If there’s one word that keeps cropping up around Tensnake’s new album, L.A., it’s change. Change musically. Change emotionally. Change in scene.
But then Marco Niemerskihas never stood still. His second artist album, L.A. – named after the city that, until recently, he called home – may introduce the wider world to a different take on the Tensnake sound, but while growing up in a small village south of Hamburg, Germany in the 1980s, Marco went through “all the phases” musically. It instilled in him a thirst for advancement, of keeping moving, that continues to guide him today.
It’s this compulsion that finds one of the most-acclaimed house producers of the decade offering a different version of himself across L.A.’s glittery, sprawling 16-track expanse. Where, if you close your eyes, you may imagine yourself at the wheel of a Mustang convertible, arcing blue skies above, heading down palm-lined boulevards towards Malibu. You’ll also get a taste of Tinseltown’s party-loving craziness, as well as insight into the bittersweet nature of the final period of Marco’s five years there –more on that later. This is an album, says Marco, committed to the power of his beloved pop music. They go back a long way.
“My first musical contact came with early ’80s radio pop,” remembers Marco. “Then it was reggae and lots of disco and funk through my older brother's record collection –that's what people listened to in the countryside in Germany, during that time.”
There followed an indie rock period, metal and hip-hop too, even a brief Mod phase. But it’s a love for disco and boogie that’s become his red thread, served with a dusting of pop. You will have heard it earlier this year in Tensnake’s take on The Pointer Sisters’ classic, “Automatic,” which Marco memorably twisted into something more brooding and tinged with melancholy.
It’s now 14 years since the label he launched with friends, Mirau, released his debut EP, Restless. Since then, Tensnake has built relationships with some of house music’s finest labels, including Running Back, Defected, and Permanent Vacation, the latter being home to 2010’s “Coma Cat,” the slice of atmospheric, finger-clicking house that cemented his rep as a master of slinky, sensuous grooves. Four years later, the debut Tensnake album, Glow, showcased his knack for melody and sparkling sound design and boasted top table guests like Nile Rodgers and Jacques Lucont.
By then, Marco was living in the city that inspires this new record after moving there from Berlin, with his muse and then-partner, musically and romantically, Fiora. “I didn't like LA at first,” muses Marco. “I couldn't figure out its layout. But once I experienced Venice and the East Side, it felt more European –more gritty, a bit more creative.”
A settled home meant a settled studio and Marco soon grew into LA life, zipping around on a Vespa scooter ina nod to his European –and Mod –roots. It was here that L.A., the album, developed in the ensuing years after Glow’s release. But if you can detect a certain melancholy peeking through, then that’s only to be expected. Marco is now back in Hamburg, memories of California still vivid, although coloured by breaking up with his partner. L.A. is in many ways a love letter, where he pours his heart out to the city that inspired it and that he’s now left behind.
“The city and all its aspects had a huge influence on this music,” says Marco. “You see the Pacific Ocean coming up and you get all thosesunsets. Amazing food. Hiking. Your first earthquake! And also the craziness about it –which I discovered later, after the break-up. Then you realise that nobody really has any time and it's very superficial sometimes. You need to have a lot of money to be part of it, so everybody's constantly working.” Including Marco himself. A steady stream of vocalists and fellow songwriters beat a path to his door, both physically and digitally. On the spiralling, euphoric “Somebody Else”, Tensnake invited over Boy Matthews–best-known for his work on Duke Dumont’s gigantic 2014 house hit, Ocean Drive –to add vocals, with an instrumental that owes much to the skills of his long-term song writing partner, Anton Sonin. “We met up in Berlin and he played me the chords and it was like, ‘Wow!’,” enthuses Marco. “It reminds me of Midnight City from M83, which is a very LA song.” Elsewhere, the lithe, fluid bassline and clipped guitars that propel “Antibodies” imbue it with a classic French Touch feel, while Michael Jackson and The Weeknd, as Marco rightly points out, are further points of reference.A significant factor in the Tensnake aesthetic is Marco’s crisp, pin-sharp productions. “World Beneath” provides a perfect example, where snares hit with a searing intensityto counterpoint dreamy pads. “It’s probably the most Tensnakey thing on the album,” says Marco. “Disco-ey. A bit tracky. And a bit weird.”
Which makes the spiky, earwormy “Hide Our Love,” in particular, stand out. “It's not as slick as the other tracks,” explains Marco. “Not super well-produced and I could polish it way more, but that was the intention –I didn't want it to be. It's why it’s probably the most ‘indie’ song on the whole album.”
LA closes, poignantly, with what Marco describes as his most personal track of all –“Adam’s Hill,” a beautiful, hypnotic swoop that feels like it’s made to soundtrack a ruby red sunset. Towards the end of his time in California, Marco and Fiora went their separate ways. “It’s the last track I made in Los Angeles,” he says. “When I basically had packed all my stuff, left the house and I moved to a place called Adam’s Hill. It’s the one song here that sounds like it could have been something from my earlier work, like “Congolal” [from 2008’s Keep Believin’ EP]. It kind of matches that era.”
“This album was about me, about evolving, about getting better,” says Marco. “I could never produce just house music for the rest of my life –there's not been that much inovation in house music since the late ’80s. I put a lot of effort, love and energy into this record. And I think they’re great songs. Songs that will find the right people.”