Manfredi Romano, better known as DJ Tennis, is perhaps one of the most versatile DJs in the electronic dance music industry right now. A career that has seen him take up different roles like a Chef, a Semi-Professional Tennis Player, A Tour Manager for a punk rock band and now a successfull DJ and record label owner. While he is one of the most looked up to guys in the game right now, he also believes firmly in being down to earth and honest with the art. Juggling between running his record lable Life And Death, curating some of the most amazing parties and playing really versatile sets around the globe, DJ Tennis is a force to reckon with.
DJ Tennis believes in letting your work speak for you and has been imprinting on young talent through Life & Death. The Italian DJ/Producer is currently in India for his debut India Tour which saw him play at packed venues in Mumbai and Delhi before taking Hyderabad and Bangalore over the weekend. We invited Manfredi to have a sit-down with us over some Hyderabadi Biryani before his show at Block 22 in Hyderabad. We spoke to him about his friendship with Dixon and Ame, Rakastella origins, his take on the modern day electronic dance music and his vision for his label Life And Death amongst other things. Read the full interview below.
Hi Manfredi, welcome to CME. How are you doing today?
I am doing very good. It’s been 4 days in India and it has been amazing to play here so far. I am looking forward to tonight.
This is your first India tour, and you have played Delhi & Mumbai so far, how has the experience been and what have you heard about Hyderabad and Bangalore from other artists?
I realised that Delhi and Mumbai are completely different in their cultures. I received a really warm welcome from people that knew my music. It was really fun playing both cities. In Delhi I kind of pushed the sound a little harder while in Mumbai I played a more diverse set. I played 2 sets in Mumbai, one at the main party and another at the afterparty where I played a little more disco and groovy vibe. It’s very exciting because for an artist touring and meeting a new crowd you have to warm up to the crowd and bring the vibe up to the level you want it to be at. That’s why I like to travel new countries.
A semi-professional tennis player, student of computer programming, punk rock band tour manager, chef and now a successful DJ/Producer. You have done it all, how has the journey been till now? Who are some of the people who have inspired you along the way?
Well, I have had a chance to work with some really fantastic people through the years. There have been so many people who inspired me along the way so I don’t want to name just a few. I have to say that the people who inspired me are the people who gave me the opportunity to look at this world of nightlife, music and entertainment in a very clear and unexploited way. We are living in a virtual world and the people who help you with a reality check are your real support system. One of the people who inspired me the most to learn how to DJ is Laurent Garnier because of his diversity and versatility. That is how I like to play, unpredictable and versatile. I like to keep the crowd guessing what I am going to play next. I have been told by many that it is good to be consistent and stick to a more trademark sound but I do not believe that. I feel DJ’ing is more like being a chef because there are so many ingredients that you can experiment with and mix different sounds to create a journey. The more diverse the music the more amazing is the journey and that is what I love. Sometimes when I listen to DJs play the same genre from start to end, I do enjoy but I don’t think that is me, that’s not my sound. I like to explore and be surprised. So that is what I try to do as an artist and give to my fans who have come to see me.
Founder of one of the most successful dance music labels right now - ‘Life And Death’, how did the idea of starting a music label come about and has it reached the phase that you dreamt of while starting this label?
I never planned to be a professional DJ or starting my own record label. I started Life And Death about 10 years ago when I saw a kind of a static situation in the dance music scene. I saw a lot of producers making some interesting melodic and emotional music rather than the same dry tech-house music. Italy back then was not known as producer rich country back then I wanted to change that. So I decided to contribute and bring about the change with the help of Life And Death that would serve as a platform for up and coming producers from Italy. Now we have artists like Tale Of Us, Mind Against and more experimental artists too who are a part of this change. Italy was a little closed in terms of it’s potential and ability and I believe we have been able to bring about an evolution with Life And Death.
In current times, most of the record labels are sticking to one set format that sells when comes to music. Life And Death on the other hand has been quite experimental with the music releases. What is the ideology behind this approach?
I always say that being experimental helps you to be timeless. You should not stick to a genre and start copying it just because it sells more. For me some of the tracks that I look back on in my sets from the past are the more brave and experimental ones. Those are the tracks that your fans remember your set for. That is what has inspired me to be more radical and experimental in my approach and that reflects in the track signings at Life And Death.
Coming to music production, we see a lot of artists coming up these days in the underground music space of music space in general. Do you think the current technology has made it easier for upcoming artist for music production?
Definitely technology helps a lot as it gives easier access to production. You can pretty much compose a full track if you own just a laptop with the help of all the softwares and plugins available. That effort itself is not enough to make a great track. It has its downside as the market is now flooded with tracks which have been randomly produced without an in-depth understanding of the music. At the same it serves as portal for people who do not have the money or resources to sit in a big studio with keyboards and synthesizers. You can be in the middle of nowhere in Russia or China or any remote location and still bring your crazy ideas to life with the help of this technology.
You collaborated with Innervisions to start Rakastella festival and it has been doing great since inception. How did the idea of doing a festival together come up?
It is always a great pleasure to collaborate and work together with your friends. I have been really good friends with Dixon and Frank & Kristian (Ame). We also shared the same agency and this came about pretty naturally. Miami has been my first base where my house and my family is and it basically is a place which always screams for new underground initiatives. There is a great demand and not many people doing that. Being a promoter, I always wanted to do something different but there was not much going on in the scene in Miami. I have been doing a Life And Death party for many years during Art Basel which is one of the biggest art gatherings. So I was talking with Dixon and Ame and we thought during Art Basel would be a time when a lot of artists would be around and would love to play. We would have a much better and different crowd that Miami Music Week. So we decided to start Rakastella. And when you work with a crew who are not just utterly professional but also close friends it is always fun. We are really glad that the festival has been getting a really great response and we only hope it will continue to grow in the coming years.
With running a record label and also being an artist, a constant parallel that runs is the legal aspect. How important is it to have a strong legal team as well? Any advise for other record label aspirants?
I have a different take on this. You don’t really need a strong legal team till the time you are playing it fair and following the rules. If you do things by the books and you respect the artists around you and the ones that you work with it will all work out for you. But if you start doing wild things and bending the laws then you will need a strong legal team that will guide and protect you. Otherwise just having the basic legal advice and enough respect for the scene will ensure your success. You can basically have a pretty DIY approach to the music scene. And if you are planning to start your own label my advice would be to keep it basic and simple and take the right approach to it. That will open up the possibility to inspire, experiment and be flexible. Try to do things yourself and if you need any help then seek guidance from an expert team.
How do you cope up with the DJ Lifestyle? What are your observations on the long term effects of maintaining a particular lifestyle when you’re a DJ and the fans and peers look up to you?
As I was saying earlier, it is very important to keep your feet on the ground and maintain the modesty no matter how successful you become. You have to understand where you come from and what makes you who you are. The promoters, the crowd, the people who like your music and even those who don’t are all part of the lifecycle and you need to value them. While you manage your contacts, your relationships you also need to look after your body and maintain a lifestyle that is healthy and suitable for you.
It was a pleasure having this heart to heart chat with DJ Tennis and we are really looking forward to his shows in Hyderabad and Bangalore. Make sure you follow DJ Tennis and Life And Death on the below links.