Over the past 25 years musician, producer and DJ Thomas Bullock has been instrumental in music  projects that have been definitive of their moment: UK's Tonka Parties, San Fransisco's Wicked Crew, and NYC's A.R.E. Weapons & Rub N Tug amongst many other things. With his new record label Save The Day  (STD), and his Mezcal distribution company Spirit Bear Mezcals  Thomas Bullock's output continues to recognize music as just one element of a larger goal- human engagement and celebration.

What time is it there?
I have no idea.
What did you do tonight?
I spent this evening on a train between Sweden and Denmark. And I went to a number of restaurants that were potentially keen on stocking Mezcal.
How did it go?
It was good, man. They love it. I mean, who wouldn’t?
How did you first come into contact with Mezcal?
It was maybe six, seven years ago? Eric Duncan and I, we’ve played regularly at this nightclub called La Santanera in Playa del Carmen. The guys behind it, they were some of the first characters that picked up on this stuff that came out of the hills. Mezcal has been kept at bay by society in Mexico. This beautiful, perfect distillate has been produced in the hills of Mexico for hundreds of years but the upper class society of Mexico that aligns itself with Europe... it’s essentially a racist issue. Aristocrats and those with the money that would move one thing one way or another kept Mezcal in the hills. They kept everything in the hills, in fact, they would rather think there was no one in the hills let alone any Mezcal that they were drinking while they were there. So, Mezcal is something that’s only just been brought in by a new generation of more sort of open-minded Mexican people.  
What was it like when you first tried it?
We were like “Oh my God, this stuff’s great.” From that point on I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I feel quite connected to it.
What is Mezcal?
It’s a spirit. It’s a spirit made from a succulent plant that takes 10 to 15 years to grow in this massive radiant heat. You distill that heat, that energy into the highest expression that the agave plant can be. And you drink that. It makes you feel pretty jazzy. Probably more jazzy than you’ll feel from distilling a potato or some barley for that matter.
That makes pretty immediate sense to me.
Especially when you start really tuning into the fact that all Mezcal is made from is what’s gathered around the immediate vicinity of that particular tiny distillery. These distilleries are like dirt floor, open air, ambient yeast... it’s just, it’s basically the distillation of the very land in which these plants sit. Almost like sucking up the land and pipin’ it through the most simple and pure alchemy known to man.  It pops out as a drink, you drink that, and you’re just connected.
That’s awesome.
It’s a beautiful thing! The vibe of the agave plant is positive. A couple of years ago I connected with the understanding that in my life I was going to work with and drink and talk about Mezcal. As a result my music instantly became...I could hear it more clearly. All my decisions and my productions were more mercenary and cavalier and sharper and brighter and faster.
How did you first get into music?
The most powerful influence in my life as a kid was record covers.
What kind of music was it?
Punk “7’s. I didn’t really understand the music—it was too noisy and the melodies weren’t so clear but the covers...I was 6 or 7 years old and my mate's older brother would put his 7” covers all over his wall. It was more powerful than anything I’d ever seen—TV, books, anything. It just affected me massively.
That culture is different to anything you’d find on television. 
It plays in areas that are otherwise difficult to navigate in everyday life— a sphere of discussion and make believe. It's healthy that way,  to turn all these impulses into something that we can play out.
And this was punk music for you?
The music I'm thinking about right now is punk and dance. You move into some pretty interesting spaces.  
Were you playing in a punk bank before you started playing records?
No, I never played in a band. It's a funny thing, I just sort of became the person that would bring their records to someone's house party, you know, if someone's parents were away, I'd show up with a stack of records. We were teenagers, like 14, 15... I didn't even know what it was, you know what I mean?
You didn't know what a DJ was?
But I was basically already doing it... The first time I did a real paying gig I was 16. There was a guy in town who organized stuff who needed someone to play records. I agreed though I didn't have many dance records. I borrowed a bunch from Harvey's little brother. 
How did you meet DJ Harvey?
I was 15, he was 21. I  was totally mystified to why on earth he'd want to hang out with me. But we were pretty great together. I think it was because I skated and not many other people did. All his other mates were gothic junkies. He was a B-Boy.
How did you guys end up playing the Tonka Parties?
In the story of Tonka,  I'm really  the baby of the bunch. I was there and I participated but I didn't have a hand in it or anything. There were guys at the head of it all, Rob and Phil, who were in their 40's. I was 16,  a super pup. Tonka began in the mid-80s as TDK, the Tone Def Crew, in Cambridge. It was psychedelic punk, where punk meets hip-hop. Something between Schooly D and On-U Sound.
You guys were listening to Hip Hop but that wasn’t your culture—you were approaching it in a way that made sense to you.
Yeah, turning it out the way that filters it back through our minds. 
Wasn’t performance a big part of the Tonka Parties?
Not so much for Tonka, but at the TDK parties it sure was. I would get up on stage with Harvey's little brother Guy, put on some makeup, women's clothing or whatever and would dance around with vacuum cleaners to hip-hop beats.
How did you move to the states?
When I was 21 I just came over to New York to check it out. I took a job washing dishes six days a week for six weeks and then I just left. I took a greyhound out west. I had five sandwiches and two joints and all the sandwiches were so disgusting by the third day. I was so perfectly happy on the trip I didn’t even smoke the second joint. It was beautiful to cross the country like that alone for days.
You ended up in San Francisco?
Yeah, that was super special. San Francisco was going off, it was great.
What year was this?
This was '91. 
This would have been the beginning of rave culture in the states.
Yeah. In England, as far as I was concerned it was all over, but in San Francisco it was just beginning. You know the Wicked Crew?
The Wicked Crew came out of Tonka Hi-Fi... Renegade Sound System style. They were throwing free parties every full moon. That was radical. There were no fliers, no advertising at all. On the night the address would be given on a phone number that you could call, and that was the only way to find out. The first one was in the middle of the city in Golden Gate Park. The Hell's Angels showed up and stood in front in formation on either side of the turntables while we played... It was pretty epic. The renegade sound aspect of it was rad. At the peak of it, you’d get 2,000 people showing up two hours south in Half Moon Bay, no advertising. Just a complete road block. I'd never seen anything like it.
When did you come back to New York?
What came first, Rub n Tug or A.R.E. Weapons?
A.R.E. Weapons.
How did that start?
My friend Mark Lester Ingram introduced me to this amazing gang of young upstarts who hangout downtown and played free jazz.  They called themselves different things, Army Of Ghosts, Aylers’ Angels, Fake Hand. We all got along, spent all our time together and I sat in on this and that. At one point I can't really quite remember, we began to call ourselves A.R.E. Weapons. We would play these little bars and art shows. We would pretty much make up most of the show that day, just having fun with it.
But eventually it became a more serious project?
In the end it settled in and became me, Matt and Brain.  We started getting together more. I had a cool little studio with a greenhouse on top, and we made our a record there.
Is that the self-titled album with the picture of the ghoulish guy on the cover?
That's the one that was on rough trade. That one had some moments, but it's nothing on the first one. The first one is really beautiful.
I’ve never heard the first one.
Well, I’m happy to say I sat down with Brain last week for the first time in a long time.  I told him about my new label Save The Day, how it's a beautiful thing and I’ve got cart blanche to do what I want... I said let’s put the first album on wax. He said yes, so that's gonna happen in the spring. The “Golden Demo” as it’s commonly called.
A.R.E. weapons reads more like a macho street gang than free jazz.
That's what it became, that's what everybody knows it by. That's the reason I left—there was no room for me in that. I haven't got anything to say from that point of view. We were A.R.E. Weapons for a good few years and always had our roots in punk and free jazz. They've often, you know, worn similar shoes. Interestingly enough I think Suicide started as a jazz band. Do you know about Suicide?
Yeah, I love Suicide.
They were our holy saints. We loved everything about them. In a way we set out to make a Suicide record. I love making music in that way—you step up onto the same highway, look in the same direction and go as fast as you can. Whatever you do, as long as you go all out, you end up  sounding like yourselves and making your own record.
So after A.R.E. Weapons you started Rub N Tug?
Rub N Tug had already been going. Eric and I met in LA and both arrived in New York at the same time. He came from hip hop, Latin jazz, Latin soul, but was getting more into house and disco, so we got together on that.
How did you guys start playing parties?
Downtown, there were so many people hanging out... It was such a terrific time and scene but no one really knew how to play records. All these great parties but no music to match, so we stepped in. Someone had to do it. It was the same thing when I was 14. Somebody's throwing a party, you show up with the records and take care of it, make sure the party's gonna be a good one. That's really why Rub N Tug was born, out of necessity—everyone wanted to go somewhere and do something. We played the sounds.
I love that you guys play disco.
Well the root of that music is totally punk. Disco comes from the edges of society. It's wild, outcast, dangerous... but it's also really beautiful. Banging out this disco, this nice thing that gets me up in the morning, is the contrast and the conflict, the push and the pull, the rub and the tug, I guess... Disco is typically understood one way but if you play it another way in another context—it's like “WHAM... that felt good.”
It’s playing disco where it shouldn’t be played.
Exactly. Playing music where it's meant to be played, by the people who are meant to play it to the people who are meant to hear it... that doesn’t make me feel anything but sad. I will really feel uncomfortable in that place. I'm so happy that people go and do that, dance and feel all great, meet someone and have a lovely night, but that's not why I go out and that's certainly not why I play records.
You’d rather play a show than create an “environment of sound.”
I don't even consider myself a DJ in that working jock type of role. When I play records it's more of  a freak out get together and party. I mean I don't have a record player, you know? I buy the records at the store, play them at the party and we all listen to them together. You see where it all goes. I have no idea where it's gonna go.
Could you explain the STD party that happened here in New York before you moved?
The STD party was a joy. It was probably the most stupid and enjoyable afternoon I’ve ever spent in my own house. I had a loft that had a wooden floor dying to be destroyed. I asked all the people that I knew to contribute to having just the most joyously stupid Sunday afternoon that we could create. We got a bunch of huge Klipschorns, five times more speakers than this place can handle. I invited all my friends to come and give their best, and true to form everybody just gave as much as they could. Things went extravagantly over the top. My dear friend Nick Relph made beautiful, beautiful hand indigo dyed tee-shirts. Dope Jams screened everything, we made a record, we had these Klipschorns... And there were only like, 20 people there.
How did the day start?
It started at teatime. Sunday tea, four in the afternoon. We had this industrial smoke machine. You couldn’t squeeze any more smoke into the room, but it was daylight. There was this weird twilight. Part of the thrill of nightclubbing is that you step outside of your habitual environment and everyone’s habitual environment for clubbing has become nighttime. I thought it’d be good to get shitfaced in the middle of the day. Our favorite Haitian devil showed up with this particularly challenging form of plant food that sent my friends into this questioning expression as if they’d been pounded in the face by a shovel. What a heavenly, beautiful thing to witness. It was so wonderful.
What time did it end?
The cops showed up at about 9:30. I opened the door, and I was like, “Thank God you’re here!” I walked back into the party... “It’s gonna be alright, the cops are here, it’s gonna be alright.” You know, “we’re gonna make it out of here...”
And this lead to STD Records? How did that happen?
I use this little life rule,... if you just work out what is your nearest, best destination, just fucking go for that. From that, everything is gonna happen. It’s just common sense. I mean, Jesus, why do anything else? I’m in the middle of my life, knocking around, doing this and that, and in a position where I could really think about maybe what I would do next. I really thought about it, and I decided that a tea party in the middle of the afternoon was what I would like to do next. It was what was important to me. From that came a really beautiful record label, thanks mainly to Dope Jams, who just pushed me and pushed me. But as a result of this party... I mean, I must have created about 15 original pieces of music and 12 sides of really fucked up edits. Everything that was sittin’ inside of me just sort of came out, because I had found... I’d literally created the environment in which I wanted that music to get played. All of that music was sitting in there for years because I wasn’t playing in environments where I would have heard that music.
How did Dope Jams help?
Living next door to Dope Jams was the best thing that happened to my musical ear. Since I was a kid. Those guys just took me by fuckin’ one ear and lifted it up so I could hear through the other. They really are teachers and it’s a firm school. I think they recognized what I sort of knew all along was that the thing that made my contribution to Rub N-tug count, my contribution to Map of Africa, my contribution to everything I do, the best that I do was not getting any airplay at all and they recognized that. They were really impatient with the stuff that I had taken on board: shit and bullshit. They drove a lot of that off my back and helped me to clear the way. And I threw this fuckin’ party, and on  the other side of that, my mind was clear and I started making good music again. I realized that STD also stands for Save The Day. I thought that was really beautiful. That’s where this whole thing’s going. Save The Day as in Love Saves The Day.
Is STD Records stuff you’d already made?
The entire body was stuff that I had made to play myself. It was difficult for me to find the tunes I wanna play, so I made this stuff. I mean, I don’t look very hard...
I remember you had said you have to buy everything, and you have to buy it in person.
I don’t buy records online. I don’t shop online. It’s just not my jurisdiction. I just cannot make it connect. If somebody sends me something on the internet, it doesn’t matter how good it is, I can’t fully....
Absorb it?
Assimilate it? I’m sent 20 tunes a week, from various DJ pools. The modern DJ pool. I never listen to any of it, It’s not like a record pool where you go pick up your vinyl, which I used to do in Frisco in the early ‘90s.
You were part of a record pool?
Yeah, I managed to get that organized for a moment there.
What are you listening to these days?
I really don’t listen to music. I mean, this is literally all I did since I was a kid,...it’s all I’ve done. If I hear a piece of music, I feel like I can understand it almost instantly. Within seconds, it’s done, I get it. So I have classical music playin’, I run the radio 3, but it’s more of a neurotic kind of hum in the background. It’s soothing. I think the closest thing I’ve come to actually really listening to anything was staying at my friend Fergus’s. When I first came back to England, he let me stay at his house, and he has an amazing record collection. I just listened to Funkadelic records, all the ones I had never really listened to of a sudden, I connected with all the reasons why all my greatest heroes had made their worst records. It all made so much sense. 
What’s going on with the Rub N Tug record?
The making of the RNT LP was a particularly satisfying experience. It was massively satisfying...
That’s great.
… but we were then left with seven hour jams…
Oh, shit.
It was a long editing process. We’d created these kind of fucked up ZZ Top dance jams. What I was trying to do... I didn’t have the know-how to do. I wanted to hear something monstrously tech. Stuff that I’m sure most kids in their bedrooms in Belgium can do. But I can’t. I still think in tracks and tape—chop it up. It’s very primitive. There’s a thread through everything I’ve ever done, this vintage sound for this modern thing. Sometimes it comes across in a really amazing way, and sometimes it’s a bit flat. I think The Rose by The Laughing Light was a great example of it working.
Oh, yeah, one of my faves, for sure.
That was really together, and I think Dirty Love [Map of Africa] was really together. I moved up to the middle of nowhere in about 2001, and bought 10 acres of land with this old farmhouse and barn on it on the river. Me and DJ Harvey, who had always made music together with me, we got focused there. Harvey was really pissed off that I had worked on A.R.E. Weapons. We had a band before that, and he felt like I kind of blew him off. When A.R.E. Weapons was done for me, the only thing that Harvey said, was “Cool. Now we can have our band.” I said “Cool, let’s call ourselves Map of Africa.” 
Did you plan to make it a rock record?
I was livin’ in the country in the middle of nowhere, so we made a rock record. If you live on 10 acres of land where the nearest piece of civilization is 10 miles away, to hunch over a laptop and niggle over a mouse is just not appropriate behavior. Map ended up being a rock record, but we really rocked a fuckin’ groove. I would edit up these grooves.
Do you always end up doing the editing?
All the work that I’ve ever made is just editing. That’s the thread that runs through everything, it runs through the Rub N Tug LP, Scanners, Map of Africa, Bobbie Marie, runs through everything ‘cause I edited it all. But there’s only so far you can go with that. What I wanted for the Rub N Tug LP was something more high-tech. I know there’s just like 50,000,000 fuckin’ kids that just could stick it through their mom’s fuckin’ app phone and make it sound more jazzy than what I could. That’s why it stopped where it stopped.
Wait, so you just pulled the plug? Were they pissed?
They were mad, but I was the only fucking guy who did any work on this thing. I put 50 thousand hours on my own on a laptop in a basement in the Navy Yard editing shit. I heard Matt Sweeney played it to Kid Rock, and Kid Rock said, “Dude, I don’t like dance music, but I like this music.” He liked what I’d done, I like what I’d done but not to the point where I’m gonna put it out. It needs to turn into some techno fantasy. Eric found this super dope white label, we traced it down, and we’ve heard it’s these two guys down in Kentucky. We’re chasing it up right now. It’s definitely a seriously killer recording. The thing with Rub N Tug which I really enjoy is that it’s a fuckin’ institution.
It can keep going.
It’s gonna tick on forever. It’s a way of life, and we fuckin’ nailed it. No one can nail it as hard as me and Eric. In a way, like, the recording doesn’t matter, what matters is what Rub N Tug means to someone in Sweden, or South Africa or New Zealand. What does that mean to them, how does that fit into their cultural and aesthetic psyche? It really does make up a part of that. It’s not something that was ever a goal or an intention, but it’s come to pass that it makes up a slice of the cultural aesthetic of the planet.