With his most recent release out via Kitsune, Tobtok aka Tobias Karlsson is feeling inspired as he looks forward into 2014. Taking a minute to chat with EARMILK, the 21-year-old Swedish producer gets into the deep meaning of music as he opens up about his career, his influences and his struggles with testicular cancer. Dropping wisdom well beyond his youthful years, Tobtok illuminates the true power of music through his experiences as a producer and fan, while divulging what listeners can expect next from the up-and-coming deck master.
His latest tune, a remix of Years & Years "Real", opens The Magician's latest Magic Tape (40), giving the rising producer some clout in the underground french house/nu disco scene. Bright eyed and ready to take his sound to the masses, Tobtok is ready to reveal more of his uplifting productions in 2014. One of these feats must be his new mixtape series, the first of which we have for you today. Press play on Tobtape Pt. 1 and take a journey from Zimmer to Dimitri From Paris, while you read on about Tobtok's rise to fame.
EARMILK: A lot of EARMILK readers are just being introduced to Tobtok, can you tell us a little about your musical background and how you got started as a producer?
Tobtok: When it comes to music, I have always had an interest in it. Ever since I was six years old, so ever since I was a child it has been my biggest passion. First I was in rock and metal as a kid, I played in a band since I was 13. Then when I was around 17, I got into music production through school actually. Around that time, I discovered old school disco, so I think naturally when I got started [producing] I did edits of old disco tracks.
EM: Do you remember the first disco album you edited?
T: That's a tough question, I have always been a Michael Jackson fan since the first time I saw him on the television at age four. But I think the first real disco track that caught my attention, that made me go wow and really opened my eye to disco was “Everybody Dance” by Chic. So that track is basically one the most important tracks to me and my career.
EM: So where did you go from doing your first edit?
T: Well it wasn't serious at all, like in terms of music making and my production in school. It was actually a course we had.
EM: That was in high school? Wow, we don't have classes like production in high school here. Was your school specialized for music?
T: It was an aesthetics school, so I had a lot of art and music. They [high school] had a lot of courses like that, so that is basically how I got started. I got really interested in it [production] because it was a new way of doing music. Ever since that I have been obsessed with production, but only until recently, over the last two years, have I started to take it seriously. Originally I just did it [production] for fun and didn't see myself getting anywhere with it.
EM: When you were that age, what made you gravitate towards disco?
T: I am not really sure to be honest. It was a big step to go from rock to disco, they are like complete opposites. So I think it was just because it was something completely new and completely different, it was like a whole new world that I hadn't discovered before. I was like woah, this is cool, but I can't really explain what happened. Maybe it was a period in my life where I needed something new.
EM: You have been creating nu disco and house music since you started producing, what are you thoughts on the growing power of disco-inspired genres?
T: Well, when I started it was around 2009/2010 nu disco and french house was not big at all, it was just the beginning of it. I have watched it grow over the past four years and I think that is really incredible.
But I think the interested for electronic music has exploded over the past four years. Nu disco is quite an interesting sub genre of it because the music itself embraces feelings that the old disco did. At the time, in the 60s and 70s there was a lot of political and depressing feeling in the music and disco was a reaction to it. People wanted easy music about happiness and good times, that embraced the good sides of life.
Nu disco is also like that, it is very feel good and very uplifting and happy. I think that is the way the music scene is right now, there is a lot of big room aggressive beats that are like dubstep or electro, the hard stuff, and I think people are a bit tired of that. Deep house is more calm and I feel we are going in a direction where people want to feel uplifted an happy when they listen to music.
EM: That being said, originally you described your first influences as being metal and rock, which are much harder styles of music. Do you feel you transitioned into nu disco and house music because you were feeling the same way?
T: When you say it like that, it makes perfect sense. I think that, that was a thing for me as well. I think I was bit tired of this aggressive, hard, dark music and maybe I was at a point in my life that I felt I needed something more happy and easy going, maybe not so deep, you know. So I think there is a connection between the scene and my feelings in general as well.
EM: One of your latest releases, “Savanna” went up on Soundcloud recently and was accompanied by a note that said you have been cancer free for a year. What has music done for you and even being creative in general done for you as your struggled through cancer?
T: I mean basically music has been everything. Actually when I got the diagnosis, they told me there was almost a 50% chance me loosing most of my hearing. When I heard that, it was the worst thing I had heard in my life. If that happened, I couldn't do music anymore. Basically when I started my treatment with chemo therapy, my hearing instantly got worse. So during the period when I was treated I couldn't work on music at all, I could barely listen to music because my I had my headphones on my head would get really bad. So I was really afraid I would not be able to make music again. But as soon as I got off my treatment, about two weeks later I got my hearing back.
That was a deal breaker to me, I was like I am meant to do music, I have gotten this second chance. It was so inspiring to me, especially because I was so close to loosing hearing, not only my life, so after that I have been working really hard at music. I could lose my sight and it wouldn't be that big of deal, but my hearing—it's my life. So basically cancer been everything over the last year. I think that my recent success if because I have been so inspired by my illness.
Actually “Savanna,” I started the day after I had my one year check up and they told me I was all clean. I was so happy about it that I felt like I needed to write something really happy and actually that product file for the song is named happy.
EM: So how are you feeling today?
T: The doctor said that after two years of being free from any symptoms you are good, but basically since it has been a year that is virtually almost no chance of me relapsing. So I am quite calm about it. But of course, I got scarred in many ways, both physical scars and well there was a lot. It will probably take me a long time to get over it and move on.
EM: What do you take from those emotions? Do you put that back into your music today?
T: Not really because I am trying to embrace the happy feelings that I have. Because if the bad feelings take over, that I how I am going to feel normally. I am trying to meet with my friends and do positive music to help me get over the bad feelings I have about the illness.
EM: So in a previous interview you had made a comment about music, saying “Music for me is the most powerful tool to express feelings and thoughts, and it’s like a global language that everyone can understand and relate to,” that was such a powerful statement to me. Describe to me how music moves you through times like these, on the dance floor, how does music take you to a different place?
T: Well the thing is, the beauty of music is that it is a universal language. Everyone who listened for example to my track “Savanna”, can feel what I felt when I wrote it, or what I trying to say with it, regardless of where they are from. I think that is the most powerful tool in the world, everyone can understand what I am saying and how I am feeling without a word, I can just express myself. That is why I think music is the most powerful way to tell something and spread your inner creativity and feelings.
EM: When you are creating music and you understand how powerful it is, what goes into the your creative process. For example choosing a vocal sample?
T: It depends, usually when I just listen to old school music sometimes I am just browsing for samples and I come across something that I am like, oh I want to use that for something. Other times I use my friends samples for recording. Like for my track “Savanna” I just tried to find something cool, so somethings are totally random and some have much more thought.
EM: We have kind of already talked about your childhood influences, so who are your current influences and who are some people you are interested in collaborating with.
T: I think Nile Rodgers is my biggest influence and has been throughout my electronic music making. I am inspired by a lot of things, not only other musical producers but also stuff that has happened in my life. If I would say in terms of music, mostly old records that I want to put a new face to. You can say everything is a remix, because there is always someone who has done what you are doing. But you put your own flavor to it, your own face to it, you grab bits from all over and in the end you are going to create something that is your own. Sometimes I feel like it is hard to describe my sound, because I do so much different stuff. I don't want to limit myself to a certain sound, I get inspiration from tech house to deep house, like big room stuff, pop music even rock, everything.
EM: Currently are there any producers, aside from Nile Rodgers, that you are interested in collaborating with?
T: Actually two of my best friends, which are in the same scene with me. Oliver Nelson, I have already worked with him, him and me work so well together. We work well together, we like the same music and we are good match.
EM: Do you have any plans on touring? Will you make it over to US anytime soon?
T: Actually I am doing a small gig during Miami Music Week, because I am already going to be on vacation there. I am going to play on a yacht or something like that. Other than that I am not really focusing on touring, I am trying to build my name and then hopefully I will get on a really nice to tour in the US.
EM: What can you tell me about some up coming releases you have?
T: I am not really sure how much I can tell. I have a track I have been working on for quite some time now, and I think it is going to be my biggest track so far because I spent so much time on it. And I have a bunch of remixes coming out, so there is going to be plenty of music in 2014. I am probably going to release more this year, than I have any other year.
E: Speaking of that you have recently made a remix of Years & Years “Real,” which was released via Kitsune and featured on the Magician's latest mix tape. In my head, Kitsune is the grandfather label of nu disco and french house, so how does it feel to have a track coming out on Kitsune?
T: Its really quite unbelievable, ever since I started I have really loved Kitsune. It has been like my goal to work with Kitsune some way, and now it feels like a accomplished a milestone. I have always loved stuff from Kitsune, I remember I listened a compilation years ago and and I was like yeah some day. They are such a respectable label, they have released so many great artists, especially in the nu disco scene. So I am really happy that my track did so well and got supported by these big artists that I have admired for such a long time. It is just so amazing, I am so happy about it.
EM: Is there potential to work with Kitsune for your own original material?
T: I have a label that I am going to release original songs from.
EM: Can you tell me what label?
T: Not right now. We have some news to come, but we can't reveal it quite yet.
EM: Alright, great well what do you consider you biggest accomplishment so far, and what do you see coming in 2014 for you?
T: Definitely Kitsune has made a huge impact, with it being featured on Majestic and all that. I has gotten a lot of attention, I would say my Years & Years remix is my biggest success so far. But I would say we have some tracks for 2014, that could be 10x bigger, so I am very excited for what is to come.
1. Years & Years - Real (Tobtok Remix) - Private Intro Edit
2. FKJ - Lying Together
3. Zimmer - Galapagos
4. Skogsrå - Now You See Me (Tobtok & Goldbass Remix) - Exclusive Preview
5. Jupiter - Juicy Juicy (Crayon Remix)
6. Jessie Andrews - You Won't Forget Tonight
7. Moon Boots - Off My Mind
8. Lxury - J.A.W.S.
9. C2C - Happy (Montmartre Remix)
10. Pomo - Work It Out
11. Disclosure - Voices (Wookie Remix)
12. Oliver - MYB (Tchami Remix)
13. Todd Terje - Delorean Dynamite
14. Julie Bergan - Younger (Oliver Nelson Remix) - Exclusive Preview
15. Feeling Good - Beat Chef
16. Karma Kid & Friends Within - Feeling (So Special)
17. Jermaine Lewis - Numbers
18. Sylvester - I Need You (Dimitri From Paris Disco Mix)