Features

T-Funk: Together forever

Under his latest guise as T-Funk, Mr Timothy has arguably made his biggest attack on the dance charts to date. Having first released The Glamorous Life with Inaya Day, he recently followed it up with his latest single Be Together, which features the vocal talents of Katie Underwood. Racing up both the ARIA club and mainstream charts, ITM recently had Mr Timothy don his T-Funk cap and answer a few questions.

Working closely with Ministry of Sound, you must be aware of their reputation as possible the largest commercially orientated label in dance music today, a fact highlighted by their recent acquisition of Hed Kandi in the UK. Within the scene there is a general opinion that commercial exploitation of it is frowned upon, yet it serves obvious purposes in bringing the music to a wider audience. How do you feel about your relationship with MoS?

Its a very positive and productive relationship in terms of getting the entire project to a wider audience and giving it a wider reach. If you want to make music that you want to get to more people, Ministry is the ideal vehicle for this. Commercialisation of the industry is frowned upon by a very narrow band really and I reach out to a different one. I have several different names and there’s a lot of people who don’t like it when you sell mainstream records and play in commercial clubs, but they’re the people who don’t support it or anything that appeals to a larger audience. There’s always gonna be people like that, and to a certain degree I am still one of those people, I still tend to buy minimal German electro records cos I really enjoy listening to them, but while I play a lot of gigs there are very few where I can play that music. I’ve got one foot in both worlds really. It’s all good to be underground and credible but, you know, it’s called the music business and you either need to make money or it’s a hobby. For a lot of us it began as a hobby and turned into something bigger than that, and as you progress along if you listen to a lot of my earlier stuff it never got released. It never got released for a reason, the small number of people it appealed to didn’t have enough numbers to give it any commercial success. It just never gets a chance to get to the masses but that’s the way it goes.

Keeping on the topic, how much input does the label have into your production work, is it comparable to a rock group signed to a major where they are dictated to on what sound is required?

The way I get A&Red by any label is that I tend to work on a track up to about 80%, what I call lock-up stage, then I take it into the record label and say, look, this is the vibe. Nowadays with songs, production is nearly as important as the song itself, especially in this genre of music. So, when I take a record in I may have played them 3 or 4 records and theyve said, well, we really like this one here, lets push it as the next single, so we get some alternative mixes in to appeal to some alternate markets, but they dont actually ever get me to take a track away and redo it, so its not really the same in that respect.

Theyre A&Ring in the true sense of word; theyll pick one track over another. So as far as having dictation over the sound or having any control over what I do in the studio, its very minimal. Occasionally, Tim McGee (Ministry of Sound Australia Managing Director), because hes very smart and he knows the market and is actually a DJ himself, sometimes hell come back and say things like, hey man, I played this out last night and I think the vocal could be a little louder, which is just proactive feedback. Hes an expert in his field and that kind of thing is very welcome.

Working with some of the scenes top divas, notably Katie Underwood and Inaya Day, how do you find that compared to producing a track on your own?

To be honest working with Inaya or Katie or anybody doesnt really affect the way I work cos I always start by putting down a very musical backing track, and then Inaya will go away and put down the vocals while I continue to work on the track. Once Ive got the vocal back Ill actually take a lot of parts out of the original track because I like to have it so the singers got something to vibe to while Im recording it. Then I strip it back to, in some cases, just a drum track and a bassline. When youre playing something to somebody and you need them to get the vibe of it you need it to be interesting and to have elements they can grasp. Once youve got a vocal on there you need to make room for it as you do with any element you put in. So whether Im working in the studio or working with a vocalist the process is pretty much the same. I get them in, we cut everything quickly and smoothly, because these people are experienced and have done this kind of thing before, then they leave and I go back to reconstructing the track by myself. Sometimes the actual core idea will hit you at really weird hours, like at 3 oclock in the morning itll just come to me and so I nip down to the studio in the house and put the main elements down and come back to it in the morning. Its like little elves have been in over night and made the track!

Youre obviously a hard-working producer and one of only a few Aussies to be working with such a major label, having stuff signed to the likes of Tommy Boy means you must be reasonably big in the UK and US scenes. Why do you think, generally, Aussie DJs and producers do not feature too heavily over there, and is it changing?

I see a big change right now, theres a whole lot of things changing at the moment, theres underground guys here doing really well. Im friendly with a lot of people and I know whats going on in the scene for them and a lot of things are changing. It comes down to the internet really, it brings people closer together. There was a point when you had to go to a music conference to meet the head of a record label where nowadays you can mp3 a track to a label overseas and if the right person stumbles across it, before you know it, its released in another territory. Off my album, just because I feature Rahsaan Patterson on a track, it got released in 2 other countries. He played a track that I featured him on to a label in the Netherlands and they decided they wanted to release it as a single and they sent it via email to the UK division, who decided they wanted to release it as well. The worlds just such a small place now because of the internet. With the quality of the product that were making out here and with everyone getting more and more creative and taking more risks, we are becoming very much on par, and many of the big DJ and producers that come through here, the likes of Oakenfold and others, actually have a lot of time for the local scene now.

We know you as T-Funk now and primarily as a producer, do you do much DJing work and what tracks are doing it for you at the moment?

At the moment Im really liking some of the Booka Shade stuff, some of the Manu mixes and theres a few tracks like Put Your Hands Up For Detroit and a track I picked up the other day called Sharp, theres all bits and pieces Ive been finding lately and its not just the kind of stuff I play in big rooms, which is where Im doing most of my gigs lately. The thing I do like is when people manage to make tunes that capture that really cool underground vibe and still have the energy required to work in the big rooms. But there are not a lot of tracks that fit that bill so Im tending to take tracks and rework them. Lately Ive been using that Booka Shade track Body Language and put it behind some tougher beats so creating something different and tailoring it to a crowd. I have to do quite a lot of very commercial gigs through the fact that people hear you on the radio, so Im carrying about 2 or 3 CDs of acapellas, probably about 60 or so, and it just helps to soften the blow for people who are less into the sound. Ive never been a fan of playing tracks off the club charts just because I know people will know them, Id rather manipulate my sets and my music in the way that I want to, to get the core sound out there, but maybe make it a bit more accessible for them if its getting too deep.

The sound youre producing, while fairly unique, is quite a similar sound to the US soulful scene, the likes of One Phat Diva and Soulfuric records spring to mind. What is it that has influenced the development of your sound in this direction?

The sound developed or crystallised when I released I Am Tha One. Id always been into that tough sound but also the vocal sound and Id spent some months in Chicago working with people like E-Smoove and Steve Hurley. So I got the soulful side to things having worked with them, but then I realised that I still needed the energy of the tougher beats when DJing so I tried to fuse the two. Thats where I actually fused it, and that was in 2004, and the reviews were saying it was techy house but I never ever thought of myself making music like that. It makes sense now because when Im DJing I understand that a certain tracks going to give me the energy I want, but I still like the soulful house kind of sound which comes from my beginnings many years ago in the RnB scene. It seems obvious that the sound I work with at the moment is the one I should be making. It was a logical progression though, as I said, I never really though Id be doing it before hand. What influences me making my music right now is whatever sounds I can get out of my new equipment that strike a chord with me or add something new to my repertoire. I dont really listen to other sounds and think, thats what I want to be doing. I try to do something that I havent heard before. One Phat Deeva signed my first two releases because they thought it was a great sound, and they continue to push that style of sound out there.

A lot of people diss the electro-house scene, mostly electro heads, calling it commercial and faddy. What are your thoughts on the development and longevity of that sound?

Like any house sound it is a fad and it wont be around forever. We went through acid, piano, handbag, happy house and its just dividing all the time. It just so happens right now that the scene is heavily driven by electro house. To be honest what a lot of us are playing is not electro at all, its just tough house with electro influences. I know this because I listen to a lot of electro DJs and I dont know what theyre playing… I couldnt tell you what any of their records are called! Those guys are playing in smaller rooms and its a smaller niche.

While youve been in the scene for over 15 years youve really only started to achieve notoriety in recent years, what moves did you make that have lead you to finally break onto the bigger market?

In a few years I want to get more into producing records for other people. What was the biggest break for me in the last few years was a move away from that and a move into putting my own stuff out. I had been producing a lot of music for people that were struggling to get themselves known and that wasnt helping me. A lot of people had told me that my tracks were radio friendly or club friendly but at one point I decided not to listen and put my stuff out there. I had nothing to lose and it was at that point that I began to really get places!

Be Together, the latest single from T-Funk featuring Katie Underwood, is in stores now and available on Ministry of Sound/EMI.