Interview: Mano Le Tough
The Dublin born, Switzerland based, artist approaches DJing as seriously as one can, looking at the craft as a legitimate art form. This philosophy allows for a diverse smattering of influences including assorted strains of house, techno, disco, and new wave, coming together to make a sound distinctly individual. A sound which can be heard on releases for the likes of Permanent Vacation, Buzzin’ Fly, Internasjonal, Life and Death, and more esteemed imprints.
As a studio force, Mano Le Tough is one of the minds behind the Maeve (alongside The Drifter and Baikal), which, since 2012, has established itself as a reliable home for thoughtful, melodic dance music, increasingly tapped for festival and club showcases around the globe.
We managed to catch up with Mano Le Tough on site in Sousse, Tunisia last weekend where he was in town headlining the first day of Fairground Festival. With a debut Mosaic by Maceo 2017 event on 25 July, and an always demanding tour and production schedule, we still managed to find some time to sit down under the North African sky to discuss the location, summer, and much more.
“If you look at music in a competitive way you’re missing the point.”
I’m curious as to what your relationship has been like playing here in Tunisia? Have you been here before?
I played here once before, last year in Tunis, and had a really good experience. We did a Maeve party that was pretty big…almost 2,000 people. They were all really enthusiastic!
So you had a good experience?
…and where did you travel from?
I was just in Casablanca, Morocco.
In my familiarity with Morocco, it seems like the electronic scene is a bit more open there for now…
In a way. The people who do Oasis Festival are building it up, I guess.
Do you notice any differences when playing across North Africa – Morocco, Tunisia, Egypt?
I’ve never actually been to Egypt! Yesterday was quite similar to here to be honest, so it’s another good experience. I played Oasis Festival last year but that has a bit more international feel.
Well, soon you’ll be back on Ibiza with the 25 July Mosaic date with Maceo Plex. Can you take me back to your first encounter with Maceo? Where did you guys meet?
That’s a good question! I can’t really remember to be honest, so it was probably at some festival. Over the last few years we’ve run into each other a lot though. He’s a good dude!
What are your impressions of Mosaic as a concept? Specifically, as an Ibiza concept?
The lineups are very good. They are different from other events on Ibiza. I haven’t actually played yet, so I guess I’ll find out soon enough.
Yes. Even last year I immediately felt it was one of the more eclectic and diverse lineups on the island, which has surely continued.
Aside from Mosaic though, you’ve got dates with Afterlife, Cocoon, opened Solomun+1, and are also at DC-10. With all these different events, you’re spending a lot of time out on the island!
Yes, each one is run by good friends. I enjoy Ibiza a lot and also enjoy the different feels of the different parties.
Do you see a certain recipe for a truly successful, lasting Ibiza event series?
It’s a secret recipe! [laughs]
…only McDonald’s and Coca-Cola know it.
It’s a place for people who like to go on Holiday, so if you offer a good lineup and do the fundamental stuff right you should do well. There is a lot of competition but, at the same time, a lot of people still go.
Have you given thought to doing a big time Ibiza residency of your own?
Not particularly. Maybe in the future, but it’s not really something I’m thinking about right now. I’ve got so much going on with touring and, especially, making music that I think this would mean I’d be gone even more than I already am. I am happy to play other people’s parties and have a great time doing it…without any stress!
So you still find Ibiza to capture your attention?
Oh yeah! I love it. I can just do my thing there so I’m usually in and out, but I can always get some great food and hang out with my friends. At the start of my career I wasn’t really an Ibiza person since I never visited before I started playing. I never had that draw straight away, but more and more I enjoy it and I also value the fact I get to play there!
With all these Ibiza dates, and these festivals around the world, do you have a personal routine to maintain mindfulness and mental health? Do the rigours of touring weigh on you at all?
They used to because I put too much pressure on myself. Once you relax and just go with it things become easier and take off layers of stress. This year, for example, I am focused a bit more on DJing so I don’t feel too stressed if I’m not always in the studio. Then, when I’m not touring, I just exercise and eat well.
But this would still be a process over a few year span, to identify and adjust…?
It’s about not letting it all get on top of you and allowing yourself breaks. It can be stressful but it will all be ok!
I wanted to switch gears a bit and discuss your production approach, specifically around remixes. Before we met tonight, I had been listening to your latest remix for Phil Kieran and I’m wondering how you approach the remix in the studio? Do you have a set start/end point?
The main thing is I have to hear something in the original that I want to work with. I guess that would be the starting point..even if it’s a vocal passage or a synth melody…but, I am particularly drawn to vocals. Then I let it become what it becomes on its own. I don’t use any template. There just has to be something there that immediately interests me.
I’m assuming this strongly affects your approach to what you’re actually going to choose?
Absolutely! There are many artists I want to remix because I love them but, a lot of the time, if there isn’t that jumping off point, I can’t do it. It’s happened in the past with big artists whose remix may be good for my career but, again, if that starting point isn’t there, I can’t do it.
What would you say the ratio is of remixes you do vs. those that are offered?
I don’t want to say! [laughs]
When I was listening to the remix I mentioned, I was doing so on Soundcloud. These days, with all the rumblings about that platform’s future, I’m wondering what role it has played in your own career?
Soundcloud played a big role when I was starting off. It was the place I’d put all my demos up and a few sets from panorama bar, which people were really into. These two things really helped me. In the last couple of years maybe not as much as before but certainly at the start it was very important! When it stops there will be a massive vacuum there.
I guess at the end of the day it’s about if it even has a viable business model and one that will be attractive to those who are used to its free elements…which, personally, I doubt…
When people have had something for free for so long, they’re just not going to pay for it.
They could go the facebook route and sponsor individual pieces of content for extra exposure but, similar consumer dynamics will play in there too…
…and you have to realize that most people starting off do not have such disposable income. When I was starting out I literally didn’t have any money to pay the rent. When you’re an up and comer, you’re already sacrificing so much in your life so you can try to have a music career, so it’s already difficult. Nowadays, if these companies are just going to add costs to that process people will find alternatives…and someone will provide that alternative.
Speaking of up and comers, early in your career you made the move from Ireland to Berlin, as have many other DJs to varying levels of success. If you were faced with that option now, would you still take it? Would you recommend the move to Berlin as viable for young, aspiring artists give the competitive nature of its music scene?
If you look at music in a competitive way you’re missing the point. You end up looking at what others are doing and not focusing on your own thing. That shouldn’t ever enter your head when making music. You need to be yourself. I moved to Berlin in 2007 when it was still cheap and it was an amazing place…full of young people and inspiration.
Well, it’s now definitely a long way from those days for you now! Where are you heading off to next?
After tonight I’ll be off to the UK for FARR festival…
…and what can we expect from your set tonight?
You’re guess is as good as mine [laughs]
Ok Mano, thanks so much for taking the time today and enjoy the festival. I’ll see you there!