From Punk To Present: Dj Tennis Talks
Life and death is a blur, time moves quickly and each of us exist on a spectrum somewhere between. Dj Tennis has been involved in the music industry in various forms for some forty odd years. From the early days of punk and new wave in his hometown of Palermo to his now international status on the electronic music circuit, he is well travelled.
This summer marked the release of his contribution to the world renowned Dj Kicks mix series, no small feat given that fellow artists to meet the calibre include CJ Bolland, Moodymann, Four Tet, Kode9 and more. Manfredi Romano was the first artist to contribute a double LP to the mix series, perhaps due to his notoriously renowned record collection which is now somewhere around the 10,000 mark. As the manager of Life And Death Records he has released music from the likes of Tale Of Us, Joakim, Mind Against, Marvin And Guy, Steve Rachmad and many more. He has also used the label to release several of his own productions and has established himself as one of the most influential men in dance music. Oh, and apparently he's a bloody good cook.
He explains his early involvement in the Italian music scene.
"I grew up in Palermo, listening to New Wave and Punk in the early 80's. My friends and I bleached our hair, painted our nails and wore boots with long, black trench-coats. Once I left Palermo in 1988, I went to study in Pisa and discovered an incredible post-punk, industrial and experimental music store and distributor – Wide Records."
"After hanging out at the shop every day, listening to various forms of weird music, I started collaborating with them, selling records and CDs at concerts in different squats around Italy. After meeting a few bands as a result, I began working as a tour manager as well as booking American acts around Europe."
This desire to widen his knowledge is something which has existed throughout the musical lifespan of Manfredi to date. Not one to follow a particular lineage he reflects on the fact that he has often been told to follow a more singular route both when it comes to his sets and the label. He highlights the route which led him into electronic music and the nature of his tastes in the present.
"During my time working in booking, I slowly started exploring the field of independent artists that were dipping into electronic music. Artists such as Laika, Schneider TM, Pan Sonic, Tarwater, Autechre, Fennesz, Brinkmann, Matmos, Pole, Phoenecia, Thomas Köner, Jimi Tenor and more.
Even though my first experiences as a DJ were with Disco, I really disliked discotheques. I started exploring the stranger side of electronic music, fell completely in love with it – and here I am.
I just play what I like, without thinking so much about it. It’s about the natural flow and grooving in the moment. I want to make people dance to music I love – all forms of it."
There is an heir of distinction in the musical output of Manfredi, be that his own or that released on the record label. The inspiration for which was an accident of sorts. Thugfucker was the first artist to appear on the label back in 2010, some seven odd years ago: a bizarre take on deep house given the climate at the time which featured a sample of Naught By Nature's "Holiday". Even then the release was supported by close friends of Manfredi to with Tale Of Us contributing as just one of several remixers. He discusses the roots of the label.
"It was started by necessity in December 2010. After trying to send Greg Orek's demo to Dixon – which he didn’t like – we decided to release it ourselves. The rest is history. Since then, the label’s aim has been to put out the most eclectic mixture of electronic genres possible."
Eclectic themes run throughout much of his musical output. The latest Dj Kicks mix was no exception and featured some curveball choices. Manfredi was keen to follow an alternative discourse across the course of the mix whilst showcasing some of the tracks which have influenced him over the years.
"Nothing had to be in there, I just knew that I wanted to include some Italian music. It all started with me going through my big collection of vinyl records and CDs – having collected over 10,000 over the years, there is a lot to choose from. After finding the flow with some live-takes on my turntables and CDJs, I went over to Ableton to piece it all together. The reactions have exceeded my expectations, I couldn’t be happier."
The physical action of selection is as important as ever to many musicians amidst a digital age, those who find value in collection and longevity are often rewarded, as is the case with Manfredi.
"Not everything is available digitally and I still feel a strong connection with listening to an entire album from start to finish. As a world traveler, I love researching and digging for eclectic stuff in record shops, often finding something to sample from cheesy 7” singles. Holding a vinyl record in my hands still makes me feel a different sentiment as to downloading a digital file."
There is little more to say, life continues for now, what lies next is unknown. In the meantime the last advice from a man on the move, Dj Tennis: