It’s a few weeks before Manni Dee’s new album drops on Perc Trax, when DJ Mag speaks to the London-based producer and DJ. Following his debut album ‘The Residue’ on Tresor in 2018, ‘A Low Level Love’ on Perc’s imprint is the 11-track product of a year-long lockdown.
“It’s been quite a revelatory time for me because the pandemic coincided with writing the album, and being the more authentic version of myself, rather than just playing techno,” says Manni. “I don’t listen to techno on a day-to-day basis; mainly hip-hop and R&B, like the music I grew up on. I’ve been listening to a lot of UK stuff as well recently; some drill, but not too much, because it’s a bit like techno: it just starts to sound the same.”
Perc Trax describes two tunes on the album — ‘No More Heroes’ and ‘You Don’t Always Get What You Want’ — as “Manni at his most melodic and introspective”. This may seem unusual for those who associate him with hammering out techno at Corsica Studios and Warehouse Elementenstraat. However, Manni’s musical roots in the genre do not trace back to “taking my first pill at a rave or anything like that”, but at home in Wolverhampton.
“I was making hip-hop from when I was about 14. I got Making Waves, a really weird and obscure programme, and then I got into Fruity Loops,” he recalls. Manni convinced his mum to buy turntables and a mixer, before recording a 20-minute mix onto a cassette. “I sent it to my friend at school who knew some people at pirate radio. My mate used to play grime and I played hip-hop, so we had a show together.”
It wasn’t until Manni went to Dudley College to study Music Practice that he was pushed to explore sounds beyond hip-hop — if only out of necessity. “I was the only hip-hop kid on the course, so I had to force myself to broaden my musical horizons in order to survive the environment.”
The Smiths acted as Manni’s method of survival and introduction to indie. “My mate played ‘This Charming Man’ one time and I was like, ‘Oh, this is alright actually’,” he says. “Then I started a band and went to uni in Brighton to study music, and the band broke up. I used to play guitar and keys and do a bit of singing. I wasn’t great but it was cool. We were really influenced by Pharrell’s band N.E.R.D, and Outkast too.”
Through a tutor at Brighton University, Manni tentatively began to explore electronic music. “It started with wonky hip-hop. Then through Flying Lotus, I got into Hudson Mohawke, which led to old dubstep stuff through to UK influences, and that led to techno.”
Manni released his first techno EP in 2014, on the now-defunct Black Sun Records. “I locked myself away, honed in on my sound and sent them an email. They had just released Blawan’s EP, Sunil Sharpe too. They were a really good label. They said they wanted to release three of my tracks, and I just thought, ‘Sick! That’s so cool’.” Manni released a follow-up EP on the label, which proved pivotal in his trajectory.
“I saw Perc playing one of my tracks from those releases on Twitter, so I just messaged him and sent him some demos.”
It would be the beginning of a long-running relationship with Perc Trax. Manni debuted on the imprint in 2017 with the 12” ‘Throbs Of Discontent’, followed by last year’s ‘Everyone’s Replaceable Now’ EP, and ‘Gulabi Gang’ on the ‘Forever’ V/A. These productions catapulted Manni onto the global circuit, earning him a staunch following who aligned him with industrial techno.
Things changed when COVID-19 swept across the world in March 2020. “I felt very detached from techno as soon as the clubs closed. Not months later — as soon as they closed,” explains Manni. But the closures didn’t block his creative flow. Having broached the idea of producing an album on Perc Trax in January 2020, he pushed ahead with the project.
“The pause helped me focus on what I wanted to do,” says Manni. “I was making and sending tracks to Ali [Wells, Perc] and he was giving me feedback on them. There was a lot of back and forth — he’s very open to what the artist wants to do. The music I go back to is the music that resonates with me on an emotional level. So I said to him, ‘I wanna make something that’s more musical’. And with Ali encouraging me to break new ground, it was the perfect symbiosis to push things forward.”
‘A Low Level Love’ is still techno, at times, but stripped back. It primarily showcases Manni’s flair for merging electronic and live sounds, and working with artists from far outside the world of 4/4 bangers.
“I wanted to incorporate a lot of live instrumentation,” he says, “because I thought that would be a cool way to push my sound forward, as I didn’t come to techno from a traditional angle.” Tom Cohen features under the alias Sylph on the opening track ‘Persist & Change’, which was touch-and-go at one point — “I booked a two-hour session in Pirate Studios, and Tom was an hour-and-45-minutes late! But we got the vocals done in six minutes.”
Old friends from Manni’s Brighton days are also included: bassist Jonny Wildey, harpist Emma Gatrill, and a mutual connection, drummer Max Hallett from psychedelic jazz-rock band, The Comet Is Coming. Feeling a need to pay homage to the original London acid crew, Manni asked Chris Liberator to record vocals for ‘London In My System'; the track doubles as a nod to artists who “don’t always get the credit they deserve”.
Though Manni felt a lack of enthusiasm for producing techno throughout the pandemic — something he says was partially fuelled by the influence algorithm-based platforms like Instagram have on the genre — announcing the album in May obliterated any concerns about making music beyond what he’s classically been known for.
“I’m really proud of the album,” he enthuses. “Before it was announced, I was feeling quite cynical about techno. I still am now. I was confused about the genre, and not really sure what I was going to do about it next. But having the album out there has really helped, because it’s so personal — I think it’s given [me an] identity back that I was maybe on the fringe of losing prior to the announcement.”
Manni isn’t hesitating when DJ bookings begin to take shape again either. He has an album launch party booked for 27th August at East London’s Space 289 with Anabel Arroyo, Lockhart, Flora Yin Wong and a special guest, and it’s likely he’ll be back on hard techno line-ups elsewhere too. “I do want to go back to it, and I think it’s necessary for me in order to restore my faith in the genre,” he says. “Techno is all about people in a room vibing off the same music, and that energy you get is like nothing else. It’s such an incredible feeling; I’m excited to go back to that.”
Listen to Manni Dee's On Cue mix below.