Toddla T still enjoying the rocket ride to stardom

IT'S Saturday night and a sardine-packed sea of heads bob frantically to a torrent of furious ragga riddims. It's a carnival vibe that even Hollywood would struggle to capture. But not Sheffield.

Here, behind the decks in a bar on Division Street, is the Steel City's own master of ragga-rockin' riddim – Toddla T.

The 24-year-old has been writing music, putting out tracks and DJing since he was 16 and a King Edward VII School student called Tom Bell.

But in the last year the locally-hailed producer-cum-artist's career has rocketed. Toddla's baby face is now a familiar image in the national media. He's recorded with poet Benjamin Zephaniah, Roots Manuva's Rodney Smith and soon Miss Dynamite.

The DJ has co-curated Sheffield Tramlines festival and in a matter of days will be hosting his own BBC Radio 1 show.

We meet up in the Brown Bear in Sheffield, a few days after the DJ's raucous gig at Bungalows and Bears.

It's somewhat of a visual contradiction - the baby-faced, silver chain-clad Bell against a backdrop of fiftysomething men wearing flat caps.

Bell may spend most evenings DJing in some of Britain's largest clubs such as Fabric in London, but he's as Sheffield as you get.

"I recorded my album in Sheffield. I did it with Ross Orton above G2 Studios. I had to do it in Sheffield – it's me, born and bred. I was brought up here and the sound that I create is totally about this place. If I'd have been born in Bristol I wouldn't have made a record like this."

Bell's musical heroes are all Sheffield men too: "All the producers I look up to are here, making 'that' sound. I like Ross Orton, Parrot and Dean from I Monster…," he says.

Sheffield's cross-generational musical legacy – of which producers such as Parrot and Ross Orton are part of – is a close-knit network, explains Bell. "It's weird, you can go round certain areas of Sheffield like the Stag Works, when that was all studios, and you'd just pop in and out and see people."

So what does he make of his surge to success?

"It's mad isn't it? It probably started kicking off about a year ago – we put a single out about a year and a half ago, a right small limited one and from there it just spiralled. I could see when we had got it and I knew what was coming up. I was ready for it.

"I've had music out since I was 16 so it's not like it's happened overnight. By the time I was signed and started making the record I was DJing every other night."

Bell's an animated speaker – his cartoon-like huge eyes light up as he speaks in between sips of shandy. "I'm DJing tonight in Newcastle and I'm not going on 'til one so I'll be falling asleep if I drink now."

Bell's debut, Skanky Skanky, has just been released. The album has received much critical acclaim, partly due to its dual aesthetic of Sheffield hard electro beats and fuzzy-tone dub.

Few albums have crossed the hard industrial sound associated with the Steel City and warm ragga/dubby vibes. But the musical fusion has worked for Bell.

"The press has been amazing," he says, with an expression that confirms his choice of adjective.

The album's cover is a not-so-subtle take on Arctic Monkeys' artwork for Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not. Only on Skanky Skanky, Chris McClure – Jon McClure's brother – poses with his trademark cigarette and a dummy on his finger.

Among a string of guests on the album is Arctic Monkeys sticksman Matt Helders, who plays the opening beats to Boom DJ from the Steel City.

It's a stomper of a track in which Jamaican-accented MC star sings the title lyric.

Other stormers include Manabadman – a fast-beat, full-throttle floor-filler.

Bell makes no apologies for writing good fun tunes, admitting that he can't write serious lyrics: "I'm having a laugh as much as I can with the music."

Todda T plays in Doncaster at The Priory tomorrow, Friday, and starts his Radio One show in two weeks.

The Fabric Live CD is released in August.

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