Of all the enigmatic talent that reliably emerges from Life and Death releases, label co-founder DJ Tennis most frequently escapes easy categorization. Tennis, born Manfredi Romano, leads a life full of dualities. Splitting his time between Miami and Berlin, Romano finds time to score films and operates as a one man A&R for the label he co-founded with Thugfucker’s Greg Oreck and Tale of Us’ Matteo Milleri.
Since its inception in 2010, the label has proven to be at once Bacchanalian and stoic, focused both on indelible talent and a pop music acumen. The imprint’s latest release is four-song EP from Tennis appropriately titled Divisions/Chirality.
The roster of talent that appears on this release is as varied as Romano’s inspirations. Violinist Sophie Trudeau of Godspeed You! Black Emperor fame and Danish vocalist Jeppe Kjellberg join techno pioneer Roman Flügel and the UK duo Plaid for an eclectic cross-section of the producer’s current headspace. It’s difficult to imagine anyone else drawing from such a nuanced pool of talent and successfully avoiding schizophrenic results.
As a whole, the four songs span a staggering variety and show the mysterious producer probing at the dichotomies that define him. Romano’s “Chirality,” for instance, seems as though it could be equally well-received in both a pitch black warehouse party and behind a discerning nightclub’s crushed velvet ropes. An exercise in the murky depths of pop music while still commanding a dance floor, Romano’s Ultravox-loving chops are on full display here. For a foil, he offers the ascendant orchestrations of the Plaid rework.
The UK based duo cut and paste the original driving tech house beat into a spiky, undulating IDM thought piece. The darkness of the original still remains, but is teased out to match the cinematic suspense of a Carpenter film.
The gem of the EP is “Divisions,” where Romano allows himself to go fully weird. Jeppe Kjellberg slurs paranoid quips about looking over his shoulders and having seen the writing on the wall. At its best, the track commands complicity from listeners who occupy the uncomfortable sonic space of a stalker situated just behind Kjellberg as he looks back.
Again, Romano shows us the other side of the coin in Flügel’s remix, which occupies territory nearer a Maceo Plex Boiler Room set than the cinematic and complex original.
Ultimately, Life and Death’s latest release is a welcome antidote to the thin, underworked releases spewing from the annuls of EDM’s major players. The the motifs of duality and divisiveness are fleshed out from the label down to the tracks themselves. Every piece of the four track release is intentional.
Both Romano and the label he helms seem determined to tease and explore the perceived dichotomy between quality work and popular music, always asking, “can this occupy both spaces?” On Divisions/Chirality, Romano answers his own question with a resounding yes.
Divisions/Chirality is available now via Life and Death on Beatport.