Photo: Press (Toada)
Valdir da Silva is doing things his own way. As Toada, the Berlin-based artist has released a slew of EPs and two albums in the past five years through his Plūma label. His latest full-length releases, Acalenta, is a wonderful exercise in emotional worldbuilding, working with complex rhythms and colourful melodies to create intricate pieces that are warm and welcoming. His contribution to our Groove podcast serves as an indirect primer of his musical world, featuring two of his own productions but mostly classics such as tunes by Four Tet under his Percussions moniker and new material by the likes of DJ Python and Ana Roxanne as Natural Wonder Beauty Concept.
You were interested in music at a very young age and started playing guitar as a teenager. What led you to electronic and dance music after that?
Radiohead had just released OK Computer, which I was a big fan of, and they slowly started to introduce electronic elements into their music, those elements became more obvious when they released Kid A. Around the same time, I got a proper introduction to electronic music with bands like Portishead, Massive Attack, Lamb, 4Hero, Smith & Mighty, Omnitrio and stuff like that. And somehow through that I discovered Aphex Twin and from that moment on it was a very deep journey through several types of electronic music. Through the complexities of what some people refer to as IDM, passing through trip-hop and simultaneously through what at the time was called lounge music with the likes of Mathew Herbert, Kruder & Dorfmeister, Air, Zero 7, Silent Poets, etc. I had a lot of fun in the electroclash era too! I’m from Lisbon, so when I started going out by that time and discovered the club music side of things, there were only a handful interesting places to go out in the city. I went to Lux Frágil or Purex on a weekly basis.
What did your first steps as a producer in that field look like?
Coming from a band background, my transition to electronic music production happened when I started producing with a friend of mine around 2003, but actually a lot of that influenced by R’n’B, soul, and funk. To be honest, we were very influenced by The Neptunes. I learned a lot about song structures and injecting catchy melodies into electronic music. I still carry a lot of what I learned back then with me these days.
How did it come about that you started Toada as a project in 2015?
Actually, its inception came about some time in 2014, but it took its full form in 2015. In the previous years, I was listening a lot to Jacques Greene, John Talabot, Four Tet, Jon Hopkins, James Blake, SBTKRT, Burial, Jamie Woon, etc. I had a lot going on in my life back in that year, so I needed to express my emotions on a musical level. It was, and still is, a form of therapy and catharsis. So that year, I took the time to go deep and find my own artistic voice, my own signature in electronic music. Then I just ran with it.
You permanently moved to Berlin shortly after. What drew you to this city?
I love this city. Actually, it happened by mere coincidence. I got a job at a music company based here, and I just stayed in the city in the years to come. It’s an amazing city to live in and it has a very strong electronic music identity, which is of course techno. Sometimes I feel a bit like an outsider musically speaking, since it is not the style of music that I make exclusively. But strangely enough, it also inspires and influences me so much to make the type of music I do as Toada. In the last years, the city has slowly been opening up to other types of music. Shout out to Refuge Worldwide, a community-based endeavour that has been doing an amazing work towards a more diverse landscape in the city.
Your latest album Acalenta was primarily written with hardware. What pieces of gear were especially important in your creative process and what makes working this way more feasible for you than working “in the box?”
Coming from a band background and playing with guitars when I was younger, I’ve always liked the physical aspect of making music—hitting the pads on the drum machine and quickly finding a groove, turning some knobs on a synth and see what comes out. It’s all very intuitive and a very organic way of making music for me. So I just hit record in Ableton and keep on capturing every single detail, including some characterful mistakes. The essential pieces of gear I used while creating this album were the Prophet 5, which was in charge of a big portion of the melodic side. It’s an amazing synth that I’m very grateful to have. On the rhythmic side of things, I used the Dave Smith Tempest, which is, in my opinion, the best performance-oriented drum machine ever built. And I also used the Pioneer SP16 sampler as a drum machine, it has an amazing sound quality with the Dave Smith Prophet 6 filter and drive. Interestingly enough, I just recorded the stereo outs of these drum machines but it turned out really well so I didn’t feel the need to re-record that in the album, as it gave that raw feeling I was looking for. Now, with the new material I’m currently working on, I’m recording every rhythmic element separately and it’s sounding really, really nice. It’ll definitely sound more polished.
Making music is primarily an emotional endeavour, you’ve said. What kind of feelings do you want to express or rather–the title can apparently be read as the imperative “hush!”–evoke in your listeners with Acalenta?
With this album, as with most of my music, I started primarily for selfish reasons. I wanted to create something that soothed me first, hence the title Acalenta. I wanted to create something cheerful and light, but also powerful and deep, something that keeps me going throughout the day. Something that you can listen on the headphones while on the go. Hopefully the listeners can relate to that, too. I’ve been having great feedback with this album, so I’m certain that the message came across to the people that connected with it.
Your releases seem to be distinct from one another stylistically and sonically. How do you go about putting them together? Do they serve as a collection of your most recent work, a sort of diary, or are they a result of you putting them together over a longer period of time according to a specific approach?
I try not to repeat myself too much with each release, I want to explore new sounds, new production techniques, just to keep everything fresh and exciting for me. I see each release as a snapshot in time and once that is captured, it’s time to move forward and to think already about the new music to come. Nevertheless, with all my releases as Toada, I always try to leave an imprint. Something that you can always recognise as Toada, so that there’s a consistent path that makes sense to follow through on each release.
Besides your debut EP, Escapista on the now-defunct Container, all of your records were released through your own imprint, Plūma. Is there a specific reason why you keep it strictly DIY?
No. It just happens that certain labels are not completely aligned with what I envision for my music, so I’d rather reject that approach and release music DYI with full control on the outcome. I also learn a lot with each release, so it’s a fun process. When the time comes, if a label understands and connects 100 % with my goals, I’ll be more than happy to release music through them.
Toada is supposed to be primarily a live act, however you do seem to enjoy making mixes. What role does DJing play in your life?
Honestly, I do not consider myself to be a DJ. I am a music producer and an artist at heart. That’s my background and I love to perform my music with these wonderful machines. However, yes, I’ve had much fun recently making DJ mixes and it’s really nice to have the possibility to explore that path even more. As long as I have fun with it, I’m good.
What was the idea behind your mix for our Groove podcast?
I just wanted to showcase my taste in music. The full spectrum. An amalgamation of the influences on what I do as Toada. It has some all-time classics favourites of mine, some music that I’m currently listening to and I also wanted to give a shout out to the vibrant Lisbon electronic music scene, represented here by DJ Danifox, an artist from the label Príncipe.
Last but not least: what are your plans for the future?
I’m currently writing new music, a new EP for sure which can even, perhaps, evolve into an album. Let’s see! I’m very excited about it, I feel like it is the best music I’ve made so far. So I’m really looking forward to releasing my next snapshot in time!
Stream: Toada – Groove Podcast 388
01. arushi jain – Richer Than Blood
02. Percussions – Digital Arpeggios
03. Vikter Duplaix – Sensuality (Instrumental)
04. Hagan – Kora Song (Sonix) [ft. Jali Bakary Konteh]
05. Olof Dreijer – Rosa Rugosa
06. Yushh – Same Same
07. DJ Danifox – Parça
08. Otik – Angel Farm
09. Toada – Jantarada (edit)
10. Aphex Twin – Blackbox Life Recorder 21f
11. Peverelist – Pulse II
12. Breaka – Like Water To A Fish
13. Toada – Conchas
14. Natural Wonder Beauty Concept – Natural Wonder Beauty Concept
15. Wordcolour – Volta