There’s one reason we want to be Tom Middleton, and it’s not his discography of genre-busting dance tunes. It’s not his celebrity friends. It’s not the jet-setting. It’s not even the adoration he receives from all over the world. It’s this: ‘This month Daft Punk gave Mixmag a list of 25 things they can’t live without, and one of them is my beard.’
Now that, ladies and gentlemen, that is something we want on our CV. To hold the lives of two of France’s biggest dance producers in our hands every time we pick up a razor blade! To shape the world’s charts with our trimmer! But that would be foolish. Murderous. Folly kills with follicles. So what is it about his chin foliage that has entranced them? ‘Maybe they have a hairless condition like those Mexican dogs and they can’t grow any facial hair at all,’ he muses. ‘Maybe that’s why they wear the helmets. But it’s weird – there always seems to be someone bigging up beards, and for some reason I get all the press. That’s the way it’s always been.’
Not that Tom Middleton’s career has been built on hair. From his first foray into dance music with Aphex Twin in 1991 through his numerous musical pseudonyms (Schizophrenia, Reload, Jedi Knights, Global Communication – he makes Howard Marks look like a rank amateur), producing everything from techno to ambient tunes, it’s the man’s mercurial talent that’s shone through.
So what the devil will he be playing out here? After all, Madinat Rooftop’s iLL Communications night is infamously eclectic. ‘That’s exactly the tip I needed,’ he says with enthusiasm. ‘If you’re giving me the green light to go eclectic then so be it. That’s my normal style anyway. Like DJ Yoda, Mr Scruff, Gilles Peterson, Norman Jay, Unabombers… you don’t know what they’re going to play next, but you trust that it’s going to blow your head off.’
We imagine that it would be easier to get work if he had a defined style, though. ‘Maybe, but to be honest I wouldn’t have it any other way. One minute I’m following [UK comedy act] The Mighty Boosh at The Big Chill festival in the UK and playing club classics to 40,000 people, the next in an underground club in Japan playing über-deep house. I can’t grumble at all.
‘I remember doing a battle with Fred Deakin from Lemon Jelly – we’d alternate tunes and the whole point was to keep chucking in curveballs that the other guy can’t follow. He looked at the age of the audience, worked out that their pre-teen years were in the mid-’90s and pulled out Backstreet Boys’ ‘Everybody (Backstreet’s Back)’. It completely destroyed me.’
But Tom’s got no time for regrets – he’s all about the future, which currently revolves around One More Tune, a compilation of the best tracks to play as the evening’s swansong.
The CD might feature ‘really beautiful pieces of electronic dance music that slipped under the radar’, but Tom’s favourite-ever tune isn’t dance at all. ‘It’s a classical piece by Ralph Vaughan Williams called Fantasia On A Theme Of Thomas Tallis. It’s got the biggest, richest, warmest strings you’ve ever heard. Crank it up and go on 15 minutes of intense harmony.’ But does he dare play it as his last tune in Dubai? ‘Now that,’ he says with a grin, ‘sounds like a challenge…’
Tom Middleton gives his top five fuzz-faced entertainers.
1 Aphex Twin (producer)
‘Circa mid-’90s. He had an epic beard and proceeded to shave it off, put portions of it in little plastic bags and give it away. One of the most amazing PR ideas of all time! I wonder how much it would fetch on eBay?’
2 Scroobius Pip (MC/DJ)
‘Scroobius is definitely up there. I’d not met him properly in the flesh – or hair – until last Friday, and by heck that’s a beard.’
3 Beardyman (human beatbox)
‘Beardyman is one of the most talented beards on the scene. There really are very few people that have as much talent as that man. There ought to be a beard hall of fame.’
4 Andrew Weatherall (DJ/producer)
‘Not a beard, but a moustache – the facial hair of Andrew Weatherall over the seasons has always been incredibly cool. He’s the first person I saw sporting a dandy’s handlebar moustache but now they’re all at it, especially in the London indie scene.’
5 ZZ Top (band)
‘ZZ Top! The best beards in music ever. And of course the drummer’s clean-shaven even though his name is Frank Beard! I love that.’
Tom Middleton plays Madinat Rooftop on March 19