Tuesday 18 September 2012, 11:52 | By Andy Malt
Producer and DJ Wrongtom is a sociable guy, something he’s made apparent on his growing series of ‘Wrongtom Meets…’ releases. The seeds of the series were sown in 2007 when Tom began remixing Hard-Fi tracks, but really began to take off when he was asked by Big Dada to remix Roots Manuva’s ‘Buff Nuff’, the first single from the rapper’s 2008 album ‘Slime & Reason’.
So impressed were the folks at the label with the dancehall rework he turned in, that they asked him to create a few more for the special edition release of Manuva’s long player, a project that then grew to become standalone 2010 album, ‘Duppy Writer’. Using choice vocals from across Roots’ albums, Tom created an imagined ‘best of’ compilation in which the rapper’s career appeared to span several more decades than it actually had.
Subsequent releases in the series, though, including singles with Citizen Sound and Pama Intl and his new album with MC Deemas J, have been more direct collaborations. The Wrongtom Meets Deemas J album, ‘In East London’, is released by Tru Thoughts on 24 Sep. Ahead of the release, CMU’s Andy Malt caught up with Tom to find out more.
AM: How did you and Deemas J meet?
WT: It’s all a little hazy now… back in the 90s my mates were living in this run down old building in Surbiton, a garage DJ called Donna D lived there, and it was always full of folks from a pirate called Scandal FM. Loads of people would pass through their doors – in fact, after a break in I don’t remember them having a front door at all, but anyway – Deemas showed up one night and we must have hit it off as he wound up joining my old funk band 3 Bean Salad.
AM: After all this time, what led to you recording this album together now?
WT: I’ve wanted to make a record with Deemas since those days, but we lost touch for a bit, then he cropped up at a gig I was doing at The End a few years ago and it slowly but surely came together. I got him on board for a remix I was doing for Citizen Sound out in Canada last year and it developed from there. Tru Thoughts had originally wanted me to work on a remix project for them, til I played them a couple of tracks we’d demoed, which led us to the album.
AM: So, ‘In East London’ – what exactly was East London’s influence on this record?
WT: It didn’t seem like a significant influence at the time and, in fact, the album’s title and title track was an afterthought. We thought we’d finished the LP and decided to head out to celebrate with a curry. I was playing this punky reggae track in the car and D started chatting over the top, pointing out people on the street and punctuating it with “in East London”. So after a couple of bowls of shatkora and a quick pit-stop at my mate Shep’s gig on Brick Lane we wound up back in the studio recording the title track.
AM: How does East London’s musical culture and heritage compare to other parts of the capital?
WT: It’s funny, ‘East London’ has become quite a vulgar combination of words, it’s synonymous with pretension, and quite justifiably so in many cases, but it’s also a pretty soulless tourist destination in places too. Though, regardless of all that, it’s got a rich history that gets sadly overlooked these days.
As I say, I don’t think East London had an overt influence over the album, though I did want to pay tribute to Dalston’s Four Aces club, which was a mecca for the Caribbean community from the mid 60s onwards. Later, when the Four Aces became Labrynth, it also helped spawn acid house and jungle, which was particularly significant for us, as it’s where Deemas started out as an MC. The album opener, ‘Old Time Stylee’, is pretty much about that.
Though to answer your actual question, I wouldn’t want to compare and contrast areas of the capital, because we both have friends from all over London, and we both hail from south of the river. But I guess I just wanted the album title to give a passing nod to a side of East London that doesn’t involve people clamouring for free beer outside art galleries, or reflect the media’s ongoing obsession with gang culture and urban clichés.
AM: What was the process for writing and recording the album?
WT: It was all pretty fast, I knocked up a load of rhythm tracks and D crashed on my sofa for a couple of extended weekends. He’d be up and raring to go at the crack of dawn while I was sleeping in, which was probably pretty annoying for him, but we got most of the songs written in those two sessions. I wanted to capture that DIY style which kind of links dancehall with post-punk, reusing rhythm tracks and using the limited time we had to our advantage. D excels as a freestyle MC and you can hear that on stuff like ‘Superteng’ and ‘Jump + Move + Rock’, both of which he laid down in one take.
AM: Deemas touches on last summer’s riots in a couple of tracks. How much did what was going on around you, such as the riots and the then-looming Olympics, affect the way you wrote the music?
WT: We started recording tracks at the end of the summer last year so the riots were still pretty fresh in our minds and we discussed it a lot. We were both frustrated with the news coverage and people’s flippant responses, and that must have sunk in when D started writing ‘Riot Ting’, which I think is a fantastic and incredibly subtle protest song. Obviously I’m a little biased here, but if I didn’t like it I wouldn’t record it.
In hindsight the Olympics had a fair bit of effect on the LP too. I like to test my mixdowns in the car, so I often go for a drive around the area giving them an airing, and I’d often take a trip down past the then emerging Olympics site. It was overwhelming seeing this multi-million pound building site perpetually lit up for months on end. Actually, I think it affected the area psychologically. It’s crazy when you see all this money being spent at one end of the high street, whilst there’s a guy living in a house made of rubbish barely a mile up the road (not me!).
AM: How do you think the Wrongtom Meets… project has progressed on this album, compared to other releases?
WT: It started off as a remix thing so it’s come on a fair bit since the first dub mix I did for Hard-Fi, and having done something close to 100 remixes, it was a real pleasure to work on an album completely from scratch for once. I’ve certainly got more confident as a producer since working on the Manuva album – I used to get frustrated that I couldn’t quite make the sounds I was hearing in my head, but I guess ‘Duppy Writer’ helped me leap that hurdle.
AM: Do you have more collaborations planned?
WT: Absolutely, I’m signed up to make a couple more albums like this one and the idea is to work with different vocalists each time. I’ve got someone lined up for the next one but I’m keeping that under wraps for the time being. I’m also planning to make more stuff with Deemas, I’d like to take him beyond my old throwback reggae material. He’s an incredibly versatile MC with very broad tastes, so there’s so much scope for a bigger more eclectic project.
AM: Who’s on your wishlist of people to work with in future?
WT: I’ve said it before but I’d love to make a hip hop record with [actress] Abbie Cornish. I was a fan already after watching [2009 film] ‘Bright Star’ but I stumbled on some footage of her MCing and she’s got her fast rap styles locked down. Obviously she’s all Hollywooded up these days but I’d love to hear her on some old Gunshot style beats. KRS1 too, he was a catalyst for hip hop and reggae when I was growing up and I’d love to get him on a dancehall cut.
On the reggae tip, I recently had Errol Dunkley in the studio recording some rocksteady, so I’m hoping we get to develop that a bit more. I’ve also had a project with my Puerto Rican friend Diana on hold for a while now, so when I get a moment I’ll be dusting off the LinnDrum to make some freestyle with her. Finding time to do all this is the main issue at the moment.
AM: Can we expect a solo Wrongtom record at any point, or are you having too much fun meeting people?
WT: That was my original plan when I finished ‘Duppy Writer’ a couple of years ago. Things were really looking up, I had a rough concept for an LP and started demoing tracks, then my dad died and I kind of lost my way. I couldn’t decide whether I wanted to collaborate with people, or sing on the tracks myself, and the whole thing started to unravel, it was a dark few months. Working with Deemas pulled me out of a musical rut and generally helped me a hell of a lot, so for the time being I’m sticking with meeting people, but the longer I spend away from my solo stuff, the more I want to work on it, so maybe a track or two might emerge next year. God knows when I’ll find time though, I’m setting up a label called Rongorongo at the moment too. Luckily I’m an insomniac.