Why Manchester is the new creative epicentre of neo-soul and hip-hop
Marco Niemerski, known professionally as disco-kissed house producer Tensnake, has been talking about releasing an album for about five years now – he admitted to Dummy way back in 2010 that he'd already been through a few aborted drafts of it – but he's finally made good on his promise with the release of his debut, 'Glow'. 'Glow' sees Tensnake totally embracing his melodic sensibilities and going for a pop jugular, tipping its hat to funk, boogie, and R&B, while keeping the same solid pop house framework that he made his name on.
Although it dips in and out of a handful of genres, 'Glow' has a consistency to it that other hodge-podge dance pop albums lack through the people that Tensnake works with. Many of the collaborators on the album pop up on more than one track – a welcome change to the usual phoned-in guest turn – with two notable collaborators giving the album a recognisable flavour. First is the legendary Nile Rodgers, and the second is singer Fiora, who appears on seven of the album's 16 tracks.
Here, Marco and Fiora talk through the album's creation, track-by-track.
01. First Song (feat. MNEK)
Tensnake: "The title says it all. I was looking for something that felt more like an intro rather than a song; a kind of epic build up. You can hear MNEK singing in the background. This is also the only song that contains a sample – it's based on a Stylistics sample. You can hear it in the middle, during the small break."
02. Love Sublime (feat. Nile Rodgers & Fiora)
Tensnake: "This was one of the demos that I sent to Nile. I wrote this song quite early in the making of 'Glow' together with Fiora. I felt that the song definitely has that early '80s Chic feel to it, and it also left enough space for Nile's magic guitar. The idea of this song is my version of how radio pop should be – catchy, but not jumping in your face, screaming for attention."
Fiora: "In the beginning, Marco was like, 'We should write it about space!' So I wrote all these lyrics about space – and then he was like, 'No, no let's not write it about space.' [laughs] I don't know how I got this idea of 'love sublime', but Marco had a very strong idea for the melody and chorus, so I tried to put words to that. It was an interesting one, because on the verses, he cut up my singing from something else – so that's why the lyrics sound a little nonsensical, because it is literally cut up from another idea. But somehow it really works for the song.
"I know that Marco and Nile had spoken over Facebook, and of course Nile is a huge hero of Tensnake's, and I remember Marco getting very, very excited at the possibility of this happening. Nile was cool as a cucumber. I actually got to witness the call where Nile was first jamming on the song. I could hear him over the phone playing his guitar – amazing, funky guitar licks, in between bouts of talking about when he worked with David Bowie and Stevie Wonder! Then he'd say to Marco, 'Thanks, bro!' Marco, at the time, was a little overwhelmed. He had this bottle of wine with him and drunk it while he was on the phone, because I think he was having a bit of a head explosion at the time."
03. Pressure (feat. Thabo)
Tensnake: "Believe it or not, this song ended up on the album accidentally. I wrote it with MNEK, and I think he did an amazing job, but he didn't want to be the final singer on it, so I never really finished the production. Somehow, it ended up on the demo which went to Virgin, and they were so into the song that I had to finish it! It took me a while to find the right singer, but I have to say that up-and-coming UK singer Thabo did an amazing job."
04. Feel Of Love (Tensnake & Jacques Lu Cont feat. Jamie Lidell)
Tensnake: "This song was the first one that I finished. I visited Stuart Price in his studio in LA almost two years ago, after WMC in Miami. I took my version to LA, and Stuart and me finished – or let’s say improved – it a lot in his studio. It was amazing to work with him – he is not only a very nice guy, but also a very focused and fast producer. I think I learned a lot from that session.
"When we finished the song, we knew we would need a singer at some point, and as we were going for a bit of a Prince feel with this one, Jamie Lidell was the right guy for it. Jamie totally nailed it – his vocals make the whole song shine and sparkle. It has such a great energy and is probably one of my favourites on the album. Almost all of the synths were recorded from an ARP2600, by the wa,y and the beats come obviously from a Linn drum."
"I got to witness the call where Nile Rodgers was first jamming on the song. I could hear him over the phone playing his guitar – amazing, funky guitar licks, in between bouts of talking about when he worked with David Bowie and Stevie Wonder! Marco, at the time, was a little overwhelmed. I think he was having a bit of a head explosion." – Fiora
05. No Colour
Tensnake: "This song is my homage to Daft Punk… and to life in general. The lyrics are 'no colour, my heart is aching' – so life without colour, without changes, and without variation is no fun. I love this one, because it's quite simple in its structure, but the chords and gritty sounds get you instantly.
"All pad sounds come from the Oberheim Matrix 1000 – I love the Matrix because it sounds unique and has a certain dirt. Mine is also a bit broken – sometimes it doesn’t play all the notes, which is great, because you get a variation of chords while playing the same midinotes. I love this synth so much, I had to buy two of them. It also makes sense as the output is only mono!"
06. Ten Minutes
Tensnake: "An interlude, playing outside of the club. I love interludes – in the '90s, every great hip hop album had interludes. These days people only pick singles on iTunes… Damn, what happened to the interludes!?"
07. Kill The Time (feat. Fiora)
Tensnake: "Fiora and me are both big Sade fans, and we tried to catch the relaxed and chilled vibe of songs like Smooth Operator or Diamond Life, but in a modern context – as you can tell by the heavy bassline. Production-wise, this is also my homage to Frank Ocean. I think I should get an award for the million times that I've listened to 'channel ORANGE'."
Fiora: "Kill The Time is an interesting one for me. Marco and I had done See Right Through, but we hadn't met each other. He said, 'Come to Hamburg and we'll do some more writing in person.' So I was on the way to his place, and somehow got off at the wrong train station. I ended up in the middle of nowhere, and he'd sent me some tracks, so I was sitting in this Chinese restaurant waiting for the next train and started writing what became Kill The Time. I thought it was such an interesting backing track, I loved it, and I just had that idea – so when I finally got to the studio, he was very happy with it, and we started working. This song is interesting, because I started using my voice in a different way – we started experimenting with the actual sound of the instrument, with the sound of the voice."
08. Selfish (feat. Jeremy Glenn)
Tensnake: "This song is probably the one that sounds the most like the old Tensnake sound. It is very '80s-sounding, and mirrors my love for mid-'80s boogie like D Train, Shalamar, and Change. The bassline comes from my custommade Moog Voyager – all the other synths are from my Roland JX-3P. Jeremy Glenn did a fantastic job on the vocal and lyrical side."
09. Good Enough To Keep (feat. Nile Rodgers & Fiora)
Tensnake: "This is the last song that we recorded, and we thought it was 'good enough to keep' – ha! I really like the vibe in this one. It reminds me of Miami; palms and things. It also features the famous steeldrum-ish Coma Cat sound in the background, which, according to some, has brought up and inspired a whole new generation of producers. I'm not sure about that, but you can definitely hear people suddenly using steel drums in their house productions all over the place."
Fiora: "Marco got a bit naughty at the end there. I had to go and work on my own record, and I was in the studio doing stuff for that, and he was like… 'It'd be great if you could just do this one song.' And I was like, 'Dude I have to work on all this other stuff!' [laughs] But then I heard it again, and was like, 'Oh, this is great,' so on my way home from the studio I put down that vocal. It really flowed. I don't really know what it is with Marco's tracks, but they sort of scream out 'vocal!' to me – you get a lot of tracks when there's often not enough space for a vocal, but these ones were very easy to write on."
"I don't really know what it is with Marco's tracks, but they sort of scream out 'vocal!' to me – you get a lot of tracks when there's often not enough space for a vocal, but these ones were very easy to write on." – Fiora
Tensnake: "I did this song together with the very nice and very talented producer Robot Koch from Berlin. While I'm pretty good at finding hooky melodies, he's very patient when it comes to micro-editing, as you can hear in the drums. This track has a great energy and the breakdown features the vocals of Ella Marie from London. She uploaded the acapella to her Soundcloud page and I recorded them from there, as I could not get hold of her. The vocal hook is incredible – it's in the same ballpark as old Destiny Child stuff, no joke!"
11. Listen Everybody (feat. Fiora)
Tensnake: "Just another interlude. I love interludes. Did I mention that already?"
Fiora: "The interlude was pretty hysterical. Marco was like, 'I want this thing,' and I was like, 'I'm not doing that!', and he was like, 'Go on, it'll be fun!' We ended up in a French restaurant, discovering this very strong liqueur, and that's when he kind of got it out of me. Otherwise, I don't know how I'd have done it."
12. See Right Through (feat. Fiora)
Tensnake: "The first song that I worked on together with Fiora. I sent her the demo track, which was – to be honest – quite boring. There was not much more than a deep house loop going on, and Fiora took the song to a whole different level. The lyrics are great, which is not very often the case in dance music. After this song, we decided to work on more music together."
Fiora: "This is the very first track that we made together. I was in Australia, visiting my parents, and I had some ideas, and it just came together – I had no idea if he'd like it, to be honest, because I didn't know Marco at all at this point. The song is about knowing somebody who you don't know. I was surprised that people came to love it so much, because it is so simple in its essence, but I guess in the end that's what good songwriting is all about."
13. No Relief (feat. Fiora)
Tensnake: "I would say this is the only deep house track on the album. It was done 100% in the box, using only software plugins. Well, except Fiora!"
Fiora: "No Relief is really about missing people, or missing somebody. I'd sent Marco the vocal, and he sent it back to me as a track. I really liked what he'd done with it. What's great about working with electronic club music is that, unlike pop music when there's an obligation to have a verse, and then have a chorus, you can really just take the best parts and sculpture something that's great. So Marco had cut out the crappy parts that I had written, basically, and made it into something really great."
14. Things Left To Say
Tensnake: "This track makes me want to drive my car down the highway for hours without any destination… I think it is fair to say that it makes me want to cruise, then."
15. 58 BPM (feat. Fiora)
Tensnake: "The only song that I did not write on the album. It was written by Fiora, and when she played me the demo, I was like, 'I need this on my album.' It was the missing link. I always wanted to have a ballad on my first album. Every half decent album has to have a ballad, and this was the one.
"I don’t know why, but her demo reminded me of some old Prince songs, so I used Linn drum samples again for this and tried to make it a bit dark and spacey sounding. The whole album was mixed on a Trident console at the Premises in Hackney. The Trident is well known for its harsh rock 'n' roll sound, and while this was a good colour for most of the songs on 'Glow', I did not like it on this song. It sounded too edgy, too cold. Luckily, my mixing engineer Ash Workman had got an SSL desk right after we finished the album, and when I heard about that, I asked him to mix it again on the SSL. He was kind enough to do it, and it was worth every extra penny."
Fiora: "I wrote this song, but I'd have to say it was inspired by my work with Marco. I had made this kind of backwards harp sound, the sound through 58BPM, a while earlier. I was in the process of sending Marco another song that I'd written a few years back and I was like, 'Maybe this won't work for you, because it's 58 bpm…' I'm a little bit obsessed with the rhythm of words and the magic of words, and then somehow these words really stuck to me – they have that very symmetric word stress about them – and I couldn't get that idea of 58BPM out of my brain. It all just happened at once, really.
"Marco encouraged me to go in more of this R&B direction, which is something that I've loved since childhood, but really, I'd never felt permission to go there, in a weird sense. And he'd kind of given me permission to indulge in that part of my musical love. That Prince-y influence on the song seemed to be the only way you could sing 58BPM."
"I always wanted to have a ballad on my first album. Every half decent album has to have a ballad." – Tensnake
16. Last Song
Tensnake: "This always felt like the last track on my album, hence the eventual name! I am a big fan of the English band Prefab Sprout, whose wistful sound definitely inspired the synth feel on the LP outro."
Virgin released 'Glow' on March 10th 2014.