Toddla T - The steel pulse is reinvigorated

Meet Toddla T, the man who's making Sheffield once again the centre of dance music. Chris Mugan reports on the stars behind the revival

When Toddla T drops his debut album this month, there will rightly be much excitement over how a twentysomething Sheffield lad has reinvented Jamaican dancehall in his own cheeky image. Less will be mentioned about how Tom Bell served his apprenticeship in his home city's studios, though this side of the story is just as important. For, after a few years when Sheffield deskmasters have been forging beats for many worthy artists, they are set to unveil one of their own as a star.

Not that anyone with a grasp of dancefloor history should be surprised that the city has sidled its way back to the epicentre of cutting-edge music. Sheffield artists were among the first in the UK to pick up on the pioneering electronic work of Kraftwerk. While punk bands laboured with three guitar chords, Cabaret Voltaire constructed primitive synthesisers and paved the way for Human League, Heaven 17 and ABC, among the groups that defined the electronic sounds of the Eighties.

When house music emerged at the end of the decade, south Yorkshire was at the forefront. Warp Records was one of the first British labels to specialise in the new sound and rapidly became one of the most important, its trademark being cavernous bass notes and implacable bleeps. An underground interest in electronica has remained.

Our story begins when Steve Mackey, bassist in Pulp, got hold of a demo by young London-based wannabe MIA. He immediately roped in Ross Orton, a budding dance producer previously best known then for electroclash outfit Fat Truckers.

Orton missed out on the first flowering of Sheffield house music, but as a late developer found himself leaning towards Detroit's Underground Resistance techno label and dub influences. "I went to parties in the quarries, but I was never happy with the music. Then I heard Jeff Mills for the first time.I gravitated towards black-influenced dance music – drum'n'bass, the ragga scene. That helped me discover early Sheffield music."

Orton and Mackey formed the Cavemen production outfit and, when their partnership eventually drifted apart, the former was left to hone his own skills.

Along the way, Orton poached Bell to help out on his own remixes. Then in stepped Roots Manuva. From his south London base, UK's finest hip-hop artist had been edging towards a sound closer to Jamaican dancehall than your usual rap or R&B backing. Then he hooked up with a Sheffield lass, moved north briefly, and found a new well of talent to draw from.

This mercurial talent was comfortable in a place that had replaced production of stainless steel with the assembly of bottom-heavy beats, the clang of drop hammers with the thud of bass. On fourth album Slime & Reason, the rapper nailed the boisterous rumble of dancehall, the update of reggae based on studio-based electro rather than live instrumentation. Manuva met Bell at the studio, though it was only when the rapper saw him working at a shoe-shop that he asked him for some beats. They ended up at Bell's bedroom in his family home. Orton mixed Bell's three tracks for Slime & Reason, though he takes on a co-production role for Toddla's own work, Skanky Skanky.

Bell is the kind of precocious youth used to hanging out with an older crowd, which explains his stage name, he reveals. "Hip-hop was all I cared about until I was 15, then being the youngest, people older than me and more open-minded showed me dancehall, reggae and two-step garage. Then I got into house and techno."

It is only in the past two years that Bell has become comfortable in his role as a musician. "As a DJ, I might play 10 per cent dancehall. People ask me to play two hours of upfront Jamaican music, but that's not me at all."

Bell admits that his singles have shown one side of this taste, but hopes the album reveals a more varied outlook that encompasses hip-hop, electro and garage, featuring as it does dub poet Benjamin Zephaniah, and Siobhan Gallagher.

Bell believes that growing up in Sheffield has shaped his sound and is keen to remain there. "Music's a lot heavier here, whether it be bassline in the clubs or the old Warp stuff. It's all the parties I used to go. If I grew up somewhere else, I'd have a totally different sound and outlook."

Toddla is set to receive credits on work by London rappers Tinchy Stryder and Bashy, as well as Sheffield's own Roisin Murphy. His future certainly looks bright, but for now Orton is there to keep his ego in check. The Sheffield music scene would not have it any other way.

Toddla T's single 'Shake It' is out on May 18 on 1965 Records, with album 'Skanky Skanky' out on May 25

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
Word master: Self holds up a copy of his novel ‘Umbrella’
books
Arts and Entertainment
Hare’s a riddle: Kit Williams with the treasure linked to Masquerade
books
Arts and Entertainment
The man with the golden run: Daniel Craig as James Bond in 'Skyfall'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
'Waving Seal' by Luke Wilkinson was Highly Commended in the Portraits category

photography
Arts and Entertainment
The eyes have it: Kate Bush
music
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Art
Arts and Entertainment
Diana Beard, nicknamed by the press as 'Dirty Diana'

Bake Off
Arts and Entertainment
The X Factor 2014 judges: Simon Cowell, Cheryl Cole, Mel B and Louis Walsh

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Gregg Wallace was caught by a camera van driving 32mph over the speed limit

TV
Arts and Entertainment
books
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and the Dalek meet
tvReview: Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Arts and Entertainment
Star turns: Montacute House
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Iain reacts to his GBBO disaster

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Outlaw Pete is based on an eight-minute ballad from Springsteen’s 2009 Working on a Dream album

books
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne made her acting debut in Anna Karenina in 2012

film
Arts and Entertainment
Simon Cowell is less than impressed with the Strictly/X Factor scheduling clash

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Gothic revival: artist Dave McKean’s poster for Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination
Exhibition
Arts and Entertainment
Diana Beard has left the Great British Bake Off 2014

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Lisa Kudrow, Courtney Cox and Jennifer Anniston reunite for a mini Friends sketch on Jimmy Kimmel Live

TV
Arts and Entertainment
TVDessert week was full of the usual dramas as 'bingate' ensued
Arts and Entertainment
Clara and the twelfth Doctor embark on their first adventure together
TVThe regulator received six complaints on Saturday night
Arts and Entertainment
Vinyl demand: a factory making the old-style discs
musicManufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl
Arts and Entertainment
David Baddiel concedes his show takes its inspiration from the hit US series 'Modern Family'
comedyNew comedy festival out to show that there’s more to Jewish humour than rabbi jokes
Arts and Entertainment
Puff Daddy: One Direction may actually be able to use the outrage to boost their credibility

music
Arts and Entertainment
Suha Arraf’s film ‘Villa Touma’ (left) is set in Ramallah and all the actresses are Palestinian

film
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

    The big names to look for this fashion week

    This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
    Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

    'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

    Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
    Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

    Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

    Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
    Al Pacino wows Venice

    Al Pacino wows Venice

    Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
    Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

    Neil Lawson Baker interview

    ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
    The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

    The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

    Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
    The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

    The model for a gadget launch

    Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
    Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

    She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

    Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
    Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

    Get well soon, Joan Rivers

    She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
    Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

    A fresh take on an old foe

    Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
    Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

    Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

    As the collections start, fashion editor Alexander Fury finds video and the internet are proving more attractive
    Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy

    Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall...

    ... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy
    Weekend at the Asylum: Europe's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln

    Europe's biggest steampunk convention

    Jake Wallis Simons discovers how Victorian ray guns and the martial art of biscuit dunking are precisely what the 21st century needs
    Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

    Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

    Lying is dangerous and unnecessary. A new book explains the strategies needed to avoid it. John Rentoul on the art of 'uncommunication'
    Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough? Was the beloved thespian the last of the cross-generation stars?

    Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough?

    The atomisation of culture means that few of those we regard as stars are universally loved any more, says DJ Taylor