In an Internet-era dance music market oversaturated with labels and releases, London's Leftroom Records has emerged as a veritable touchstone for quality tech-house.
With international stars like Maceo Plex, Huxley, Waifs & Strays, and Laura Jones on its roster, DJ-producer and tastemaker Matt Tolfrey's A&R vision has brought the imprint to the high esteem of club rats on both sides of the Atlantic.
Of course, Tolfrey has been known first and foremost as a killer DJ with a few singles and EPs to his name. But he's finally coming into his own as a bona fide producer, dropping his debut long player Word of Mouth on October 1. And if teasers like "Turn You Out" are anything to go by, fans are in for a spicy sexed-up treat.
In fact, you can hear for yourself when Tolfrey stops by Villa 221 on his Word of Mouth tour this Saturday.
Crossfade: Leftroom has emerged as one of the most esteemed labels on the transatlantic tech-house scene. What was the concept for the label when you first launched it? And how has that concept evolved or changed as the roster and catalog has expanded?
Matt Tolfrey: The motto for the label, from day one, has been "the extended family" -- and it has stayed true. I hit a crossroads where I was either going to go to music college to learn how to produce or start a label, and I decided on the label route. I was getting sent so much music from friends and colleagues that was unsigned, that I really believed in, so I decided to start the label. I have always been a fan of supporting people, and the label has been a great channel for this. So the concept for the label is very similar now to when it started. But obviously, our roster has evolved and expanded naturally over time.
Besides supporting friends and colleagues, do you have a criteria for selecting material to release? Is there a specific aesthetic or vibe you're looking for to define the label?
One of the simple rules for what does and doesn't get signed to Leftroom is whether I will play it or not. I will never sign a record just because it will sell a lot or is hyped. If I am not playing it, it won't end up on one of the labels. Music is a taste thing, and I am confident in saying that everyone currently involved in the label has a similar taste in music. Not exactly the same, but there are tracks that all of us play collectively.
What can you tell us about the new album? Is there are theme tying it all together, or did you approach it more as a collection of tracks?
Word of Mouth has been a 12-month project that has been amazing working on, and I have learned so much in the process. It has definitely been made to listen to from start to end, as I think all albums should be. The name of the album is a concept, but a very varied one, which sums it up as a whole. I knew from the start that I wanted a very vocal lead album, as I felt it would give it identity and a very personal touch straight away.
All of the vocalists involved were a huge part of the album, and without them the tracks would not have hit their potential. Also, some of the tracks on the album are completely made using my mouth. There are programs out there at the moment that enable audio to be translated to MIDI, so some basslines and melodies were simply sung or hummed into a mic by me. Also, anyone that knows me, knows I like to talk a lot! [Laughs]
Why release an LP in this age of short attention spans and single digital downloads? Is there still value to the album format, especially in electronic dance music?
Albums are a way of expressing yourself that you simply can't do with a single download. When you're writing EPs, there is always some sort of external pressure to make sure it is a hit or dance floor-orientated. But the LP or album format is not like this at all. There is no way I could put out a trip-hop or downtempo track as a lead track on an EP, but they could be the standout tracks on an album.
So what's up next for you and the label?
I don't like to ever give too much away. But the next three months are going to be very exciting. Leftroom and Leftroom Limited are going from strength to strength with some big releases from Shall Ocin, Odd Parents & Maceo Plex, and of course the album itself. There is also a [various-artists album] coming, entitled Our Summer, which includes six tracks from Huxley, myself & Sam Russo, Pezzner, Jack Dixon, Coat of Arms, and Jaimer Vincentie.
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For me, I am in the middle of an extensive U.S. tour till the end of September, then I am back to Europe for Ibiza closing parties, then off to Tokyo for only the second time. I have to keep checking my diary to see what the agent has got in there, so I am always as surprised as most!
Matt Tolfrey. Saturday, September 22. Villa 221, 221 NE 17th St., Miami. The party starts at 10 p.m. Call 305-416-5280 or visit villa221.com.