Drei Farben House makes house music with vocal depth and organic sounding instrumentation. He also runs the superlative Tenderpark label, which spans multiple interpretations of deep house, from Roman Rauch’s low slung, sluggish sounds to the more defined beats of Ivano Tetelepta’s Black Dynamite alias and YNK’s textured vocals. Tenderpark clearly has no shortage of talent. Read on to find out what Drei Farben House has to say about his own sound, and about the story of Tenderpark.
I would say that there’s been an evolution in terms of your sound, from As Long As It Lasts in 2005 to Choice Item last year. Do you think you’ve found your groove? Or are you still discovering the kind of music you’d like to make?
Yes, there has definitely been an evolution. When I first started making music, I didn’t use any samples at all. I sang my own vocals, made my own beats. Today this is quite different: I love to sample warm drum sounds from old 70s records and I love to sample vocals from my record collection. And still, the evolution has not come to an end; in the near future it will change again a little bit.
How would you describe the style of music that you make?
I think my music has always been fairly laid back. I wouldn’t describe it as big room music. It’s far too shy for that. I’m a pop and soul music guy. In the beginning some record labels described my music as pop house, hehe.
What would you say are your biggest musical influences? Is there any one type of sound, or “feel” that you have consciously tried to emulate?
My musical influences are really quite various. I’m a little older and I grew up with radio. Back then radio was really good. Hard to imagine nowadays. But really my biggest, biggest musical influences were the American and British charts. I’m talking about the eighties and early nineties. Back then you could hear so much good music there. Early dance music, guitar pop, soul and swingbeat, Manchester rave, indie. That’s where I got my musical education from. Back then you had really good music in the charts, not at all like today!
That’s interesting, because I wouldn’t say that your tracks are really constructed in a “poppy” sort of way, I mean you don’t really go for vocal hooks that much, and Tenderpark’s output is mostly quite introspective.
Yes, with Tenderpark it’s different. There are other artists on the label with a different background. But all the artists have a soulful vibe in common and although some of them might even hate pop music, hehe, but they all have a certain lightness in their music which is absolutely essential to Tenderpark. I consider my music as pop music with the means of house. House music with a pop background. That’s how I would describe it.
To go back to your productions, let’s talk about vocals for a minute. How do you go about finding a vocal? I’ve heard A Tribe Called Quest sampled by you and also some UKG tune I can never remember the name of. What do you look for in a vocal?
Well, some of the vocals are my own voices, but a lot of vocals come from my record collection. Soul, disco, hip-hop, dance pop… I have quite a few records and I use tiny bits from them. That’s how I pay my respect to the music that I love.
What do I look for in a vocal? Sweetness, lightness, groove, funk, soul, harmony.
Is there a particular vocalist that really does that for you?
Yes, Janet Jackson for example. Although she is not a good singer in a traditional way, her vocals have something really special and cute about them.
How do you approach making an album? You’ve had 3 goes at it. How hard do you find it to maintain a consistency over 10 tracks, compared to say, an EP of 3?
Yes, you’ve said already what I’m aiming at: I like to have a consistent sound. I think with Choice Item, my third album, I’ve really totally achieved that. I like to have different songs with different chords and lines and everything, but they all have to contribute to a bigger picture, to a consistent sound that runs through the album. Like Bernard Edwards and Nile Rodgers did with Chic and Sister Sledge. You can instantly recognize their trademark sound although the albums consist of a lot of different songs. I think the secret is using the same instruments throughout the album. That’s how they did it and that’s how I do it. I really hate these modern techno and house albums where there is no consistency at all and everything sounds totally different.
You mentioned things will change a bit in your sound in the near future. In what way?
Yes, I want to have a more live feeling in my music and I’m going to achieve that by incorporating my own bass playing into my songs. I started to learn bass guitar a while ago because that is my favourite instrument, but I want to go on playing live more and also record more of my own bass lines with variations which hopefully contributes to a more lively and natural feeling.
You’ve already said a little bit about your choice of artists on Tenderpark, can you say what the original idea was behind the label, and how you came to start it?
Well, I first started it for egoistic reasons; I was a little tired with wandering from one label to another. I was a little tired with the lack of continuity, so I started to create a base for myself. But on the other hand it was clear from the start that the label should not at all be just about me. Otherwise I could have named it Drei Farben House records. Tenderpark is supposed to be a home for the light and funky and soulful side of house music and I’m really glad I have other musicians on the label who share this idea of music.
Is Berlin a natural home for this kind of house music? Most of what we hear about Berlin in England is Berghain, Berghain, Berghain…
Ahahaha, yes, Berghain is the centre of the universe, haha. I think Berlin is a good place for house music, there are a lot of other nice house labels here, but I have to admit that Berlin has always had a massive techno scene, so techno will always be the main focus here. But I like to play the role of the opposition sometimes, hehe.
Is there anywhere else in the world that you have found the Tenderpark sound to be well received?
That’s hard to say. Germany is probably the biggest market but judging from the sales there must be some Tenderpark fans in Britain as well, which really makes me happy because I have always had an affinity with the British house scene. Back in the nineties when Germany was full of techno, I quite envied England for its big house scene. The Brits always seemed to have a better understanding for house music, or at least back then.
What is there to come from Tenderpark? Any big plans for 2014?
Yes, 2014 will be great. Coming up next in spring is a record from a new signing called Tilman. He’s a friend of YNK and his sound is deep and uplifting at the same time. After that it’s the return of Black Dynamite which I’m really looking forward to. Also, we are starting a new artwork series which moves into a new direction. Till Sperrle is the art director of Tenderpark and he has collaborated with a very good photographer named Magdalena Bichler. The artwork is quite different from now, but on the other hand Till has very much taken care that there will also be continuity to what we’ve done before. I’m excited!
Be sure to check out Drei Farben House’s Choice Item LP, released last year on Tenderpark.
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On the Tenderpark YouTube channel, you can find uploads of all their releases. Discover them for yourselves here.