Interview: Radioactive Man

Keith-Tenniswood-for-webKeith Tenniswood is the songwriter, DJ and producer who joins the dots between the music of Radioactive Man, Two Lone Swordsmen and Sabres of Paradise.

Their bleeps and beats are some of the most loved in underground music which makes his CV one of the most impeccable when it comes to all things bass and electronic.

After landing an assistant job with Andrew Weatherall and Jagz Kooner as Sabres of Paradise (where he spent much time perfecting his brew and spliff making skills), he became one half of Two Lone Swordsmen. The duo’s experimental sonics betwitched and twitched over several albums (including the fantastic Tiny Reminders) taking in post-punk, krautrock as well as heavier club sounds.

With his roots in acid house and rough and ready techno, Keith’s gone on to become a hugely respected artist in his own right now working as a DJ and much in demand producer Radioactive Man.

After mixing a Fabric compilation in 2003 and releasing his distinctive take on electro through labels like Rotters Golf Club, Keith joined Wang Trax in 2012 and released his latest album Waits and Measures on the imprint. It has all the elements of a classic Radioactive man set – this is funky, soundsystem shaking stuff.

M managed to catch him for a rare chat to ask about working with Sabres of Paradise, how he fell for electronic music and current projects he’s got up his musical sleeves…

How did you get into electronic music?

When I was about 11 or 12, electro and hip hop happened over here. At that age, break dancing and graffiti were big things. Planet Rock and quite obvious records which hit at the time were important. They seemed like they were from a whole different dimension.

At the same time, I remember hearing my mum sing along to Kraftwerk at the end of the seventies at home.

Did you always want to make music?

I played guitar when I was 13 or 14 but I just wanted to be in a break dance crew. I remember thinking I was really good at it. I wasn’t. It wasn’t until 1990 when I got an Atari and a little sampler that I started getting into making music.

At what point did music become a full time persuasion?

It’s all a bit fuzzy time-wise but around 1994 or 95 I started working as an assistant in a studio for Sabres of Paradise. It was making tea, skinning up and then getting in there during the down time and learning the equipment. I did that for two years. I can now make a great cup of tea.

It’s an old school way to learn. Now it’s all about being in the box in a computer. But then, there was a whole world of stuff to get to know. I was thrown in at the deep end.

Was it a natural transition moving from being an engineer to an artist?

It wasn’t overnight by any stretch of the imagination. But even before I was working with Andrew as Two Lone Swordsmen, I was making music under various names with friends and for various labels. It was a long time before I had the confidence to do it myself.

How did you first meet Andrew?

I was going out to a lot of clubs he was playing at where I met Jagz Kooner. He gave me the break in the studio and I ended up working with Sabres. I started doing the live sound for them too before Two Lone Swordsmen, which was also pretty scary. But it was a brilliant time.

How did you start making your own material?  

Andrew would be away every weekend DJing so I had plenty of time in the studio working on my own stuff. I wasn’t necessarily wanting to do any solo music. I was just pissing about and making tunes.

I was into early hardcore jungle and d’n’b and wanted to mix those elements with electro. That’s what spawned the early sound. It now seems a whole world away but at the time, genres stayed in their genres. If you were making house, you were making house. Techno people made techno. Now it’s called bass music as it’s across genre. I found a little niche in there which I still love – really heavy beats but with really nice melodies.

There was quite a gap between latest album Waits and Measures and its predecessor – did it take some time to do?

Well I’d moved out of London. I’d been living here for years and needed a break. It was when downloads and the internet started to happen and loads of labels were going under. It was quite a depressing time. I’d hit some frustrating times as various labels were going to put stuff out but didn’t at the last minute because they were skint. People weren’t buying enough music to justify pressing it.

I decided not to rush putting stuff out as I wanted to see how the whole digital thing would pan out. I decided to take my time over it. And that time turned out to be four years! I was going for the quality over quantity. At least that’s my excuse.

How do you feel about your new material?

It’s a year old – and a lot of it was made three years before that so it doesn’t seem that new now. I’m happy with how it went and how it got received. I’m just carrying on a similar tip at the minute. I’ve got another really heavy dancefloor record in me at the moment.

I just started working in an analogue studio which a friend has built. It’s really liberating going to work there after being tied to a computer. That’s the next project. To make a fully analogue album.

Are you on a computer all the time?

I’ve always used MPCs, especially for live stuff but the one I had was pretty big and could only load up one song at a time. It was proper old technology. I’ve got myself a new one which I’ve been working on today so I’m looking to sort a whole new live set together.

I’ve got a homemade 303 which a mate made for me. I’m using a new analogue synth which is great. Then still using all the classic Roland stuff. I use Logic when I do use a computer.

I’ve been doing some work with dBridge. He normally makes d’n’b but he’s been making a lot of different music recently. I went to one of his parties and ended up in the studio with him. We’re hoping to get a three track EP out this year. That’s a bit slower at about 125 bpm and quite deep. I’m really happy with it.

Are you going through a purple patch creatively?

I’m trying to give myself a kick up the arse. I smoked a lot of weed for years but I’ve stopped doing that now. I feel a lot better for that. I feel like I’ve got energy again.

It does sometimes really help in the studio. It gives you the patience to listen to loops for hours. Then again, I’m not smoking now, so I don’t have the patience I used to have. I’m not sure whether I should start again!

Is dance music in good health at the moment?

There’s some great music out there at the minute. I’m really feeling the guys who have come out of d’n’b scene and are now making great electro stuff. Marcus Intalex working as Trevino and Boddika are all making great music while people like Blawan are at the heavier end of it. It’s on the up again and vinyl sales have gone up from people who I’ve been speaking to.

What’s the record you’re most proud of?

Tiny Reminders with Two Lone Swordsmen was quite a big one but I wouldn’t want to single out just one record I made. I’m proud of all of it.

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