Tom Dyer is the man behind the Acorn Tapes label and radio show. Both are treasure troves of dusty beats, warming grooves and perfectly imperfect soul sounds that are aged to perfection. The label’s released music from artists all round the world, and the show is an extension of it, often dipping into jazz, sad songs and r&b.
Tom doesn’t claim to be a DJ, more a selector, but is a digger with real taste. Here we find out more of his backstory ahead of his next show this Sunday at 6pm. You can listen to his archive here and find the label on Bandcamp and Soundcloud, while his own sporadic productions as TMCT are also on Bandcamp.
What are your very first musical memories?
My Grandad used to play Jazz and he sung a lot. I loved his singing. I remember my older sisters bumpin some late 80s early 90s R&B when they were getting ready for a night out then in school I got heavily into Hip-Hop through mates and skating and skate vids etc. I spent a hell of a lot of time over at one of my mates houses sitting in their conservatory playing music from his Dads Brazilian jazz and bossa collections. He also had an unbelievable amount of Prince as well as the usual Dad stuff like Hall & Oates, Bobby Caldwell and Steeley Dan. We got right into it.
How did you first get into the music you listen to and play now?
I started making beats at about 16 / 17 so I was messing with soul and jazz samples. I fell in love with it and got to know the genres really well. Soul, Jazz, Funk, Hip Hop, R&B etc all just tie in. I always liked the raw sound though. I like the dirt. I hate the term but i like the “lofi” sound which is why I guess I buy a lot on tape.
Why do you love hip hop so much? Any definitive releases in your collection you always come back to? Any specific period or style you favour?
Thats so hard. Ive never even though about it. Its difficult because even though I adore Hip Hop I do actually dislike the majority. Obviously I feel there was more quality Hip Hop in the earlier years I still don’t like it all. It just has to have the right feels. I just need everything balanced because if there is something not quite right to me I can’t fuck with it. That doesn’t mean I’m searching for perfection in a track / album because at times Im actually into imperfection as long as it’s not forced. I guess I love the looseness in HipHop music. Im interested in the production side more than anything specifically sampling.
Obvious classics that I still revisit that spring to mind are Wu Tang – Enter The 36 Chambers, Slum Village – Fantastic vol 1 and 2, Nas – Illmatic, Jay Z – Reasonable Doubt, early Group Home and Lootpack, Tribe and Pharcyde etc but to be honest the Hip Hop I revisit now might not even be classed solidly as Hip Hop. Im in love with the genres that surround and are responsible for Hip Hop as much as Hip Hop itself.
Did you collect with a view to DJing or just listening?
No not at all actually. It was just for me. Luckily I have shit loads though and so playing music out came from that. I have to have everything there even if its digitally and completely unorganised. Im not into streaming.
When did you first start playing out? Where did you play?
I haven’t been playing out long at all. I never intended to. Me and my mate used to do a night like 5 years ago on Call Lane when we had the shop and now I play weekly on a Thursday at Headrow House under Acorn Tapes. I play at the odd event like Pica Sounds for Oi Polloi in Manchester and also recently in NY with people we’d released on the label and long time internet acquaintances. I wouldn’t consider myself much of a DJ. More a selector.
When and how did the label come about? What gave you the idea, how hard was it to get it off the ground? What informed the branding?
The label came off the back of my and my partner shutting our business. We were buying tapes at the time and had talked about it for ages. We still wanted to do something together so that was nice and easy. It wasn’t too difficult to get started. We had a few connections with music overseas just from making, buying and putting out music for so long. I think the fact that we got off to a good start with the first release made a difference. We were selling to people we were buying from and as the scene started off fairly small the people who were interested came across us quite organically.
All the branding is by our good mates at Catalogue. They kill it every time. They just get it. I think our identity is one of the main things that sets us apart. The consistency across releases.
Why tapes? How hard are they to get made? Might you ever do vinyl?
Tapes because we buy lots of them. We did then and we still do now. The music we release lends itself to that sound. It’s warm and raw. Theres also a certain charm and nostalgia attached the physicality and listening process.
They’re easier than ever to get made mainly I think because they’re becoming more popular. There aren’t a lot of places in the UK that duplicate but its growing. We’ve used the same people from the start and it can at times be a lengthy process but no real issues.
Yeah we’ve been thinking of a vinyl release for some time along side a tape. It needs to be something very special. Maybe the next compilation we release.
How have you found running it, what are the best and worst bits?
It’s good. Its nice being able to release music we love by artists we love. It’s opened some doors and meant that we’ve been able to have input into something that we’ve a been part of for so long. Im not sure there really are any bad bits in particular other than the fact that it can be time consuming here and there but generally its fun.
What sort of music are you looking for? Is there a certain sound? Got an email people can get in touch via if they think they might have something for you?
We don’t really look. We’re constantly coming across new artists naturally and it kind of happens organically. We get a lot of demos sent over or links to peoples soundcloud etc but it’s rare that our releases don’t come from us approaching the artist ourselves. We always have our eye on a bunch of artists and generally have a couple of people working on tapes at any one time so we can keep it moving nicely.
As far as what we’re looking for musically its as simple as the fact that we just have to like it. All of our releases are very varied but all suit the analogue sound for sure. I don’t mean that we’d be releasing a screamo tape any time soon but we’ve released music with hints of funk, soul, jazz, hip hop, experimental and r&b for sure.
Yeah > firstname.lastname@example.org
Any crazy, interesting or and stories about the music you have released and how you came to it? Do you hunt it out or do people send demos or both?
Not that crazy ha. It was pretty amazing having SEENMR from Chicago over here and Wun Two, Beat Pete and Klaus over from Germany for the Acorn show we put on at Hi Fi. Amazing meeting them and definitely the show over in NY we did with Dirty Tapes. That was unbelievable cos I got to meet a bunch of people that we’d released on the label and never met in person. Id been speaking to Dan from Dirty Tapes almost weekly for like ten or more years before we came together to do the show.
You did a tape with another host Jack recently -how did that one come about? Might you do more like that?
Jacks a great lad. Wicked taste in music and an absolute killer record collection. Especially his soul stuff for me. I remember the first time I met him properly was when he was playing in Outlaws and I asked him if he’d DJ at my wedding ha. But yeah he was telling me about a gospel mix he was thinking about putting together and played me a couple of the tracks so I suggested he did it as a guest mix for Acorn. When we heard the final mix and saw the effort he’d put in, not to mention how rare some of the records in that mix were we had to put it out physically but in very limited numbers. Again Catalogue absolutely killed the artwork and got the vision first time round. There had to be a sunset on the cover.
And yeh we’d do it again for sure but maybe not physically. Its the only thing we’ve released physically thats not all original music. Thats why we released so few.
Do you make beats yourself? Why not? Have you ever tried?
I do. Not too seriously but on and off for like 15 years. I haven’t had as much time recently but I am finally working on a new tape in between other life stuff. Ive got a release on Acorn actually called ‘Land Cruiser’ under TMCT and two released before that. The first one ‘Snow Beach’ came out on a small DIY kind of tape label called Bootleg Tapes.
Tell us about your show – what’s the vibe?
The show is always just a bunch of stuff Im feeling at the time. Theres always about an hour of new stuff or old new stuff that Ive just come across that month and then normally some things Ive been re visiting. I try and mix it up. Theres definitely a huge range of hip hop, beats, jazz, old soul, funk, proper r&b and lots and lots of rawness. Listing it like that though doesn’t really explain it very well. It literally is a good example of me and my taste and what Acorn is about too. There are certain things that I listen to a lot but wouldn’t play on the show for one reason or another.
Where else can people catch you play?
I play at the odd event mainly in Leeds but every Thursday at Headrow House.
Anything else to add on the matter?
Check the Acorn Tapes shows and listen to Jack’s next show that Im a guest on where we’ll be playing nothing but sad soul.