By Eric Blendermann
“Yo, you know what time it is, any time me and Toddla link up – straight-up party animal business!” So declares the irrepressible Roots Manuva at the end of the title track from Toddla T‘s breakout release, Watch Me Dance (Ninja Tune, 2011), and you can’t argue – that album is a party on wax, start to finish, from the opening throwdown to the last-call anthems that close it.
Over the past four years, Toddla T (aka DJ and producer Tom Bell) has emerged from “sunny Sheffield,” England’s steel city, to become a leading light in UK dance music, bringing together elements of hip-hop and R&B, dancehall and dub, techno and pop, in a wild and energetic brew of party sounds. Toddla T also has a knack for bringing together compelling voices, from hip-hop stalwarts Roots Manuva and Ms. Dynamite to reggae crooner Wayne Marshall and dancehall instigator Serocee. All these sounds and voices (and many more) come together on Watch Me Dance, which generally went over well with critics–although album sales were reportedly hurt by unauthorized release of an advance review copy.
Now we have Watch Me Dance: Agitated by Ross Orton & Pipes (Ninja Tune, 2012), a new collection of remixes by two veteran producer/musicians of the Sheffield underground scene who Toddla T claims as musical inspirations. Did we need it? All I can say is: if some is good, more is better. The reworkings on Agitated remind me of those extended versions of classic reggae tracks by the likes of Horace Andy, where the first four minutes are wonderful, soulful reggae, then somebody shouts “rewind!” and a six-minute dub excursion follows. Same mood and motif, but dubbed up, tweaked out, and echoing pleasantly into the distance.
A great example is the track “Fly,” which closes the original Watch Me Dance and opens Agitated – on the original, it’s a rootsy, mid-tempo dancehall cut, then on Agitated, Orton and Pipes drop it over a deep-space dub, layering the vocals in between burbling bass and scratchy percussion effects. It’s the perfect bridge from the original to the dub version.
Another standout remix is “Cherry Pickling,” in which the producers preserve the two-step march of the original “Cherry Picking” [as well as Irish singer Roisin Murphy’s vocals, sounding a lot like Tweet’s “Oops (Oh My)”], but reset the whole thing in a web of snare drums and squelchy basslines. Meanwhile, the remix of “Take It Back” sticks pretty close to the source, but replaces the 90’s dance-pop of the original (all synths and cascading pianos) with a stripped-down eurodisco sound more suitable for shoegazing under the strobelight.
“Watch Me Dub,” the reworking of “Watch Me Dance,” boils down the chaotic rock-funk of the original into insistent electro, with Roots Manuva rocking winningly over the top. My personal favorite is the dub testament “Faardaa,” which breaks down the conscious dancehall of the original “How Beautiful It Would Be” into a simple voice-drums-and-echoes meditation, almost a prayer, that calls to mind “Prophecy,” the Gregory Isaacs classic.
Watch Me Dance: Agitated by Ross Orton & Pipes is a spirited, satisfying continuation of the original album – if Toddla T was inspired by Ross Orton and Pipes, it seems like they were inspired by him in return, as they picked up on the sunny, eclectic party vibes of the original Watch Me Dance, then took off in interesting directions.