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Tantum [Interview]

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Techno, House and all things betwixt. Based in Germany, 'Tantum' is trying to redefine the borders between forward-thinking melodic techno and progressive-house. Upon making his debut on Ein2 in December of 2018, the Berlin resident has gone on a five year creative swell, landing key projects via Lost & Found and Radikon, while earning praise from tastemakers across the melodic house and progressive spectrums. Praveen Achary's Juicebox Music has also been a primary landing spot for Tantum's output, recording five originals across two EPs since his label debut in 2019. This week finds Tantum making a return to the highly regarded Indian imprint with a new single 'Korner'; alongside a remix from Sri Lankan star Subandrio.

Progressive Astronaut caught up with Tantum to learn more about the release of ‘Korner’, Berlin nightlife, his studio process, future plans, and more. Enjoy.

Hi Thomas, thanks for joining us. What is your current mood and what was the last piece of music you listened to?

Hey there, thanks for reaching out! I'm doing really well, and I hope you are too! The last track on my Spotify is “It’s My Life” by Talk Talk- it's such a classic tune.

How has the first quarter of the year been for you and what are your plans for the coming week?

2023 has been off to an incredible start for me! I was lucky enough to be a part of the We Are Lost Festival tour in Argentina with Guy J, Patrice Bäumel, and Sahar Z, and it was absolutely amazing. I feel so grateful to have been a part of it. This week, I'm playing a gig in my former hometown, Karlsruhe, which is always exciting. And on top of that, I'll also be attending a wedding for one of my good friends. So I’m definitely looking forward to the next few days!

Talk to us about living in Berlin, how has it influenced your music taste and direction? Or has it at all?

I feel like my music has taken on a bolder edge lately. There's more detuned elements and gritty chords, which are inspired by the stark contrasts that you find in this city.

If you were a tour-guide for nightlife in Berlin (or Germany), what would be the clubs you’d take the people to see and what local DJs do they need to hear?

My usual Berlin tour with friends consists of going to Club der Visionäre and heading over to Watergate later on. These might not be the most “Berlin typical” places, but for Progressive-House, I find that is the best combination. Of course there’s countless places that are all worth a visit like Kater Blau, Sisyphos and more. Berlin is full of local talent, so much so that I can’t just pick one. Many smaller clubs that host local events like Humboldthain Club, those can be great locations to find new talent or interesting concepts.

And to add to that, what have been your favourite venues to perform at in Germany and why?

Unfortunately, it is a bit hard to find Progressive-House in Berlin, since there isn’t really a dedicated scene for it. That being said, I've had the opportunity to play at Ritter Butzke, which was an awesome experience. I'm hoping to explore more venues and get involved in the music scene here in Berlin.

If you are not DJing or socializing at clubs, where do we find you? And doing what?

I have a soft spot for Willow trees located along the spree. So on a nice day, there’s a good chance you will find me sitting under a willow gazing into the water for hours while drinking coffee and listening to music.

When you were first getting started in production did you have someone help you or are you completely self-taught? And what would you recommend new producers do to help with the learning curve of production?

I'm actually completely self-taught when it comes to music production, but I did take guitar lessons way back when I was 14. That definitely helped with understanding harmonic relations and developing an ear for chords and riffs. If I had to advise someone just starting out, I would say to take your time and remember that it's a long process. Don't rush to release music just for the sake of it. It takes years of practice to really hone your skills and make something that sounds good, and that's totally normal. For me, it took about 4 years from making my first track to actually signing a release (which ended up being my first EP, signed to Juicebox!)

You’ve achieved some measurable success in relatively short order, support from a who’s who of progressive trendsetters such as Hernan Cattaneo, Nick Warren, Guy J, and more, along with releases via Lost & Found and Radikon. If you look back over your discography, what release or releases had the most impact on where you are today and why?

Oh thanks, I'm flattered! It’s hard to pinpoint, I’d say my Bonsai EP on Monaberry, my first EP on Lost & Found and my first release on Juicebox (in no specific order) were what got things going for me.

You have a new single ‘Korner’, out this week via Juicebox Music, tell us about the release, and how do these tracks showcase your current sound?

This track in particular is a special one, I signed it quite a while ago, it must have been like 3 years ago. The original version was actually written when I was still a student living in my old hometown of Karlsruhe, using FL Studio. I held onto all the project files and synth recordings, and last year I made an updated version in my new home of Berlin. It's kind of interesting I think, because this track sort of bridges the gap between my old and new styles.

Tell us about your studio set-up? Do you favor physical gear over digital? And what studio tools featured heavily in the writing of ‘Korner’?

My studio is a small but well-treated room near the spree in Berlin, I absolutely love it! As for gear, I think that whatever gets the job done is the right tool. I try not to limit myself just for the sake of it, and I don't think that "hardware" music is necessarily better or more "real" than digitally produced music. But for me personally, I've started to really appreciate the hands-on approach and different kinds of creativity that hardware gear can invoke. So ever since moving into my new studio here in Berlin, I've switched to a fully CV-controlled setup (no MIDI), which makes it super easy for me to incorporate my modular synth into my workflow. I pretty much use it in every track now. In this particular track, I actually used a lot of hardware. The two lead sounds were done with my modular synth and MS-20, and a lot of the background/fx/pads and ambiance were done on the modular as well.

What does writing a track look like for you? Could you walk us through the production process on your Juicebox single?

Typically, I start with drums and bass first when producing a track. Then I create a melody or chord structure. Once that is done, I try to get a rough arrangement done as soon as possible. At a certain stage, once the idea and theme is clear, the track will pretty much finish itself. Like mentioned earlier, this project was. a bit special, So in this case I basically treated the original stems like a “remix” of some sorts. I redid the drums, changed and rearranged some of the synth recordings and started adding the new lead & ambiance sounds.

In addition to regularly releasing on Lost & Found and Radikon, you’ve now released two EPs, a remix and a single with Juicebox Music, what makes the label such a comfortable home for your music?

Juicebox has released so many incredible tracks over the years, and I feel honored to have the opportunity to contribute to their catalog. They were also the first ones to ever sign and support my music, so I value the connection we have established.

Let’s talk about production a bit more for a moment, where does the impulse to create something come from for you? What role do often-quoted sources of inspiration like dreams, other forms of art, personal relationships etc play? And was there anything that inspired the writing of ‘Korner’?

Writing music is kind of like keeping a journal to me. I process my emotions and impressions that I have at that time. That means everything — dreams, the weather, the things I see — will end up influencing my creative process. It all happens subconsciously, so I’m not actively seeking to write a track for a certain scenario. "Korner" was inspired by winter, so it's a bit darker and grittier.

Once a piece is finished, how important is it for you to let it lie and evaluate it later on? How much improvement and refinement do you personally allow until you’re satisfied with a piece? What does this process look like in practice? And who is someone you share your new music with first for feedback?

Very much so, I think good music will stand the test of time. Sometimes it’s hard to objectively view something you’ve worked on for a long time. I pretty much always let my music sit for a few weeks / months before finishing it up and sending it out. Quality over quantity any day for me. Especially with music being saturated the way it is nowadays, I think it should be in everyone's interest to maybe release less, but spend more time perfecting each track (all within reason of course).

What is the task you enjoy the most when producing and what would you prefer someone else to do?

I love being focused for hours at a time and really get lost in the craft when working on music. All steps in the production are done by me, except for mastering. I do create test masters just for DJing every now and then, but all of the released music will be mastered by an engineer. I think it’s important to have some kind of quality control for the final product.

What would be a musical extravagance for your studio you would pay for, if you were very wealthy?

A fully treated room that has the perfect dimensions, paired with some top-notch monitors to complement it. That's the ultimate dream for me. I'm a bit of an audio fidelity freak!

Now let’s talk about DJing for a moment, it’s a unique discipline at the border between presenting great music and creating something new with it, between composition and improvisation to an extent. How would you describe your approach to it?

I’d lean a bit more on the presenting side personally. I’d go as far as saying I’m a bit more confident producing compared to djing. I have great respect for the amazing skills of many artists in this genre, so I always try to learn something new and improve my abilities behind the decks. Also, I love to present and test new music when playing out.

How does the decision-making process work during a gig with regards to wanting to play certain tracks, the next transition and where you want the set to go? How far do you tend to plan ahead? Or do you at all?

Before a show/tour I prepare “packs” of tracks that fit well together. So on my usb you would find a couple of dozen packs, consisting of like 3-5 tracks. So when playing I tend to switch and transition between those packs, knowing them in and out and where the tracks I may want to transition to are in. This allows me to improvise quite well I find, but it also grants me some security, as the tracks within the packs can work like a buffer, granting me enough time to figure out where I want to head next.

Can you tell me a bit about how your work as a performer has influenced your view of music, your way of listening to tracks and perhaps also, your work as a producer?

Once you start working in this field, it's like a one-way street. You can't help but constantly analyze music, even when you're just listening to it. But it doesn't bother me at all. When it comes to production, I definitely try to keep in mind how to arrange a track based on what kind of track might be played before or after it.

If you could set up an event with a line-up of five artists of your choice, who would you book and what set times would you ascribe to the artists?

Interesting question!

15:00-18:00 Juliane Wolf
18:00-21:00 Simon Vuarambon
21:00-0:00 Kasper Koman
0:00-3:00 Jeremy Olander
3:00-7:00 Guy J

Current top five tracks?

1 Milio - 2094
2 Guy J - State of Trance
3 Paresse - Meat Robots
4 Ketiov - Loca
5 GMJ, Matter - Metanoia

What’s a book you’ve read or a film you watched that has left an impact on you, and why?

Memento was a movie that definitely had a lasting impression on me. I love the way the story is told, without spoiling too much. Anyone who hasn’t seen it by now definitely should!

Apart from music, what makes you happiest?

Good food and sunshine work wonders!

What does the remainder of 2023 hold for you? Anything you can share with us?

Lots of new music is in the pipeline, ready to be released soon! Also, I will be touring again throughout the rest of the year, including some new continents that will be a first-ever for me! Take a look at my socials to stay updated on that :)

Thanks for having me!

'Korner' is available now via Juicebox Music: https://bit.ly/41W3EyO

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