You know how sometimes an artist comes along and you just know that you’re in for the time of your life? That’s what happens when you hear a truly great Tensnake record – and right now there are already a dozen of them spinning out there in the disco hemisphere. Remember the first time you heard the dreamy, (new) romantic synths of “Congolal” or the impossibly yearning “In The End (I Want You To Cry)”? Or the feeling you felt in your feet when the supernatural melody from “Coma Cat” first drifted into earshot?
With only a handful of releases and remixes to his name, it’s still early days for the man known to his nearest and dearest as Marco Niemerski. But let’s get one question answered straight away: what exactly is a Tensnake and is there any way to avoid being bitten by one right now? “Actually, it was a random word creation and now it’s something people remember,” laughs Marco, who lives and makes music at his home in Hamburg, Germany. “I was searching for something unique – for example, in Google, you immediately find me and it looks good, iconic even. I seem to remember seeing the words written on my desk”.
Born in 1975 and raised on a diet of disco, soul, boogie and funk, Marco started listening to the radio and recording shows on tape with 80s pop stars like Simple Minds and Duran Duran. “I grew up in the suburbs where there was nothing to do except listen to music so the radio was the most exciting thing around me. But my older brother was into D*Train, Shalamar, Aurra and other boogie stuff. I was maybe ten – there it is again! But later I listened to everything. When I was 16, I would drive my Vespa and listening to a lot of stuff from the 60s and 70s – stuff like The Who and The Small Faces, the UK sound. And later I had an indie faze where I listened to Sisters Of Mercy and Alien Sex Fiend who did amazing stuff sampling and working with drum machines and distorting guitar lines and then The Pixies and The Pogues after that. But then I came back to electronic music …”.
Like most musicians and devotees of dance music, Marco had a couple of club experiences which were to connect him to the heart of the rave machine. “There was a gay club called Front that was pretty popular and we went there a lot,” he reveals. “Stockhausen was a resident DJ. This was 1992. I was totally shocked by something so new – one track I remember being into was Ce Ce Rogers – “No Love Lost”. Boris Dlugosch was the resident and when he played, he was double-tracking and I wanted to do that too! So after that experience, I spent all my pocket money buying records – from 1992-1998 I bought every record that came into our local shop.” Needless to say – and as anyone who has heard his insanely fine disco/house Resident Advisor podcast will attest – Marco cites Larry Levan as a key inspiration to his craft. “Larry Levan is definitely one of my heroes,” he nods. “But early on, I really loved all the Strictly Rhythm stuff – the early age was pretty huge and of course also Junior Boys Own records – there were so many great projects. Back then I was into vocal house – artists like Romanthony were huge for me. I was also big fan of American producers like FK, Marshall Jefferson and Masters At Work – but then they became too cheesy and I lost interest!” All this from a man who incidentally doesn’t consider himself a DJ by trade – if anything Marco is a producer’s producer and certainly one with plaudits aplenty from clubbers and house heads alike. But where did the music come from? Well, it was while working at a music promotion company called Public Propaganda – who coincidentally promoted pretty much every big dance record in Germany – that Marco started producing initially. He bought a Yamaha SY85 and a Roland Juno 106 and was just 24 at the time. “It was the first step towards something and I tried to recreate the sound I liked – that’s how it always starts. But I was never satisfied with the results and thought everything else sounded better. But it was good experience for learning.”
Ever the perfectionist, Marco made music as a mere hobby for several summer seasons. “Many years later – six years ago – I started the Mirau label with two friends,” he says, picking up the plot. “The first record was “Around The House” was a part of The Restless EP, the third Mirau release. “I did it in one night and it felt like a lucky strike,” he grins. “But in 2006, I was surrounded by the minimal sound and it was so boring. I was inspired by Metro Area who included tiny disco sounds and combined that with house music – that’s what kept drawing me back. And I discovered more and more my love for disco so transported that into modern club music. And then luckily, the disco sound came back round again.” As well as having had the support of Resident Advisor and Mixmag alike, Marco’s also had particularly vocal support from the likes of Tim Sweeney and Bill Brewster, particularly after his killer EP for Gerd Janson’s Running Back label. But ask Marco which tracks have mirrored the sound he originally had in his head and despite his perfectionist tendencies, he’s immediately able to pinpoint the ones that have nailed the aesthetic he was after. “Congolal” – I really like that one. It’s kind of a classic track. If there’s any way to produce a track that lasts, that you can listen to again in ten years, I think that one might do it. Also “Holding Back My Love” and “Around The House” was quite a success, even though it was my first record. And In The End (I Want You To Cry).”
But how does the Tensnake sound evolve until it’s truly venomous? Unlike some producers who caught cornered into one mood and sound, Marco’s already shown more breadth than some artists offer in their entire career. “It’s really different from time to time,” he offers. “Sometimes I start with a beat. Sometimes I play around and find a melody or I am inspired by something I heard on a podcast. It’s not the same way. If you get used to it, it will all sound the same”. And finally, since it’s probably the key question aside from his name – what is it about “Coma Cat” that people dig so much? Right now, everyone from Aeroplane and Friendly Fires to Pete Tong and Annie Mac are supporting the record and it’s a serious hit from Melbourne to Miami. “That’s difficult,” he muses. “It’s a feel-good record for sure. I don’t know the secret of the track but it’s played by techno, house and maybe even hip hop DJs. It’s crossing over into so many worlds and it gives you a good feeling.” With remixes and productions aplenty incoming for Azari and III, A-Trak and Prins Thomas and liveset that showcases his broad individual talent and a record collection that Andy Weatherall or Harvey would be proud of, it comes as no surprise that Marco is already appearing as a live artist on party flyers from Frankfurt’s legendary Robert Johnson club to London’s Fabric and Corsica Studios.
Tensnake Top 10 July 2011:
01. Maya Jane Cooles – Little One (2020 Vision)
02. Eats Everything – Entrance Song (Pets Recordings)
03. Little Dragon – Ritual Union (Tensnake Remix) (Peacefrog Records)
04. Christophe – The Force (Julio Bashmore Piano Mix) (Futureboogie Recordings)
05. Neville Watson & KINK – Metropole (Rush Hour)
06. Tensnake – Something About You (Mirau Musik)
07. Jeremy Glenn – New Life (Future Classics)
08. Roberto Rodriguez (Manolo) – Like I Said (Serenades)
09. Ada – Happy Birthday (Pampa Records)
10. Teengirl Fantasy – Cheaters (John Talabot’s Classic Vocal Refix) (Hivern Disc)