T.Williams – Groove Podcast 406

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Photo: Press (T.Williams)

To say that it took Tesfa Williams a little while to release his debut album proper would be an understatement, because it took him roughly a quarter of a century. He’s got good reasons for that, of course, having been busy to explore every corner of the hardcore continuum and then some as a prolific DJ and producer, first as DJ Dread D and nowadays under the name T.Williams. In fact, it took a major historical event to slow down him enough to finally make the aptly titled Raves of Future Past for UK label Purple City, a record that draws on his multi-faceted influences. His contribution to our Groove Podcast traces these influences by bundling them in a stylistically rich, energising mix.

Your new album is out in a few days. Its foundation was laid in the early stages of the pandemic. How did you spend those first months of isolation?

Trying to figure out what I was going to do with all the time indoors! I honestly had never spent that amount of time without leaving the country or DJing in a public space in more than a decade, so it was a big shift and a massive challenge to balance my emotions. Luckily on the work front I was lecturing online for Point Blank music school delivering masterclasses, which kept me semi-occupied and also helped me think about what would be next for me in the music industry if things ever went back to some kind of normal.

At the time, the Elektron Digitakt became the most crucial piece of gear that you used during the production of the album. How did its features contribute to your workflow?

The main feature that resonated with me on the Digitakt is its step sequencer. In my early teens, I began my music production journey on ReBirth, which is a precursor to Reason. It has two step sequencers which emulate the TR-808 and TR-909. The Digitakt felt like I was going back to my original workflow of when I was a teenager. It enabled me to tap into a more fun playful creativity. I wasn’t taking anything to seriously, I was stepping outside the realms of what I would normally create and jamming out for the sake of having fun.

The record is called Raves of Future Past, but—in the words of your label Purple City, at least—is “barely even a concept album.” What does the title mean in the context of the music?

Matt Bayfeild and I had numerous conversations in regards to this album and thinking back to those early days of the pandemic, I was watching the whole X-Men animated series. We both had fallen into this space of thinking about AI and how it was shaping the landscape of arts and creativity. So drawing from that we felt it fitting to use the “Days of Future Past” X-Men two-part episode in which Bishop is sent back from the future to stop an event which changes the future, chased by a sentinel, as the idea behind the album. Hence Raves Of Future Past, swapping the sentinel with AI and placing me T.Williams as the Bishop character. Literally just a fun cool idea pulled from silly convos between myself and Bayfield whilst eating hot wings.

The album is accompanied by a comic for which Bayfield and Joe “Thursday” Wisher used the respective track titles as a creative starting point. How did that come about and how were you involved in the process?

Once we had settled on the title Raves Of Future Past, it made it easy to come up with titles that fit the narrative. We had a loose plot already planned out from the first four or five tracks I had created, then we continued to go deeper using the additional tracks to fill the extra parts of the story that Matt and Joe were going to create. So basically the comic follows the track titles and the track titles follow the story, which is based on “Days of Future Past” with a sprinkle of Terminator in there for good measure.

It’s a stylistically diverse album, especially the latter half is very breakbeat-focused. How did you go about sequencing the album, what kind of flow or even narrative were you aiming for?

The flow and narrative will follow the comic book. All the titles of tracks relate to some sort of AI or happy coincidence that happened whilst I was creating the album. I was being pushed by Matt and Ash to send them stuff that I wouldn’t normally send out to any labels, which led me to play them a lot of music that I created just for the hell of it. That’s really why it became as diverse as it is. The sequence was a collaborative affair with only a few changes and additions over time; in a nutshell it follows the comic book that’ll accompany the vinyl if you buy the album from Bandcamp.

You’ve recently shared a video on Instagram that shows you preparing for a vinyl-only gig and in a voiceover you explain how you organise your collection. What are your criteria for which genres you’d like to focus on and which records to bring to such a gig?

For over a year, I’ve been doing a once a month vinyl set at Next Door Records in West London, another thing that was birthed out of the pandemic. It reminded me to not always take the DJ life so seriously and to make sure that I’m playing records every month and having fun like I’ve always done since I was a kid. The touring life of the last decade changed the way I looked at playing music and made it more into a job. Next Door Records gives me the freedom to play records I wouldn’t normal take to a 1.5-hour set and to test new music and play non-dance music records, because let’s face it: We all like loads of genres! I usually play the whole night so I have to bring four or five hours worth of music. I tend to pick through my collection and just make sure I have music that’ll fit the changing moods of the night. Start of the night is usually quite chilled with soul, funk and dub reggae to ease everyone into the groove. I’ll then pick things up with broken beat and some house cuts, finally rolling into UKG, UK funky, grime, and a bit of jungle if we go into overtime. My next time at Next Door will be on February 10th.

What was the idea behind your mix for our Groove podcast?

The mix is a journey through some very influential tracks that shaped the pandemic for me. I go from UKG to jungle and try to paint a picture with rugged chops of how I was feeling whilst creating the album. The one day to the next ups and downs can be felt thought out the mix, without presenting a traditional flow through genre, I’m just melding genres through tempo. I play some techno in the later half and some smooth 2-step, but prior I have some gritty grime and some special edits just for this mix crossing hip hop, drill, and rap with some bass bangers.

Last but not least: what are your plans for the future?

I have a bunch of music coming this year on the amazing Defected imprint The Remedy Project and also Stay True Sounds. Also there are some festivals where you’ll be able to catch me over the summer. I’m also going to be in the studio a lot more, producing for artists and collaborating with the amazingly talented producer and good friend James Jacob, who helped me stay on track and finish my album. One thing I’ll definitely do is jamming out on my Digitakt even more and just having fun.

Stream: T.Williams – Groove Podcast 406

01. Guy S’Mone – You’re Mine
02. Wilfy – Ms Jade Refix
03. Dubaholics – Dj Do That Thing
04. Pearson Sound x Casisdead EDIT
05. DEA – Jerry Springer
06. Avelino, Stormzy & Skepta – Energy (Dreem Team UKG mix)
07. T.Williams – Heartbeat (Dj Q Remix)
08. Donna Dee – Luvin U
09. Wilfy x Ghost Phone – After Dark
10. JD Reid – Oi It Cant Be Ice
11. T.Williams – T4000
12. Dread.D – No Calls
13. Lioness – All Black Winternese
14. T.Williams – Love All You Squares
15. Joker – Marching Orders
16. John Roman – Petrified
17. Chloé Robinson x ADHD – Nothingness
18. Karizma – Drippn’
19. Special Request x Mumdance – Exotic Golf Course
20. The Maghreban – M25
21. Leon P – Baile Grime
22. Thomas Garcia – El Carpintero
23. T.Williams – Grime Rave
24. D.O.K – Step Ina War
25. Jammz – Keep It Simple
26. Lektor Scopes – Dirty Games
27. Dior Jump Edit
28. Bakey – Capo Lee Edit
29. MPH – Overrated
30. Terror Danjah -Breakdance
31. T.Williams – She Loves
32. Shy FX – Plastic Soul
33. Tailor Jae – The Wheel
34. Ed Rush & Optical – Bacteria
35. Apollo Two – Atlantis (LTJ Buken Remix)

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