Thoma Bulwer chats new single and video, Rave Duck...
Growing up with a background in techno, receiving education in UKG, and solidifying his passion in house music, Thoma Bulwer has been actively DJing since the early 90s. His impressive record collection spans various decades, encompassing garage, minimal house, and breaks, which perfectly mirrors the fast-paced, skippy, 4x4, rave, and breaks infused tracks he currently produces.
One of the significant highlights of his career is his residency at the renowned Lion and Lamb, where he has had the opportunity to warm up for renowned artists like Ricardo Villalobos, Voigtmann, Radioactive Man, and Burnski. Additionally, he co-founded the label night Alternate Facts with Dexter Kane, hosted at the same venue. Thoma is a familiar face in the London music scene, frequently performing at other popular spots such as The Cause, Brilliant Corners, and Fabric. He often collaborates with his partner in crime, fabric resident Anna Wall, for exhilarating B2B sets.
In 2020, Thoma released an EP in collaboration with Subb-An on Constant Black, receiving widespread recognition with radio plays on BBC6 Music and Rinse FM. His joint project with Anna Wall, 'The Re-Up,' gained national exposure with BBC Radio 1 featuring it, thanks to the support of Saoirse, a devoted advocate of Thoma's music. A man who clearly likes to keep busy, his latest is the brilliant Rave Duck, which is out now via his own label, Parasol Culture. Check out the video for Rave Duck and our interview with Thoma below...
Tell us a bit about your summer - how’s it been so far? What’s been the highlight?
I’ve mostly just been enjoying London to be honest. The city comes alive in summer and it’s like living in a festival around the wick. Also places like the Goose and Starlane have a kind of magic that you could only really find here.
Going back a bit, what was the first ‘rave’ you went to where you thought, ‘yep, this is something I really want to dedicate myself to’? What made it so special?
My first rave was at Fuse in Brussels in 1997 where I grew up as a teenager, I used to go most weekends and saw some of the best techno DJs like Jeff Mills, Josh Wink and Sven Vath would have been some of my most influential at the time. That said, seeing Daft Punk live for their Homework album tour in 1999 was so special. The last track on the album was called “Teachers” and they made an extended version bigging up all the local Belgium DJs who I saw at Fuse Club and Who’s Who’s Land - that was a moment!
I believe you’ve got your studio in a warehouse in London. Can you tell us a bit about your music-making routine? Are you someone who needs to be in the studio to make music? Does it help you to get ‘into the flow’ as it were?
That’s right, I’ve always enjoyed working in a studio over anything else. It gives you the opportunity to set up interesting patches and machines to start jamming out ideas and recording sequences and long takes that develop into ideas and eventually full tracks. I like to approach writing music in a ‘write drunk, edit sober’ kind of way (to quote Dennis DeSantis). The idea is to be loose and be at one with the machines and samplers you’re writing with and then when the ideas are recorded and down, be a lot more precise and logical when arranging, processing and mixing.
You were born in Holland but grew up in Belgium, and now live in London. How has each country influenced your tastes? And why can I ask, did you settle on staying in London for a prolonged period?
My family are from London and that’s how I got into UK garage when I came back on school holidays to visit. I remember recording lots of pirate radio shows in my Grandma's spare room on a tape deck and going to raves at Camden Palace (now Koko) seeing DJs like Karl “Tuff Enuff” Brown, Todd Edwards, Ramsey and Fen and DJ EZ. Mostly in my teenage year vistrips I visited record shops like Black Market and Uptown Records where I started to pick up early UKG records and bring them back to Belgium. It started when I put on a party called “love, dubz and baselines” with flyers printed at my school and my class mate Luna hooked me up with her dads venue in Brussels. That night I had a collective of DJs playing RnB, soul and hip hop asked me to join their Hit Squad Crew and I ended up playing garage records at all their warehouse raves around Belgium (Leuven, Antwerp and Brussels). They also brought me onto their radio show on Action FM and at 15/16 years old I got a massive taste for it all. After that my only goal was to come to London to be at the heart of this garage scene that transcended sound and culture.
Was there a challenging time for you when you moved over? Or did you immediately love it? How did the local music scene help you in that regard?
I came to London for uni and pretty much immediately got a radio show on Silk Room FM after submitting a mixtape at a record shop and then started to pick up gigs all around the city and a residency in Switzerland with my MC at the time followed shortly after. I immediately loved it and I guess that shows twenty plus years later. That’s not to say London isn’t tough! It is very competitive and expensive but the music scene and people all helped and kept me inspired and going! It really was all about pirate radio at the time as this was a way to connect with like minded souls, DJs and ravers in the scene. There was obviously no internet at that time so everyone used to phone in for shout outs and connect on Nokia phones and of course catch up at monthly radio station meetings.
You moved over in ‘99 and were originally a garage DJ. Was this unusual for someone not from the UK back then? And can you tell us a bit about your first taste of London nightlife? I’m guessing places like T Bar and fabric were highly influential for you? Where else?
It was definitely unusual, but as I mentioned my parents were born and raised in London and as teachers back to the UK and London on every school holiday so I definitely felt like I had been hugely influenced by UK culture spending so much time here. Places like Frog n Nightgown Leisure lounge, Gass Club and the Aquarium were big influences when I first arrived plus bigger raves at spots like Camden Palace - for garage certainly. After that certainly T Bar and fabric and all those Dalston basement clubs where tip top!
Obviously the city has changed a lot in the near 25 years since you arrived. How do you look back on those early times? What was great about them? What wasn’t so great.
A lot has changed mostly due to the internet I’d say. The music was truly underground, as underground music wasn’t being played on National radio or in mainstream clubs at all. You just didn’t have the chance to hear it unless you tuned in and you’d also find out where all the raves were happening through pirate radio ads. There was definitely a charm to this but also limitations and it was obviously much more difficult to make electronic music unless you were in a studio with the right samplers, drum machines and desks to create the sound. I think that digital technology has changed exponentially since then and allowed the barrier to entry to be much more achievable for people that want to get involved for all aspects of the music industry or “entertainment biz”. I find a universally powerful and inclusive change that allows a much greater diversity in our scene.
You’ve produced a couple records alongside Anna Wall, and the two of you seem to be great friends. Can you talk us through how you first met and how influential you have been on one another?
Anna Wall and I met at an Ostgut Ton party at Red Galleries in Shoreditch around 12/13 years ago and have remained great friends and partners in crime ever since. At the time we were both working at UK indie dance labels and finding ourselves in the “entertainment biz”. I think we have both influenced each other massively over the years and that passion and drive has led us to continuously make records and be mates for life. Our next EP is coming out on EYA Records with a remix from Radioactive Man.
Who else has really pushed you in music? How important is it to have a musical mentor? Do you assist any up-and-coming producers yourself?
Kieth Tenniswood, aka Radioactive Man has been a huge influence for me. He gave me the stamp of approval on masters I did for the first Alternate Facts EP with Dexter Kane and since then it’s given me the confidence to work on the variety of records that I’ve been involved in to date. Also from a music and live set point of view the man is a legend.
Voigtmann is certainly another big influence in my music and studio work (and work ethic in general!). He’s always believed and come back to the studio to work on mixdowns and masters for his label over the years and testing tracks of mine out at gigs around the world. When he played ‘Speed Garage from Jupiter’ at Houghton for the first time is a great example of seeing how doing what we do is so important! It felt like a Houghton hit and that wouldn’t have been without his support :]
Remi Mazet is another big influence to me in the studio, he’s always advised and shown me techniques, philosophy and approaches for making music. Plus he has always believed in me for mixing down records he’s been involved in for years now and that has really pushed me since working on N-Gynn “Dark side of the Moon” on Pleasure Club.
You’re known for your diversity, and move between garage, minimal, tech house and house stuff. Do you generally have an idea what you’re going to produce before you get to the studio? And how much does your mood dictate the music you produce?
When putting together an EP for release I like to offer something that a DJ could play at multiple tracks from at different times of the night, warm up, peaktime and afters sets. I often like to work with label a&r’s before the EP is written sometimes as this means that everyone is behind it by the time it drops. I think making quality records that stand the test of time is a team effort and everyone has a part to play in that process for a classic.
Speed Garage from Jupiter was really well received and got a bunch of repeated plays at Houghton especially. Your latest record is Rave Duck, on your own Parasol Culture label, which we love too! So we wanted to ask: do you feel a pressure when you’re following up a big EP? Or do you generally have your tracks ready to go each year? And also, what symbolises success for you release-wise?
Thank you. I mean you can’t put too much pressure on yourself otherwise things don’t flow. Records or tracks are like mood generators or stories for me. They can’t all be the same and I’d hope people and ravers get different feelings and energy for each piece that comes out. It’s also good to set a standard as knowing what not to do in production is just as important as knowing what to do!
I listened to Rave Duck and it immediately threw up memories of The Prodigy. Were they a big influence on this record and on your sound? And as someone so diverse, can you list us five musical influences on you? And maybe tell us your favourite track from each?
Voices From the Lake - Voices From the Lake (CD Version)
Radioactive Man - Addict
Daft Punk - Rollin’ and Scratchin’
Origin Unknown - Valley of the Shadows
Karl ‘Tuff Enuff” Brown - Key Dub
What’s next for you that you’re really excited about, both musically and professionally?
I’m super excited for the collab album I’ve written with Voigtmann that’s coming out towards the end of this year on double 12” release via YoY (Yoyaku records). Likewise a solo EP of mine called “Real Love” that’s coming out Eterno Records and of course Anna Wall and my EP on EYA records with the Radioactive Man remix.
I’m also starting two new labels with N-Gynn; an edits label called Red Bul & Gyn which is out next week on a 12” and another label called Classique Records which has its first release from Jive Talk and remixes from Voigtmann and myself. We have the next five releases lined up for Classique so watch this space for releases that’ll be dropping every two months from September onwards.
Generally and overall I’m simply looking forward to being in the studio and continuing to work with amazing artists on records and obviously hearing them at amazing parties!
Check out the video for Rave Duck below. Rave Duck is out 31st July via Parasol Culture. Buy/listen to the release here [link]