'Glow'-ing: Tensnake’s Groovy Debut Fulfills His Dreams of Youth
Inspired by his older brother’s disco records, Marco Niemerski caught the music bug early.
“The first record I can remember I had in my hands was a Best of Chic record,” says Niemerski (aka Tensnake). “I remember I saw those guys there with suits, like having fun on the cover, and I grew up in the suburbs of Germany where it’s not very super-exciting and I was like, ‘I wanna do that one day’ or at least have as much fun as those dudes on the cover.”
And who knew that, one day many years later, he’d be having plenty of fun in the studio with Chic’s main man? Indeed, on Glow—Tensnake’s bumping Astralwerks full-length—he collaborates with Nile Rodgers for two sleek movers (“Love Sublime” and “Good Enough to Keep”). The two “met” via Facebook message, sent by Tensnake to Rodgers on a whim. Talk about fulfilling the dreams of youth.
While Glow is his first artist album, Tensnake has been pumping out groove-laden, ’80s/’90s-tinged releases on indies for several years. The Ibiza anthem “Coma Cat,” which came out on Permanent Vacation in 2010, put Tensnake on the map. But don’t be fooled, there’s nothing sleepy about this snake. “It’s mainly about keeping it exciting for myself,” he says. “So, it’s always about doing something new, you know.”
In the midst of an especially frigid winter, DJ Times caught up with the Hamburg, Germany-based DJ/producer at Astralwerks’ Manhattan office and we discussed Glow, spinning, and his studio approach.
DJ Times: How did you approach the album as a whole?
Tensnake: In the beginning, I didn’t really have a creative idea. I just knew that I wanted to put an album together that you could listen to from the beginning to the end, that doesn’t get bored or too boring in the middle, that you could listen to before going out or when you come back home. And I knew that I did not want to put a collection of club tracks together, so then I had to justify myself putting out an album. Then the rest came together naturally. You know, you just keep on working on songs and some you like more than the others and some fit together and then you know you build little piles of songs. It is like a puzzle and then it comes together. You don’t always know if it really works. You just keep on working and suddenly it makes all the sense. Hopefully…
DJ Times: What’s your favorite cut on the album?
Tensnake: I really love “No Color,” the instrumental track, and I really like “Feel of Love” with Jamie Lidell. I mean, every song is so different.
DJ Times: Your sound is such a modern synthesis of disco and ’80s, and each track kind of reflects the combination differently.
Tensnake: Yeah, I hope so. I mean, I love music from the ’80s, but also, it has been done, and we move on. So I try to make it modern with a little vintage touch.
DJ Times: Speaking of the ’80s, how did you link up with Nile Rodgers?
Tensnake: I heard that he was reaching out to producers and that he was looking for people. He beat cancer and I guess he just wanted to leave footmarks and to make music as much as possible. So I sent him a message on Facebook and got in touch with him. I didn’t expect a reply, but after 10-15 minutes, I had an inbox message from Nile Rodgers! I was like, “This can’t be!” I was jumping up and down.
DJ Times: What did the message say?
Tensnake: He was like, “Yo bro, love your stuff. I’m in Milano, just played a Chic show… I’ve got to check out your new stuff when I’m back in New York.” That’s how it came together and then it took a while. There was a little bit of silence and then I finally met him two years ago at The W in Miami [during WMC week]. He’s such a legend and I’m so happy for this massive comeback, which is due to Daft Punk. I mean, they were the first.
DJ Times: Seeing Nile Rodgers and Daft Punk on the Grammy Awards this year was pretty surreal.
Tensnake: I think the times are very exciting at the moment for music in general because, obviously, in America for a long time you had rock music and hip hop. You know, those were the big two genres here. Then suddenly, EDM exploded and the youth had to catch up with the electronic sounds. If people are always complaining about EDM—it’s too this, too that—I’m like, it doesn’t matter. Let everybody listen to what he wants to and, second, if 10-percent of those people discover the next step—house music—and that it comes from a city like Chicago or Detroit… I feel like there is a big window of change going on at the moment.
DJ Times: Let’s hear about your production process.
Tensnake: Well, my studio is pretty small, to be honest. I have a not-so-small collection of synths, like old-school synths, but they are not all hooked up all of the time just because my studio room is more like a project studio. I don’t have a mixing console, so I’m working in the box.
DJ Times: Your sequencer?
Tensnake: I work mainly in Ableton Live. I use it as a classic sequencer mainly in the arrangement view, not in the session view—there are two different views in Ableton Live. There’s like the modern way to go and I use it in the old-school way. For Glow, for the first time, I took everything on a hard drive with me and I went to London to the studio and I mixed it together with an engineer, Ash Workman. There’s a lot of retro and vintage touch in there and I wanted to sound more warmer and analog, so we mixed it on a big Trident mixing console, which is most famous, I would say, for the ’70s rock sound. It’s pretty rough-sounding, in a way, and not my favorite mixing console. I prefer the SSL desk from the ’80s. But yeah, that was good. We put everything back on tape, so we had tape saturation and we had the warmth of analog recording and that was pretty much the process of Glow.
DJ Times: How about your set-up in the DJ booth?
Tensnake: Well, when I started playing out, I only played live sets, which means I always have a MIDI controller with me. These days it’s the APC from Akai and a laptop. Then I got bored of my own sound. If you play every weekend, you just get bored and I didn’t have enough tracks to keep the set exciting for myself. So I started playing regular DJ sets, but still with a laptop, so I don’t use CDJs when I come to the club. I bring my MIDI controller, which gives me some freedom. I have a patch, which was especially designed for me from a guy from U.K. It’s built-in and it’s called Max for Live, which is a nerdy little language in Ableton Live, and it just allows me to do instant edits and remixes of tracks.
DJ Times: On the fly, nice.
Tensnake: Yeah. You can do the same with CDJs. You know these days, the mixers have so many great effects in there and you’ve got sampling functions. You can loop, have white noise, whatever you want. It’s just a matter of what you prefer. I think, long-term, I will switch to using CDJs for the clubs and then work on putting a live show together.
DJ Times: What are your top clubs right now?
Tensnake: Well, definitely the Robert Johnson [near Frankfurt, Germany]—it has a very good reputation. It’s not the biggest club. It’s quite small, but it’s by a river [The Main], so in summer, when the sun comes up… It’s also in an industrial area, so you can be as loud as you want to. You open the windows, people are smiley. It can be very beautiful. Also, the sound is super-crisp in there.
DJ Times: Where else?
Tensnake: It’s always great to play at Panorama Bar in Berlin. But I think that’s too easy. Everybody loves Panorama Bar. The Trouw in Amsterdam is a very good club. The people are very nice, the crowd is nice and the sound system is also very good. That’s a good one. And also, I have to say, I had a good time at The Electric Pickle in Miami. Speaking of the States, I really love U Street Music Hall in Washington—it’s fantastic. I think it’s one of the best clubs in the States because the sound system is insane. It’s really good! Going back to Europe, maybe the Lux in Lisbon. That’s also a very nice club.
DJ Times: Top three producers of the moment?
Tensnake: I have to admit, I didn’t have enough time to listen to new stuff lately, but I really love Dusky. Everything they do is on fire at the moment. They’re also really nice guys. One of my favorite albums from last year was [Pull My Hair Back] from Jessy Lanza. It came out on HyperDub and it’s not a club album at all, but it’s a weird, minimal fusion of R&B and electronic music. It’s very good. It’s produced by Jeremy Greenspan who’s half of Junior Boys. It’s very beautiful, but he’s not a new producer. But it’s a brilliant album. Number three? OK… Number three… ummm, Tensnake!