Tom Marshall creates intricate electronic art not unlike Hud Mo. It’s all he wants to do


A staple of the rapid radar-making Glasgow ‘scene’, Tom Marshall aka Dam Mantle is riding the slipstream created by the likes of Hudson Mohawke and Rustie. In an increasingly celebrated movement, characterised by blurring the divide between electronic beats and indie dynamics, the city’s spawned a new generation of electronic producers de rigueur who are pushing genre, form and style to its convergent limits.

“It is a scene if you want to call it that,” says Tom. “I’d probably call it that. You see the same faces at the nights, and I guess it’s a scene to some degree, but Glasgow’s so many things to so many people. The reason I’m here is because I’m at the art school, so I moved up a few years ago. I see it all [music and art] as part of the same practice. Inevitably it’s separate to some extent but when I think about painting, I think about music too, so it informs each other in some ways.

Tom’s sat in an old, abandoned pipe factory in Glasgow, nursing a cup of tea and deliberating over an exhibition he’s part of that opens in couple of days. He matter-of-factly states, “I’ve got a lot to do.” It would be easy to categorise Dam Mantle as a creative side project of an art school student; the kind of folly loaded with image and pretension that dogs much of London’s recent music scene, but reassuringly, the ethos coming out of the majority of Glasgow’s young electronic producers is steadfast in its statement and simplicity.

“For me the two scenes I found myself going to most are guitar-based nights and kind of dubstep, garage, two step kind of nights. I’m interested in all those elements and I think they just inevitably fuse together.”

The current wealth of acts extolling expansive, intelligent electronica – from Caribou to Psapp; Four Tet to Fuck Buttons – would testify the genre is in rude health as a result of an unrelenting desire to expand and explore, and it’s a concept that’s no different for Dam Mantle, even if the route to that point deviated slightly. “My background is probably different from a lot of electronic producers,” he starts. “I used to make a lot of lo-fi music that was quite playful and it’s still present in what I do.”

With a keen eye for toys, gadgets and a myriad of ways to capture and conquer an inquisitive approach to creating music, the subject of classification is one that dogs many DJs and producers, and an element always flagged as a result of a ‘live’ show. Or lack thereof. It’s a particular bugbear for Tom and one he seems resolutely keen to avoid.

“I don’t like the idea that someone comes up on stage claiming to be a live set and just presses play and fiddles with the filters,” he begins. “I really want to get away from that. I do it [Dam Mantle] with a guy called Callum at the moment and it’s mainly pad-based, a synth… we pretty much just shut our laptops or we just use them to assign stuff and trigger things.

“I don’t tend to take toys or the percussion out on the road but in the future, in my dreams, I want nine drummers playing really simple percussion or playing pots and pans because I’m really open to where I want this to go. The project is still quite young and it’s fairly early on so I’m working on it becoming a more multi sensory thing and I think in the future video will be a feature. I just don’t want to be considered a laptop musician at all.”

Like most aspiring musicians, Tom’s interest was piqued early, and he went through the obligatory run of teenage bands and musical exploration that’s ultimately shaped his current outlook. Interestingly, though, his electronic coming of age made him a bit of a late bloomer by his own admission.

“I was quite young and I was in bands and I was quite serious about it. I think I was about fourteen and we put on a friend’s big brother’s Aphex Twin record and we’re just like, ‘What the fuck is this?!’ but that’s going back to the start. Inevitably you just discover electronic music as you grow up and everything I made was kind of informed by it. Maybe even an organic reflection of it, I suppose. Now I’m interested in a combination of the two and how you maybe can’t figure out what’s recorded and what’s sampled or what’s a sound from a music program.”

It’s this serious playfulness that pervades most of Dam Mantle’s work; whether it’s sparkling, spaced out or staggered, there’s an unremitting, committed purpose to unearthing something special. The emphasis isn’t on how novel or needlessly subversive it needs to be, it’s just a simple matter of taking the time to make it right.

“I don’t think it’s right to set out with the idea‘I’m going to make deliberately accessible music’ or ‘I want to make something that’s going to make ears bleed’. I think it needs to be organic. I’ll listen to pop music then I’ll listen to a psych record, you know, and I think they’re both as important as each other and I hope I find a centre point of all these sounds that surround me. I produce stuff to try and move people, y’know?”

As with any good producers, there’s as much appreciation for consolidation as there is for innovation, and it’s a sentiment long echoed by contemporaries. But while they’re a special breed who can hear value and beauty where others might not, they’re also justifiably capable of reserving venomous judgement, if not a broad swipe at much of the modern industry.

“I think in terms of the stuff that’s out there at the moment, it’s accessible to some people but it’s so transparent, you know? When you listen to that, you know, they’ve sat down and thought,‘let’s write a hit.’

“I think there’s something really truthful and really beautiful in pop music where you make a melody and it sits there in someone’s head for an entire day. It’s really powerful and I think it’s when you’re making music in marketable terms, that’s a bit dangerous.

“I think pop has become a bit of a dirty word and I think it’s more about standing outside of it and seeing a truth in that.”

As righteously assertive as that might seem, Dam Mantle’s standpoint isn’t one that is overly denigrating. But how could it be? For a man content to be making music and crafting installations, it’s the archetypal tale of struggling and surviving to do something you love. There’s a lot to be said for modest ambition.

“I mix records and I produce music and…I don’t know. I’d probably say I was a producer, I produce music but I create art. I might say an artist. Ha! I don’t know. It’s such a loaded thing to say you’re an artist but I do spend every minute of the day in that mindset of like I’m either making something visual, something audible or mixing something someone else has already made in a post-modern way. I don’t know if it’s expectations but it’s a wish that I’ll make music and art for the rest of my life. That’s it – if I can pay my rent from my music, that’s it. I just want to create.”

By Reef Younis

Originally published in issue 15 (vol 3) of Loud And Quiet. March 2010

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