Spirit in the sky… 909originals chats to TommyD, creator of 8O8 whisky

As a producer and songwriter, TommyD, aka Tommy Danvers, has worked with everyone from Masters at Work to Kylie Minogue, as well as DJing at clubs such as Ministry of Sound, Space Ibiza, Cream and Twilo.

In recent years, however, Danvers is perhaps better known as the co-creator of 8O8 Whisky, a spirit inspired by the famous Roland drum machine that’s fast becoming a go-to brand for the clubbing fraternity.

Described as the ‘sub-bass of drinks industry’, even the bottle nods to clubbing history, with the label designed by Mark Farrow of The Hacienda and Pet Shop Boys fame. 909originals caught up with TommyD to discuss how the brand came together.

*** EXCLUSIVE OFFER*** Readers of 909originals can avail of a discount on 8O8 Whisky via the online store at 808drinks.com/shop, simply enter the code 909originals at checkout to get 20% OFF. A perfect Christmas present…

Q. How did the concept for 8O8 Whisky come about?

I’m a music producer and songwriter and have always made a good living out of my music being used by brands. I started thinking how cool it would be if the music industry had it’s own brand, one that it could get behind because it gave back and supported music.

This sort of coincided with me realising that no one was doing anything really innovative with whisky, just focusing on heritage and nostalgia. I wanted to develop a whisky for my ‘sexy funky world’ of nightclubs and festivals… so the two ideas came together and 8O8 was born.

Q. You launched a major crowdfunding campaign last year – did that exceed your expectations?

Yeah, three times over! I thought we’d struggle, a) it being a whisky and b) one associated with music but people got it big time. We smashed through our target in a week and ended up with nearly 300 investors.

They’re like my mini sales team, promoting 8O8 throughout, a top bunch.

Q. Scotch Whisky is a difficult category to break in to given the range of established brands. How much focus went in to making sure that 8O8 stood up against other Scotch brands on the market?

None. I don’t really care about competition. I made 8O8 for me and my mates.

I’ve learnt in music that no one can do what you do and you can’t really do what they do. They can come close but it will never be the same, so no point in getting hung up about. Do your thing, make it yours.

We’re revolutionising whisky, recruiting a new younger demographic. Of course, everyone has tried that and they’ll even say they are achieving it, but they’re not. So in that respect we’re out there on our own.

Q. The brand is synonymous with arguably the most important piece of kit in electronic music history. When did you get your first 808, and do you remember the first track you programmed on it?

I was a kid, and actually given it by my sisters boyfriend at the time. Such a don! It’s so easy to use, so intuitive and a member of that legendary pieces of musical equipment that just work on so many fundamentally creative levels, like a Fender Strat, Mini Moog or Hammond Organ.

They have a personality, so you engage with them as a conversation. You do something, they do something else back and so on. The 808 revolutionised music, made it easy to produce something good but in the right hands could also create something amazing and revolutionary and thats why I named the whisky after it.

8O8 whisky gives you the tools to do something unique with a drink like no other.

Q. Part of the initial success of the brand has been to ensure it gets into the hands of the right people – as evidenced by your Twitter account. How significant was this in terms of brand recognition?

Not really. I just like giving my mates free booze!

Q. What do Roland make of the fact that their early 80s ‘Rhythm Composer’ has been immortalised in a whisky?

Theres so many homages to the 808 it’s easy to say we just jumped on the band wagon but I’d like to think that we go a step further. That’s partly to do with my relationship to the box but also because of what the 808 actually signified.

I know the box back to front and I know what it can do and the effect it has on everyone. 8O8 is a recognition of individuality, freedom and revolution.

Roland have always been at the forefront of making brilliant musical equipment and are still at it. We’re partnering with them on some very interesting concepts.

Q. What’s next on the agenda in terms of the growth of the brand?

We have so many plans. Music is essential to 8O8. I set up the company to support and highlight music in all it’s forms, so we’re rolling out a whole bunch of events. I won’t give too much away, you’ll have to check social media. But it will be immense.

Q. Name your top three 808 influenced tracks?

So hard but for me… I’m a massive Marvin Gaye fan so Sexual Healing is one. I love All And All by Joyce Simms, because its got that Latin thing that the 808 does really well.

Voodoo Ray by A Guy Called Gerald is the third because once again that kick just melts the speakers on a dancefloor. That was one of the first tunes to put the UK house scene on the map. It could only have been made in the UK.

[Thanks to Tommy for the interview. More information on 8O8 Whisky can be found at 808drinks.com]

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