Tom Strong comes to this week's Mixtape with a banging electro mix. Electro as a term is often thrown around as an adjective to describe a wide variety of electronic music styles when it is very much a specific genre. It has evolved from its humble roots in hip-hop, from a time in the early '80s when hip-hop and techno were both at a crossroads. Strong's musical knowledge goes far and wide, reinforced by years spent on college and XM radio. A musician, DJ, music historian and all-round music consumer, he brings all his chips to the table for this week's mixtape.
Dallas Observer: How did you get started DJing? How long have you been at it?
Tom Strong: I’ve always been one of those kids that spent anything I had on music, whatever the format of the time.
How did being a radio DJ affect your craft as a live DJ?
It was a great experience both in college and after graduation to work with XM in the radio system, and it gave me some wonderful opportunities to learn a lot about the history of music from people who were there for many of the formative moments in modern radio. I even wound up with my own little show on the air, a 30-minute weekly mix of early dubstep tucked into one of the regular jungle shows. This was well before dubstep became a dirty word associated with aggro-noise bro-step — everything was much more aesthetically in keeping with the dub reggae style.
How do you feel about radio nowadays?
I’ve always kind of felt like radio is my real home, but in America it’s a media format that has suffered much in the last few decades due to things like ClearChannel’s habit of replacing diverse, locally rooted radio stations with the same homogenized, nationally based playlisting. I hope local radio comes roaring back with the aid of increasingly omnipresent and simple online access.
Is there a particular theme for the track selection?
This mix is all vinyl, recorded straight to cassette. What you hear is just the cassette recordings played back through my mixer into the computer. I like doing it that way because I get a more consistent volume across tracks, as well as that natural tape compression effect. You also get the little errors that remind you this is all live in the mix, which I kind of treasure. These selections span records I’ve sourced from pretty much everywhere — from local record heroes Josey (opening Sutra Recs'track "Royal Cash — Space Traveler") to label-direct (Dark Entries track "Magnus II — Space Age) to discogs-only scores (like "Drexciya — Astronomical Guideposts").
How exactly did you assemble that, then?
I recorded two mixes and spliced them together to get a Side A/Side B effect. The first one is a warm-up, and the second is a little more juiced in the energy department. I'm not much of an athletic mixer; if you want to see someone who is, check out Matt Parks. I mostly think about track selection and try to avoid "filler" whenever possible (even if it makes for easier mixes sometimes).
What is your relationship with electro?
Electro always just clicked with me; the sci-fi aesthetics, the utopian and dystopian atmospheres, the simultaneous feeling of futurism inside early '80s hip-hop structures. It’s a genre that can be everything from super cerebral to dead simple, deep and melancholy to straight up booty bass. I feel like if we make contact with alien life, electro would be the genre that would bridge the interspecies gap. True intergalactic party music.
Where do you dig for tracks for your sets?
I buy music constantly in pretty much all formats: vinyl, digital, CDs and tapes. Each one has its strengths, and each one has certain things that just aren't available in any other format. When possible, I always try to buy stuff locally, direct from record shops — it’s more fun than online shopping and saves on shipping. Some favorite spots in town are Josey Records, Good Records and Half Price Books in Dallas and Forever Young out in Arlington. Austin is, of course, overflowing with great shops too — whenever I’m in the area, End of An Ear and Friends of Sound are ready to eviscerate any spare funds I have. On the online end, I try to keep up with what’s new in shops like Boomkat, Redeye Records, Dustygroove, Forced Exposure, Experimedia and the Discogs shops of places like All Day Records.
What DJs and producers have had a significant impact on you as an artist?
When I was but an impressionable lad, the height of the DJ mix CD era was in full swing. Long-running titles like Global Underground and Fabric were still in their infancy, and they were giving seriously talented DJs longform carte-blanche to spin their sonic journeys. Mixes from people like Danny Tenaglia, Sasha & John Digweed, Dave Seaman, Carl Cox, Craig Richards and Lee Burridge all sit proudly on my shelf even today. On the US side, labels like Moonshine and others were experiencing a renaissance of classic mixes from the likes of John Kelley, Donald Glaude, Mark Farina, Derrick Carter and Simply Jeff. It was a great time to get into electronic music, and I fell completely in love with the idea of communicating to people all over the world via the universally understood medium of music.
How did you get into production?
I grew up playing piano, and played clarinet in my school’s band program from 6th to 12th grade. I was pretty much always around music as a listener and player. Duncanville ISD has a hell of a band program, and I was fortunate enough to be around some incredibly talented people there. I got a solid foundation in music theory and organizational mechanics, both of which have served me surprisingly well in adult life. Now, I mostly produce because I like to make sounds. None of it’s really intended for release, just stuff I do because I cannot physically stop myself from playing with synths and drum machines. Maybe some of it will come out some day.
What other genres of music do you enjoy outside of dance music?
I’m a huge fan of library music and film scores — If I had to pick just one set of records to save from a house fire, it would be my collection of Toru Takemitsu’s works for film. If time permitted, I’d also grab the Nausicaa scores from Joe Hisaishi (original OST and prototype "image" album). It’s some of the greatest music ever created by human hands for human ears. My Drexciya-related records would be close behind — I only put them last here because pretty much all the Drexciya stuff has been (or is going to be) re-pressed, but I don't see anyone coming along to repress the Takemitsu or Hisaishi film scores anytime soon unfortunately.
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What gigs do you have coming up?
I have one coming up Friday, February 12, at Crown & Harp along with Cygnus, Spice Boys and DJ Cymatic. I’ve already got a crate of hyper-grade electro killers in store for anyone clever enough to show up. Anyone else who’d like to book me for anything ranging from electro to house to funk/rare groove to library-music esoterica, hit me up at firstname.lastname@example.org
Royal Cash - Space Traveler (Instrumental) [Sutra]
Magnus II - Space Age (LP Version) [Dark Entries]
Drexciya - Astronomical Guideposts [Clone]
Bass Junkie - Human Error (Instrumental) [Electrix Records]
Versalife - After the Future[Clone]
Biosphere - Ectozone [BIO]
NRSB-11 - 685-471 1 [WeMe]
Gifted & Blessed - The Beginner [GB Productions]
The Man from U.N.C.L.E. - Annihilating Rhythm (Dubstramental) [Area Code]
DJ Di’jital - Alien II [Di’jital Access]
Unique 3 - Weight for the Bass (3 Ton Mix) [10 Records]
Njoi - Techno Gangsters [Deconstruction]
Autechre - 444 [Warp]
Dynamix II – Bass Generator [Debonaire]
Microthol – Channeling the Wavejumper [Trust]
Ozone Layer – Planetary Deterioration (Electro Mix) [Area Code]
Carl Finlow – Ghetto Server [Electrix Records]
Cygnus – Arcade Killers [CPU]
Model 500 – Standing In Tomorrow [Metroplex]
Clarence G – Turbine [Clone]
Made – Entwist [SCSI-AV]
Rabbit in the Moon – F.L.O.O.R.I.D.A. (Dynamix II Handled Without Care Mix) [Hallucination]
Voice Stealer – We Suspect [Mass Transit Records]