For those that know him and those that don’t, Tony Colman (no ‘e’!) cuts a formidable figure. Having been involved in the D+B scene since the mid-90s, the co-founder of Hospital Records has been instrumental in the development of the genre as we know it today. Responsible for some of Hospital’s biggest anthems (Round The Corner, Different Drum, Just toOne Second), Tony has cultivated a first class reputation as both a producer and DJ. With an impressive back catalogue of singles, EPs, remixes and no less than five artist albums under his belt, London Elektricity is set to make a big impression on 2011 with his fifth studio album ‘Yikes!’
Tony took time out of his very busy schedule to chat to Dre about all things Hospital and Medschool!
I’ve read online that Yikes! is the first album that you’ve been able to listen to after completion. Why do you think that is? Is it because the sound design and recording process was different in anyway to your previous ones?
Honestly I don’t know why I’m able to listen to it, it’s the first album I’ve made that I’m really genuinely happy with. Normally there are only one or two tunes that I’m really happy with when I finish an album. This time though, I’m happy with the whole thing. It’s quite an odd feeling for me really.
Do you think it could be because this is the first album where you’ve recorded all the parts to the album yourself and not used any samples?
I think it could well be because of that, I’ve played everything on there myself and it does feel quite satisfying.
The artwork is really cool on the album, I’m actually in the market at the moment for a new pair of glasses and I love the glasses you are wearing on the front cover. Are they yours? What are they made from because they look like they’re wooden!
They are made from wood. They’re made by an American guy who has a company called urbanspectacles.com, you can choose almost any material for him to make them from. He specialized in making glasses out of vinyl and wood, so if you want you can buy your favourite album ever on vinyl and he’ll make them into a pair of glasses for you.
A lot of drum and bass out there is very dance floor orientated, there isn’t much meaning behind the lyrics but Yikes! seems to tell a story. Did you write the lyrics yourself or was Elsa responsible for that?
A bit of both really. To give you some examples, Elsa brought me the complete lyrics for Elektricty Will Keep Me Warm, Fault Lines I wrote myself and we just tweaked them together. It wasn’t all separately written though, some of the other song lyrics like Meteorites were a co-written. We both spent a lot of time in the studio hammering out those lyrics. It was kind of whatever worked really.
I’ve also noticed that a few releases on Hospital get a special Japanese Edition, is that because the D&B scene over there is particularly big or do you have a massive following?
Well no, DnB isn’t too big in Japan but I’ve got a following there. I’ve had Japanese versions of all my albums to date, it’s kind of luck that I have such a good following over there, I’ve also got a Japanese wife so I spend a lot of time over there, I play there every year and Japan have been really good to me over the years.
I love that Yikes! isn’t a full on assault of dance tune after dance tune. It’s an album that you can sit down and listen to from start to finish which is quite rare within DnB. Was there a broader plan for the album or did it just turn out that way naturally as you wrote the songs?
As a producer, when I’m making a tune I get bored really, really easily, and I never have the second half of a tune sounding exactly the same as the first. I like a tune to keep changing and be interesting throughout. All my tunes do that and I like them to tell a story, so yeah, I do think of them and write them in terms of listening rather than dancing. I can’t really help doing it; I can’t work any other way. A lot of the things I make are not suitable for the dance floor because there’s too much going on and DJs don’t know when to mix in and mix out.
I saw on twitter recently that you’ve had two full days back in the studio, are you back writing or remixing already?
I’ve casually been working on a producers sample pack. We release these on Hospital every now and then. We’ve had some in the past by KJ Sawka (the Pendulum drummer), Total Science, Mitsubishi, Nu:Tone and Danny Byrd. I’ve been working on a London Elektricity one gradually. I got into the studio yesterday, typically of me, I get in there and go “right, I’m just going to focus on the sample pack, I’m not going to start making any tunes” and of course some of the things you write for the sample pack you really get into and before I knew it I’d written lyrics for two of the sketches, so they can’t go in the sample pack anymore, (laughs) I like them too much so they’re going to be kept back for my next album. I’m trying to be disciplined but I do find it hard, I guess it’s because I don’t get too much studio time but when I do I like to make the most of it.
I was listening to one of the Hospital Podcasts earlier today and you mentioned that all of the tracks on Yikes! have been remixed and you’re just keeping it under wraps. Which tracks have been remixed and when can we expect them to be released?
We’ve just released the Danny Byrd and Cutline remixes of Meteorites. We’ve also got a few completed remixes that I’m happy with; S.P.Y’s done an amazing remix of Elektricity Will Keep Me Warm, Logistics has remixed The Plan That Cannot Fail, Mutated Forms have remixed Love the Silence, Unquote has remixed Fault Lines and Enei has done an amazing remix of U Gotta B Crazy. There’s quite a few others that aren’t quite there yet so I wont discuss those at the moment but it’s really, really exciting.
I’ve read in other interviews that you like to treat new things like experiments, your approach is to throw out the business plan and just start doing it, do it hard, and do it for as long as possible. Was that how Medschool started or was it more of an outlet for you to release stuff that didn’t fit on Hospital?
I think it was the latter really, as Hospital grew, we inevitably started getting sent a lot of music that we really liked, but either didn’t quite fit in the Hospital schedule, or it was musically kind of different to what we were pushing on Hospital. Medschool was our attempt at having an outlet for the deeper and more experimental sound. So far it seems to have worked really well, we’ve given a home to Bop and Unquote and a whole list of other producers with the New Blood series. If you take Bop, his new album is out now, it’s called “The Amazing Adventures of One Curious Pixel” and it follows the journey of one single pixel exploring the world. Musically it’s not dance music, you could say its intelligent dance music, you could say its ambient, you could say its glitch core but it’s just Bop, he’s got his own genre, he does his own thing and no one sounds like him and it’s just so beautiful.
Having now released two artist albums for Bop and a number of compilation albums on Medschool are there any plans for other artists to get a solo album released?
Yes, funnily enough there’s another artist who lives in St. Petersburg called Unquote. He’s also signed to Medschool and his solo album is due for release in the autumn. It’s very, very different from Bop; Bop is kind of prickly and icy and has loads of little bits going on. Unquote is almost religious sounding, it sounds like a sonic cathedral, it’s incredibly warm and beautiful and lush. His album is coming out in October I do believe.
I’d like to talk to you a little about DJing, earlier today I heard an interview with Dan from Nu:Tone on another radio station. He told us that he doesn’t plan his DJ sets, he just spins the first tune and progresses from there. Is that similar to how your sets work?
I’ve never planned a set in my life. To spend days in a studio rehearsing a set so you know exactly what you’re going to play would get incredibly boring. A lot of DJs do that but for me it’s all about the spontaneity of the show, each crowd is different and you need to be prepared to draw different tunes depending on the crowd, and depending on other factors as well. I play vinyl and dubplates only which means that I am really at the mercy of equipment failure. If you play Serato controlled by a CD then it doesn’t matter what you’re playing on it’s going to work. If you play vinyl it’s a lot more unpredictable and I like that, I like the excitement and challenge of it. The only preparation that I do for my set is selecting tunes, I have to be very careful what I bring with me, if you play off of a laptop you can bring 100 years worth of tunes with you which can reflect quite badly on the DJ set but the good thing about vinyl is that it makes you really think about what you’re going to play and what tunes really work for you. I also work out the key of my tunes before hand so I can mix in key. I’m lucky though because I’ve got perfect pitch, which makes it a little easier to do!
Speaking of your ears, the special edition of Yikes! has a track called Bells In My Head, what is that track about?
I’ve got tinnitus in my left ear and it’s almost totally deaf. I’ve had it for ages and it’s fine really. It just means it annoys my wife sometimes because when I’m lying in bed on my right hand side and she’s talking to me I can’t hear a thing she’s saying but apart from that it’s fine when I’m DJing and making tunes because you just turn the stuff right up. What that song is about is the fact that I’ve actually learned to love my tinnitus, I find it quite comforting and it’s become my friend.
Haha that is classic! So you’re coming to Australia in October. Last time you graced our shores you toured with MC AD, who is coming down this year?
I think Wrec is coming down this year; I’m really looking forward to it. It’s only a lightning visit though; we’re coming down for the weekend and then going home again. It’s always a blast when I come down to Australia, clubs and crowds are amazing and it’s something I look forward to every year.
You did a video podcast a few years ago when you came down for the Good Vibrations tour in 2007; it looked like you and Wrec were having some serious fun. Did you give our Vegemite a try, how does it compare to Marmite?
Yeah man! I’ve had vegemite, I like it it’s nice. It’s different; it’s a different product. It’s like Bovril, I don’t know if you have Bovril over there, Bovril is like a similar thing but it’s made of beef. They’ve all got their own strengths and weaknesses but I do like vegemite I could happily substitute Marmite with it.
I’m a big fan of the Future Sounds Of series, are there any plans for a Future Sounds of Australia, or Future Sounds of Pacific now that you’ve got Shapeshifter signed to Hospital?
Yeah we kind of let that series slip a little bit, it’s partly down to finding space for it in the schedule or not. The last thing you want to do is take an album like that and squeeze it in between two other albums so that it doesn’t get the proper love that it deserves. There’s a lot more DnB being made in New Zealand, especially per head of population, which is quite interesting. So we’d probably want to do a Future Sounds of Pacific rather than either Australia or New Zealand. There are a few places on our radar for that series. There is also a hot bed of talent in Finland, artists like Muffler, LAOS and Raiden. There’s loads of great music from there and Estonia as well. It’s more a question of us identifying a gap in our release schedule where we can actually present it properly.
Does that mean the release schedule for Hospital is predetermined for quite some time? I’ve heard rumours of a Camo and Krooked album.
Yeah man, they’ve signed to Hospital. Their debut single comes out in two weeks and their album drops at the end of September.
It’s hard to miss having followed you on Twitter for a while that you really enjoy speaking to your fans and engaging with them on social media. Do you think the way music is evolving through social media is a good thing or a bad thing?
It’s an inevitable thing, so there’s no point moaning about it. It is what it is and you either embrace it and have fun with it or you don’t. I can look back 15 years and be all nostalgic about the fact that if you wanted to track down a tune you had to go to a record shop and get it from them on vinyl. That was fun, there was a real exciting chase but it was very elitist in some ways – which was also fun but now it’s the opposite. Music isn’t elitist anymore, it’s accessible to everyone and although I miss record shops and that kind of vibe, what I do love is being able to get feedback from people immediately and chat to them, whether it’s by Twitter, or the podcast or by email, it’s great to have that instant connection. I love it.
You have some pretty cool nicknames for your family, how did those nicknames come about? Is it because the Secretary General and the Chairman make the decision for you?
(Laughs) Do they run things? Actually no they don’t it’s basically because my wife’s Japanese, and when my first son the Chairman was born, he looked like Chairman Mao when he was a new born, I know Chairman Mao isn’t Japanese but we thought he looked like him so he became the Chairman. Then my second was born and I thought the Secretary General was a quite a good name, keeping on with the communist party vibe. I’m not a super star or anything so I’m only famous to who like drum and bass, so I like to keep my family separate because I know the way things are with Facebook and others anything you say becomes public knowledge. I don’t like pictures of my family to be out there, especially my kids so yeah they’ve got this kind of alter ego thing going on to deal with my publicity.
London Elektricity ft. Elsa Esmeralda, ‘Meteorites Danny Byrd Remix’