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Although he has been manipulating audio in one form or another since the early 1990s, it wasn't until 2002's Cookshop sampler The Cookshop Taster that Jim Coles laid down his work on record under the 2tall moniker. Since then, however, Coles has wasted no time in disseminating the fruits of his DJ and turntablist skills to the masses, appearing on a string of releases - spots on Scratch Beats' Psychacoustic Soundtracks compilations in both 2002 and this year as well as The Earwax Legacy compact disc for the same label in 2003, and both the Writers Block mixtape for Sensory Overload and The Rise, a 12-inch vinyl EP for Needlework Records, last year.
Although in the nebulous crew-hopping world of London's breakbeat, house and DJ scenes it has been as much his production technique as his finger dexterity on a pair of turntables that has gotten Coles' name around, it is without question his 2tall releases that show the most promise. From tiny, intricate and intimate microcosms of sound to massive outbreaks of leaps and loops, the 2tall sound has been honed in the dark corners and public spaces of London for the past decade, a unique soundprint forged amid a swirling vortex of ethnic and stylistic diversity.
From the LAS offices in Portugal staff writer Helder Gomes recently had the chance to catch up with Cole via telephone, and the DJ-slash-producer was kind enough share a few words on life, turntablism, music in general, and the forthcoming DJ 2tall album Shifting Tides.
LAS:First things first, how important was the drum n' bass scene of early 1990s in the shaping of your sound?
2tall: It was the first music I really got into. I started off at age 13, just knocking out hardcore/jungle tracks at home, so I learned quite quickly about breaks, and editing samples. The technology was primitive - I was working with DOS based tracking software (respect to the Scream Tracker Massive!). As far as shaping my sound, I would say it laid the foundation for what I do, but now I'm more of a mellow creature. Drum and bass and jungle music will always have a special place in my heart - I like to think I take elements from the drum n bass sound and manipulate them slightly into what I do. As far as DJing, I like to use big, grimey bass sounds in my DJ battle sets.
Unlike most turntablists, you really put a lot of focus on your education, having studied Sound Recording and Music Technology at University. With all that expertise, do you have much use for the DIY thing?
I wouldn't say most turntablists are uneducated, although I believe that studying production and engineering has helped me greatly in being able to create music that incorporates turntables. I still view what I do as DIY though; I work solely on a PC. I do feel that a lot of "turntablist" or "scratch" music is produced to "sound like scratch music" - as opposed to a DJ creating something unique to themselves, its almost like they are following what has gone before, trying to create their imprint of what they have already heard.
Tell us more about your competition history. Did the DJ battles provide you with the confidence to go further with the artform? How relevant are those battles in your current profile?
My first DJ Battle was in 2001, at the Jazz Cafe in London. I got murdered, straight up. I wasn't ready, but it spurred me on. Since then I have taken part in the UK DMC and World DMC final, as well as winning some local battles in the UK and some competitions online. I took part in the 2003 European Beatdown, and the 2003 UK ITF Advancement. So the battles are relevant in a sense that they continue to be part of my repertoire, but it's just a slice of what I can do. Turntable routines are challenging to put together, and taking part in battles is a good way to raise profile, and gain confidence. However what I want to do goes much further than just competing.
What about the Truesicians crew?
The Truesicians crew was a project that I named and put together with myself, DJ Blakey, and DJ Whut!. We also had Daredevil, Beware, and DJ Enema in the crew at different times - we are all still good friends, but we decided to disband last year after the World DMC championships to pursue our professional careers separately, to stand on our own feet so to speak.
2tall is your most acknowledged project, I guess. In that sense is it also the avenue which gives you more pleasure?
2tall is my DJ and production name. It doesn't give me any more pleasure as such; I have to create, it's just what I do. I enjoy it, but its also been a part of my life for over 10 years. so its just me, if that makes sense. If its acknowledged, then I'm acknowledged and that makes it worth doing.
What do you mean when you say you're "more of a sound spotter" than a producer?
I spot sounds for the texture first, sometimes the texture over the actual implication of what it will have on the listener. Heavy vinyl crackle, to me, sounds like weed smoke. Smooth keyboards can remind me of plastic sheeting. Gritty beats make me think of big empty metal vats. I guess its that visual or tactile thing that I go for if I'm sampling or creating a synththetic beat.
How did the recording process of Shifting Tides shake out? Are you content with the results?
It took about a year to make, mostly because I spent a lot of time on working on the sound that I wanted by messing around with ideas, and when I kind of got the feeling I wanted to create, I cultivated it and then made an album of it. It's hard to describe clearly, because I'm right in the middle of it, but I can say the process came about through a period of change and introspection in my life. There's some navel gazing in there, but also joyful moments - its going to be a tough listen for some, but I think music these days in popular culture is so shallow that people need some Earth in there, some tears and some guts. So yes, if it provokes those thoughts and feelings, then I'm happy.
Before you released your debut EP, The Rise, last year, you had been involved as DJ 2tall primarily with compilations and mixtapes. How did those projects come about - do people just ask you to contribute?
Basically I just saw an advert for a record label, Cookshop Records, looking for artists and sent them some stuff. It was music made completely from scratching, but with no battle breaks or corny samples. They liked it, and I got my first track onto vinyl through them, which was a sampler EP with four different artists. Unfortunately Cookshop then went cold on me without telling me what was going on, and then ended up releasing someone else's music instead, but shit happens!
I had no mixtape presence before The Rise, aside from the Truesicians mixtape, which never really took off. If anyone has a copy keep hold of it because there were only about 20 copies made, and its a dope tape, too. Its called Variations. The Rise was my first solo thing, and in fact the track "The Rise" was supposed to go out on Return of the DJ 5, through Bomb HipHop, but they canned it at the last minute, which led to Needlework Records.
How does it feel to be one of the winners of a remix competition for one of the most proactive labels to emerge in recent years? I'm talking about Ninja Tune, of course.
I was well chuffed. I haven't made much noise about it though, because I don't want to name-drop all over the place. I'm very proud though, as I've been a Ninja fan for a fair while. Respect to Strictly Kev and DK for putting that on, it was great fun.
So tell me about August...
August is a band made up of a bass player, a guitarist and drummer. I have been working with them and have done some live shows, but the guitarist actually left so the lads are taking a time out. It's an easy-going thing - we've done some free parties and stuff, and it was all about showing me as a musician with them as a backing track. We did some stuff with Lady Berry too, a talented singer from London, that's something for the future still. We will be out again when things reform.
You have two rather interesting articles featured on your website. The first one deals with what you call "positive personal action," and the second, "On the Nature of Turntablism," explores the term "turntablism" and looks at some of its practitioners. Care to elaborate on those? What made you write them?
The articles I wrote because I felt I needed to be really honest with people that come to my website. I've questioned [the articles] many times, asking myself "is it professional" to make such a statement, or thinking "this might leave me open to too much criticism." But then I realized that I might as well use my site to speak about things that interest me a little, to spark people off to think about those things themselves.
I am by no means a life coach, but the whole "positive personal action" article is to say, to people who are in a bad situation, that only they can come out of it. Five years ago I nearly killed myself, and I dealt with a lot of issues and worked myself off anti-depressants, conquered anxiety attacks, and I now support myself whilst still making music. It can be done. Its just a message for people that it is possible to make a difference.
The "Turntablism" issue was more of a rant about the term. About how we are perceived as scratch DJs, how the art of scratching and manipulating records has been given this term, which in turn has led to this corny image of some rich skater kid collecting battle records, which is not the whole truth by any means. Certain people in the industry need to realize this [the genre's true underground origins] and support us. DJ equipment manufacturers need to also open their wallets and do proper sponsorship.
Lastly, how did you get an invitation to appear on the BBC Radio 1's "One World" programme?
Through DJ Blakey's recommendation, and of course the DMC staff were more than happy. I did my live set with 2 turntables and a footpedal sampler, something which I hope to be doing a lot more at shows around the UK. It was a fantastic opportunity to showcase what I can do, broadcasting to a bigger audience. SEE ALSO: www.dj2tall.com
SEE ALSO: www.myspace.com/jim2tall
SEE ALSO: www.eeclecticbreaks.com
SEE ALSO: www.needle-work.net
SEE ALSO: www.turntableradio.com
Currently living on the south bank of the Tagus river, in Portugal, Helder Gomes is a working class hero. He is a journalist for the local radio station Rádio Nova Anten. In his spare time, he skates and watches many odd movies. He is in love with the French nouvelle vague, and the Danish/Swedish invasion. He writes for a number of publications, on the Internet or otherwise, notably the underground Portuguese magazine Mondo Bizarre, and the Jazz Review website. He is also the news collector and a staff witer for the adorable Lost at Sea. Oh, and there is also the Coffee Breakz radio show that he tries to host every Saturday.
See other articles by Helder Gomes.
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