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Meet our BOTW: Tensnake

A short while into our transcontinental Skype chat, Marco Niemerski – better known by his production pseudonym, Tensnake – is left stumped. As a slew of background noise makes the moment’s silence all the more noticeable, he eventually confesses, “I have no fucking clue what the secret behind it is, to be honest.” The question posed to the Hamburg-based DJ and producer was of how his music maintains such a cross-interest appeal to both the club masses and the headphone aficionados.

Perhaps best known for 2010′s infectious ‘Coma Cat‘, Niemerski has spent much of the last decade refining a formula for thinking man’s club music that draws upon not only his love for house and its disco precursors, but a deep-seated lust for pop that can be traced back to his older brother’s record collection.

His full-length debut, Glow (due March 9 on Virgin), serves as the perfect conclusive summary of the path he’s trodden since the mid-2000s. Featuring a slew of guest appearances – notably including Nile Rodgers and Jamie Lidell, alongside frequent collaborator Fiora – it’s a vivid suite, best listened to in one go: something Niemerski tried greatly to cultivate to avoid the one-track nature of dance music.

Here, he tells us about making the jump from Smurfs records to Chic, of hooking up with Nile Rodgers over Facebook [as one does. - Ed.] and how we’re entering a new golden age for everyone’s favourite childhood Danish staple: LEGO.

PlanetNotion: Growing up, what venues or musicians in Hamburg inspired you?
Tensnake: It’s funny; I don’t really consider myself as a musician because I never really learnt an instrument. I taught myself everything. I grew up in the countryside and there wasn’t much going on so the first really mind-blowing contact I had with a club that changed everything for me was FRONT. That was in Hamburg, actually – I moved to Hamburg when I was 18 and before that I was listening to all sorts of music, but that was the first time I listened to house music. FRONT was the first acid house club in Germany and luckily it was based in Hamburg. House music was new to me as were all these electronic sounds. Plus it was a gay club, which was really nothing comparable to what’s going on today; it was really wild there. I was 18 and had no fucking clue what was going on. That changed everything for me. Since then, I’m in love with electronic music.

PN: Before you moved to Hamburg, if there was one person – involved in music or not – that’s been a pivotal influence on you, who would it be?
TS: I would say the most important person who’s influenced me from a very early age was my older brother. It’s really weird though because he’s not into music anymore. Back then he had a massive record collection. I remember listening to the greatest hits of Chic, before that I was listening to The Smurfs or whatever, but this was my first exposure to real music. He had a huge pop and disco collection and he gave me my first contact with those styles. I think those records socialised me in a musical way.

PN: You’ve been on the scene for a while and it’s been a few years since ‘Coma Cat’ dropped. Why have you waited until now to release your debut album?
TS: I guess it was down to a transition I was going through from being a track producer. It was a matter of ageing too, perhaps: I didn’t really want to release a club album, something that’s just a collection of individual tracks. For me, an album only makes sense if there’s a story to tell. Otherwise, it’s just a loose collection of tracks. It took me a while to figure out what I really wanted to do. It became clearer and clearer that I should try to make my own version of pop music. I guess I’m not the fastest producer, either.

PN: There are a quite a few guest appearances on Glow but Fiora is on there for almost half of the tracks. Was having that constant vocal presence important to creating the coherence of an album?
TS: In hindsight, definitely, but it wasn’t the plan. Fiora was the last singer on the album and I felt that because all the other collaborators were male singers, I would want to have a female voice on the album. She lived in Berlin back then and we had a mutual friend who recommended her. I sent her a demo track of ‘See Right Through’ and the instrumental for that track is pretty boring to be honest. It’s just a deep house-y tune where there’s not much going on and I think she took it to a whole other level. I’m not necessarily a person who pays too much attention to lyrics, but I like hers. I appreciated that she added more depth to it and the chemistry was really good. We ended up writing half the album together. She’s a very talented person.

PN: While we’re on the subject of collaborations, there are the two tracks on there with Nile Rodgers, which given your love of disco must have been an absolute dream come true. How did that come about? How was he to work with?
TS: It happened really naturally. I hit him up on Facebook as I’d heard through some friends in the music industry that he was looking for young producers. After his sickness, he went through a really hard time and I guess after that experience he just wanted to leave as many footprints as possible. So, I tried my luck and sent him a message and didn’t expect much at all. I think it took 10-15 minutes and then he got back to me. That night he was in Italy and he said something like, “hey man. I know ‘Coma Cat’. I’m just in Milan playing a Chic show. Send me your stuff and when I’m back at my studio in New York, I’ll have a listen.” I was jumping up and down. I couldn’t believe it.

After that, it took a while and I didn’t hear from him. I was thinking it was too good to be true and that nothing was going to work out, but then we met at the WMC and had dinner together. He’s a really very humble and down to Earth guy who makes you feel very comfortable. Of course you’re nervous but he takes that away very easily. Unfortunately, we never got to work together in the studio because I was constantly touring and he’s in a different city every day. Ironically, he was in Hamburg when I was in Berlin and vice versa the next day. We ended up doing a Skype session. He was at his studio in New York and I was caning a bottle of red wine to calm myself. He played some chords and told me some stories about the good old times and that’s how the two songs came together.

PN: When people have written about you in the past, a lot’s been made of how your music appeals to both the club crowds and the more introverted, headphones-at-home listener. What do you think gives it this dual appeal?
TS: I don’t know, really. I read today that apparently my music has some crossover potential, which lots of other producers don’t have. For me, it’s hard to judge; I just do what I’m doing. I’m not sat there in the studio thinking of ways to reach as many people as possible. I guess what’s really inside of me is a love for pop music and I’m not afraid to write catchy melodies. It’s bordering on cheese maybe, but then it’s not cheesy enough to scare away the more introverted people or club DJs… I have no fucking clue what the secret behind it is, to be honest.

PN: Outside of the new album, what have you got planned for the rest of 2014?
TS: At the moment, it’s all really exciting and a bit surreal. The idea was to put a band together to perform the album live but unfortunately all the collaborators are spread around the world and it’s very difficult. I’m definitely going to LA in March to stay there and tour the US. At some point, I think I’ll bring Fiora and a drummer, and I hope that we’ll be able to perform some of the songs live.

Plus, I’ve just heard today that I’m going to play with Giorgio Moroder and Nile Rodgers in Hollywood in May. I still can’t believe that; it’s nuts.

PN: Finally, I noticed your Twitter bio is “I ain’t ‘fraid of no ghost.” What’s your favourite Ghostbusters moment?
TS: Oh, there are so many. Do you mean for me personally or in the movie?

PN: Either/or.
TS: My very personal Ghostbusters moment was that the first time I ever went to the States, and while in New York, my first stop was, before going to the Empire State Building or whatever, the Ghostbusters fire station. I love the movie. I could watch it over and over again. It never gets boring.

I’ve just seen that LEGO is bringing out a Ghostbusters fire station now. They’re on fire at the moment. They’ve released a Simpsons house and now this. I think I’m getting back into LEGO now.

- Alex Cull

Glow is available from March 9 on Virgin. You can pre-order it here.

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