Tom Belte and The Collective

A chat with Tom Belte, legendary local DJ and presenter of Brum Radio’s The Collective, about his voyage through the shops, vinyl racks, clubs and in radio. Hear The Collective every Thursday at 5pm (UK Time)

Tell us about yourself and how you got into music.

I had to think hard about this as music has been about for so much of my life. I guess it might be easier to talk about when I started to get serious about it and that was from the age of 16 onwards, I could afford to buy my own music then and I have never really looked back. I had weird taste at the age of 16. It was a mix of Joy Division, Radiohead, DJ Shadow and loads of Indie landfill type bands but the albums that really jumped out at me which I really thought was special was DJ Shadow’s Endtroducing album. A lad at college introduced me to it and it blew my mind. It was something different, abstract and obscure and I still listen to it today with the same sense of wonder. Connected to that, I also got to go to The Thing in Brooklyn which is a record store in the Green Point area a few years back, that was the store that DJ Shadow did a lot of digging in to find his samples for that album. There were so many records there that I did not even bother looking at the singular items. I just had a 20-minute gaze at the shelves, I am sure there was gold there, but it was crazy to see so many records in one place.

I then got into going to clubs with my best friends and spent a lot of time buying records/DJing in and around Birmingham and the rest as they say is history. It has been ace.

How did The Collective as a show come about?

The original guise of The Collective radio show came from me and my friend, and co-host, Steve Thornton as a follow on from our DJ sets in the city under the night The Collective. We kind of just wanted to stretch out a lot further than a DJ set and play music that we would not DJ out with. Playing music on the radio means you can stretch out a bit to play more music that is not always for the dancefloor or have any intention to be dancefloor music. I love bangers as much as the next sweaty raver, but I also love a lot of other types of music and different moods.

Steve and I have quite symbiotic interests in lots of things, so we were able to put a show together quite easily, it was just a matter of having a chat about the music and going from there. We have had quite a few guests on the show since then, but it has always been about sharing great music and great ideas to our lovely listeners.

We have been doing The Collective for now over six years, during lockdown it became a bit of a way of getting into something creative when I was feeling restricted and quite lost with the toughness of life at the time, doing radio really helped. I really enjoy the practice of recording a radio show. It is a discipline that helps me to connect with people, places, music, artists, culture and art in its many forms. I am lucky.

Long answer I know, but it is always changing and it would be weird if it was the same thing it originally started as. I worked out last year that I have been involved in radio for the past 15 years, always at a local level but I have never actually ever got bored of it.

Where do you source all your music? Is it a long and forensic search or recommendations and shares from fellow DJs?

It is a bit of everything. I spend a lot of time going into record stores and have been lucky to have gone into some of the most wonderful spaces across the world. I have been able to pick up Salsa music in the Bushwick area of NYC right through to Latin Jazz in Mexico. I always think going to record stores beats everything when digging for music, it was only a few weeks back I was in Record Culture in Stourbridge going through the stock there and I was able to hear through the store PA a load of folk music that I had not heard of. Recommendations from staff are usually very complimentary in record stores as people can make things come your way just by what you are holding in your hands or keen to check out. I love that.

Most recently I have been improving my Reggae music knowledge. I go into the Diskery once a month and spend about £50 on Reggae, each recommendation from Dan who works there on a Saturday has been good. He also has a lot of stories around his own culture, sound systems and a hidden history of parties in Handsworth during the 80’s. You really do not get that kind of interaction with buying off Discogs, even though I buy a lot of music off Discogs. Dan really knows his stuff, that kind of knowledge needs to be respected and appreciated. Big up Dan.

I also got some great Jazz records last week in Stratford Upon Avon in the cheapy section of a record store. I picked up a Jan Garbarek and Shankar LP on ECM records, it is bonkers and has Indian raggas/psychedelic music over some good playing from Jan. The fact it was for a fiver in Stratford Upon Avon boggles my mind sometimes. These kinds of finds are why I keep looking for music.

I also use Bandcamp for all my digital purchases, I really do like the ethos of Bandcamp as it works closely with the artists or musicians and the best monetary standards are kept there. I found the website quite hard to navigate at first, but it makes a lot more sense these days. I like the fact you can dive into a label from one digital purchase and check out what your followers, or who I am following, are into also.

I read a lot of music blogs, music books and websites. Shout out to Dr Rob (guest on The Collective) who runs the excellent BanBanTonTon blog. It is my favourite music blog and where I feel most aligned musically. I also like music podcasts where an artist has been interviewed or a socially conscious individual is talking about a scene or an album. I find that kind of analysis fascinating. I also love the music documentaries on BBC4 or Sky Arts. It was only a few weeks back that my Dad recommended a Neil Young gig to me on Sky Arts which was phenomenal. It was his acoustic Harvest era in the early 90’s. It was a good gig. I wish I had been there.

Then there is the radio element, I listen to a lot of radio and hear a lot of good music. The internet radio renaissance has been amazing. There is so much to hear through radio and I love the fact you can dig into someone’s world for a couple of hours and hear what they have to say musically. I love hearing people do their own thing on radio and it can feel deeply personal at times, the way you can open someone’s metaphorical musical book and hear what they are into and then take inspiration from their choices, ideas, or beliefs is special.

But to conclude, my best music recommendations come from my friends and the people who I have connected with throughout my life who have told me about their versions of their best music, be that someone who has shared a record whilst DJing or at an afterparty. Co-Host Steve also has exceptional taste in music, he has introduced me to a lot of great records over the years when we have recorded a show together. We are well matched and complement each other nicely.

Another way might be from a little list that people have provided to me of things to check out. At the start of January each year me and my friend Jon compile our favourite music top 10 from the previous year – a single, album, mix or artist. I find that incredibly beautiful and the lists will always be something I cherish in our relationship. So yes, friends and their music which can then become shared music is such a wonderful thing and probably where I get my best recommendations.

What was so special and creative about the Balearic scene?

It is just so in line with what I love about music and the values of my life whilst also considering the Balearic sound and scene is hard to define. The Collective is a Balearic/sort of Balearic radio show. As I am also happy to put some banging Detroit Techno out next to a new Nala Sinephro 18-minute Spiritual Jazz number. It is good to have surprises and to make sure that music creates those feelings of unexpectedness, excitement, joy and happiness. Balearic music makes me feel happy, it makes me wants to think, see my friends and enjoy the world around me.

It was only a few weeks back I was dancing in front of Andy Taylor from We Are the Sunset at Café Artum for a Wrekin Havoc party. Musically Andy was playing a bit of everything, but it all was thread together with such tenderness and with an eye on the dancefloor. It sounds quite soppy but there is something deeply beautiful about when music can be reflective, fun and danceable all in one experience. It is like mixing tasty food and good wine, you know you are going to have an enjoyable time when things start to mingle together and are complimentary. Things in life are supposed to go together, and they just work, it can be ineffable and that is where the magic is. I liken that to some of the books I have read in the right setting or a film I watched when I was really in the mood for watching a certain film or genre, that feeling of being overwhelmed in a positive and inspired way is such a great feeling.

Most importantly, Balearic music is eclectic by its very nature and for me that is a wonderful thing to be part of – a come one/come all approach to life is a good philosophy to believe in.

You have a lot of guest mixes on the show. How do you all, from up and down the country, work together and so well?

It is just a matter of saying hello and asking. I am still so pleased to have some of the DJ’s I love on the show who take the time to provide mixes. People like Nick Cubley from Seekmagic in Newcastle, one of my favourite selectors of all time has done two Moments in Love mixes for Brum Radio. I feel extremely glad to be able to host his choices as he has such a good ear. We also had Macca from NTS/One Glove who I have been listening to a lot over the past few years, that was cool, and he did a Balearic backwards mix so he started the mix with house and ended up on a chanty down tempo number. I love hearing people’s own interpretation of their music style.

As a DJ how important is it to be able to play live again?

I am taking it a lot steadier these days and I am DJing a few times a month. I really have enjoyed my time at Hockley Social Club and at Café Artum.  I feel so glad to be able to have these opportunities as it is such a welcoming, friendly and on point place where good things happen, and good people attend.

Again, it is about connecting with people for me, I get to speak to some great DJ’s before and after my sets and it was only a few weeks back when Rod the bartender/DJ at Hockley Social Club was talking to me about his Philly Disco collection or his books that he is appreciating now. It is great to meet with people as it has been a tough old time but getting active and interacting with others has been fantastic.

Last month I played at an all-Brazilian night at Café Artum and we had a lovely crowd that evening. Loads of Brazilian people turned up and the dancefloor filled up quickly. It was intimate and I enjoyed the experience of selecting my favourite Brazilian records. I also made a few friends on the evening who I then met up with at On the Rocks party the month after so things can feel synchronised and can go in full circle. It is good to be able to notice these moments and vignettes, no matter how small.