You can find the basics quite easily. He was born in London in 1949 and so a post-war baby with all that implies. He went through his teens in the 1960’s and though that doesn’t mean we know what he experienced we know the zeitgeist we know the feelings and we know the rejection (even if in the gentlest terms) of what went before.
You can find out easily that he is the chair of audio culture and improvisation at the London College of Communication. As an academic he has published – you can find his works in libraries and online bookstore. He also has a discography and his music can be found on the streaming sites.
Trying to categorize David Toop
Categorizing Toop is just as difficult. His name comes up with the terms free improvisation, experimental and ambient music. But then when you dive down into those categories he becomes elusive again. (You do find names that you recognize but his name is alluringly missing from the list.)
These categories are not mainstream. The artists who have made it big in ambient music are not the names you readily bring to mind, even if challenged. If you do know some of them, it is usually because of their other work. In some ways the list is reassuring, you feel a little less ill-informed.
Brushes with fame
This is not an attempt to curate Toop’s work. That is a much bigger task, but rather an attempt to give the casual reader a hook to try and find him. There are perhaps three areas, deep in your memory banks…
The Yanomami Tribe
Back in the 1970s, there was a lot of interest in the Yanomami tribe, a group of indigenous peoples in the rainforest of Venezuela and Brazil. Their chanting and music were recorded by some intrepid travelers who took 15 river-sodden, crocodile-infested days to reach them. One of that team was David Toop and he published the album Yanomami.
Possibly of greater ‘fame’ might be the Flying Lizards. The Lizards were a short-lived wave of experimental music from 1976 -1984. The group produced a string of releases and charted in the US and UK.
Their biggest hit was Money, a cover of the song made famous by the Beatles among others. The Lizard’s version is famous for its deadpan coverage and the lead singer’s rendition is more like the lead speaker’s. If you know this song, then you know the other big cover and their last release Summertime Blues. Imagine ‘I’d like to help you son, but you’re too young to vote’ in the same deadpan tone and a similar music track. It rather works, especially today doesn’t it.
Toop also worked with Björk. From the perspective of a complete neophyte is tempting to see that as extremely fitting. They may have been made for each other. Perhaps they were, but it is really hard to tell. Where is David Toop? Hiding in plain sight.