DJ/producer/sound designer Tom Middleton cut his production teeth in the late ’80s in Cornwall, England, after striking up a friendship with Richard D. James while Aphex Twin was in its infancy. Middleton’s studio experiments with James influenced him greatly and set the stage for his groundbreaking ambient work with Mark Pritchard in Global Communication. (The duo’s 1994 album, 76:14, remains a benchmark of excellence in the field.)
Middleton has since gone on to fine-tune his own impeccably diverse sound, one which spans the spectrum from deep house to classical. With a spate of wondrous albums, singles, remixes and DJ mix compilations, the lessons he learned all those years ago in Cornwall continue to resonate.
As James presents his much-ancticipated Syro after a decade-plus absence from music, the constantly innovating Middleton has just unveiled his second sample pack for Loopmasters, Dub Bass House, and is finishing up a series of album projects.
We spoke with Middleton about how he came to work with James and the experience that made an indelible mark on his musical psyche.
Tom Middleton presents Dub Bass House is out now on Loopmasters.
A lot of people know that you worked with Richard D. James early on in your career. How did you come to meet him in the late ’80s while you were living in Cornwall?
Tom Middleton: He was DJing in our local club, playing analogue C90 tapes of his own Polygon Window era productions, which as you can imagine were like nothing else any of us had heard at that time. Just had to meet him, started chatting, got on really well through shared sense of humor and interest in music. He invited me to his house, and over the course of a few months he showed me how he produced his tracks in his bedroom.
What was your role on his Analogue Bubblebath debut EP? I’ve read that you were the Twin in Aphex Twin, but you can’t always believe what you read on the Internet, right?!
I guess you could say I “discovered” him as a talent and in an A&R capacity got him signed. He gave a few of us mix tapes of his unreleased track. Analogue Bubblebath blew me away.
So I took a demo tape to my friends at Mighty Force Records with the three tracks along with one track, “En-Trance to Exit,” that I had composed with him by supplying samples which he engineered, co-produced and helped me arrange under my Schizophrenia alias. Mighty Force pressed it, and I helped distribute the record by hand, lugging boxes to record shops in London and the rest is history. Coincidentally, we share the same birth date, which is maybe where the Twin confusion comes from.
What’s your fondest memory from working with Richard? When was the last time you’ve been in touch? Any idea what his upcoming album that’s 10+ years in the making will sound like?
So many anecdotes: experimenting with the frequency potentiometers in his Roland SH101 to take the factory preset bandwidth into sub sonic and ultra sonic territory; watching the speaker cones move in and out at 5Hz which definitely messed with our heads, then sweeping up into neighborhood dog upsetting ultra sonics! He opened my mind to the possibilities of working with the full frequency spectrum, creative sampling and thinking outside the box.
He dropped me a line a few months back. I think you’ll have heard some of Syro from various YouTube live show clips. Perhaps a more refined and mature sound, less experimental and abstract, more focused, accessible and groovy in fact. And from our conversations, I know his passion for pure analogue synthesis will feature more than the digital glitch-core mayhem of previous works.
“He opened my mind to the possibilities of working with the full frequency spectrum, creative sampling and thinking outside the box.”
I saw on Facebook back in March that you’re working on three albums. How is it progressing? What other projects are you working with now?
They’re done — only a couple of edits and mastering to do. Also been producing an electronica album for a Japanese artist and lining up the albums and new singles for my label(s).
You’ve done another sample pack for Loopmasters. How did you come up with the ’90s concept?
I wanted to make a second instalment, as it felt like unfinished business after delivering the Deep Bass House pack with all of those classic early ’90s sounds. And furthering my self indulgent obsession with authentic early ’90s house, garage and techno productions which seem to be influencing the new wave heavily these days.
I know you’re always juggling a lot of projects. How long does it take to create a sample pack? What’s the biggest creative challenge compared to producing a track?
It’s the set-up, running audio through analogue gear and editing that really takes up the time. The actual creative part is fun, and fairly quick, making one four-bar phrases and loops once you’ve done all the recording, editing and sound design. The challenge is finding authentic equipment and archived ’90s sounds and samples.
Nineties house is back in fashion. How do you feel about the resurgence of music from this era? Are there any records in particular that are working well during your current DJ sets?
I like some of the current revival styles — perhaps [it] loses its edge when it’s too digital. But there’s a bunch of artists I’m feeling. MK is still be doing what he does so well as are Gorgon City, Huxley, Hostage, Detroit Swindle, Shadow Child, DJ Doorly, Copy Paste Soul and Chris Malinchak.
You moved to Italy a few years ago. How’s your Italian and what’s the best thing about living there?
What started as survival Italian has evolved into fairly complete overall comprehension, and I get by in conversations if the accent isn’t too deep or delivery too fast! The local Salentino dialect is tricky to understand though. Best things about Italy: friendly folk, big extended family events, terrain, guaranteed sunshine, crystal clear warm seas on either side, amazing seafood, wine and locally produced seasonal fruit and veggies.
What’s the best thing about being Tom Middleton right now?
The conversations about my Royal XXXth cousin and being XXXXth inline to the throne [laughs]!