Tom Mangan occupies a rare and somewhat rarefied place among electronic producers: he has created more of what DJs like to call their “secret weapons” than nearly anyone else I can think of.
Every good DJ has a few of these in their bag, which are being constantly replenished. Finding and sometimes making these obscure, limited edition or simply unknown tracks is their main preoccupation when they’re not playing them, and have been since the days of the disco mixer, the lacquer and the Sunshine acetates — in other words, since DJs began to blend two records together in an artful way. Get access to a working deep house DJ’s secret weapons these days and you’ll likely find a few in the crate produced and sometimes pressed by Mangan under his surprising nom de plume: Tee Mango.
The thing about secret weapons is you never know what you’re looking for before you find it. You have no idea what it is, who made it or where it came from or why you pulled this rainbow black mystery plate out of the rack rather than some other.
You bring it over to the turntable station and after 30 seconds you pull the needle off and find yourself worried that you let it play too long. You suddenly feel very protective of this record (at this point you’d stuff it under your coat if there was any question of getting out of here with it). You glance at the label and backtrack your steps to where you found it, flipping through the rack impatiently to see if there may be any older or younger relatives around that you can claim. There usually isn’t — secret weapons are by their nature orphans. This record, for all you know, was made in the basement, down the street or minted on the moons of Mars. It is as if it was made just for you.
This was exactly my experience finding Tee Mango’s Tribute #1 and based on its acclaim an experience I shared with many others. These were high quality edits of the sort you’d expect in the crate of a top name DJ/producer but produced in what seemed like a press run of a dozen. Unlike many edits released this way, these were an unapologetic celebration of sampling — an ebullience which I think came through and connected both with thirsty DJs and the audiences that heard them.
That attitude, Mangan remembers some years later, came from an experience he calls a “moment of clarity.”
“I was messing about with various ideas and edits,” he explains. “My wife and I had just had Baby #2 and moved out into the wilderness. I was looking to get some more momentum with my music, which I’d had with some previous artistic incarnations.
“I was out walking amongst the greenery and the fields, I’d just consumed a Theo Parrish interview of some sort and his perspective on sampling changed my perspective — from apologetic to celebratory.”
Theo’s words were re-printed on the back of that first Tribute record. They were:
“Love of the music should be the driving force of any producer, performer or DJ. Everything else stems from that core, that love. With that love, sampling can become a tribute; An expansion on ideas long forgotten, reconstruction, collage.”
“I think Theo is a great teacher and very interesting to listen to & learn from,” Mangan says. “I’ve never met him, but am grateful for his perspective. So yeah, his quote was the glue. I thought why not make the art tribute too, so the art is augmented (re-sampled) Keith Haring and the music I created as collage from things that I genuinely fucking love. I committed to doing 5 [volumes of the Tribute Series] that very day and am pleased that I managed to do that with that series.”
Since the first volume of the Tribute series in 2015, Mangan’s Tee Mango moniker is no longer just another quirky alias uncovered the racks. He’s released highly acclaimed records on AUS, Local Talk and most recently the Cityspell EP on Delusions Of Grandeur, released in late March just as the pandemic was spreading throughout the world.
Given his understanding of how to make the records that DJs live to dig, it’s probably not surprising he cut his teeth early on in a record store. “I moved to Australia for about 9 months and worked in a record shop called DMC in Melbourne,” he says. “I think Stewart paid me in records, or chicken tikka rolls. But I was about 19 and living with my mum, so I didn’t care.
“After working a record shop and seeing all these bods coming through with their own records, I was like ‘I need to learn how to do this.'”
I like vinyl for its feel, for its smell, for the legitimacy it lends. But it’s not the scene. it’s just one way of providing a physical artifact.
In the interim he started Millionhands, described in his bio as a “cult streetwear brand” which shared a title with the label that released his earliest records and sublabel “Millionhands Black” which released the Tribute EPs.
“I love vinyl always have, though my love goes in waves, (like all love, maybe?)” he says. With the Tribute EPs, “I wanted that series to be a physical thing. I was selling Ts at the time with Millionhands and we were very much about physical incarnations of the ever increasingly digital music business.”
Shifting realities in the business have made even the relatively grim year of 2015 seem like a bit of a golden age when it came to vinyl.
“I understand from my distributor friends that certain music still does well on vinyl, but I think gone are the days where all electronic music shifts units,” he says. “Not sure what that means to the scene, I know it definitely means less revenue for certain labels, but life changes. I like it for its feel, for its smell, for the legitimacy it lends. But it’s not the scene, it’s one way of providing a physical artifact. ”
With much of his back catalog having been picked through, I asked if there was anything in his releases that he thought would have gone over better or was waiting to be re-discovered.
“I think ‘Into the Wild’ was relatively unnoticed, but for a few DJs,” he says after some thought. “It was on the b-side of an edits release that the lovely Chris Duckenfield put out. I made it during a spell living in Berlin, where I just didn’t finish anything I thought wasn’t any good. I gave it to him in about 2010, I think it finally came in 2014. And ‘Talk 2 Her’ is probably my favorite from the Tribute series.”
“Cityspell,” on the other hand, is a good indicator of his contemporary taste, or “where my head’s at in terms of club music. There’s grit, samples, waywardly synced synthesizers… It’s hopefully some cool, slightly off-beat house music.”
It’s out now on Delusions Of Grandeur. It was D.o.G’s sister label Freerange’s 2003 release of Switch’s “Get Ya Dub On” that Mangan calls a “complete game changing record for me. Literally couldn’t have been a house record that spoke more to me at that time. May have even changed my life as a young impressionable producer.”
And for another young, impressionable producer, who today is likely going to have a harder slog of it than any generation of young, impressionable producers that came before them, I put to Tom a question I’d recently been asked:
When should an artist stop knocking on doors and give up?
“Why would this person give up?” he asked. “Give up what making music or knocking on doors? I think if you love doing something, you should do it as much as possible. Practice is the mother of skill.
“I’m actually about to start working with a bunch of awesome artists and producers in a program I’ve put together, some of whom have asked me similar questions. Honestly, I would say — figure out what results you want to be getting, find someone who’s getting them, ask them how they’re doing it.
“Or come and speak to me and let’s see if I can help. But deffo don’t give up.”
Cityspell by Tee Mango is out now on Delusions of Grandeur.