Tom Findlay is one half of grammy-winning super duo Groove Armada. But next to his efforts in the well-known project, which has recently turned from ambient to house and deep house music, Tom has also done a lot of work in his solo career. We asked Tom about GA’s summer, their old work and his contribution to the latest Late Night Tales compilation.
Born in the last third of the 20th Century, Tom discovered at a very young age that his life would be defined by the obscure funk and soul 45” discs that he’d play non-stop. Throughout his youth, his music tastes evolved to embrace everything from punk, jazz, disco, Black Sabbath, electro before eventually, overwhelmingly, he discovered house music. Spending daylight hours kicking footballs, at night he’d set about learning keyboards and guitars in his bedroom. By the age of 16 he was DJing at parties. You could say he had no choice: music chose Tom.
Tom’s studies moved him to New York City’s West Village where for six months he worked as a ‘lackie’ at Empire Productions. Working for Guru (Gangstarr), Jeru the Damaja and the Brand New Heavies he’d be in charge of wooing the Naomis and Kates off the catwalk and into the glitzy celeb-bashes that the company was promoting.
Returning to London, a spell in PR was short lived. Luckily Tom’s friendship with Yorkshire’s 6-feet-and-rising Andy Cato wasn’t. The two met through Cato’s girlfriend and not that long after they’d started discussing music, they were promoting their first London club night together. Called ‘Captain Sensual At The Helm of Groove Armada’ it took place at the Gardening Club 2, Covent Garden, getting off to a shaky start. They’d booked the house DJ Dave Seaman for the first night, almost going bankrupt over his DJ fee, amazed to read the next day’s Euro ‘96 football tabloid headline referring to his goal-keeper namesake: ‘Seaman sinks Armada’. As if it was meant to be, Andy and Tom set forth on their musical adventure together and soon released their first track. The rest is history, as they say.
So Tom, what have you been up to lately, solo as well as with Groove Armada?
Well lots of summer shows at Pacha. I really enjoyed the season and just completed a bit of a UK DJ tour which has been really vibey. We’re working on something for ModaBlack and then of course there’s my Automatic Soul album out today.
Let’s go back in time for a bit to relate to the GA track “Superstylin’”. In which sphere of electronic music did it belong in your sense and: what were the track’s main influences for you guys?
Well its dance music. We’d been working with our MC MAD, and he has that dancehall toasting thing going on. So its influences our in house, but with the horns, the bassline, the vocals and the general skank of it all it owes to a huge debt to reggae and dub.
In the early 2000’s, Groove Armada had a live act. I’m curious how the energy of a live act (with a full band) compares to a regular DJ set.
It’s totally different. The live at its best was just incredible, but equally to get something that complex, and that tight it becomes all consuming. DJing is great, a lot easier to manage and of course you get to play other people’s songs which makes a nice change.
You’ve been around the music industry for over 15 years. Which period or phase of the electronic music / dance music scene has struck you the most to this day and why?
That’s hard to say, we’ve been through a few phases of it. Musically I think it’s a great time right now for dance music, house music especially is just brilliant I think with labels like Get Physical, Defected, Hot Creations, Aus music. It’s always high on innovation and quality. From a personal perspective I’ll never forget the period when Superstylin came out, DJing in front of half a million people on Brighton beach, or closing Glastonbury in 2007.
Your musical preferences cover all areas from house to breaks to ambient or drum & bass. How did the early days of rave and drum & bass influence your productions?
It’s just there, we were both living the scene and partying a lot. It’s hard to say how it all flows through but all those mornings in fields amounted to something quite special.
In an interview for BBC America prior to the 2011 Grammys, you emphasized the fact that “disco in the UK resonated well after bell bottoms went out of style”. Why do you think to this date, disco still prevails on the UK & European dance floors?
Essentially cos it’s brilliant music, and the grooves are infectious as hell. There’s always been a love of black music in the UK, from Northern Soul, to disco to classic house. I think the ‘disco sucks’ movement in the US in the late 70s, which was vicious, really sucked the life out of the scene in the US.
This year, you’re part of LateNightTales once again. Could you tell us a bit about the roots and what did you want to convey through “Automatic Soul”?
Yeah its great to be back, LNT is a brilliant series with loads of heritage, and they’re an amazing team of people to work with. The theme of this one as the title suggests is a kind of drum machine fuelled 80s soul that I really loved growing up. I’d made a 70s one and this is the companion piece. I’m really proud of it, a true labor of love.
Sugardaddy – Don’t Look Any Further (Hot Toddy Remix) | Late Night Tales – Automatic Soul
How does soul or disco come to your aid after a night of house and techno?
It’s always been a big part of my life. If I’m honest it’s what I listen to most of the time. I love house music, but for me the time and the place for that is in a club.
In two words how would you describe the fourth LateNightTales that you have just put together?
What’s next for Groove Armada? Do you think that the future holds another Grammy award winning record for you?
I doubt it. And to be fair we’ve had 3 Grammy nominations but no award, just to set that record straight. We’re really enjoying DJing, and making some EPs when the mood takes us. I think after nearly 20 years in the business that’s fair enough!
LNT’s “Automatic Soul” is out now.