The German house and techno producer returns to Crosstown Rebels with a three-track EP and gets collared for an iDJ interview for his trouble…
Hailing originally from Frankfurt but now based in Berlin, Emanuel Satie – real name Emanuel Menzel – has been in the business of releasing records for a full decade now. But it wasn't until the mid-2010s that he really burst onto the international scene with a string of releases on Get Physical, Moon Harbour, Saved, DFTD and Crosstown Rebels.
The spotlight has remained fixed on him ever since, with the list of acclaimed labels his music has appeared on growing every month (you can add to above the likes of Cocoon, VIVa Music, Watergate, Toolroom, Rebirth, Knee Deep In Sound and more) and numerous Beatport #1's to his name.
Signed to the Cocoon DJ agency and straddling the worlds of house and techno with ease, Satie's place at electronic music's top table looks to be assured for some time to come. Most recently, he returned to Crosstown Rebels with the Personal Liberation EP, which came out last week and which once again features regular collaborator Nanghiti on vocals.
And that seemed as good a reason as any to find more…
As you haven't appeared in iDJ before, can you start by telling us a little bit about your musical background and how you came to be playing/making electronic music in the first place?
“Hey first of all, thanks for having me! About my background, I always had a musical leaning, first it was dabbling in several instruments as a child – cello, piano, bass guitar – and later on as a teenager I was writing rap songs and recording and performing at an early age even. I wasn't particularly interested in electronic music at that time: I liked Daft Punk and more song-based tracks, but didn't really fall in love with it until I started going to night clubs. Once I did. however, I became obsessed with the music.
"By the time I was 20 or so, I was spending all my weekends in clubs, completely sober, just to listen to this new strange sound. At that time it was minimal, but also electro-house, disco-house etc everywhere. We used to go to several clubs a night checking out DJs, and wouldn't return home until even the last afterhours spot had closed.
"From there, it was only a logical conclusion to also get involved in playing and making the music I loved so much. It became quite clear to me at the time that I wanted to dedicate my life to music, and I started to pursuit my dream, which eventually paid off.”
To me, the music you make (and play) has elements of both house and techno – without being 'tech-house' – and leans strongly towards the progressive/melodic end of both spectra. But how do YOU describe it?
“I think your description is quite on-point, actually. I was always drawn to make music that had the energy of techno, especially in the low end – I just love those massive techno bass frequencies. At the same time I always have the need to put musical and catchy lead elements in there, be it vocals, pianos, classical instruments, this is what makes it house.
“I wouldn't say my music is progressive, but I'm getting more and more into synthesis which makes my music more electronic and definitely I love melodic elements. I like playing tracks that are just a groove, but when it comes to making them, I prefer tracks that catch me emotionally.”
Is there a difference between the music you make and the music you play and if so, what might that be?
“I play a pretty eclectic sound, I love to start in one place and end up somewhere else and take people on a journey. So along that journey, there will be stuff that I would not produce myself, of course. For example I play a lot of 80s-influenced stuff at the moment because there are so many good productions in that style coming out at the moment, however I probably wouldn't produce that sound, because my personal influences come from somewhere else. It's the same with other styles during my set.”
A few months ago you put out a re-edit of The Man With The Red Face. It's a brave producer who takes on such a well-loved tune! What has the response been like to that, and have you had any feedback from M. Garnier himself?
“Yes indeed, the original is untouchable. I made that edit around four years ago: I was just having some fun in the studio, trying to see if I could recreate some of the sounds and melodies from the original track, and in the end I had a full blown remake that was a modern interpretation for my sets. I played the track in my shows everywhere that summer and some colleagues started playing it at DC 10 and elsewhere, so videos started circulating the net creating some buzz, and lots of people started asking about the edit.
“We sent it to Laurent to see if we could get an official release, he liked the track but his team had other plans. So at the end of the season I decided to upload the track to Soundcloud so people could at least listen to it. Over the years I received non-stop messages that people would like to download it, even offered me money, but I didn't feel it was the right thing to do. Then after Covid struck, I was thinking about what I could do to spread some positivity and lift people's mood. So around Christmas I did several giveaways: a day in the studio with me, some vinyl, an original track from my vaults – and the Laurent edit.”
Listening through recent releases, one that really stands out for me is Forever More with that very distinctive folk-y vocal. What can you tell us about the genesis of that tune?
“Nanghiti, who did the vocals, is a regular collaborator of mine. One day we were hanging out in the studio, talking about music and what inspires us at the moment, and we both discovered that we were into choral music at that time, which was a weird coincidence.
“So we sat there and played each other choir music from the Middle Ages and were just vibing, and Nanghiti came up with this line about 'I want to feel again' and recorded these gorgeous harmonies to it. It was during the first lockdown here in Europe, after a long, hard Berlin winter, and I could 100% relate to what she meant and I think a lot of people can with this song.”
Your music has come out on some very respected labels including the likes of Cocoon, Moon Harbour, Get Physical, Watergate, Saved, Defected and of course Crosstown Rebels. Was there any one of those that was a particular 'pinch yourself!' moment for you?
“Every one of those labels was a 'pinch me' moment at the time! I only send out music to labels that I truly admire, so making it onto those labels is always a moment for me. But Crosstown Rebels was a special one because it was during a time where I tried some new things in my music, which was a time of vulnerability. So Damian Lazarus' stamp of approval gave me a sign I was on the right track.
“Another huge one for me was Cocoon. Sven Väth and Cocoon are probably the most important influence on me as a DJ, it was them who made me fall in love with techno through their parties, clubs and festivals. When I was a young raver I even had an internship at the label – I was the guy setting up the social media posts and helping out everywhere. So arriving on the label as an artist was a full circle moment and a dream come true.”
We're talking today because of the Personal Liberation EP, so talk us through the tracks on there – you've got to review them for our readers, one sentence per track. Go!
“Personal Liberation is the title track, it features Nanghiti again with a spoken word vocal and a wall of synths and string sounds. The other day somebody commented under the track 'If hope was a song…' and that really hit the nail on the head for me personally. The vocals are spoken in a demanding, dominatrix way but they basically just want the best for you, telling you to liberate yourself.
“The second track, The Keys To Jupiter, is one I made with the pianist Niko Haropoulos from Australia. He recorded these gorgeous keys for me that evolve over the whole track. The track is about the contrast between the thick beats and synths and the light and gorgeous piano. And the third track is Somewhere Else In Time. an electro-ish track that meets an orchestra, with a vocoder vocal by the one and only Carl Sagan.”
The end of lockdown is in sight here in the UK, but I gather in Germany restrictions are being reimposed… as most iDJ readers are in the UK and US, can you give us a quick outline of where things are at right now where you are, re: clubs & festivals re-opening and so on?
“It's not looking good at the moment, the EU and Germany have made severe mistakes in organising the vaccines, the roll out is too slow and supply is not enough, so it looks like we are getting into a third wave that's gonna be more intense than the previous ones.
“I hope we can pick up the tempo in vaccinations fast. I'm sure there are going to be smaller open airs in the summer in Germany, similar to last year, but at the moment we are focusing on putting together tours in countries that are further ahead with their vaccination programs, like the UK, Israel etc.”
Where do you stand on that personally: are you dying to get back out there ASAP, or are you on the side of caution?
“I'm dying to get out there again now. I had a very productive and positive 2020, I understand the measures that are taken and I follow the rules, but we are doing this since one year now, I'm starting to get impatient and just want to be able to do what I love doing most, making people happy on dancefloors.”
And how's lockdown been treating you generally? Some people have talked about increased productivity, others have struggled badly with mental health and/or motivation. How's it been for you?
“I'm lucky, I can count myself to the first group. I've been in the studio a lot, reading a lot, exercising, educating myself. Of course there have been moments of doubt and fear, especially in the beginning of the pandemic, when the rug is just swept away under your feet and your main income disappears, you are facing existential fears. But having overcome this situation has given me a confidence and calm that I didn't have before. I feel like if I can do this, I can overcome everything. I guess that's a positive.”
It's been 10 years since you started making records, and five years since you really started getting some traction… most people start out simply giving it a go but are you getting to a stage, now, where this actually feels like a long-term career? And have your family/friends stopped asking when you're going to “get a proper job” yet? :-)
“I have to say I never got this question: I guess I was so passionate and full of conviction that the people around me never dared to doubt me, ha ha! I always treated this as a long-term career, that was the plan already when I was starting out, and I'm happy it manifested that way.”
Finally, what else is going on for you right now that iDJ readers need to know about?
“As you know I just released my Personal Liberation EP on Crosstown Rebels, one month earlier I released a track called Departure on Cocoon's 20th anniversary compilation, and at the moment I'm finishing another two EPs for favourite labels of mine, which I'm very excited about. I also have some remixes and collaborations lined up.
“But most importantly, my own label is set for launch soon. It's going to be a conceptual label that tells a story with each release and artwork, and aims to transport you into a different world.”
Words: Russell Deeks
The Personal Liberation EP (feat. Nanghiti) is out now on Crosstown Rebels – buy it here.
Tags: Emanuel Satie, Crosstown Rebels, Cocoon, Damian Lazarus, Sven Väth, Get Physical, Moon Harbour, Saved, DFTD, VIVa Music, Watergate, Toolroom, Rebirth, Knee Deep In Sound, house, techno, progressive house