The first things you generally notice when meeting Tom Demac: he’s tall, Northern and sound-as-a-pound. The man born Tom McDonald grew an obsession with electronic music from an early age; cutting his teeth on Helter Skelter tape packs and the gabba and hardcore sounds that resonated around venues such as The Void in Stoke-On-Trent, Bowlers in Manchester and the free parties in the hills of his home, North Wales.
Progressively finding himself submerged in “proper techno”, Tom turned his hand to production and eventually started Electronique Audio as an outlet for his music. Driven by a admirable DIY ethos and restless energy; he quickly found himself making friends with various record shop owners and the likes of Alex Jones, co-founder of Hypercolour Records, alongside Jamie Russell.
Fast forward to the present day and Tom’s measured approach to releasing quality, original music over the years is paying dividends. The gargantuan success of ‘Critical Distance Part 2’ (released on Hypercolour) has plonked him on a pedestal infront of a whole new audience, with a big opportunity for capitalisation in 2013. Although coming across as a creatively suffocated individual – constantly trying to out do himself – it seems everything is clicking into place for Tom Demac right now.
We sat down together for a nice cup of coffee on a brisk autumnal morning to discuss all of the above and more…
Going to kick off with a pretty generic question: Where did your interest in music begin when you were growing up and some of your early influences? Did you just start tinkering around as a young’un?
Yeah pretty much mate. I was into heavy metal when I was a kid and got into gabba and hardcore, which is pretty big where I’m from in North Wales. We started buying tape packs by Helter Skelter and Dreamspace. Lots of hardcore and hard trance, gabba, and started going to the raves when I was like 15-16. Popping pills in McDonalds toilets in Stoke-On-Trent and then going raving – do you know what I mean? [laughs]. That was actually the first pill I ever took in McDonalds in Stoke-On-Trent, whilst chucking gherkins on picture frames around the McDonalds.[laughs]
Those raves were pretty intense weren’t they
Oh god yeah mate! Just meatheads from everywhere around the North West – they were tanks! They were sound though, everyone was on a good vibe, but they were all pretty much a “who’s who” from your Wigan’s and St. Helen’s, from the sort of towns where you don’t want to mess with the people. We ended up going to these parties and I got on the mic a couple of times randomly – I remember when some scouser had got hold of the mic [imitating a scouse accent] “ehhh big shout ouuuuut” [laughs]. I ended up getting on the mic a bit and I kind of perfected – even though I was only 16 – the [holds makeshift microphone to mouth] “how you feeling” lines they did. [laughs]
Just imitating the hardcore MC’s?
Yeah just imitating those guys. I started doing a bit of MC’ing. MC Tom the Don, I was called MC Tom the Don. I was buying wax at that period as well, gabba and industrial strength shit like that, some jungle as well. Some friends introduced to proper techno like Surgeon, Jeff Mills, Christian Vogal, all the old Tresor stuff. I just got so heavily into it form then on. I moved to Manchester for uni when I was 18.
Was it at this point you starting getting into production?
Yeah definitely, I’d never heard anything like it before man… the sounds… it was so original. There’s the big renaissnace going on right now with Blawan and those guys, pioneering the new British sound of techno. But back then – for me – it was quite an uneducated music to get into at that age, do you know what I mean? It still had the aggression of the hardcore and the heavy metal [kind of], but it just had this disciplined sound to it.
It was more of a mature scene I suppose
Yeah totally. I mean the guys – my mates – who were taking me to the raves at the time were all about 25-26, a lot older than me. It got me bang into it. I started playing on 3 decks, juggling banging techno and started getting really into production when I went to uni. I didn’t listen to anything at uni, just went home… smoked weed… and made beats basically.[laughs]
Electronique Audio, that was your label right?
Yeah back in the day…
That’s what you put your first few records out on, what was the thought process here? Did you feel a need to put out your own music on your own label?
Going back to one of the guys, my mate Grimes Adhesive, he had this record label called Mind Your Head Records and we put out a couple of collaborations on there. One of the tracks got charted by Villalobos, one of his ‘Top 10’ charts. He put us right at the top, at number 1, he didn’t do a chart for years afterwards. Actually, I don’t think he’s done one since.
And that was around 2000 and…
…maybe 2004. A few of my mates were trying to get me into the idea of doing it [releasing records]. So, I was making music and I went out to Barcelona, to Sonar – years ago – in like 2004 and I went round with some CD’s and Word and Sound Distribution took us on and we put the first record out. No – hang on – before all that I was going round in a Peugeot 205, round the country taking the records to the shops and selling them, the old school route. I had a little book, a sale-or-return invoice thing. I would take them into record shops, [impersonating shop owner] “oh, you’ve driven all the way to Preston, we’ll take two.” You’ve driven all the way to Preston to sell two fucking records mate [laughs]. Then you’d be off to Leeds and they’d take five – it was fucking wicked though!
The actual idea behind it [his label Electronique Audio] was just the thought of getting the records out there. I was so experimental with what I was doing; it wasn’t the most sellable music. There was this glitch, minimal scene going on post-techno – and I just didn’t even think of sending it out to other labels, just thought about doing it myself.
Pretty natural then really?
Yeah that’s what all my friends were doing and stuff.
It’s a shame that the DIY ethos has kind of faded really, there’s something very cool about just jumping in your motor and bombing around the country selling records.
Yeah completely, it’s fucking wicked! [laughs]. It turned out that Ste Roberts, one of the guys who runs Hypercolour with Alex [Jones] and Jamie [Russell], used to work at Tribe Records in Leeds and he remembered me coming into the shop every few months trying to sell these records, he always used to take one mind. Over the years I’ve met a few people that, like Glimpse, one of of my friends who used to run a shop in Soho in London. So a good few friends I’ve made have turned into best mates over the years from just going in and trying to sell them these records.
I noticed last night that ‘Critical Distance Part 1’ came out in 2006 and Part 2 6 years later. Is it just the vocal that connects them?
Yeah it was the vocal sample.
Had you forgotten about the original tune and pulled it back up?
Yeah yeah, completely forgotten about it. The first time I did it, it was a really cool piece of music but kind of unplayable, do you know what I mean?
I used to record all my stuff live, through an analogue desk, which I kind of do now but I’ll arrange it afterwards. So the mix I had done live was a bit rough, it didn’t really hit the heights it could have done, it was a really interesting track though. I was stumbling across some old hard drives and going through some old sounds and seeing what I had from back-in-the-day when I was feeling a but uninspired a few months ago. We ended up finding that vocal sample and thinking – fucking hell! Everything just slotted into place with that one after that.
Would you say you’ve received a positive response on this track from outside of your usual circles?
Yeah totally, that’s why I’m sitting here with you now, do you know what I mean? [laughs]. Hyponik, [in a mockney MC style] Hyponik! [laughs]
Did you preempt that ‘Critical Distance Part 2’ would win over heads from such a variety of music communities? What with it’s early dnb influences and what not.
No, I just made a jam really, the other bits I was working on at the time I thought had more appeal. It turns out everyone was like “that stuff’s fucking shit mate, what’s this other track” [laughs] Jesus – it was literally just a jam on a synth around that vocal.
So, how did the relationship with Hypercolour come about, was it through those early days selling records as you mentioned earlier?
It would have been directly linked with Glimpse, from this early meeting in Mad Rceords in Soho. He was alway telling me to send my stuff to these people or those people, so he’s kind of been an ear to the ground as well as a few other mates down here. I did another sort of live, crazy techno jam years ago called ‘The Clock’, and again, it went under the radar again completely – bit like a lot of my music really [laughs]. Anyway, he sent it to Hypercolour for me and they ended up putting it out along with this other tune and we sort of struck up a relationship after that. Me and Alex just gradually became more friendly and now it’s kind of like best mates. We drink at the same pub down the road [in Broadway Market], he lives a bit further on, my studios round the corner. Jamie’s become a really good mate as well.
It’s generally just a lot more healthy to be mates with the people you’re dealing with in these situations, rather than just a faceless exchange of files over the internet.
Yeah exactly mate. It’s weird because before ‘Critical Distance Part 2’ came along they were like “Tom’s great, really talented producer”, but they never really pushed it enough. We did the Glass Table record before Critical Distance which was kind of different music really, sort of more listening music and a bit of weird dancefloor stuff, and they were respecting that. But then I brought that along then all of a sudden they started to pipe up in interviews, and I’m no longer just their mate that’ll, you know… “Tom’ll deliver something soon” or “he’s nearly there” and not mentioning me in certain interviews.
And now you’re the golden child, top boy?
[laughs] and it’s like fuck off lads, have a bit of that! Our friendship has now developed into this like… hang on a minute… right… lets move with this. I’ve always been an intergral part of the team since becoming friends and that, but putting me on to headline at the Boiler Room sort of confirmed the mission statement really.
Photography: Katie Bruce
Interview: Josh Thomas