Sleepy Tom suggests meeting at an hour typically described as “ungodly” by those in the EDM community: 10 a.m. When he arrives at the JJ Bean at Davie and Bidwell, he’s decidedly unsleepy in appearance. He’s well-dressed and well-groomed, and there are no telltale signs like bloodshot eyes or the aroma of vodka and Red Bull to suggest he just left an after-hours rager. Not only that, he informs the Straight he’s already completed a morning run. Frankie Wilde he ain’t.
You could forgive the 25-year-old DJ-producer, born Cam Tatham, if he wanted to spend the whole week kicking around in sweats and watching Netflix, though. His previous weekend was a hectic one. On Friday he was in Sudbury, Ontario, for a club gig, and on Sunday he was in Miami, Florida, to play at Day Off, a touring festival put on by his label, Fool’s Gold. Oh yeah, and on the Saturday he opened for a little-known act named Madonna in Washington, D.C., on one of the first stops of her Rebel Heart tour.
“It was all pretty surreal,” the Squamish-born Vancouverite affirms. “I think it went well. It was definitely the craziest and most nerve-racking thing I’ve ever done. I’ve played in front of four to six thousand people a couple times. But it’s totally different when you go in cold to an audience full of people who don’t care to see you.”
Tatham didn’t get to meet the Queen Mum of Pop in Washington, but he may still get a chance, as he’s already getting more dates on the Rebel Heart tour. (He’s tightlipped about whether one of these is Vancouver on October 14.) So far he’s among distinguished company. Other acts that have been tapped by Madge to open for her include one of the funniest comedians on the planet, Amy Schumer, and one of the best producers in the solar system, Diplo, who released a song on his label Mad Decent with Sleepy Tom called “Be Right There” in late August.
“At first I was like, ‘What the fuck?’ ” Tatham recalls of the plum booking, which was confirmed a mere three sleepless nights before the big show. “But it was more or less because of the Diplo song I just put out. They’re close. I think she looks to him for advice on cool things, as one does.”
The timing of their collab couldn’t be better for Tatham. If you’re just tuning in, Diplo is responsible for two of the biggest tracks of the year, “Lean On” with Major Lazer and “Where Are Ü Now?” with Jack Ü. But “Be Right There” might be the most danceable of the bunch.
The song started as a bootleg, built around vocals from Jade’s early-’90s R & B jam “Don’t Walk Away”. Tatham, who previously remixed Diplo’s “Set It Off”, sent it off to Mad Decent, and it quickly got heavy rotation in the tastemaker’s sets. An official release for the song on Mad Decent was next, with Diplo and Tatham enlisting vocalist Priscilla Renea and then teaming up on the production front.
Exciting stuff, especially for a guy who is so into dance music, he once dressed up as the Fool’s Gold mascot—think an anthropomorphic gold bar with a giant head and Mickey Mouse gloves for hands—just so he could get involved with one of the label’s shows in Vancouver.
“I did that on the hottest day of the year, sweating my balls off in a suit and, like, this wooden cheese head,” he says, laughing. “In my demo email I told them this story. They were like, ‘What the fuck? Who is this guy?’ So that probably helped me.”
It did. In 2013, Fool’s Gold released his debut EP, The Currency, a banging, dance-floor-friendly electro house sampler highlighted by an especially dark title track. Initially hesitant to reach out to one of his favourite labels, he was encouraged by Steve Bays of Hot Hot Heat, Fur Trade, and Mounties, who mentored Tatham while he attended the Nimbus School of Recording & Media. (Madonna seems to have a thing for grads of Vancouver’s postsecondary schools, as Blood Diamonds, who went to Vancouver Film School, coproduced two tracks on her latest.)
Being a rising talent in the EDM scene wasn’t always the dream. His background is in live music. In fact, Tatham recently joined Fur Trade to play guitar, something he’s done since an early age.
“I started writing songs when I was 12 or 13. I wanted to be a rock star throughout my childhood,” he confesses. “Then 2007 came around and I’d already been making music with GarageBand. I think I hadn’t thought of the DJ thing as an actual thing yet. I just always related it to Electric Circus on MuchMusic. Those people looked so corny. I thought it was like a weirdo thing. Then MSTRKRFT, Crystal Castles, and Justice came around and my world blew up.”
Looking ahead, Tatham has more shows planned throughout the States and the U.K. as well as a busy production schedule that includes plans for a sophomore EP in the new year. Like “Be Right There”, the EP will see Tatham continue to work with vocalists and inch closer to the pop-music realm.
“It’s what I want to do. I think that’s what comes from me writing songs with a guitar and coming from that background. I don’t just want to be in the dance world. I want to be in the pop world too,” he says.
Being an EDM or pop star seems infinitely more appealing than being a rock star these days, and Sleepy Tom is in good company to help him achieve either. Besides, the cocaine parties and trashing of hotel rooms that go hand in hand with being a rock star don’t seem like this early riser’s thing.