This week’s mix comes from Size 8, and it’s safe to say it’s one we’ve been anticipating for some time. A musician of real repute, he might be best known these days for his work in the electronic music space, but he’s also vast experience in all things keyboards and jazz-related, but now devotes much of his time to passing down his expertise thanks to a role at the London Sound Academy. A native of London, his sound is as indebted to the likes of Bill Evans, Herbie Hancock, Duke Ellington and Miles Davis (all of whom he namechecks below) as it is to more contemporary electronic music heroes. In other words, his is the sort of diverse musical background that made us stand up and take notice, and we’re very glad to report that his mix is every bit as varied and intriguing as we hoped for. A DJ/producer/label owner/live act and party starter we reckon you’ll be hearing much more from soon, here’s what happened when we ahem, ‘checked in’ with him recently…
Hi Tom, thanks a lot for taking the time to talk to us today. Can you tell us a bit about your involvement within music? Was there one moment when you decided that writing and producing music was something you really wanted to pursue?
I am pretty much immersed in all areas of music, having worked as an audio engineer, producer, live sound engineer at different points of my career. At the moment my focus is split between writing and producing my own music under Size 8, writing and performing as a keyboard player with a jazz trio (TR trio) and teaching, and I think it will stay this way for a while.
I have never made any decisions in a single moment like that. I have always been active in music one way or another since I was really young, so it’s never been a stereotypical “what shall I do for my career?” kind of decision. For me it was more like my hobby, or passion slowly morphed into a career rather than the thing I did in my free time.
Can you talk us through some of your early influences then? What sort of DJs or artists etc had a big influence on you?
This is always such a hard question, growing up I wasn’t in a group of friends that were all doing music or were all that knowledgeable about music. I had to do my own musical research, so my influences have no logical relation to one another. My jazz piano teacher introduced me to the likes of Bill Evans, Herbie Hancock, Duke Ellington and Miles Davis etc when I was around fourteen. They became my biggest influences in the non electronic music world.
When it came to electronic music I started to DJ when I was around thirteen with any music I could download and get my hands on. A lot of it was crap but some of it wasn’t. I do think that the process of having to wade through a lot of basic electronic music made me really sure of what I like and kinda tuned my ear without me knowing.
I came across the likes of Hot Creations and Jamie Jones, Miguel Campbell, Macea Plex and Pete Tongs Essential Mix Series. That classic house sound when house was still made at 120 bpm with really simple drum patterns, big bass lines and huge lead vocals. It’s a long long way away from what I play and make now but those were the guys who put me on the right track.
I believe you’re now working at the London Sound Academy, which I’m guessing is a very inspiring place. How did you get involved and what’s it like to work there?
I did a short course with London Sound Academy about 12 years ago. I met Buster who founded it and we kept in contact over the years. Last year I went to meet up with him to talk about releasing some music together and he mentioned he was looking for tutors, and here we are.
Yeh it’s a great environment to be in, it’s not the kind of uni course you’re forced to do, people who come to LSA are there because they want to be and because they love music. I’ve met some great people so far and I’m always surprised how much it instils my own passion when I see someone else’s. It’s been great meeting the other tutors too, they’re all doing really cool projects and are very present in today’s music scene. One of the tracks in my mix is by Ollie Rant who teaches there, he’s a sick producer, check him out if you don’t know.
How indebted is London to your sound and style do you think? What do you think it is about the city that continues to inspire so many people when it comes to electronic music?
London as a city is mental, in a good way. We are so spoiled in London, in every way including music. The sheer amount of gigs is overwhelming, it’s not a question of “are you going out?”, it’s “where are you going tonight”. Combine that with the depth of influence from other countries and cultures which gives London a genuinely diverse and hugely varied scene.
What’s in the name, Size 8? And why don’t you ‘do 7 and a half’?
About three years ago I was going through 15/20 unreleased tracks with my brother and trying to work out what to do with them. They were the first minimal style tunes I made and didn’t fit at all with the other alias I was producing for under at the time. So my brother said “Your gunna need a new alias for this stuff”. A couple of minutes later he picked up my shoe and asked what size I was, and I said “Size 8”. We both thought it was genius at the time, but it was pretty early in the morning, not sure we were making loads of sense.
I would do 71/2, but whenever I wanna try and get a pair of 71/2’s they never have them in stock, so I always end up settling for a size 8.
It looks like you’ve enjoyed a really awesome summer. What’s been the highlight for you so far? And what are you most looking forward to?
There’s been some real highlights, it’s hard to choose just one. But I think my b2b with Luther Vine at The Glove That Fits was proper vibes. It was the first time I have played there and the first time we have b2b’d. We decided to because the clocks were going back and instead of cutting DJ sets we just put ours together. We played wax all night, the soundsystem was sounding hot, and the vibe was pretty loose, every now and then it feels like people are actually letting go on the dancefloor and this was one of those times.
I’ve got some great gigs coming up, I’m really looking forward to returning to Boat Live for Sticky Plastic later this month, then next month I am hosting my own night at The Lion & Lamb for the first time so that should be a nice moment.
You’re also a live performer as well as a trained jazz keyboard player. Firstly, how does your training as a jazz keyboard player impact the music you make? Or does it?
Hugely, I am really obsessed with music theory and jazz theory and it makes it into my tracks whether I like it or not. I would say that I think that is what makes a Size 8 track a Size 8 track, the balance between bounce and groove with the tonal pull of dense chord progressions and almost always lots of layers of harmony.
I also play live a lot during the writing process, I will jam with chords till something pops out like a hook or progression, and sometimes I record straight into audio rather than MIDI so all mistakes get recorded too. It’s always good to be reminded that there is a person behind the music, not just a drum machine.
Do you think too many contemporary producers lack actual music training and rush into launching a career? Is this something you dwell on or do you think it even matters these days?
You can be an amazing electronic music producer without musical training, but it usually means you have extremely good experience in another area of production like synthesis knowledge or using modular equipment etc. I think there are too many people in the industry who are really keen to make it but not keen to put time into honing any part of the craft.
I suppose it’s human nature in a way, but it definitely seems that a lot of people in the industry are more concerned about being on the biggest stage and not particularly bothered by what means they get there. I used to dwell on it but much less now because my intent and reason for doing what I do is so different that there is no reason or point to compare really.
On the subject of the live act, can you talk us through your set up a bit? Do you plan to do any live shows in the future?
Sure, it’s not crazy complicated. The instruments consist of an Yamaha MX61, Moog Grandmother, Dave Smith Mopho x4, Digitakt, TR8, Vocla Beats/Vocla Bass and a load of pedals alongside some outboard FX.
Essentially all the audio comes into a live desk so I can control levels/EQ there, and then all the pedals etc are hooked up to the sends, so I can add them whenever. The desk then hooks up to an interface and then to Ableton. In terms of MIDI I use a ERM multiclock to sync everything. One port is used to control all the sequenced audio, and another is used for recording MIDI on the spot.
The plan is to move more and more over to elecktron gear and slowly take the laptop out of the equation.
A live show is brewing for sure, I’ve always done a live act but it hasn’t been the focus this year, next year though.
Obviously preparing for a live set compared to a DJ set is very different, but do you have a preference? Is a live set a more personal thing to you?
They are completely different styles of performance. As a DJ you act as a curator rather than an artist. You are using other people’s music and building a journey out of it, constantly reading a room and deciding what should happen next. Whereas a live set is intrinsically more personal by its nature, in that fact that everything is being created by you and manipulated by you. It’s much more like going to see a band play, you go to see their music; rather than tailoring what you play for them.
I really enjoy both experiences, live sets always tend to be more intense though.
At what stage did you decide to establish your label, The Check In? And is there a particular ethos that courses through your releases?
The Check In was initially just an imprint I created to release stuff that I didn’t want to send out to labels. It was a portal for doing that, the same way that Gene on Earth created Limousine Dream, or iO(Mulen) created the MOi series. However, I have met some wicked producers recently and I am sure it won’t be long till I bring another producer onto the label.
You’re also involved with the Hyperchill Festival, which looks like an awesome little gathering. Are you planning to bring that one back in any capacity?
Its the best! Yeh definitely, we are having a year off this year just to take a breath and get prepared for next year. We started off around 1000 looking to get bigger, but as the years have run on my brother (co-founder) and I have been really enjoying the intimacy of the smaller version of the festival we have done, it allows space for such attention to detail and fine tuning. I think that also the bigger it gets the more it becomes a job for us rather than a party and it’s nice to be able to enjoy it with everyone else.
What are your hopes and dreams for the next while? And what more can we look forward to from you that you’re really excited about?
Just one step at a time at the moment. The plan is to keep making music, keep releasing, and keep gigging. Who knows where it will all end up but I like the direction it’s going in.
I have got some really exciting music coming out, one long awaited EP with Machetser’s Animal Crossing, and another really exciting EP with London based Circa Groove. Everything else, you’ll have to wait and see aha.
One last thing, can you tell us a bit about the mix you have recorded for us?
For sure, this mix has a lot of different flavours in it. It features old and new, classics and unreleased, including 2 unreleased tracks of mine, of which this will be the first time anyone but me has heard them. It opens with a beautiful balearic number from Gene On Earth, then rolls into a jazzy track by Tour Maubourg before sliding into a few minimal rollers. There’s a classic in there by household name Silat Beski, into a few of mine, topped off with some breaks towards the end. That’s all I am saying, I don’t want this to turn into a Netflix advert where you don’t actually have to watch the series after the 10 minute trailer. You will have to listen to find out!
Listen the mix recorded by Size 8 exclusively for our podcast below.