Rewind two years and Crack is having a party in Bristol. Top billed guests for the evening are some of our closest musical compadres from Canterbury, and at the head of that particular collective is one Kent native Tom Marshallsay, aka Dam Mantle, whose jittery off-kilter beats are causing a multitude of patterns on the floor.
Earmarked from day one as an electronic artist whose love of the avant-garde placed him to the left of the majority, his recent album Brothers Fowl has landed as a final confirmation of his talents, and much like the aforementioned DJ set, it demonstrates his ability to shape shift between styles with consummate ease. Brothers Fowl draws on jazz, house, two-step and even classical music in a melee which might have sounded confusing, but due to lovingly thought-out arrangements, made complete sense.
“Instrumental music and jazz have always been in my palette and have always been things I’ve listened to”, offers Marshallsay. “Coupled with that I’m just tracing more music and buying more records. I’m also more comfortable and free with what I want to do, and I’m feeling like it’s fine to push into other places. I got into doing this project because I was sick of guitar-centric music. But then I did a couple of EPs and I got bored with synthesis in electronic and computer music. I felt like I’d got myself into a dead end, which is what I was trying to escape from in the first place. So I guess I was feeling more comfortable and I started letting these kinds of influences come through. It’s also my first full-length album, so I felt it might be one of the only times I would be able to go off and do different things.”
It’s a testament to the care and effort behind Brothers Fowl that many of the tracks carry a depth of production that give the air of live performance. Certainly parts of the opening double-header titled Canterbury Pt.1 and Canterbury Pt.2 and the juddering jazz-step of Ish give off the aural quality of live jazz more akin to an act like Portico Quartet.
It’s something Marshallsay is happy to hear. “It’s really nice you perceive it that way”, he replies. “I guess that’s what I was trying to achieve; to create some kind of dislocated band feel, where you aren’t quite certain how the music was made or if was performed by a group of people. In terms of playing it live, I’ve definitely thought about doing it, but just to conceive it would be a total nightmare and might stunt my creativity in making other things. I’m currently doing another project that’s a lot more band sounding and takes more of these jazz and instrumental roots and brings them to their conclusion.”
After relocating to Glasgow to attend art school, here he truly found his path. Marshallsay found himself immersed in perhaps Britain’s most fertile hotbed of electronic music creativity. With the likes of Rustie, Koreless, Hudson Mohawke, the Numbers record label and a hugely significant arts scene in the city, Glasgow could make a serious claim to being the most important city in the UK for electronic music. It’s a credit to Marshallsay that his music stands out so voraciously among this wealth of talent, and as far as Glasgow’s scene is concerned he has nothing but praise.
“It doesn’t really feel like there are any hierarchies or anything”, he tells us. “I always end up trying to compare it to London – and I don’t hate London at all – but it’s so media-centric there, with a lot of advertising, and a lot of these relationships get tied up with the music. In Glasgow it doesn’t really feel like there are these kinds of relationships. People are more welcoming and they are happy to do their own shit. For example, up here you go and see an artist and they might be playing to five people, but no one really cares. Then they might just be spinning records in a bar something. Maybe there is a more casual attitude up here. Music is treated as less of a spectacle.”
His humble attitude and thoughtful demeanour reflects a personality that is more concerned with his art form than any radical aspirations to be on the cover of Mixmag. It’s an approach which is reflected in his attitude towards DJing. “When I play out, I tend to play out my own shit. I feel a lot more liberated and free about what I can do. I’ve always been very eclectic in my record buying and bought a lot of different stuff. I’ve actually started recording some podcasts in the last few days, so I might start doing a little podcast series or something. One episode might be my favourite re-issue stuff, and another might be a techno mix. A lot of my favourite producers duck into all music. It doesn’t matter if it’s an afrobeat track or a Chicago house track.”
As Crack’s conversation with Dam Mantle edges towards its conclusion, we’re less than surprised the majority of his record buying of late has consisted of re-issues rather than contemporary releases. If ever there was a producer who has benefited from an open ear to everything, past, present and future, this is a prime example.
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Dam Mantle has done our latest Crackcast Mix. It’s available to download here.
Brothers Fowl is available now via Notown Recordings
Words: Thomas Frost