Since its inception in 2012, German imprint Toy Tonics has slowly built a solid reputation, gradually developing into a “buy-on-sight” label.
Specializing in organic house music that draws on disco & jazz-funk whilst remaining firmly contemporary, their sprawling back catalogue has featured many well-known artists over the years including, Black Loops, COEO, Pezzner and PBR Streetgang. The label has been on a steady rise for a while now, peaking at the end of last year with the planet-sized Ray Mang re-rubs of “Judge Not” from the Phenomenal Handclap Band.
Toy Tonics releases are regularly in the playlists of DJs like Kerri Chandler, Harvey, Moodymann, Gerd Jansen and Hunee. Up until recently, the label was believed to be run by Munk and Kapote. It’s now been revealed that they are actually the same person: Berlin-based Mathias Modica, an Italian/German self-styled “music nerd, DJ, keyboard wizard and producer” who has played on many Toy Tonics releases.
Mathias is now releasing his What It Is album, a collection of ten dance floor tracks, full of instrumentation and jazz-funk influences, straddling a very pleasing line between the organic and electronic. It’s house but strongly flavored with disco, with plenty of restrained retro percussion layered on top of live drums, Rhodes, and a few obscure samples thrown in too. What It Is contains some serious dance floor ammunition and the whole package should go down well with Toy Tonics’ star-studded list of admirers. 5 Mag thought this would be a good moment to chat to Mathias about his label and new album.
People like my vibe, and the good thing now is that lot of people are starting to get bored with the cold, depressive techno thing. Techno feels so old in 2019 and my way to make dance music with a nasty, sexy, warm, solar vibe seems to fit well now.
Thank you for taking the time to talk to us. Where you are and what have you been up to today?
Hi, I am in Berlin. Been at some jazz clubs last night so with quite a headache. There is a huge young scene now here with jazz kids from all over the world moving to Berlin and that’s quite fun going to these underground jazz/ funk/ experimental clubs.
Your new album is sounding great, please can you tell us where and when it was written and recorded?
Thanks! It was done in Berlin at two studios of friends. I am basically a musician, I play keyboards, bass, drums etc. but I’m not an engineer. So I go to my friend’s studios who have lots of synths etc. and there I record the tracks. Some tracks are based on samples, rare stuff from my record collection, others are based on stuff I play myself and then I loop it and build it up.
What was going on in your life at the time of making the album?
I run Toy Tonics and the label has been quite exploding the last year so we have a lot of artists and releases. So that’s quite a lot of work. And I like to eat good food and I spend time at museums…
And what music was influencing you as you worked on it?
I come from jazz and funk and I studied jazz piano for many years so my main vibe is jazz funk from the 1970s. Later I started to go out and like the DJ thing and playing at clubs and nightlife so I combined both: warm, jazzy, dirty, nasty vibes with four-to-the-floor dance aesthetics.
Were there any other influences too?
Most of my friends are graffitists or artists here in Berlin, so I often hang around in these kinds of circles, so that’s an influence too.
So there’s lots of instrumentation on the album; when and how did you first get into music?
Yes, I come from jazz piano. My dad is a classical musician and all around me, it was always music. I couldn’t imagine doing something different… and my main goal is to develop something new, not jump on bandwagons but thinking what could sound fresh to people in current times.
And please can you tell us a little about your creative process with this album, how did you go about putting the tracks together?
Sometimes I find a short sample on an old record that I play around with and sample, then I play stuff over it and then it starts to develop and ends up somewhere totally different. Sometimes I just jam on the Rhodes piano and find a riff that I like and put it on a beat. Or I play drums to the riff I played and sample that drums and add electronic elements. Then I use a lot of filters to get that warm sound…
Moving away from this album in particular, can you tell us a little about your music career? What’s your background, how did you end up running a record label?
As I realized around 20 years old that I will never be Herbie Hancock I quit the idea of being a professional jazz piano player and I started to go out a lot to clubs. I had the feeling that nothing in electronic music really satisfied me and there was a lot of space for me to add new things. Only later I understood that because people who DJ or produce don’t have a musician’s background, they just program, which sometimes leads to cool results but most of the time for me it’s too one-dimensional, too poor for listening at home. So I saw there was space and started to produce, run the label and DJ at parties and that started to work quite well. People like my vibe and the good thing now is that lot of people are starting to get bored with the cold, depressive techno thing. Techno feels so old in 2019 and my way to make dance music with a nasty, sexy, warm, solar vibe seems to fit well now. At least people tell me this.
What’s the best thing about working in the music industry?
Not having to work at a bank.
And what’s the worst?
Meeting too many people that are in it for the fame or the drugs, not for the music.
Toy Tonics is a great label, how do you feel about what you’ve achieved with it?
I thank God, Buddha, Jesus, Baghwan, Krishna and all the other goodness’s that I can live from what I live to do!
What plans do you have for the label for this year?
Lots of releases… by our main TT artists COEO, Rhode & Brown and New York’s Phenomenal Handclap Band, as well as remixes by Superpitcher and some other friends of the label.
Is there anything else that you’d like to tell us?
Always smile! You’re gonna live longer and people will give you endorphins for free!
What It Is is out now from Toy Tonics.