SixthSense Talk #11 – Tom Baker

Tom Baker burst onto the scene circa 2017 and has been making waves ever since, but especially in the last 12 months. With releases on Stone Seed, Digital Structures, Recovery Collective, Alpaka, you may recognise him as well as a SixthSense Australia resident artist. We couldn’t help but bring him on board our little family when his potential became truly apparent.

His fresh EP “Collecting Kindling” has just dropped on Stone Seed, with an epic remix by Electrypnose… and we are god damn excited I tell ya. A boundary pushing four track epic in the form of Baker boy’s signature psychedelic progressive techno.

You may have caught our premiere of “Moon Trip”, the first track of the release. If you missed it, you can check it out here: 

We caught up with Tom to chat about the Collecting Kindling EP, Tom’s inspirations, formulating a unique sound and more…

SSA: Tom, thanks so much for joining us! How are you? How has life been lately?

TB: Yooo SixthSense Australia crew, thanks for having me guys! 

I’m very well, needless to say I’m seriously enjoying the world returning back to normal after an 18-month hiatus on fun! Life’s been busy as of late, between work during the week and attending all the postponed birthdays on weekends, I haven’t actually properly been out since we opened back up. This could also be a sign that I’m turning into an old fella… but looking very forward to a My Aeon sesh on December 11th for BushTechno, which will be my first gig back in action!

SSA: Epic! That lineup is ridiculous. With Käse Kochen on too! It will be one for the books no doubt.

“Collecting Kindling” – A name that seems like it should be complex to say yet rolls so nicely off the tongue!… What’s the concept behind this lush name and the release as a whole?

TB: When naming a track, I always aim to come up with something that fits the theme and mood, that will also stay in the listener’s head long after listening. For me, the elements throughout ‘Collecting Kindling’ instantly painted this picture deep in a forest, surrounded by creatures and crawlers, scrounging around the forest floor. So the name made sense. 

As a whole, I was really looking to explore a sound across the EP that featured powerful grooves, melodic storytelling and organic textures that needed to be played during peak time, after dark at a bush doof. Whilst writing Sphinx, which was the first track written of the three, I had this image of the Strawberry Fields Organic Audio stage from 2017 (I think) in my head almost the entire time. This isn’t all that exclusive to Sphinx when I think about it… I’m usually daydreaming about doofs whenever I write music haha, but I had that very distinct image in my head of playing Sphinx in that exact scenario.

SSA: The first track “Moon Trip” is so incredibly hypnotic, it really locks you in for the whole ride. Was this your aim in writing this track?

TB: I set out with a very specific goal when writing Moon Trip, which was to keep the elements elegantly restrained and to hold an ace up the sleeve for as long as I could in the arrangement. Often when setting out to write a track, I’ll go in with this type of plan to keep things restrained but then quickly throw the plan out the window because I can’t help but write a banger. However, when writing Moon Trip, I really enjoyed holding the tension and never going overboard with the instruments throughout.

The breakdown in this track is one of my favourite moments on the EP. It’s that ‘ace up the sleeve’ that I was referring to. I wanted to make listeners think they knew what was to come, before pulling out the unexpected melodic hook that carries the track into some sort of spooky fairy-tale journey.

SSA: Wicked, it’s great to understand how Moon Trip was formed. That elegant restraint definitely creates a platform for the hypnotic feel to the track.

Your sound is such a unique blend of progressive, psychedelic and melodic techno. What were the emotions you went through in developing this signature sound and what do you aim to deliver with this style?

TB: This is a tough question to answer. There are a few topics to explore here… growth, inspiration and stubbornness.

So first of all, I’ve always hated the idea of pigeonholing myself into a very particular style or genre. For a long time, I was just making whatever style of music popped into my head that day; I’ve fucked around making hip-hop beats, 90’s trance, hardstyle – wow, thank god those never saw the light of day, but I think trying all of those genres in my early days was quite instrumental in finding my sound. Naturally, as I’ve learned the art of production more and more, my ability to execute what I come up with in my mind has become better and I’ve narrowed down my style so that all tunes I now make would sensibly fit in one of my sets.

Secondly, every time I return home from a festival I will spend a solid week or two working flat out on new projects. The inspiration that attending these events produces is undeniable and I think is a super important part of any music creator’s process. 

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, I am a stubborn fuck… I will often hunt around Soundcloud and Beatport for 2-3 hours and find maybe 1 or 2 tracks that really have an impact on me. Dance music genres are so saturated, it genuinely annoys me when I hear cookie-cutter tracks that haven’t had the right amount of time and effort poured into them (hahaha I’m such a snob – sorry!). With this in mind, the last thing I want to do is add more noise to the clutter, so when I write music I spend a lot of time experimenting in the studio, making 20 revisions of a track, searching far and wide for that unique element, to try and make something different, genre-bending and unpredictable.

SSA: So who would you say are the primary influences on your musical direction and why?

TB: To kick it off, The Prodigy. These guys have had such a huge influence on me and my introduction to dance music many years ago. They pioneered the scene and still to this day, nobody sounds anything like them. I idolised these guys growing up, I saw them perform live a number of times and would have listened to their music more than anyone else. Without a doubt my biggest influence. R.I.P Keith Flint. 

Some other names that come to mind are Quivver, Boris Brejcha, Township Rebellion, Electrypnose, Willaris K, Victor Ruiz, Maceo Plex/Maetrik and Doppel. Looking at the list, answering the ‘why’ is quite easy – these artists all pushed the boundaries and defined their own sound. 

SSA: Let’s talk tools of the trade for a minute. You are getting a reputation as an absolute weapon in the studio. Do you do it all in the box or do you have a favourite piece of hardware you can’t live without?

TB: Awesome, finally some shop talk. I am entirely in the box (only software plugins, no hardware, for anyone not up with the lingo). I have thought about purchasing hardware synths many times, but the main thing that prevents me from doing so is the workflow aspect. When working with hardware, you need to record a sound and commit to it in audio. If you ask any of my past projects they’ll tell you I’m an absolute audio commitment-phobe. I like to have the freedom to change my automation parameters further down the track and fear that if I use hardware I’ll end up trying to polish audio-turds that just need to be tweaked from the source, which I’ll be too lazy to do.

I think this decision to stay in the box has been quite influential in creating my sound, which allows me to do plenty of tweaking and put together quite detailed productions. That being said, I’m sure at some stage I’ll grab a shiny toy where I can twist some knobs, but the day hasn’t come yet.

Thanks to Paddy Carroll (Unknown Concept) always egging me on to buy new plugins with him, I now have way too many and haven’t gotten around to using half of them properly.

Some usual suspects that you’d find me using are: 

Instruments: Kontakt, Reaktor 6, Hive, Zebra and Sylenth (the ol’ town bike)

Effects: Soundtoys bundle, Movement, Portal, Thermal and Ableton stockies

Mixing/Mastering: Waves CLA-2A, CLA-3A, CLA-76, SSL, Trackspacer, FabFilter Pro-Q 3, Ozone 9

SSA: Flexibility is the key. Take notes kids!

SSA: With those who know you behind the scenes, they know that you have an immense discipline with your studio time, such an important characteristic to harness when you want to go far in the music business. Can you share some of your best tips for keeping on track and on a tight schedule in the studio?

TB: Something I do every 6 months or so, is go back through my projects from the last 6 months and save all of my favourite synths, kicks etc. as instrument racks. This can save heaps of time during the sound curation phase of a project, but also needs to be used carefully, to avoid falling into the trap of not just using the same sound over and over. If I do this, I try to make sure to tweak the synth so I’m not doubling up on previously used sounds. I also use this same process for my mix bus channels, where I have 3 or 4 effect rack chains saved for each of my mix buses. I then like to AB test the racks against each other during the mixdown phase.

Another thing, especially when you’re starting out, is to not be afraid to take inspiration from some of your favourite tracks, especially the arrangement. Use your favourite tracks as templates for when the intro should transition into the first drop, how long the breakdown goes for, etc… At the end of the day, you have to make the track your own, but I find it useful to sometimes take the bones of an arrangement from another track, maybe even only the first few minutes, to get me on my way to putting together a track of my own.

SSA: Great practises there.

Lastly Tom, what do you have coming up in the release department and gig department that you can spill the beans on?

TB: Some very exciting times ahead, this is definitely the most stacked my calendar has ever looked and I’m both pumped (and low-key nervy) about how much is coming up! 

On the release front, there is a two-track EP on Recovery Collective with my boy Unknown Concept due in early January. We wrote the tracks shortly after having a yarn on the Esoteric dance floor back in 2020 and have recently gone back to spruce up the tracks… They’re sounding spruced as now. I’ll be making my second appearance on Digital Structures this month with a remix for Miles from Mars, making my debut on Open Records in late January with a remix for Boy with Boat and I have a really special remix coming out on Stone Seed but I think the beans must remain unspilled just for a little longer.

In the background I’m also compiling my very first album, but that is all I have to say about that for now 😉

Gig-wise, well, 2022 is going to be loose, haha. I can’t announce much just yet, but you can lock me in to play at Bohemian Beatfreaks in January, Interstellar Groove Festival in April, Woof Doof in February and I think the rest is under wraps for now, but a lot is coming up!

SSA: Epic stuff. We are so excited for everything you have coming up. Thanks a lot for joining us Tom!

You can buy, stream and support Tom Baker’s EP Collecting Kindling now at your favourite stores and streaming sites, just click here…