Paul Cottam first came onto the radar back in 2009 when the first of his eponymous, but otherwise clandestine, releases came out. Since then his schedule has been steady, with four releases in 2016, the most recent being ‘Cottam 6’, which neatly bookends his recording career so far. Another label that he oversees, Ruff Draft, is also an outlet for his sound, as well as that of others, its most recent outing being from DJ Nature a few weeks ago. The last few years, however, have been challenging for Cottam. He suffers from multiple sclerosis (MS), and its debilitating effects have taken a heavy toll on his mobility, heavily limiting any gigs he might want to perform. I emailed him a few questions to try and find out a little bit more about his current state of mind, any pointers as to what he has planned and his background.
How did it all start for you? What influenced you to start making and playing music, and what keeps the passion alive?
It all started for me at high school aged about 14. A friend introduced me to the music and from there I never looked back. It’s all Paul Watson’s fault, he’s to blame hahahaha. I was a hip hop and soul boy before I met Paul .The music keeps the passion alive, simple as that. I love it!!!!!!!
You describe yourself as a “stay at home parent” on your Facebook page. What influence does family have on you and your work?
I’m not sure to be honest. My general mood, feelings, circumstances and the music I buy/hear influence my music the most I think. Odd tracks are influenced directly by my family but its not the norm. My family influence me in different areas.
Have you always lived in Leyland? How important is a sense of place?
I have lived in Leyland from about the age of 4. I’d identify myself as being a Northerner but I don’t think this is really of any importance music wise, to me anyway. I was born in Preston, grew up in Leyland, an Englishman; a European; world citizen; yada yada yada. Place is kinda irrelevant, its more about what/who you have around you. Just my opinion.
When you first started releasing music you were noticed for, amongst other things, a slowed down chugging sound which seemed to blend aspects of afrobeat and disco, but was unmistakeably your own. How did you come up with this?
It was Mr Watson’s fault for introducing me to the likes of The Revenge and Mark E. I was playing techno at around 130bpm before that. Probably something to do with getting older as well. Slowing down and all that. I didn’t really “come up” with the sound. I was just faffing about enjoying trying to make music in my headphones as I’d packed my deck room away to make room for a nursery. I was using ideas I’d had in my head for years but never tried before as DJing was always the main thing for me.
I read that you made your early tracks on Ableton. Do you still use it and how engaged are you with music making technology? Is it easy for you to adapt to new digital trends?
I still use Ableton yes. I’m not really a follower of technology etc etc… I’d rather just have fun fiddling with whatever I have. I do add bits of kit now and again but always for a reason.
How are you coping with MS, and how does it impact on making music and DJing? Are some of your track titles a reflection on your condition; I’m thinking of ‘Relapse’, ‘Harsh Side Effects’ and ‘Breaking Through the Pain Barrier’, for example.
I’m plodding on. I have given up DJing. Well, I say I’ve given up but I still wanna do 3 or 4 gigs a year. I love it and miss it so so so much, I still try and get on the decks at home as much as possible. Some months I’m on nearly every day for an hour or so, other months I can’t manage to stand comfortably for long enough to mix 2 tracks together. Yeah, loads of my tracks are influenced by my health issues, hence the titles. When I’m in a bad way there’s no way I can play on the decks so I sit and make noises instead.
How close to you feel to club culture as opposed to just making music and DJing?
Last time I played out was in May. Like I said, still gonna try do 3 or 4 gigs a year. I’d go mad if I didn’t try. I’m hoping to do a gig in February but nothing definite yet. I would love to feel close to club culture but its not like I can even just go to a club for a night out anymore. Clubs are not a good environment for me these days because of all the health bobbins. GUTTED!!!!!
It’s clear that you love playing music, perhaps more than making it? What appeals most about DJing? You make a lot of mixes at home as well. How does your approach differ between recording at home and playing live? Are you more methodical, or spontaneous?
I just love it, had my first play at the age of 14 and never ever looked back. What appeals to me is playing all the cracking music and getting lost in it. Makes me smile inside and out. If I was able I’d happily play on my decks all day nearly every day. Some mixes are approached in a methodical way but others are just a case of hitting record and seeing what happens. Playing at home you can just play exactly the music you want to, in a club its still playing stuff you love but you have to see what kinda vibes the crowd are feeling etc etc. Its way more spontaneous playing out.
I read in a review for one of your singles on Aus that your first releases were under the radar because you didn’t want to get sued for unauthorised use of samples. Have you ever had any feedback from artists you’ve used on your records? If so, was it positive/negative?
Never from an artist. I had contact with a label about a rewire type thing I did. I was obviously in the wrong but they were extremely reasonable and we sorted things out.
Your releases are all your own work, but which artist, living or dead, would you like to collaborate with?
Too many to mention really but in all honesty I’m crap at collaborations. I’m not really very good at making music, I just mess about. I can’t seem to do it. Face to face collaboration might be better. Might try soon.
What was the first record you bought, and where did you use to buy music in Preston?
De La Soul – ‘3 Feet High and Rising’ or Public Enemy – ‘ItTakes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back. There were 3 record shops in Leyland when I was a nipper so I got them from one of those. Only 1 record shop remains in Leyland. Action Records was/is the place to go in Preston.
Do you have a favourite release from your back catalogue, and is there an album in you?
I hope to do an album at some point. Hopefully when I’ve learnt a bit more and am happier with what I do.
They are all moments in time etc etc…. The release on Versatile is one that’s very very personal to me. Not just because it was deemed good enough to be on such a label but the actual music helped me through a really, really bad time.