“I’ve always said I only sign music I’m playing, I think this is the only way I’ve stayed true to the reasons I started the label in the first place. I’ve never signed a record just because I knew it would sell or to make money” – Matt Tolfrey

Matt Tolfrey has become a staple name for many and he is one of the few artists today who got his break purely because of his ability as a DJ. His sound has been heavily influenced today by the sounds and early residencies at Nottingham’s The Bomb and Stealth. His passion for unearthing quality and his own vision for where electronic music is heading has only aided his impressive Leftroom imprint which has been running for over 12 years and is celebrating 100+ releases from artists such as Maceo Plex, Laura Jones, Jay Haze, and DJ Bone.

As with many DJs of his generation, the studio has been a place where Matt Tolfrey has had to step up and delivery and that he certainly has. Most of Tolfrey’s output has understandably cropped up on Leftroom, but when venturing out to other labels, there’s always a link in terms of friendships and like-minded attitudes. This unshakeable focus on genuine relationships bleeds through to Tolfrey’s Don’t Be Leftout parties and compilations. Matt Tolfrey, like many other successful artists, is a hugely busy man, and when asked if I wanted to sit down with him for a chat I jumped at the opportunity.

Matt had just dropped his daughter Beau off at nursery and was working on some edits and a new track named ‘Status Anxiety’. I started by asking Matt what was it that first got him into the sounds of electronic music? “My brother used to have these Sasha ‘Magic’ tapes hidden away in his bedroom, so obviously I wanted to know what they were. I was into Nirvana at the time so they were a totally different ball game. I just remember thinking, wow this just keeps going and doesn’t stop. I still actually have a copy of Sasha Magic 8 at home.” I went on to ask Matt about some of his earliest musical influences… “my Dad used to play me stuff like ELO, Eric Clapton, The Who, etc when we were driving. And I remember listening to a lot of “NOW” tapes and jumping on my bed. Randomly the first record I ever owned was The Piranhas ‘Zambezi’ which had this wicked trumpet in it. My brother played the trumpet so I thought it was cool!!!”

These days most DJs break through into the scene based on their productions which is often talked about. Matt got his opportunity based purely on his DJing which is something I always feel I respect far more, and it is often very clear when seeing the artist play gigs. I was lead to believe that Matt’s first break was given to him by Craig Richards but I was proven to be a little off target with my facts as Matt gave me the full story…

“Really my first break was given to me by James Baillie, the legendary promoter and booker from Venus and The Bomb in Nottingham. He got handed a mixtape of mine from a friend Alfie Torres, and he invited me to play at the Bomb. About 3 or 4 months after this I got a phone call from James asking if I was going to Tyrant that night, which of course we were, and he said good, because Lee Burridge can’t make it so you’ve got to open and close for Craig Richards.”

Matt went on to add “I was having lunch in town at the time, but funnily enough, dropped my food and ran home to start listening to records. I was a regular the Bomb, the residents there Dave Congreve and Kelvin Andrews were next level, so I knew what I wanted to fly right away… I played 10-12, Craig let me play a few more while he stood in the booth, then he took over till 2.30. He then had to shoot off back down the M1 to fabric, and I closed the night off until 4 am. A few days later I was woken up by a random person calling me on my mobile saying “Hello Matt, it’s Craig.” “Craig who?” “Craig Richards mate…” as you can imagine I was a bit taken aback, I felt like I’d just smashed a double expresso! He said he really enjoyed what I was playing at the club, and James had been talking very highly about me, so would like to come down and warm up at Tyrant at fabric. I think it’s pretty obvious what my answer was!”

I went on to talk to Matt about that Tyrant night and wanted to know what it was like to play such gig…

“I don’t think I’ve ever admitted this, but I actually sorted out every mix for the 3 1/2 hours I played for my debut at fabric. I knew I’d be nervous so I just got everything ready for the two weeks leading up to it. I’m glad I did as well as it felt like I’d only been playing for about 20 minutes when Rework were ready to play live. Lee and Craig played so differently separately then, but where they met in the middle when they played back to back was something special. I’ve never heard anyone else like it…”

Matt Tolfrey’s label has now had well over 100 releases and seen artist including Laura Jones, DJ Bone, Jay Haze, Gavin Herlihy, Kate Simko, and Inxec grace the catalogue. I was keen to find out why his label had been such a success, and Matt answered in a very humble way… “Success is a strong word and I don’t really know how to judge it. We’ve always tried to support new talent which is what keeps everything moving forward, while also always giving a nod to where we came from. I’ve always said I only sign music I’m playing, I think this is the only way I’ve stayed true to the reasons I started the label in the first place. I’ve never signed a record just because I knew it would sell or to make money. If Leftroom was just about making money we would have closed down a long time ago!!!” This led me on to ask Matt what made him want to start running his own label?

“My first release ‘The Horn’ with Craig Sylvester was released on Crosstown Rebels in 2005 and I also joined their DJ agency right away. I was great being part of a crew and family, but it was Damian Lazarus’s vision. I was getting sent so much good music that was not getting picked up by any labels that I thought it was a great idea to start my own. The motto of the label is ‘The Extended Family’ and it’s something we have kept to. Some artists come and go (often moving onto what they perceive as bigger labels), but if you want somewhere to experiment I think we’re a pretty good go to.”

I went on to ask Matt about what we can expect from him imprint over the course of 2018… “We’re just about to release new remixes of Rework’s ‘You’re So Just Just’ which is one of my favourite records of all time and I’ve just today signed a four-track EP from London’s Casey Spillman. He’s only 21, but he’s got a great groove already. We’re also starting a little series called ‘Leftroom Inspirations’ where I choose an artist that inspired me early on in my career and either re-release some hard to find gems of theirs or some new material. The first act up is Johnny Fiasco!!!

Nowadays there appear to be new labels appearing every week and some with very questionable quality. I asked Matt what he believed are some of the most important aspects of running a consistent and successful label? “Quality over quantity and don’t be afraid to bend the rules a bit. I saw a great quote recently, “music needs corners and edges” which I totally agree with.”

Matt has recently released ‘Americas’ on Jamie Jones’ Hot Creations label which I am lead to believe is something to do with his recent residency at Bar Americas in Guadalajara, Mexico. I was intrigued to know more so asked Matt about this…

“I’ve been a resident at Bar Americas for two years now and the beauty of it is I actually play Friday and Saturday night of the same weekend when I am there 3/4 times a year. It means i can play a little bit more house and disco on the Friday and techno on the Saturday. I’ve had residencies all my career but this is the newest, so obviously the most exciting. The A-Side of the release is dedicated to the club as I had it in mind when I started the track, and the B Side ‘Regain The Past’ is a shout out to the not so obvious music of the past that I am still into.”

Leading on from the release I asked Matt what else can we expect from him over the coming months in terms of originals or remixes? “I have a remix of The Martinez Brothers, Jerome Sydenham and Mathew Jonson feat Filsonik ‘No Pop’ coming out on Cuttin Headz next, followed by an EP on Oblack with an incredible Mathias Kaden remix.” Matt added, “after that, there are remixes of Shaun J Wright and Alinka on Twirl, my edit mix of Rework on Leftroom, and a remix of the classic Coco Da Silva track ‘Saudade’ on Kismet.”

Some of you may have heard of Matt’s new project Kerb Staller which is a partnership with Jozif. I was keen to find out what we can expect in terms of output from this new project… “we have an album signed to Skint/BMG that’s penned for 2019, but at the moment we are just working on one-off summer club tracks that are nearly done. We’ve had access to some pretty special tracks that BMG own the rights to for sample purposes, so we’re getting stuck right in.” You can check out some of the recent work from Kerb Staller below:

A good few years back Matt spoke with Magnetic Mag and mentioned that he tried to avoid trends. I wanted to know if this was something Matt was conscious of or something that really just came naturally to him. Matt went on to say, “trends are inevitable, but I just don’t want them to define me. I still buy vinyl which I think is extremely important, and I still hunt for records on Discogs. I have become an expert recently at ripping old records.” For those of you that have tried to rip records, you will know the pain of using them in a digital set!

For those of you that have ever met or spoken to Matt Tolfrey, you soon realise he is a man that just has a love for good electronic music and is as humble as a man could be about his success and how he became the artist he is today. Before we parted ways I asked Matt about his plans for the White Island this year and I was very unlucky with my timing by the looks of things… “if you were to ask me this question in a few days I’d be able to tell you more, but my lips are sealed at the moment.” I think we can safely say he will definitely be over on Ibiza this summer so if you are lucky enough to be over when he is, go and check him out.

I would like to thank Matt Tolfrey for his time, and we all here at Decoded Magazine wish him continued success.

About the Author

Director and DJ, Ian French (Naif) is passionate about every genre of music from Breakbeat, to Drum & Bass, to Techno and House. A man that lives in a world of beats and bass, and total confusion about life!