When Manfredi Romano, better known as DJ Tennis, answers the Skype call, he sits in his Miami studio after just getting back from Hawaii. The short break had been a combination of business and pleasure, as he played at the Asylum Afterhours club and discovered the archipelago. The Italian DJ/producer, event organizer and Life & Death label manager looks very relaxed and tells that with his visit he fulfilled a childhood dream.
“I dreamed of going to Hawaii since I was a kid, but even then it was better than I could imagine. I thought it was more densely populated with a lot of buildings, but the islands were beautiful and some of them are just nature with deserts and volcanos. The atmosphere is really laid back with a mix of Americans and Asians, a bit like in California. Regarding the local dance scene, regular club time is only till 2am but then the after parties start and they go on until 10am. Asylum Afterhours is an amazing place. They have a hall of fame and if you look at the DJ’s that played there, it’s just big names.”
Before going to the surfer’s paradise, Romano played for the second time at Burning Man, the legendary festival – or ‘social gathering’ as he calls it – in the Nevada desert. “Last year I discovered the festival. Everything was new and I was very overwhelmed. This year I came better prepared, more relaxed. Still, you cannot plan Burning Man, as too many things just happen along the way. You meet interesting people that take you to places you didn’t even know. The best is to absorb everything and go with the flow. For many people Burning Man is life changing. I wouldn’t go that far, but sure it is a lot of fun and very inspiring.”
Listening to his adventures as a DJ you realize the Italian has come a long way since he started DJing at a Sicilian tennis club. Visitors unintentionally gave him his pseudonym when they read the invitation for ‘DJ Tennis’, the name of the party. He decided to keep it that way. The passion for the sport remained over the years with John McEnroe being his all-time favourite player. “Back then tennis was a psychological war on the court, a tactical mind game and McEnroe was a master at this. Nowadays the sport is much more about strength and less about creativity, like Formula 1 where engineering and rules and regulations took over from the instinct of the drivers.”
A very similar reasoning can be heard when Romano explains what has led to the foundation of his Life And Death imprint, together with Thugfucker’s Greg Oreck and Matteo Milleri from Tale of Us. “We are talking about entertainment here, which music and sports both are. However, from the mid 2000’s creativity in music seemed gone. It became too functional, being just dance floor effective. In our opinion a label, even a dance label, should deliver both dance floor friendly music and music that is good to listen to at home. That’s why we started Life And Death.”
When you see his achievements in the field of electronic music, it’s hard to imagine he doesn’t hail from a musical family. Instead, young Manfredi was formed by listening to the radio, something he misses nowadays. “It’s a pity that there’s no good stations anymore, except for web radio and some college stations in the US. All the others have to broadcast music for the masses because their business model is based on advertising.” As most of his teenage friends, the Italian was a gothic with dark hair, black clothes and as little tan as possible, listening to Siouxsie and the Banshees, the Cure and Joy Division. He then started collaborating with concert organizers and radio broadcasters, building his network and musical knowledge.
The interest in electronic music came with his computer sciences studies at the University of Pisa as he learned producing music using MOD players and programs like Cubase and Digital Performer. “I am fully autodidactic. At first I was making non danceable electronic music. To be honest, I’m much better at producing other music than dance music. Matteo still helps me to make my tracks more dance floor friendly.”
Because electronic music wasn’t always the main factor, DJ Tennis became very versatile behind the decks. “With my USB sticks I can almost play anywhere, regardless of the crowd. My record collection goes from disco to techno and from house to funk. Being a good DJ to me is not just about the technical skills, but also about entertaining. I like eclectic DJ’s like Laurent Garnier and Craig Richards. They can transform a set while they are playing and this is something I like to do as well.”
Selecting tracks for the Life And Death label is something different, although the musical range of releases is broad too. “Of course it’s a dance label, but very open minded and surprising, without any strict rules. If something from our artists is not a dance floor bomb, we’re not too worried. What’s important is that we choose the music we like. Greg is more pop and wave influenced, whereas Matteo has an electronic background and I am more rock minded. There is a common taste however, since we all like deep, dark, melodic and tense tracks. One day we hope to release a track that unites all of our preferences, something like Joy Division. We are not in a hurry though, it’s a process that takes time.”
Between being the manager of an influential imprint and a world class DJ, Romano still finds time to produce new tracks and in April his latest EP ‘Local’ was released. The title sounds strange coming from someone who moved countless times and has different places to call home. “Yes I know, but the name ‘Local’ doesn’t refer to a certain town or region, but to the sensation of going back to a place that is important to you. What happens is that for a moment you are taken out of the reality and you relive the moments you had there. All the tracks were written during my tour when I was in this state of mind and this gives them all the same feeling, although very different in style.”
The EP was originally meant to be a full length album, but working with Luke Jenner, singer of the New York punk band The Rapture, made him change his mind. “When I did some songs with Luke, he taught me how to know when you are ready to make an album. What you have to feel, the psychological condition you need to be in. I realized I had many tracks, but not the right feeling, so I decided to postpone the project and make new tracks for the EP instead. The plan for the album is still there, I just don’t know when the time is right.”
Luckily for those who missed Tennis’ set at Roest last Saturday, he will be back sooner than you might think. DGTL will host a Life And Death showcase during ADE where he will play alongside label artists Tale of Us, Mind Against, Somne and Job Jobse. Also present are special guest DJ’s Harvey and Tobias Freund. Asked for the reasons of inviting non label artists, Romano is clear. “Life And Death is not a closed society, that would be boring. Neither do we organize parties with popular artists just to have a popular event. We just want to work together with people that we like and inspire us music wise. DJ Harvey and Tobias Freund are two excellent examples and therefore we love to share this experience with them and introduce the Life And Death audience to their music.”
The grounds for the collaboration with local Amsterdam hero Job Jobse are similar. “We met him at Trouw and found him very talented for his age and a true music lover, which is what we are too. To get him aboard was part of my overall dream for the label: to increase the community with more artists and have more releases. We want to keep surprising people with a broad range of music. In fact, we are already working on signing some new talented Italian producers.” And attract more fans? “Well, that would be nice, but the most important thing is that we are fans of ourselves.”
Tale Of Us | DJ Harvey | Mind Against | Tobias | DJ Tennis | Job Jobse | Somne |