What comes to mind when someone mentions Birmingham to you? Heavy industry? Gangs of rude bois dressed all in black? Benefits street? Terrible accents? Hopefully not, cause that would make you pretty ignorant…
But, then, we wouldn’t blame you – the UK’s second biggest city has consistently punched well below its weight when it comes to British youth culture over the last couple of decades.
While Manchester, Bristol, Sheffield and the like are all well regarded for their contributions to UK dance music culture, Birmingham has never really made the waves that smaller cities seem to do with ease.
Until now, that is. In a city where speed garage never really died, the return to prominence of house and garage has suddenly cast the UK underground’s attention on Brum, with the likes of Hannah Wants, Chris Lorenzo, Second City and Tom Shorterz grabbing major plaudits for their bass-heavy take on house music.
Ahead of his performance on the Rinse FM stage at Eastern Electrics Festival on 2 August, Trap caught up with Tom Shorterz for a chat about the city he loves, the music he plays and what’s suddenly causing the city to make so much noise…
Hello Tom. For those who might not know you, please introduce yourself…
My name’s Tom Shorterz. I’m a DJ and producer. I have a show on Rinse FM and run parties in Birmingham called 02.31 and 10:31. I have two sugars in my tea and am a frequent demonstrator at my local abattoir.
How would you describe the music you play?
I call it ‘house & bass’ music; it’s not a genre, it’s an umbrella term for the music I play. House is a broad term with a lot of little sub-genres – there’s a new one every week. But I like to throw the word bass about, as a lot of the music has punching, rolling basslines.
So do you come from a house background, or a bass-music one?
My first true music love was UK garage in my early teens. You had a solid mixture of variety in that music – they called it ‘house & garage’ back then. I loved both sides of it; from classic house like MD X-Spress ‘God Made Me Phunky’ and New Horizons ‘Find The Path’, to bassy stuff like DJ Narrows ‘Saved Soul’ or Double 99 ‘RIP Groove’.
I was just a huge fan of the music listening to pirate radio or watching friends play back then. When I started to DJing some years after, I was playing what we called ‘Speed Garage’ mixed with old retro house, so it’s hard to pinpoint a precise background.
Birmingham hasn’t been known for its musical output over recent years. Why do you think so many producers are coming from there at the moment?
Black Sabbath? UB40? The Twang… Yeah, OK so Brummies just get overlooked. Maybe it’s because we sound so thick when we speak. In terms of producers, people who start off here always seem to move – Steve Lawler, Funkagenda, Subb-an, three names who have toured and dominated the world’s best dancefloors but you don’t see them kicking about the Bullring or at your local Tesco any more.
Cause & Affect and Predator are putting out some solid grimy house music. Then on the opposite end of the music scale, One Records, Adam Shelton and Subb-an’s imprint all started off in Birmingham – some serious underground house and techno.
And a big favourite of mine is Low Steppa but he’s actually from Cannock, just outside of Birmingham so that don’t count. Shit man, Brum is screwed, you know. Jasper Carrot is a badman though.
Who are the key players in the Brum scene right now?
The crowd. Without them listening to the music and coming to the parties we would have nothing. Birmingham stand tall.
The nightlife up there seems to be blowing up after some seriously quite times. Why do you think this is? There used to be mad trouble up there – has this changed?
I first started going out in 2002. I’ve seen such a change in the crowd it’s untrue. The clubs back then seemed to end up really moody sometimes; fights would be kicking off, doors getting rushed by gangs, people getting bottled in the middle of the dancefloor… Some serious Wild West brawls. But it was just the norm.
My god, we were having the time of our lives, gurning our tits off, banging tunes… But there was a serious bad vibe in some places. The majority of people were just your stereotypical chavs from ruff areas – don’t judge a book by its cover and all that, but I never saw two people in tuxedos kicking the fuck out of each other. (Actually my auntie’s wedding got pretty messy, but that’s another story.)
Bottom line, there just didn’t seem to be a mixture of people – just one demographic and a constant dark cloud above the events I was going to and DJing at in my late teens.
I was heavily involved in the bassline scene. I’m sure a quick Google search would see how up and down the country this music pulled in some right wrong crowds. The crowds got moodier when the 4×4 Niche sound came in – it wasn’t nice, just like a rave full of Jeremy Kyle types or wannabe gangsters.
Now when I go out, I see really diverse crowds of people from all backgrounds, with different fashion sense… It really makes a unique vibe and I can really buzz off the crowd. There are too many bastard beards, but apart from that I haven’t seen a mass brawl or felt that aggy vibe for a long time in Birmingham clubs. People in the venues I promote come out for the music, vibe and atmosphere. That’s always been my goal.
One thing I dislike, and this is my personal opinion, is these TOWIE culture events, getting dolled up to the nines, sitting there in a booth, sharing one bottle of Grey Goose between 18 friends. People aren’t out for the music – they don’t give a shit what music is being played and are scared to dance as they may break a nail or an eyelash might fall off. But everyone has their own opinion; that’s just mine. If they’re having a great time, crack on.
So despite the bad rep it gets, are you proud to be a Brummie?
It’s where I’m from. I don’t follow football so don’t walk round with a Birmingham City top on singing songs, or read Carl Chinn books at home. But in no way am I ashamed of where I’m from and will fly the Birmingham flag music-wise all day long.
Back to the music – Who’s influenced your to do what you do?
As a kid, The Fugees. ‘The Score’ got played to death. DJ-wise Andy Chambers and MC Doctor were who I first heard play UKG back in 1998, so I’ve gotta give them some props. And also Joe Hunt and Dean Curtis. All four names were on local pirate radio and it was hearing them that made me start the path I’m on now music-wise.
And if you could pick one track you’d wished you’d made – what would it be?
Larry Heard ft Mr White ‘The Sun Can’t Compare’.
And finally, what should we watch out for from you in the coming months?
I have an EP coming out with two tracks ‘Mainline’ and ‘The Grid’ (Paranoid Resistance Mix) on Rinse. These are very dark. And then I’m dropping Tom Shorterz x Lucy Love ‘Colours’, which is a really fun time 90s nostalgia tune.
Catch Tom Shorterz on the Rinse stage at Eastern Electrics on Saturday 2 August, and on Rinse FM every Wed night at 1am.