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Journey Man: T. Williams

You get the feeling that Tesfa Williams, former grime producer, house saviour and West London’s current biggest musical export, is a somewhat restless soul. An infectious conversationalist, the upbeat manner in which he answers questions during our interview means we jump from various topics, questions answered rapidly and candidly, and all delivered with the impression that he’s rapidly thinking about the next hurdle, whether that be conversational, musical or otherwise.

Being picked up by Tom Lea’s Local Action imprint in mid-2010 following an earth-shattering mixtape earlier that year with fellow Deep Tekonologi head SEF, Williams’ debut release for the label was the much-heralded self-titled ‘T Williams EP’, which saw him explore his own brand of percussive, highly polished yet equally rough-and-ready house music.

His music takes in the past 15 years of his involvement as listener, selector, and then producer. At first releasing rare-as-fuck 12’s for grime crew Black Ops “basically Jon E Cash of Black Ops Records signed up one of my tunes ‘Invasion’, gave it to Slimzee and everyone was battering it at the time – it came out and had a really strong impact. So from 19 to 22 there was a lot of stuff going on then”. Williams became increasingly frustrated with the barriers thrown up at the time between scenes; “As I was growing up it seemed like I was getting boxed in because of the kind of sound we were doing, and that’s not necessarily how it was as I was making loads of other different stuff even then, I was making house even then, but I didn’t have an avenue to let it out.”

Having been embraced by both the worlds of UK bass and UK house (the distinctions between the two becoming increasing blurred of late), T. Williams is currently in the envious position of leading the UK in it’s quest to push boundaries forward across the board of modern dancefloor music.

Yet despite being welcomed with open arms by on point house and techno labels like Enchufada, Hypercolour and Clone, the Ealing boy is a relative newcomer to the house sound he now spearheads, having first really got into house music through the bumping, drum-driven sounds of DJ Gregory; “‘Attend 1’ I think it’s called? It was an absolutely massive track, and that was the sound that really got me started. Prior to that, my actual thoughts on house were straight 4/4, but ‘Attend 1’, if you listen to the beat now, was quite Afrobeat, which is really the basis of Funky to be honest.”

T. Williams – ‘Break Broke’ EP (clips)

So does the power of the Gallic master still hold sway over his current productions? “Definitely. For sure. There’s nothing much I can do about the influences I’ve come through, so the fact I’ve come from garage, grime, house, and that style of house in particular – that will always have an influence on what I do. So [I’m] using that sound and mixing it with what’s current to make something interesting now.”

Williams’ biggest hit to date, the all conquering ‘Heartbeat’ featuring Rock-a-Fella signed UK soulstress Terri Walker and released on Local Action, was one of 2010’s biggest underground tracks, though as Williams explains the two had worked together on a number of projects in the past: “I worked with her when I was really young. She was managed by my older brother, and we’ve been doing stuff for years. But as I’ve grown as I producer, the better I’ve got, the more the style of how we’ve come together has got better. And with ‘Heartbeat’, that was the culmination of all those years working together. It was really natural how it came together – I made the track, my brother showed her it, she listened to it, she came to the studio, sung it and that was it done and dusted – it was really quick.”

With this knack of being in the right place at the right time, T. Williams is surely set to outgrow the ever-busying confines of the UK underground. Talk of an album brings round excitable chatter, mention of vocals from the aforementioned Ms. Walker (“if I do an album, she’ll be on it for sure, definitely”) and a wish to represent what the 28 year old producer sees as his sound, the sound of his influences, refracted through the lens of his studio.

Listening to the work he’s produced over the past 2 years, T. Williams seems every bit, to quote a jungle classic, ‘the sound of now’. The deep rattle of African percussion on ‘Anthem’, the layered treatment of Terri Walker’s voice on ‘Heartbeat’, the rugged DJ Krust-a-like junglism on ‘In The Deep’, the chopped vocal samples and peak time synths of the forthcoming ‘Break Broke’, all tie into the current UK scene so directly, it’s a wonder what we were all doing before he came along.

A forthcoming album can be expected in the future, with vocalists being a central feature. As he emphatically tells us; “definitely vocalists [on the album]. It will be a tale of my journey, my influences. It won’t be genre specific. There will be house on there for sure, but it won’t be strictly a house album, or a bass album, or a grime album – it’ll be a mixture of all my influences that’ve got me to this stage now. I’m having fun writing tracks even now that could maybe go on there – it’s exciting doing it now!”

With an admiration for the chart bothering capabilities of current pop-bass sensation SBTRKT (“you can never tell what’s going to come out, what’s going to be made. It’s always something different, something new, rather than a predictable thing. It’s always alien”), it’s not too much of a stretch of the imagination to see the Deep Teknologi boss sitting behind the boards for a number of more mainstream projects in the future. It’s certainly fair to say that, with releases leading into next year, two forthcoming subsidiary labels to sit alongside the Deep Teknologi outlet, plus plans for a Deep Teknologi club night, he certainly has enough on his plate. For now we’ll have to make do with a man who represents the UK scene’s journey to the fullest.

The ‘Analogue Tour’ EP is released via Local Action Records on October 3.

Interview: Louis Cook
Photography: William Biggs
Thanks to: Blue Tit Hairdressers, Kingsland Road, London.