Tommy Four Seven: In Conversation

If you’re a football fan, you’ll be familiar with Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp’s football philosophy. It’s known as heavy metal football. Relentless, uncompromising and in many ways, in a league of its own. And that is exactly the sound that British native Tommy Four Seven has engineered.

But it is as his second album, Veer, hits the shelves that we really experience the 47 label bosses’ DNA. In a barrage of bass heavy yet intricately woven tracks, Four Seven has sculpted an album in which any track can both tantalise and annihilate. It is a sound totally unique to his label and one that needs to be heard at full volume, ideally with no delicate glass in the vicinity. As Four Seven lets his bloodhound into the open, we caught up with him to discuss just how he managed to create such beastly music…

Veer is set to hit the shelves on 5th April, following on from your debut LP Primate back in 2011. How do you think those years in between have moulded your sound? How would you yourself say this record differs from Primate?

In the time between both albums, I would say my production skills and ears have matured and developed. Primate was an important step in my career and the reaction to tracks such as ‘Armed 3’ was encouraging as it stepped away from straight up techno.

I feel Veer is a much more accomplished album compared to Primate because it adds dynamics and narrative, which – looking at it now – I think Primate perhaps lacked.

I remember your EP 47013 was described as ‘getting down like a bull in a tar-pit’ by Boomkat, which I have to admit is one of the best descriptions of an EP I’ve ever heard. On hearing Veer, the opening track ‘Dead Ocean’ sets a precedent for the whole album, it is devastatingly ruthless. What would you say inspires this destructive nature to your tracks and performances? Is there an angry Tommy stuck inside of you somewhere that you channel when producing and playing?

It’s always interesting to hear other people’s opinions of my music and I do love Boomkat’s release descriptions.

In the case of ‘Dead Ocean’, I think of it as more ethereal, deep and emotional rather than ruthless. However, I do think there’s a notion of devastation which is reflected in the track title.

I can’t really explain why I write what I do, other than it feels natural and real. Life can be destructive and my music sometimes reflects this but it’s not the sole characteristic.

It may just be my imagination, but I could easily imagine an army of Orcs or the machines from The Matrix on the warpath to any one of these tracks, so God only knows what effect they’ll have on dancefloors. Have you ever thought about the crossover into scoring films?

Scoring films is a very different task altogether and demands a functional skill-set of music theory and a production process distinct from my usual way of working. Stepping outside my comfort zone is something I love to do when it pushes me forwards in my development as an artist but I couldn’t imagine actively attempting to pursue this simply for the goal of wanting to write a film. If I was approached by someone specifically asking me to write music for a film, then of course I would consider it.

The PR referred to sci-fi slightly, what was the feeling with the production for this album?

Yes, there is a nod to sci-fi which is probably because while writing, I get very visual as it helps to imagine a world in which the album lives. This world was not clear from the start though. It wasn’t until I wrote the track ‘Feed’ that I had a better understanding of how I wanted to shape things. As the writing process developed, so did a sort of loose narrative, which I give clues to through track titles.

To help produce my imaginative world, I worked with plenty of cinematic atmospheres and a lot of nuanced sound design layers. I tried to keep the arrangements dynamic and the running order represents the journey of the narrative with each track being a new chapter.

You’re up to 20 releases on 47 now and this will be the first LP.  Will there be more to come LP-wise later down the line?

I’m very much open to the idea of releasing LP’s from other artists since I think the format is well suited to the label’s sound.

Your ‘These Hidden Hands’ project is how you flex your experimental side the most, and performances such as Berlin Atonal have lived long in the memory when you were accompanied by stunning visuals in the chasm that is Kraftwerk. How does working with Alain bring out this extension of your individual sound?

Alain has been a big influence since we met whilst studying music technology in London. He’s a very accomplished musician and mastering engineer. I think it’s important to have a couple of trusted ears to get feedback when writing music and Alain is one of those. He’s definitely helped over the years with my artistic development and when we collaborate it’s all about pushing each other further.

How do you alternate with These Hidden Hands, your own projects and touring? Are you quite strategic with which channel you work on?

The majority of our collaborative work is done via bouncing sessions backwards and forwards online, even when we are in the same city as we both have fairly busy and irregular schedules. We generally only schedule sessions and come together in the same room when we are mixing or working on a particular project intensively . Usually, this is to either start a bunch of new ideas or finalise songs which we have already been independently working on for a long time. Earlier this year, we began working on more new material intensively over a two week period. Over the coming months we will individually work on those ideas and pass them back and forth until we reach a point close to the mixing stage.

Since we release all our music via our own label, Hidden Hundred, there’s no real deadline so we are fairly relaxed and it’s relatively easy to work around my solo output and touring

Electronica and experimental is obviously a passion of yours, being able to push the boundaries of what music is and can be. Is that what attracts you to inviting artists like Killawatt and Scalameriya to release on 47?

I’m attracted to sign artists who are trying to push themselves and who are trying to push a vision of what techno could become. I hope the 47 vision will encourage others to keep moving forward, as ultimately I think that’s what techno represents.

You’re originally from London, what prompted the move to Berlin? Does it feel a more suitable environment for your sound? The industrial greyscapes seem to be an apt setting for your style.

I had finished university and though whilst I was DJing a lot in London, the scene became relatively stagnant and a lot of the clubs were closing. Being an artist full time in Berlin was feasible because the rent was less than London and there were more empty spaces to rent or build a studio.

I think it’s a romantic idea the visual environment plays a role into shaping the way music sounds. For me I don’t think that’s the case, especially since I get very visual when I write and often get lost in my imagination, so I could be writing anywhere.

Another thing which attracted me to Berlin was the weather. In summer, Berlin is a lot more uplifting than the UK because the weather stays sunny and hot! I also tend to be more creative in the summer because the days are longer. In the winter I tend to just want to sleep because the days are so grey and bleak.

What would you say was the first moment when you realised that techno was the sound you wanted to delve into, was there a single moment or someone you heard? And how did you use your residency at London’s Fire Club to mould your sound?

I can probably pint point club music entering my life at an early age after my cousin married the former BBC Radio 1 DJ, Judge Jules. I think I was probably 10 years old. At school, we all listened to UKG, Jungle and Drum & Bass and I was getting fed everything from Trance, House and Techno from Jules.

As the years went on it was techno that stayed as it seems so malleable and timeless and captured my imagination, though I think the spirit of moody DnB will never leave.

I began my weekly residency at Fire Club when I was 17, so I was still very much finding myself musically. The party was an after-hours event called Twist and I played 8-10am in Room 2 mixing between Electro, House, Techno and Breakbeat. I’m not sure if the club moulded my sound though I think the idea of switching things up sonically remains. I think my sets to this day remain dynamic because of the early years and my interest in multiple genres.

Along with yourself, artists such as Headless Horseman are really getting esteemed receptions for this heavy, take-no-prisoners, sometimes broken techno sound. How does it feel to be creating a little family so-to-speak, of techno artists pushing the edges, and in many ways, extending the genre? Or even further, this sound probably deserves a unique category of it’s own. What would you call it?

I’m really happy to have such a talented crew involved with 47. I think it’s important to try and put something back into the scene. Hopefully, looking back the label will represent a strong contribution. One term I’ve heard from from people who like what we’re doing is ‘Techno 2.0’, which I think gets straight to the point.

I heard you play at the final day of ADE 2017, you were playing at the imposing NDSM warehouse for a Reaktor event, and it was my set of the festival. Minimal lighting, darkness throughout, incessant, punishing techno, it felt like that is how techno should be heard. How important to you is the environment in which you play?

Thank you! I think the environment is crucial, as it allows the DJ and the crowd to connect. As soon as I enter a club, the first thing I do is to check the sound system but equally, I’m assessing the lighting. Occasionally, lighting will be too hectic and bright and I’ll usually request the club tones things down a bit, to make the room darker. I feel this also allows for more heightened moments in the set to stand-out, as the lighting can be more dynamic together with the music.

Word is you’ll be curating an evening at FOLD on the weekend the album is due to drop. Have you played there yet? As a London native how important are new industrial venues like FOLD?

I’ve not played at FOLD yet. I keep hearing excellent reports from other DJs and the after-hours event Corner seems to be killing it. I’m also super looking forward to being joined by Silent Servant, Killawatt and Flamina. What seems to make FOLD stand-out is the location and the fact it has a 24-hour license, so it’s exciting to see how things will progress.

London has had such a turbulent time lately with many clubs closing. Any new venue dedicated to the scene is extremely important, so it deserves support 100%.

Best of luck with it all Tommy, I’m pretty devastated I’ll be in Paris when the FOLD night comes round. Enjoy!

Words: Samuel Asquith

Featured Image: Vitali Gelwich

Catch Tommy Four Seven in store tonight at Rye Wax and at FOLD on Sunday.

Veer is out April 5 on 47.

Preorder the LP here.

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