INTERVIEW

“It’s way too early to tell where this is going. I have so many stems of Becoming Real, so I don’t know how it’s going to evolve.”

Photography by Timothy Cochrane

Photography by Timothy Cochrane

A MODEL ELECTRONIC STUDENT

“My new one’s charging at home,” Toby Ridler says, making a move for the iPhone doubling up as a Dictaphone under the blazing Southbank sun. “I like the idea of it having a GPS thingy – it’s pretty cool always knowing where you are.” Clearly Toby is impressed with technology and it comes as no surprise – he’s been making forward-thinking, techno-savvy music for some years now, producing himself under different guises and remixing others. The guy obviously knows his way round a piece of kit.

Amiable and chatty, we’ve caught Becoming Real at a good moment. Having just finished his degree in fine art at Kingston University, and with a long summer ahead, there’s probably no better time to ask him the sensitive question about his modelling days. “Oh Jesus not this again,” he cringes. “Well, I’d say they span for all of two weeks and it was more to do with uni and the fashion department, nothing else.” No catwalk in Milan, then? “Without a doubt, no, that was…them days.” Toby laughs it off but he’s definitely more relaxed discussing his music. Uncompromising, exhilarating and very much the sound of summer, Becoming Real sits perfectly alongside the likes of Blondes, Dam Mantle, Joy Orbsion and everything else that’s good about today’s genre-defying dance scene.

His breakthrough has been on the cards for a while. Making music under Wolf Tracks he travelled the country. “Yeah, we did a UK tour with the most fucked geography,” he says. “My fault as I booked the whole thing! North, South then North again with K Records’ Tender Forever. Great fun but I was very naive and didn’t ask about money. This band came over from the States and asked why they’d only been paid a fiver, they were really angry! Quite a learning curve but I came out of it a bit more thick skinned.”

So he’s got a more substantial layer of flesh now, but is it more comfortable now that he’s Becoming Real? “I don’t remember Wolf Tracks as being my project,” he says “it was just something I did when I was younger. The Becoming Real thing, coming at the end of my art degree and listening to more avant-garde stuff, has made me realise what I can do with music as a medium. Wolf Tracks and Becoming Real are worlds apart, the mindset back then was it’s a hobby whereas this is something else. I’ve got my head round a few more ideas.”

Recent times have seen the genuine article emerge, Toby already with a few releases under his new moniker’s belt. “We’ve got the 12 inch on Ramp that’s just come out – they got in touch with me and asked, it was really simple, just chatting together on the Internet sorted it out.” Drawn towards labels of a passionate persuasion, Toby has also had records out on Tough Love, who now manage him aswell. “They do it with heart,” he smiles. “I can’t think of the phrase but there’s one for that lot, they’re lovely guys.”

‘Insular’, ‘private’ and ‘reticent’ are all stereotypical personality traits that Toby manages to crush as a homebody producer. Outgoing and perceptive, he’s not your average hermit, and yet exporting his sound from the four walls of a Surbiton pad to a crammed venue has been a continuing struggle for Toby. Encouragingly, he says that early signs are now positive. “It’s been going really good. We’ve been getting a really good reception. It’s weird though, playing live. I spend so long making the music in my bedroom then when I’m on stage it’s hard to be subjective about it as once you are up there all you remember is getting on stage and then getting off again, so it’s hard to separate yourself.”

Due to his tracks being so personal, playing them in front of a live audience is one thing but repeating them on stage lends itself to a more social arrangement – Toby needs outside help to create his vision. “I’ve got a friend called Rob helping out right now,” he explains. “We share keyboards and some percussiony bits so it’s a lot more of a live thing rather than a laptop. The songs are all reinterpretations of stuff.”

Pretty soon there could be numerous Rob’s running around then?

“It’s way too early to tell where this is going. I have so many stems of Becoming Real, so many projects, so I feel like this is one right now (playing live), the music I’m making at home is very different though, so I don’t know how it’s going to evolve. It’ll probably just be me with an MPC in 5 months time!”

There’s something of an existentialist bent to Toby’s take on work, which he’s willing to accept with an arch of his brow and a philosophical stare into the distance. He is called Becoming Real after all. “It sounds cheesy but it feels like you leave yourself on stage, that’s the funny thing about being an artist. Take doing these one on ones, I’ve only done a few but I’m quite aware of how the finished article is very different to the actual conversation. With the music too, I feel I’d sometimes prefer to make it for myself. When a song is finished I clip it up and put it aside – that’s where I get the enjoyment. I don’t mind all these interviews and things and playing live but the enjoyment is most definitely making the music. Then I become Becoming Real for the other stuff.”

The talented Mr Ridley it seems, multiple personalities with some to spare, and he needs them for the other strings in his bow: remixing (he’s done tracks for TEETH and Comanechi) and Djing. “Good point, I guess Djing is a fun side of things,” he says. “I play a mixture of stuff, sometimes it’s full-on minimal house and sometimes it’s…” All of a sudden there’s a lot of noise and Toby’s knocked off his stride by a rather brazen and talkative passer by that just so happens to edit this very music paper, a short confusing conversation later we’re back where we started, well almost…

“I had no idea what was going on there,” he laughs. “ I thought he was trying to nick your phone so I was ready to jump him!” Fight avoided, Toby’s back in the groove. “Errr, yeah more recently I’ve been listening to and playing out Footwork from Chicago, it’s come out of the House scene there. I don’t know much about the history but the repetition and vocal snippets are familiar to me – they use similar polyrythms to myself as well. I think Footwork and Grime are two parallel interpretations of a city to me, there’s a connection, Footwork is Chicago and Grime is London.”

Toby’s next move is to wind his way up the Thames from suburbia to city life, something that inspires and excites him. “I can’t wait to move up here,” he enthuses. “I’ve been doing walks with an A to Z, which is quite sad. It’s fun though, trying to put A to B and just strolling about. It’s an incredible city and too many people don’t know their way about.”

Someone like Toby must have a soundtrack to such journey’s, something to match his outlook and soak up the surroundings. “I listen to grime as I’m travelling about as it’s music that’s spawned from London; it is the city. There’s a real psycho-geography connection there.” Explorative, intelligent, groundbreaking, even; Becoming Real is just like his new phone charging at home.

By Ian Roebuck

Originally published in issue 19 (vol 3) of Loud And Quiet. July 2010

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