You know you are getting old when your deep house producers start looking younger. Or is that teachers? Then again it might have been police.
No matter though as the youthful looks of both Ethyl and in particular the cherubic Flori (both are aged 25 and otherwise known as Tim Hopgood and Jamie Taylor respectively) belie the ear-catching duo’s considerable studio and turntable experience, while the skill and maturity of their well-crafted and genre-embracing productions – a sprinkling of deep house here, a splash of garage there, a touch of jazz, a dash of Detroit – defy their tender ages and boyish charm.
Both were already immersed in the world of music and had cut their teeth as DJs before forging a musical partnership after meeting at university in Birmingham, where both were studying sound engineering and production. Ethyl had been picking up bookings as well as working on sounds with school pal Huxley (aka Michael Dodman), while Flori was the long-standing resident and co-promoter of one of the UK’s most successful modern soul nights.
In a matter of only a few years between them they have managed to rack up a raft of serious quality releases on labels that know their shit: Cécille Numbers, Quintessentials and Tsuba Records.
Their first collaborative effort, however, was on the continually relevant Freerange. The Trimley EP set the bar high as a partnership with three outstanding tracks of deep, driving house.
More recently though the pair has been taken under the wing of the secretsundaze crew. After years as punters, they not only got the call to play secretsundaze events but also to contribute an EP to the collective’s newly-resurrected label.
Where did your production names come from and how do you pronounce ‘Ethyl’?
Ethyl: I go for ‘Ethel’ as in auntie [Ethel] but I’m not too fussed what people call me. I quite like the confusion it causes and much to Jamie’s chagrin, I shan’t be telling the story. It’s awful.
Flori: I suppose at the time I wanted something a little quirky – quirky and floral. Originally it was going to be Florence but just as I went to go ahead with it for the Trimley EP, Florence and The Machine were suddenly everywhere and that really put me off. So I thought sod that and went with an abbreviated version. It goes nicely with Ethyl too and I kind of like the idea of promoters expecting a couple of old birds to turn up when they book us.
You met at university. What were your first impressions of each other?
Ethyl: I remember meeting Jamie for the first time. Beautiful, elfin, seraph Jamie. But he’s really changed since then: gruff, rugged and chauvinistic now. We were drawn to each other being into similar music and doing similar things with it and also possibly repelled by a couple of other characters on the course.
Flori: We played pool together and I remember thinking what a smashing chap he was. Being the type of characters we are, we stuck out a bit on a course like that. House kids who maybe thought they were a bit cool definitely didn’t fit in with the stereotypical sound engineering student. Beards, tool belts and Mackie t-shirts were certainly not in our armoury. Unfortunately, GHDs and glittery scarves were. We had a great deal in common and that first day kicked off a beautiful friendship that has blossomed ever since.
You have common ground musically now but what did you each grow up listening to?
Ethyl: Well, my old man was big on Al Green and George Benson and my mum had a bit of a Motown penchant too, so a lot of those records became mine when I got my turntables. However, I was more exposed to the typical run of the mill early-90s mum and dad shebang in my formative years. I seem to remember The Beautiful South and Crowded House on most car journeys. Later on for me it was garage, US and UK 4×4 stuff. That’s the reason I got my first set of turntables.
Flori: Throughout my life it’s been predominately about soul music in the Taylor household. From Wigan Casino northern stompers to downtempo, independent neo-soul artists, I think I’ve been through the entire soul spectrum, if such a spectrum exists. Motown, Okeh, Stax, Brunswick, Ric-Tic, Atlantic, Curtom, Salsoul, TSOP, Acid Jazz, Talkin’ Loud, Dome, Expansion – these are just some of the labels my mum and dad have exposed me to from a very early age.
In the living room at the moment we have a few box sets out: The Dawn of Doo-Wop, The Engine Room: A History Of Jazz Drumming and The Gene Krupa Story. Have a nose further and you’ll come across all of Puccini’s operas, the entire Beatles back catalogue and several Treorchy Male Choir LPs for example. It’s a very musical household and I’m really grateful to my parents for playing me wonderful music that perhaps a lot of other young people don’t get the chance to hear. For me personally with regards to artists, Incognito, Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye are never too far away from a turntable.
And Jamie, you are still resident at a modern soul night?
Flori: Soul Underground is run by my parents with a little bit of help from me. We recently celebrated our 10th anniversary and the night is as strong as ever. Musically, the emphasis has always been on quality new release soul, jazz, gospel and house music with a respectful inclusion of older underplayed records. It’s an older crowd with the majority of people being in their forties and fifties. We’ve always been based in the West Midlands but our crowd comes from all over the place – Edinburgh, Bournemouth, Manchester, London, Sheffield and we’ve even got a few friends who fly in from Sweden, Belgium and Germany every so often. It’s a real coming together of people who are really passionate about music. My mum and I are residents and I’ve been involved pretty much since the beginning, so I was around 14/15 when I first started playing. It’s a really special night and I’m proud to be involved.
I’ve gained a great deal from Soul Underground over the last decade. DJ-wise especially, it’s really helped in developing my style. Mixing up tempos and genres, early-doors and end of night sets, going back-to-back – these are all things I’ve got to experience on a regular basis there. It’s also given me the confidence to take more risks, playing things that people might not expect you to. It’s also shown me how small nights can be run successfully through working hard to build up a loyal following and getting the balance right with DJ line-ups and venue choice.
What music has influenced you as artists?
Ethyl: I don’t know how things have influenced me and how that manifests itself but at the risk of sounding affected, it must all go in and what comes out, comes out. Those aren’t actually my words either, so that’s just how one person, Ben, has interpreted it. I certainly listened to a lot of New Jersey house and garage and, a little bit later, some of the Detroit staples, when I started listening to more techno. With the garage though, I don’t think anyone did it like the UK and especially London, and the late 90s/early 21st century garage that I was so immersed in has definitely shaped what I do now.
Flori: Tim was a really big influence on me when it came to electronic music. We’d both been through the UK garage phase but musically we were quite different when we first started university. At that time Tim was making and playing more minimal stuff and I was buying loads of US house and broken beat. We seemed to meet in the middle though, taking influences from each other and ending up at deep house, or whatever you want to call it. I’d go round to Tim’s or we’d be in his car, ‘Samantha’, and he’d play me some early Moon Harbour records and some Radio Slave tracks and then I’d play him some Mr V Sole Channel stuff and maybe some 90s MAW [Masters at Work] and K.O.T. [Kings Of Tomorrow] records. Those were really good times for me and they really have shaped musically where I am now.
How do you work on music together? Is it a case of files being sent back and forth or trying to find precious time to meet?
Ethyl: Working with Huxley was really easy a couple of years ago because of the proximity. We lived one road away from each. He’s the Donny Osmond of UK deep house at the minute now so it’s not easy. If I’m working on music with someone I much prefer to be in the same room as them. It does have its drawbacks – if you pencil in time and either one of you isn’t getting the feeling, it can be time wasted. But to me you’re not really collaborating if you’re doing your own bits and then sending them back and forth. Those ‘back and forths’ can happen hundreds of times when you’re in the same studio but you’re right, finding the time is difficult.
Flori: We’ve tried sending things back and forth to each other before and I think it’s worked really well on one occasion. Nearly everything else we’ve released has been done together at Tim’s. It’s difficult for us to work at mine on account of Tim’s never ending list of allergies, the poor git. Before Tim moved to London, I’d go to his folks’ house in Tring for a couple of weeks at a time where I was treated like royalty. I’m not saying I’m not looked after when I go down to his flat in London but it would be difficult for anyone to match up to the hospitality of Tim’s mum and dad.
Before starting something, we’ll generally have an idea about the sort of track we want to get down. We may work around a loop we’re really pleased with or go sample hunting and use a nice sound as a starting point. Tim usually spends the most amount of time in front of the screen as he’s so quick on Logic and he’s really good at realising ideas. We nudge each other out of the way when we want to play something in and we find it’s a good idea to record initial ideas because they often turn out to be the best ones.
You’ve been touted as ‘ones to watch’ yourselves but who are the artists that you rate?
Ethyl: It’s inevitable that the most noise tends not to be around the guys that are most deserving. They’re lionised in certain circles but I don’t think they get the acclaim they’re entitled to. XDB for me can just do no wrong. His stuff just stands out from almost everything else I hear. Also really feeling the output from BLM, 7 Citizens, John Heckle and I happened across this guy, William Gebert on Soundcloud; his stuff is really solid.
Flori: It’s all about XDB, STL, Anton Zap and Vakula for me at the moment. I’m always scared to suggest up-and-coming artists just in case they’ve been around for yonks! Sai from Kanazawa, Japan is someone whose productions I always like. He’s had an EP out on Agnes’ STHLM Audio and a track on Morris Audio. Moomin has been around for a while but I’m really in to his melancholic sound. Check out his album, The Story About You, on the ever-consistent Smallville.
What can we look forward to from you both?
Ethyl: I’ve done a slew of remixes recently and I’ve found it a lot easier to get things down that I’m happy with. With remixes, the limitations of having to work within and around other people’s productions just seem to make it easier for me to get to that all important ‘abandon it and send it off’ stage. There are a couple more of those on the horizon, on Vitalik and then Needwant following the Seven Music, Black Key and Wolf Music bits which have recently surfaced. Original stuff sometimes overwhelms me. When the variables are infinite I find myself getting bogged down with the details and can jettison from a project in favour of just about anything else. Saying that, after some difficulties in the manufacturing process, there’s the secretsundaze EP that I’ve done with Jamie. We’ve also got the long-overdue Quintessentials follow-up to finish and I will be bringing out a solo EP on Undertones.
Flori: Our track on secretsundaze is called Shelter. There’s a lovely Rolando remix on the flip and we feel so privileged to have someone of his stature involved. Solo-wise I have a few things finished and I’m currently in the process of finding the right homes for them. Next week my gorgeous girlfriend Lucy is whisking me away to Venice for my birthday, which I can’t wait for. When I get back I’ll be spending time getting some new material down for the New Year.