Germany's Tensnake reps the new European wave of history-shuffling, ambitiously funky dance music. Plus: It's Ambrosia Salad's doble quinceañera!
>>Alas! We've just heard word that Tensnake has had to cancel his appearance here due to visa and family issues. Hopefully he'll make it here soon!
SUPER EGO I adore history, it's all so pointless. It's fun to play around with, too — stick your mitts in the used fork drawer of the past and clatter about a bit, just to make new noise. Artists do this all the time, grab stuff from different eras and pastiche them together to create unique and dreamlike emotional states. Bygones!
That sensibility is making a comeback in dance music. Over the past few years, there's been a fascinating wave of sonic rummagers digging through five decades of strobe-lit tunes, Frankensteining together ambitiously funky, mostly midtempo tracks that knock sample-trainspotters sideways. What these posthistorical freaks come up with, creating songs that sound like they belong to a not-quite-placeable era, is uncanny, just a tad left of reality, something the wordy Germans call unheimlischkeit. Think DJ Shadow in neon Ray-Bans, collaging together decelerated Minneapolis and Motown samples, Heaven 17-ish synths, early '90s R&B basslines, rolling Balearic keyboards, and half-forgotten garage house vocal snippets.
Rocketing to the top of the history-shuffling heap is Hamburg tunesmith Tensnake, whose riveting tracks like "In the End (I Want You to Cry)," "Holding Back (My Love)" and breezy monster hit "Coma Cat" open little windows into an imaginary dance floor past. Take, for instance, Tensnake's phenomenal remix of Azari and III's "Reckless (With Your Love)," in which he transforms an already post-postmodern ode to late '80s house into an insanely bouncy Soul II Soul homage that breaks, at the climax, into a full-on sample of C+C Music Factory's "Gonna Make You Sweat." WTF? Which Midwestern gay bar am I wearing ripped jeans and a bolero jacket at?
"Playfulness is key to who I am and what I do." Tensnake, né Marco Niemerski, told me over e-mail. "Some of my music is more deep and dreamy, while other tracks are more open-armed and made for piano connoisseurs, ha. I do have a love and respect for dance music history but like any producer who cares about what they do, I want to look ahead, not back! Whenever I am referring musically to some old tunes, I think I am just trying to have a great time while producing a new one."
Tensnake's new double-disc mix for the Defected in the House series and his upcoming tour of the States are sure to expose a lot of European artists working with the new sensibility to American ears. We have our own reps in acts like Wolf + Lamb and Soul Clap, but it's weird to hear such crate-digging audacity and soul sonics coming from across the pond.
"After the minimal sound, which was huge for a few years, people were hungry for more soulful stuff again," Tensnake said. "I was never into minimal, so I'm glad that re-edits and classic tracks have come back to the fore. And I think this was always an American sound, the Chicago, Detroit, and New York sound. Very few house records from Europe were important to me. This trip will be the first time in America, so I'm very excited to see how my live show and tracks go down."
Does he feel part of a revolutionary dance music movement? "I am not a big fan of labeling music or names and numbers — well, maybe apart from the number ten. I just like great music and melodies. To me a great song could be Saint Etienne, Prefab Sprout, or even Janet Jackson. There is just more of a melting pot at the moment and I think that's incredibly healthy."
TENSNAKE Fri/26, 9 p.m., $10. Public Works, 161 Erie, SF. www.publicsf.com