After a Pop Blow-out, Tensnake Reconsiders His Place in the Underground

The veteran German producer on making hits, love for the ’80s and coming back to the clubs

With his new Freundchen EP due for release this week on his own True Romance label, German producer Tensnake is remolding himself. After the huge, summertime success of his 2010 track “Coma Cat,” Tensnake was thrust into a level of commercial dance music that he at times found difficult to navigate. In recent years, he’s experimented with pop and dance on his 2014 debut album Glow and now, away from the major label deal, he’s got his focus on the underground once again. To mark the release of Freundchen, Tensnake spoke to Shawn Reynaldo of RBMA Radio's First Floor about balancing a return to club sounds while still working with his pop flirtations.

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This is your second EP of the year. Listening to the record, it has three instrumental disco and house tracks. It feels like it's been a while since you've had a release like this. Was that intentional?

My last release “Desire” came out in April. It’s actually a much older track that I never found the right time or way to release, but I always really liked it. Because of the vocals it might be more connected to the sound of my album, which was very pop. I guess you're right – the new EP, Freundchen, is a journey back to my origins, when I started releasing on Permanent Vacation or Running Back. Well, at least it felt like that to me, being in the studio. It was a lot of fun and it came together very quickly. I wasn't worrying about anything or thinking about what to achieve with it.

Tensnake - “Desire”

Your debut album Glow came out in 2014 and got a mixed response, especially within underground dance circles. In retrospect, were you happy with how it turned out?

Honestly, I was. I would say that I was 80%-90% happy with it. That sound was what I wanted to do back then. I always said I wanted to do a pop album. It was amazing that it came out on Virgin, a label that has a lot of pop music history. It was quite an honor for me and – what can you do? I had success with the underground labels and I've been in so many DJ charts, so it was time to move on. I'm out of that record deal now, though. I release on my own label and for what I want to do right now, and how I see things shaping up for the future, this situation feels much better at the moment.

The album definitely had a lot of sort of pop tracks – or at least experiments with mixing pop and dance music. Is that something that you're still interested in, or do you want to get back to the club stuff?

Tensnake - “Coma Cat”

Absolutely. I’ve always liked pop music and a big part of me is stuck in the ’80s. I really like good songwriting and I like electronic music, and that came together in the best combination in the ’80s. Since the ’80s, effects and sounds have become more important in productions and, while of course it's interesting to experiment with electronic instruments, I still like a good song. I'm working on a new pop project at the moment and it will for sure be totally detached from Tensnake.

I want to go back in time and ask you about the song “Coma Cat,” which came out in 2010 initially on Permanent Vacation and then got picked up by Defected. It became this huge dance hit – the kind that most producers never have. Six years later, how do you feel about the song? Do you still play it out when you're DJing?

It's funny; I haven't played it in a while. I know people are sometimes disappointed by [me not playing it], but I needed a break from it. If people only know you for one track and they’re waiting to hear it for your entire set, there's this weird tension that I try to destroy by not playing it. I was in Dublin lately, though, at this really nice festival, Theo Parrish played before me for four hours. The vibe was very freestyle and the Irish know how to party. They demanded “Coma Cat” very loudly and when I played the original version, I actually really enjoyed it. I guess it's time for a little “Coma Cat” revival.

The success of that track really seemed like the first step towards you having access to a more commercial tier of dance music. Do you like interacting with that world as opposed to just the underground? And is it really that different?

I don't know – I had to learn my lesson there. In terms of having one foot in that world, I didn't like everything that I saw. I'm not generalizing and say that it’s all bad in the commercial world. I think that everybody needs to decide that for himself or herself and I realized that I played on stages and in clubs that I just didn't fit well with. To be very honest, off the back of the success of the album and the pressure of its release, I changed my sound for a while and I realized that it wasn’t what I liked or wanted.

2016 has been really good for me in terms of playing different, smaller parties, but also in 2016 I think there is no real underground anymore. There are all types of music and everything is so popular. You can find really niche music in quite big clubs these days. Everybody needs to decide for themselves what it is that they want and what they don't want.

By Shawn Reynaldo on August 24, 2016

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