who you’ll meet soon.”
What do you feel working in this way adds to your music? And are there any drawbacks to the collaborative/collective approach?
“Everything I’ve done in my life is to connect with people on some level, so it just seemed natural. I have been involved in a few projects in the past, and I find without somebody out there leading the way, egos can get in the way, and things can fall apart very easily. Girls Of The Internet will never have any 'creative differences'.”
We're talking today because you've got a new single Alone coming up, which is the first release on Palm Recs. How did you come to hook up with them originally, and did it feel like an honour to be chosen for the first release?
“Palm Artists (the management side of the company) hit me up a few years ago, so I have had contact with them for a while. I know they have a great reputation for breaking acts, and have worked with so many massive artists, so it really was very flattering to be approached to do the debut release. They are really into what we’re doing, which is important. I’m sure it’s a two way street, though: we've been working hard over the past three years building up our profile, pushing ourselves on streaming platforms and self-releasing two albums, and I feel like we’re really hitting our stride. I have no doubt it’s a good look for them to have us as their first release too – it just seems like a good match right now.”
How come you decided to shop this single out, rather than releasing it on Drab Queen?
“That is a great question. I don’t know if I have a real answer for it. I never shopped it per se, it just happened to be the track I was finishing as Palm asked for some demos – it’s the first and only thing I sent them, and they got straight back saying they want to sign it.”
If you had to review the track for iDJ, how would you describe it? And how would you say it fits in with the rest of your output?
“Dubby deep house with ethereal vocals, 10/10! And I don't know – people always tell me our sound is eclectic, but I don’t hear it. It all has a running theme, to me. I suppose I don’t just listen to one kind of dance music, I listen to everything, so Girls Of The Internet is a reflection of that. As a piece of music, I guess Alone sits somewhere between Time, and Familiar Place. It’s similar to When U Go in a lot of ways.”
I read an interview for Loverboy where you said that you take as much inspiration from drag queens' Instagram feeds as you do from other producers' music. How might that work, and can you give any particular examples?
“I think I actually said I’m more influenced by drag queens’ Instagram feeds – I’m certainly not sitting here listening to my peers' hi-hat patterns. What is so much more inspiring to me is seeing artists from any medium with an interesting or different creative process, or interpretation of an idea.
“I love drag and the culture that has sprung up around it so quickly, because it’s just pure expression on so many levels. This was not even a recognised artform a few years ago. Queer kids are finally being given this huge voice, and they're pissing over every other artist in the world right now, just on a creative level. I think queer artists have had the short straw for so many years, and they are finally getting their moment. Let’s remember, queer DJs invented clubbing and house music, and see how that turned out! AIDS also robbed us of so many incredible queer voices not that long ago. But right now, one of the biggest TV shows in the world is serving us subversive queer art on a mainstream platform. Look at Gottmik and Symone and tell me you’re not inspired.”
I gather you're not over-keen on using samples in your music – tell us more?
“I love samples, and I love sample-based music. However, I have shelves and shelves full of records with sample-based music on – we need to move on. We need to elevate this artform, we can’t just keep sampling records from the 70s and whacking drum machines over it. We did that already, in the 90s. We need to get behind artists who can create their own music, and not just sample another disco record.
“Also I think there is a question to be asked if white people are sampling black music, or straight people are sampling queer music, to make money. I know sampling is a part of our culture in dance music, but if you’re a white artist and you’re exclusively sampling black music, that seems wrong to me. I think references are so important in music, but just to use samples as a reference is so lazy. There are so many more creative ways of referencing things.”
Given that 'live' performance is key to your recordings, are actual live gigs also important? Do you play live or have any plans in that area?
“YES! We are playing our debut live show at Night Tales on July 1st! We had planned some live shows in 2020, but they obviously didn’t happen, but now we’re back on track and ready for shows!
“I enjoy DJ’s, I like seeing bands live, but what I really love more than anything else about music is the recordings. The moment of magic captured for an eternity. That whole process is what’s fascinating to me - which obviously involves a lot of musicians playing instruments if you aren’t using samples. It will be interesting to see how introducing the live element will influence the project moving forward.”
You used to run Ramp Recordings, which I think it's fair to say repped a much more leftfield and hip-hop oriented sound than GOTI. What brought about the change of direction?
“I don’t consider that there has been a change of direction. Go and listen back to any of the DJ mixes I did at that time – for Clash, fabric, Southport Weekender, Inverted Audio, Electronic Explorations, Fact Magazine – they’re all still online. Every one of them could be a Girls of the Internet mix. I have always had a really strong identity as a DJ, so Girls of the Internet is just me finally being able to be me. I’ve finally found freedom.
“I don’t think any of my A&R choices back then were a reflection of myself stylistically – that’s not how I made professional decisions. I obviously played a lot of the artists I was working with house and techno records I was into. I’d get booked to DJ at dubstep gigs and turn up and play Pépé Bradock and Dance Mania records, much to the shock of the crowd. Maybe that’s why I didn’t get so many repeat bookings back then!”
Has sharing a name with UK celebrity chef Tom Kerridge ever caused any hilarious misunderstandings?
“After the label went under, I set up a community music venue in my little home town, as there is next to no music scene here. I phoned a local wine supplier, said we needed some wine, and the salesman asked me my name. I innocently answered, and he responded with “Oh my God, I’m such a HUGE fan!”, to which I naturally responded “Thank you so much, that’s so lovely to hear!” as he went on to offer me a 20% discount on all our wines moving forward.
“I sometimes get people messaging my personal Instagram page with pictures of their dinner, which is super-weird. One time, somebody messaged me a picture of her and her daughter, standing in front of their burning home as firemen hosed the flames, telling me they were cooking one of the recipes from the Proper Pub Foodbook and something caught fire.”
Finally, what else is going on for you right now that iDJ readers need to know about?
“Stream Above. Come and see us at Night Tales. Go listen to my new mixes for Heist, Classic and Juno Daily. Check out my remixes for Fouk, Prvna and JT Donaldson. Tell your local promoter to book us. And brace yourself for more music – we’re coming for you!”
Words: Russell Deeks
Above is out today (14 May) on Palm Recs. Buy it here.