From his Rinse FM show to his packed 02:31 parties, this veteran of the bassline house era is going from strength to strength
Everywhere we look lately, we keep reading about this "new rising star" Tom Shorterz. Which is quite amusing, given that we've been following the Brummie producer's career for over a decade now! Then again, unlike some media outlets, iDJ's horizons do actually extend beyond the M25...
Because in his native city, Mr Short (to use his real name) has been active on the scene since the early-mid 00s bassline house era, when Birmingham rocked to the sound of speed garage basslines and handbag house organs while London types were getting their knickers in a twist about, I dunno, electroclash or some shit. But while the bassline scene may have faded over the intervening years, Tom's star definitely hasn't.
Latterly, his 02:31 nights at The Rainbow Rooms have become the stuff of local clubbing legend, attracting premier league DJs from across the musical spectrum to the legendary Digbeth venue, while a regular slot on Rinse FM has brought his talents to the ears of a much wider audience. So that "rising star" label isn't so far off the mark after all - it's just the "new" bit that's the problem!
For his latest release, Boing/Oper8, Tom's once more joined forces with our friends at Four40 Records. So now seemed like as good a time as any for a quick catch-up...
Let's start with your latest single… how did you come to hook up with Four40?
"I first had a release out with them called What You Do, featuring Jamie George, about two years ago. But I've known James Crone, who runs the label, since the speed garage/bassline days - we used to trade records. So we've always had a friendly relationship, and whenever I made a beat I'd always send him it. A very simple process, really!"
If you had to review the single, how would you describe the two tracks?
"Oper8 is kind of a hybrid of what I call house-bass, mixed with some very obvious grime samples. Because grime's really big right now, and I had this sample pack lying around of stuff you'd have heard in the early Eskibeat days. So I thought I'd combine the grime element in with the house and bass, purely to make something I could play for the kids of today. Nothing more than that.
"With Boing, it's got this weird intro but then when it drops it's a lot more accessible. So although they're different, they've both really aimed at the house and bass crowd that I play to, I've just used elements of other genres to fit around it."
Let's rewind now to the bassline house days, where you started out…
"Yeah, that was like 2003/2004. It's weird how things come around, because at that time grime and garage were really tarnished in the city. I was 17 when I started playing out, and I came from a UK garage background but from a DJ perspective that was dead - police wouldn't let the parties go on, etc. But on the radio there was [legendary Birmingham pirate station] Silk City FM, and there was this guy on there called Joe Hunt, playing out-of-date house music and speed garage. These really warping, raggamuffin basslines like you'd get off jungle tunes, about 133bpm, and he was playing this uplifting house stuff mixed in with it.
"It shouldn't have worked on paper, because one side of it was really dark, driving basslines and the other side was really camp - it was like fluffy music, bubblegum pop. But somehow it worked, because on the dancefloor when it was getting too dark you had the uplifting stuff to cancel it out, and vice versa. So that was what drew me to the scene, back when there were only about three clubs playing it.
"I've never been a big name, I just kind of hovered around on the flyers and did what I did! I've always been a resident, and resident DJs don't get the same spotlight. But I was always around, doing my thing every weekend for years and years. So the reason I get called a 'rising star' or whatever now is that, with that scene - no one took any notice of it! When people talk about bassline, they always talk about Niche and Sheffield, and I was never a part of that. Our scene was so local and underground - not in the sense of 'cool' underground, just off the radar - in the modern scene I'm classed as just emerging, because no one noticed what were doing back then!"
Has that been frustrating over the years, or are you just happy to be there now?
"No, not at all! I've absolutely loved every aspect of the whole journey of being DJ. I can look back on being aged, say, 17-22... I'd get £50 for DJing and I'd spend that a week on vinyl. That was the love of it, that passion you have when you're young and you first discover the music. Now obviously it's different but I'll still try and implement some of those sounds when I'm playing.
"But no, it doesn't bother me in the slightest. If people know they know, and if they don't they don't. It's only frustrating when people say, 'Oh, you only got big off the back of this or that' and they don't know that I've been slogging my guts out since 2004!"
Conversely, do you feel maybe like you had to keep slogging away all those years, paying your dues, before you got to the point where you are now. Do you feel more 'ready' for success now than you did 10 years ago?
"I don't know, because 10 years ago I wasn't arsed in the slightest! I was quite happy playing for 200, 300 people in a bar. I was playing the music I loved, we had our little underground movement, pirate radio was still the core of the promotion… it was all very underground and that was what I loved about it. It was when Rinse FM picked me up in 2013 or 2014, that's when agents started approaching me, and that's when I started getting into more understanding about contracts and agents and managers and all that side of it. Before that I was just happy doing my thing."
What's the situation with Rinse now?
"I do the last Tuesday of every month, 1-3am. It started out being the 02:31 show, which is the club night run. I did that with Cause N Effect, it was weekly and we used to drive down from Birmingham every week… it was 1-3, we did it live and we wouldn't be getting back home till 6am. Then Rinse said I should do the show on my own so I took that slot on and now I do that on rotation with other DJs.
"I love my show. I play quite differently than I do in a club, because that's the joy of radio - you get the chance to play different things, to expand people's minds a bit more. In a club it's all about making the dancefloor move, whereas on the radio with two hours to cover I get the chance to play things I couldn't at peaktime in a club. People that have been listening to me for years know there's many sides to it - I freely admit I'm the jack of all sounds, the master of none! That's the way I've always been - I love so many different styles of music and I try and combine them in my sets. Like with the single, that's got little bits of different styles in there."
What if someone held a gun to your head and said, you can either be a radio DJ or a club DJ, but not both?
"I'd say club, because you've got the crowd in front of you. When you drop a record and people go crazy, you sense that emotion. Even if something doesn't go down so well, then you're like 'Right I've gotta change the mood' and you can create those peaks and troughs, whereas with radio DJing you're just in the airwaves. It's not like the old pirate days, where you'd have a phone in the studio and people texting in... on radio you're playing to yourself, almost."
What else have you got going on at the moment?
"I've got a release coming out on Lobster Boy soon, which is Redlight's label… that's got two tracks, Don't Stop and Space Music, and it's a bit more of an industrial, techy kind of sound. I'm quite happy with that one. And then there's the 02:31 parties that I do, they play a huge part in my DJ career and my life because it's my party! I put on who I want and play what I want so that's obviously important for me."
Of course. So tell us a bit more about 02:31…
"Well, it started off as an afterparty and it's just got bigger and bigger. We recently had our fifth birthday and 6,000 people turned up. We had a huge circus tent outside, and we had Wiley, Hannah Wants, Shy FX, Preditah, Zinc, Redlight, Chris Lorenzo… practically everyone we loved to play. And now we're doing monthly parties up to NYE."
It's interesting how that list of names straddles the house/bass divide… is that how you see yourself as well?
"Well, I think some people would put me more on the bass side of things but I've always been someone who's into a bit of everything. In fact, I think we actually coined the term 'house and bass' for 02:31! Just because we played that many different styles, you couldn't put on a flyer 'house, techno, bass, UK funky, garage', it would be too much. So we coined the term 'house and bass' as a way to join the two sides together. At 02:31 we play plenty of what people call 'tech-house' or whatever, mixed in with bass, and people react to both in exactly the same way.
"That's what I, as a DJ and as a producer and as a promoter, try and do: I try and build the bridge between camps."
Words: Russell Deeks Pic: Via MN2S.com
Boing/Oper8 is out now on Four40 Records