Since the world opened back up in 2021, Tobtok has been on a roll. With a slew of catchy dancefloor singles, the Swedish DJ/producer has scored with original productions, remixes and collaborations that has kept his name at the forefront of the Nu Disco scene.
Most recently, his rollicking remake (with fellow countryman Oliver Nelson) of The Flirtations’ Northern Soul classic “Nothing But A Heartache” perked up summer dancefloors. But pop-dance cut “Better Day” (another Nelson collab) and pumping house track “My Carousel” (featuring Jem Cooke) also won over plenty DJs and listeners. Expect similar reactions with melodic mover “Overnight,” his upcoming collab with Adam Griffin on Perfect Havoc.
Of course, Tobtok – aka Tobias Karlsson, 30 – is no newcomer to the scene; he’s been making tracks for more than a decade. Among other notable hits, he scored in clubs and on radio with his 2016 take on Traci Chapman’s “Fast Car” and his 2018 collab with Adrian Lux, “As I Sleep.” And, as a cancer survivor, he’s not one to let time waste – he says he used the COVID-period downtime for prolific purposes. Tobtok simply just kept cranking out the hits.
DJ LIFE MAG recently connected with Tobtok (that’s Swedish for “Crazy Tobias”) to discuss his surge in productivity, his studio process, and more.
DJ LIFE MAG: Musically, what were your first influences? What made you want to pursue music?
Tobtok: With electronic music, it started with ’70s disco and, with that, I discovered French house like Daft Punk and Justice. I was really into sampling and two-second disco loops. Music was always my biggest interest as a kid, but it started with metal and rock. I never really saw it as something that I would work with, though. But it totally makes sense for me, as the things I’m good at are music, technology and design – and I get to work with all those things.
DJ LIFE MAG: The past year or so has seen you drop some killer releases, including the two very different styles of “My Carousel” on Selected and “Better Day” with your pal Oliver Nelson. How do two such differing sounds come out of the same studio mind? Do you sit down with a plan or is it always organic?
Tobtok: I’ve always done different kinds of styles since the start of this project and I always strive to reinvent myself and to try different styles. I think it’s important to show diversity, and it also makes this job more fun! Disco and house have always been close to my heart and I love to make both. I don’t really have a plan at all. I just take inspiration from what I’m listening to at the moment and try to put my own spin on it. For example, with “Better Day,” I was inspired by Jungle, which is probably my favorite band at the moment.
DJ LIFE MAG: Creatively, how did you approach “Satellite,” one of your catchier singles this year? What was the collab like with Arinn?
Tobtok: It all started out with Arinn reaching out to me on Instagram. She sent me an a cappella – and lyrically, it had quite a lot more substance to it. I really loved her smooth tone and I dissected it in my head of how I wanted it to sound. I ended up cutting a lot of sections up and wanted it to be more repetitive for the dancefloor. I liked the fact that the vocal is quite calm and chill, and I wanted to go in an opposite direction with the instrumental to have a cool balance. The track doesn’t have too many elements, though, as I wanted to leave space for the vocal.
DJ LIFE MAG: From your main studio gear, what’s your DAW?
Tobtok: I’m a happy [Propellerhead] Reason user for 12 years now. I like the fact that they have so many of their own sounds and synths; it’s easy to not sound like everyone else out there. For example, a lot of people asks me about my pianos, and they are all Reason-made sounds!
DJ LIFE MAG: How about monitors? Vital hardware? Favorite plug-in?
Tobtok: Monitors are Genelec 8030 – quite small, but a big sound, which I like. Vital hardware? Apart from the obvious computer, it’s probably my Roland RE-301. It’s a vintage space echo with tons of mojo. It just makes everything sound better and more interesting in a creative way. My most-used plug-ins are probably FabFilter Pro-Q3 equalizer and iZotope Ozone Dynamics multi-channel compressor.
DJ LIFE MAG: When people seek you out for a remix, what sound or feel do you think they’re looking for? How do you approach a remix compared to an original track you produce?
Tobtok: Honestly, it’s never like a specific sound. I’ve probably done hundreds of remixes during my career and they are really different from each other. I’ve done a lot of U.K. house-style remixes the last two years, but my last one was a proper disco-pop remix for “AM Gold” by Train and Melanie C. I love making remixes because it’s fun to put your own spin to something that’s already been made. I usually strive to do something completely different from the original and only use a few elements or just the vocal. Occasionally, when the original is already kind of perfect or has the vibe I would go for, I usually keep a lot of stuff, but maybe give it a different tempo and groove.
DJ LIFE MAG: How did you get through the relative downtime of the COVID period? Were you creative?
Tobtok: I survived by cuddling with my girlfriend and our Corona dog that we got – a miniature poodle that literally looks like a teddy bear. I had a pretty good run, creatively, during lockdown and finished loads of tracks. A lot of the tunes I’m releasing this year I finished last year.
DJ LIFE MAG: Were you streaming during lockdown?
Tobtok: I only did one live-stream actually and haven’t really done a big return to DJing yet. I’ve been so focused on working on new tunes and trying to really improve my output with more frequent releases because it’s just how the climate is right now. People consume music faster.
DJ LIFE MAG: So, have you returned to clubs? How’s it been?
Tobtok: I played some dates in Ibiza at the Eden club this summer with the Perfect Havoc label, which I was very excited about. What’s upcoming? At Amsterdam Dance Event, I’ll be playing the Perfect Havoc/LoudKult party at the Maïa club – super-excited to hit the decks there.
DJ LIFE MAG: In the DJ booth, what gear do you use and why? What’s your approach?
Tobtok: I’m quite conservative, so I use the standard Sennheiser HD 25 headphones and a USB stick – with a few back-ups – with a Pioneer DJ set-up. My style is quite old-school, as I DJ for the crowd and don’t really have a set that’s pre-thought-out. I don’t like to do silly moves and shout in the mic much.
DJ LIFE MAG: Do you have tracks that you always play?
Tobtok: I don’t really have any tracks I always play. I always wanna play current things that are no more than a few months old, if they’re not my own releases. One track that will probably always be on my sticks, though, is my track with Adrian Lux, “As I Sleep.”
DJ LIFE MAG: Which DJs do you admire?
Tobtok: I think Goldfish are really cool! I saw them at Hangout Festival a few years ago and they had this incredible energy and also played a bunch of instruments flawlessly. Would love to see them again.
DJ LIFE MAG: For a young person who wants to become a successful DJ/producer, what advice would you give? What are the most important skills to master?
Tobtok: Well, today it’s a bit different climate with social media, etc., compared to when I started… but the main product you are selling is the music and composition, so that’s where you need to start. I would say to understand how to compose music and chords, and to structure it properly is the foundation. Sound-design and mixing comes later. When I listen to my old music, I think I had good ideas, even though the mix and sounds sound really awkward.
DJ LIFE MAG: A favorite remixer/producer?
Tobtok: I love Calvin Harris. He has his own sound that no one seems to be able to replicate – and he seems like a big nerd, which I love. He also knows his way around a garden, which is cool. I got my own little plantation operation on the balcony – nothing illegal, though.
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