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Matt Tolfrey of Leftroom and Cocoon Talks to Skiddle

What’s the secret to success in audio land? It’s "30% hard work, 20% passion, 20% luck, 20% the people around you and 10% talent", hypothesises record boss Matt Tolfrey.

Jayne Robinson

Date published: 14th Feb 2011

What’s the secret to success in audio land? It’s "30% hard work, 20% passion, 20% luck, 20% the people around you and 10% talent", hypothesises record boss Matt Tolfrey.

And it’s something that’s been openly discussed between the UK-based producer and his industry peers at many an after party. I mean, who better to believe than someone who burst onto the scene back in 2005 showcasing his brand of mutant tech-house via championed imprint Leftroom. Though it wasn’t until the age of 16 when Tolfrey left the Middle East for England’s Nottingham that he really got a wind of a sound so revolutionary it changed his perception of music.

Jasmine Phull listens to the established producer who surprisingly isn’t so affected by the hedonistic world he whole-heartedly embraces. Matt Tolfrey speaks with child-like wonder; still "a DJ at heart", here’s a man who never misses an opportunity to improve his technique.

You grew up in the Middle East. Did growing up there have much influence on your love for house and techno music?
From age 3-16 I grew up in a town called Bahrain; I don’t think the call to prayer and dodgy Hip Hop had too much influence on me. I did used to steal all my older brother’s mix tapes though and bounce around my room listening to Sasha when I was younger; I guess that helped a lot. Influence wise I guess Nottingham had the most while I was at Uni. This was mainly down to an infamous club called The Bomb which was known for tech house and the deep house sound of Nottingham, through DIY and the Inland Knights, Drop Music labels.

How do you compare the way it fosters the development of techno music to places like Berlin?
I think when you are younger you gain an affiliation to something you can relate to, be it a group of people listening to a certain type of music, or even a club/scene itself. When I was at university, clubbers in the UK were still regularly going to the same club week in week out and I don’t think this happens as much anymore. I have never lived in Berlin, so I couldn’t really quote on it, but I think every major music city has a sound, whether it be in dance, rock, hip hop, etc, so I guess this will affect your taste in music, and this then in turn develops the music from that area in a certain way.

Did you have to experience ‘struggle’ to get to where you are today? Is that an important factor in making a ‘great’ artist?
I don’t think struggle is a major factor in it at all. Having a passion, setting yourself achievable goals and striving for them is the key. I have talked about this at many an after party and I think from what I remember we decided all it actually really comes down to is 30% hard work, 20% passion, 20% luck, 20% the people around you and 10% talent. These percentages obviously change from artist to artist, but I think it is less of a struggle per say when you aim to match the percentages above.

What’s the most expensive thing you ever bid for on eBay?
I have become disillusioned with ebay because in the past I have bought very expensive clothes, then they turn up the wrong size, wrong colour, or even fake sometimes. I did spend £1300 on a MacBook once but I went and met the guy before I exchanged the money. Recently I did spend £500 on discogs on six pieces of vinyl that will probably never get played and just sit in my ‘collectables’ section on my record shelf.

You own label Leftroom records. Is it difficult juggling being a producer and dedicating the necessary amount of time to something as demanding as a label?
I was finding it very hard towards the end of say 2009 to handle everything as my DJ bookings increased a lot after our Cocoon Recordings release and it added a major workload on me as I was having to take Mondays off to recover from the weekend’s travelling and partying. Towards the beginning of 2010 though I took on a label manager for Leftroom who deals with our distributor direct and also someone to help with the digital side of the label, i.e. running Left’d (our digital only label), dealing with Beatport, newsletters, Facebook etc. So all in all it has become a lot easier to balance everything. But I am still very hands on, as I like to know what is going on all the time.

Describe your criteria when selecting an artist to release.
Someone I can relate to on a friendship level. Someone who has a similar drive and passion to me. And someone that has a basic grasp of how the music industry works and who is willing to be patient in development of their skills and therefore their career.

Do you learn from these artists?
I learn a lot production wise from my artists, as deep down at heart, I am a DJ. I am still learning a lot in the studio, for example from Christopher Sylvester / Inxec and Justin Drake, so I would definitely say my confidence in the studio has been aided by the artists I have surrounded myself with.

What’s your opinion on today’s music industry? Any qualms?
I think on the whole what we are missing is vinyl. These new kids are missing out on the relationships you can build with record store workers, who help shape your sound and introduce you to new music very quickly. Also people are getting lazy with the sound-scaping of their music as a lot of it is just digital only, so they don’t really care what it would sound like on vinyl. I mean let’s face it, being a successful producer 15 years ago was a good career, as vinyl was selling a lot, and you were getting paid as the profit margins then were pretty high. Nowadays there is no such thing as only a producer, you have to be a producer, DJ/live act, PR machine, character, resident, etc etc etc.

Is there something in the music industry now that didn’t used to be there?
Traktor? Digital only tracks/remixes?

One track that gives you goose-bumps?
I was recently listening to Kenny Hawkes – Dance For Me on Music For Freaks and it gave me goose-bumps. I think this is due to the memories that are connected: sharing this record with people on the dancefloor but also because of the two vocals, the idea behind it, and the production of this record is second to none.

Studio and stage time are prevalent elements for all DJs and producers. Can you have a preference?
At the moment I am really enjoying both, but nothing beats an amazing time had on a Friday or Saturday night with a room full of people. There is just something about being in control of a dance-floor and people going with you while respecting your taste in music; that is very satisfying.

What should the crowd expect from your gigs?
Guys don’t be spending too much time at the bar, as the dance-floor is where all the girls will be. And the end of the night may become more interesting because the later it is, the more Vodka I’m likely to have consumed.

One great - recently deceased - artist?
Detroit’s very own Aaron Carl, R.I.P.

Interview by: Jasmine Phull

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