Almost all music is said to ‘sound better live’. Whether its for sing-along choruses or sheer volume, music seems best heard in the here-and-now. Of course, this is the ‘original context’ for music. The notion of recorded sound is an historical anomaly. The first sound recording was made in 1878 but up until then, music was an ephemeral experience. There was no possibility of re-playing or re-living a beloved performance other than through the channels of memory. Before recorded music, you may only hear your favourite symphonic piece once or twice in a lifetime. But then, part of the beauty of live performance is that it doesn’t last.
I’ve often thought that techno is one of the few genres for which this is really true. Techno itself is known for its anonymity. DJs play ‘tracks’, not ‘songs’. They play to facilitate a vibe, not a karaoke backing track. In the case of techno, the emphasis on live experience is so important that it has almost become pastiche. The common lived experience of techno involves a good E, shared water-bottles, and good old fashioned skin-on-skin bonding. It is music to be heard in a shared space, with a democracy of dancers.
Manni Dee built his reputation precisely on this experience. His live shows take the hallmarks of techno and pushes them to the extreme. The kicks are louder than the ear can bear, the dynamic tensions rise and fall like a rollercoaster. It may therefore come as some surprise that his debut LP, The Residue, makes a marked departure from the world of club techno. This debut LP, on the legendary Tresor imprint, offers instead a series of sonic experiments stretching across a vast pool of influences.
The Residue seems to synthesise Manni Dee’s experience in techno clubs with an affinity for dark-ambient, for which he has become known through his Nuances project. This comes through on tracks like ‘The Eye of Shepherdess’ or ‘At Mercy of the Muse’, which sound like the introspective experiments of Throbbing Gristle. But ‘Subterranean Choke’, ‘Paroxysm’ and ‘Smut’ all work as 5am club body-shakers. There is an engaging tension at the heart of The Residue between these two poles, between isolation and union; mind and matter. The title of the album’s first track describes it best: as an album best heard, ‘In Communal Solitude’.
To celebrate the release of The Residue we asked Manni Dee to contribute to our That Time When series, listing his four most memorable gigs…
This was somewhat of a homecoming, as I was born and raised just down the road in Wolverhampton. Both Surgeon and Makaton had told me great things about HOG, and it just so happened I was on the promoters radar. Karenn had to pull out so I swooped in as a replacement. My expectations were surpassed. The way the night was curated was particularly impressive. Techno in the main room, drum and bass in the top room and house and disco in the back room. The diversity of the crowd, age, gender and ethnicity, was something that struck me straight away. It ranged from the debauched who’d been to every HOG event for the last 23 years, and the soon to be stained first-timers. Also, it was a halloween party, so the effort people put in to their costumes made it extra special. Another thing I loved about this gig was Zit, the in house MC, goading the crowd and making use of his potty mouth throughout my set.
It’s a privilege to play Tresor on any occasion, but when it’s your album launch that privilege becomes an honour. Both Gaja before me and Domenico Crisci after me played brilliant sets. I played live for an hour, all hardware plus the inclusion of a megaphone with a lapel mic attached to the front, which I used, like Zit before me, to provoke the crowd and shout expletives. Occasionally the lapel mic would detach so I could hold it in my hand and move and jump around while using it. I spent a few days in Berlin after the show, the perfect way to celebrate the album release.
Me and Ewa Justka played live together for the second time, this time in Amsterdam at Unpolished. Playing live as a duo gives you more time to hone in on the elements you’re in control of as the workload is distributed. We controlled about two or three machines each, and everything was pretty much improvised. I wouldn’t say our sets together are conceptually driven, but there’s definitely a focus on pressure, both through sound and lights. The two day festival was great. With the line up being so big I got to spend a lot of time with my extended techno family who I don’t often get to see because of our tour schedules. Closing the first night meant we could enjoy the second without any pressure or anticipation of playing. We definitely took advantage of that, from what I remember and from what people have told me.
This gig was special for a few reasons. First of all, Blur are one of my favourite bands, second, the gig was held at Newhampton Arts Centre which is where Sam Sharpe (now known as Beats a Bar) was located, a studio I used to visit regularly in my teens. It was there where I was encouraged and guided by youth worker and studio engineer Keith ‘Spock’ Dilworth. I don’t think I’d be making music today if it weren’t for him. Third, the 300 capacity gig sold out in less than a minute, and I managed to grab two tickets (the benefits of being self-employed). The energy in the room was amazing, and so were Blur. I got to touch Albarn and might have cried twice.
‘The Residue’ is out now on Tresor.