More than a decade ago, Matt Tolfrey played the DJ set that would make the rest of his career. It was one in the presence of Fabric’s musical director, Craig Richards, at Nottingham’s influential and now sadly missed club, the Bomb, where Richards was playing a gig of his own. So impressed was he with Tolfrey’s skills that he called him up the next day and invited him to play a set in the famed Farringdon meat-packing factory. Since then the two have come together on many occasions, and now they finally make their relationship legit with Fabric 81.
Back then, Tolfrey was famed for playing late-night after-party sets that were more than a little wonky and left of center, but in the years since, he has very much become a headliner in his own right. Part of the reason for that is his ever-expanding Leftroom empire—it's a label and party series that has served the younger, newer end of the dance market, to be sure, and is one that has made stars of the likes of Laura Jones and Sam Russo. Rather than going in heavy on his cronies, though, Fabric 81 largely finds Tolfrey more intent on indulging the depths of his own personal taste rather than reaching for the music of his immediate peers.
That's both a blessing and a curse, because although there certainly are some brilliant records included along the way (none more so than the opener from Rednail Kidz), 25 tracks is rather too much to cram into 73 minutes for any of them to make a lasting impression. To his credit, the mixes themselves are super slick and quick, but many tracks are dropped in with a stark immediacy before the last one has even begun to resonate. Plenty have been edited down to just two or three minute snippets—the cumulative effect is hurried, almost tiring, because the rooted 4/4 kicks rarely rest or digress for even a moment.
There are knowing nods to his roots along the way, with razor sharp house cuts from Nottingham’s famed DiY crew and chief beat maker Nail included next to "geniuses of our time" such as Derrick Carter. There are also shades of the sort of minimal that informed the early part of Leftroom's output, as well as some reminders of his after-party days with freaky cuts like Tokyo XXX's "Soichi Terada," and a taste of current Tolfrey projects in the form of an edit done along side jozif as Kerb Staller. What this mix most reminds us, then, is that Tolfrey is as well-versed in classic sounds as he is a master of contemporary styles.