here comes the feature i did with tale of us for the february issue of dj mag.
oh how different things could have been. what if visionquest hadn’t been looking to start a new label? what if matteo and karm hadn’t dropped out of business and law school within weeks of each other? what if seth troxler hadn’t been so typically warm and friendly at a gig in italy? no underground electronic pop revolution, that’s what. probably.
if you’re familiar with the term, you know the music it entails. if you aren’t, mention of benoit & sergio, pillow talk and footprintz in the same sentence will surely ensure your penny drops: they are all acts who have focussed on proper verses, real vocals, choruses, bridges and all the rest of the things you’d expect of easy-access popular music, but fused onto deep electronic basslines and groove-laden percussive lines. it’s been the sound of the last twelve months or so, frankly, and looks set to define the year ahead in much the same way.
at the heart of it all is milanese duo tale of us. initially though, this young twenty-something pair – despite already being friends – were individually focused on making raw tech house, minimal and electroclash variously influenced by the likes of luciano, superpitcher and miss kitten. between them, they even released on barraca music and the odd cocoon compilation.
“the tech house i was shit at making” laughs matteo milleri, the half of the duo we speak to as he recovers from flu at home whilst carmine ‘karm’ conte honours dates in south america. “i had some really bad releases. they got played but were nothing that would ever change our careers. but we had this other project going at the same time that we worked on together. we saw it more as the project we used to relax, we loved it but didn’t see it as part of tale of us as we didn’t think it was what people wanted. we were just making music inspired by pop music, soundtracks, films… not stuff to be released on a dance label.”
the all-important eureka moment came courtesy of aforementioned visionquest man, seth troxler.
“i went to see someone from the tech house scene in italy. i didn’t know about seth so much. i knew about the new detroit wave, but not much more. he was really impressive though, and we managed to chat. he was really nice and out-going as he is, so we swapped skype details and a few weeks later i sent him this rough track that karm had made. it was ‘dark song’ but in two three-minute parts. he said ‘oh this is amazing’ and so i said ‘oh shit, ok, i’m going to produce it into a proper thing.’”
once finished, the duo was keen to release the hymnal electronic lullaby themselves. ever draconian distributors weren’t too keen on the idea, though, as the underground pop revolution was still but a glint in visionquest’s eye. as such, the track went back to seth once more.
“a few days later he said ‘i’m starting a label with some guys [lee curtiss, shaun reeves and ryan crosson] and really want to put this out.’”
that was eighteen months ago, the track was put out as part of the dark song ep as the visionquest label’s third offering last may, and is one of only a few releases the pair have offered to date. despite that, there have been shows at sonar, demf and the wmc, the pair now have 25, 000 fans on facebook and are well celebrated for their string of killer remixes, from kompakt’s gus gus to rock band who made who via, most notably, thugfucker’s ‘disco gnome’ which was released on their own (fast-rising, indie leaning and italian answer to crosstown rebels) life and death label. remixes aside, why are there so few tale of us productions in the world?
“we have 100 unreleased tracks finished now” laughs matteo. “but we’re never that sure about our own stuff. also, it sometimes feels like the time isn’t right. a lot of it is dark atmospheric soundtrack stuff – stuff people might not expect just yet.”
given the intimacy and emotional values of tale of us, the world is naturally keen to hear a full-length work from the pair. when it will land, though, is a perennially unknown date. but that’s a good thing, as cashing in would be all too obvious and easy, where matteo and karm are much more about getting things right.
“we’re not just going to do one because people want one – we want it to be breathtaking. it will be made up of all new, not yet made tracks and is taking extra time as we are trying to tie it in with proper live performance. we have to be true to ourselves as well as the fans. we like the remixes, sure, but they are about a moment in time. they are a compromise between our ideas with landscapes and this new groovy, deep bassline thing. ”
to date, the duo’s appearances in clubs have been defined by playing records rather than instruments. it’s been an exhausting and endless rise to the top, and one best exemplified by matteo’s standout memory of the twelve months: only a year after visiting one of berlin’s most venerated clubs as punters, tale of us were booked to play the place, despite their mo being quite different to the place’s usual deep house diet.
“we played panorama bar for the komapkt night. when i fist went i dreamt of how amazing it would be to play such a sacred place. then we did. we spun our own stuff, which was risky and eclectic, but they loved it and we’ve since been booked again. it was amazing but now we’re looking forward to snowbombing. we are very curious because we’ve never been there before [despite the facts matteo has been a competitive skier in the past and karm is “really into snowboarding”]. many friends told us it’s a great event so we will see what sort of set we work out – it changes all the time so who knows what will happen in the mountains.“
‘something eclectic’ is surely a safe bet, with past sets taking in everything from enchanting soundscape sonics to moody dub via bass-house fusions of the sort midland and martyn have perfected in recent times. “we like the atmosphere and the trip dubsteppy stuff makes for” says matteo. “it’s less in your face.”
atmosphere, story telling, feeling; these are all descriptions befitting the tale of us sound, and it’s obvious why. despite being born in nyc and toronto by chance, matteo and karm are italians at heart, with italian family, and italian roots.
“of course it has an influence. listening to italian music growing up – it’s glorious and epic, you know, you can really feel it inside your head and your heart.”
combine that with the melancholy of joy division and new order, which matteo also cites, plus the filmic nature of the soundtracks (“stuff like the godfather, the good, the bad and the ugly”) karm has reportedly always loved, and you have the nucleus of sound from which tale of us has grown. but what does the pair think of the gothic house tag oft assigned to them.
“i don’t know… maybe i like it” muses matteo. “for sure it’s not where we’re going, but for what we have done up to now, it’s not so bad. any genre really though – with inputs and plug-ins nowadays – it’s bull shit. it’s just music.”
it is just music, but music of the sort made by tale of us feels like, and means, so much more.
karm’s top 5 movies
babel – the beautiful story and the original soundtrack from santaoalla and ryuichi sakamoto are both unforgettable
dark city – one of the best movies ever! the final scene shook us big time
la leggenda del pianista sul l’oceano – piano lessons for everyone…music on the sea…a lot of inspiration for us…could watch it 10,0000 and it’s 3 hours! love it!
four rooms – one night, nye, 4 floors of a crazy hotel, 4 different rooms. that’s our secret wish when we go to a hotel. beautiful tarantino piece of modern art.
collateral – no film explains the night like this. soft lights, intense discourses and all in one night… super and again, the original soundtrack wooooooaaaa!!