DJ Mano le Tough: 'Longest set I’d do? Eight or 10 hours'
The Irish DJ is one of the most in-demand house acts around. So why is he giving up on the album format?
DJs Mano Le Tough and Solomun perform during the BPM 2016 at Martina Beach Club in January 2016 in Playa del Carmen, Mexico. Photograph: Victor Chavez/WireImage
Mano le Tough likes to play long. “Not crazy long, though,” he assures me. “The longest set I’d routinely do would be eight or 10 hours.” Although Ireland’s licensing laws will leave him shy of the 10-hour mark this time, the Wicklow native is excited to play his first Dublin all-nighter when he comes to District 8 on April 1st.
At such length, does it get hard to avoid repeating tracks? “You end up thinking the opposite. You find yourself thinking, I can’t believe I didn’t play that. It could be one of your favourite tracks of the moment and you realise afterward that in 10 hours you never thought to play it.”
When he left Ireland in 2007, Niall Mannion was a budding DJ and producer with a few tracks garnering interest on MySpace. A decade on, Mano le Tough is playing more than 100 gigs each year. The past decade has seen him release two albums, found a record label called Maeve with fellow Irish house producer The Drifter, and put out a bevvy of tracks and remixes for the likes of Róisín Murphy and Caribou. He’s also proven a familiar sight on dance music institution Boiler Room, where the combination of his height, game-face, and the skewed perspective caused by an upward-facing camera, lend him a mild resemblance to Michael Collins standing on a stepladder.
It always seems like you’ve come from nowhere when, actually, you’ve been working your arse off for years.
In 2016, he played to an audience of around 300,000 people and he is a consistent presence on Resident Advisor’s prestigious Top 100 DJ poll.
Rakish and twinkly eyed about most things, Mano is modestly evasive on the subject of all this success, although he freely admits things were pretty different 10 years ago. “It was fairly meagre when I first got to Berlin. I was working in an Irish pub, actually a couple of different pubs, and running small parties with friends.” Was his faith in the move ever tested? “Every Tuesday, basically,” he says laughing. “There were times I just thought, God what am I doing? But then I started getting booked for gigs, and had a few remixes I’d done come out. Other DJs started playing my tracks and it took off.”
His ascent wasn’t as meteoric as it may seem in hindsight. “It always seems a lot steeper from the outside, like you’ve come from nowhere when, actually, you’ve been working your arse off for years. But 2012 is when things really started to speed up, when I started doing over 100 gigs a year, and released my first album.”
That album, Changing Days, was followed by 2015’s Trails. Although he’s tinkering around with ideas for a third, Mano says his relationship with the LP as a format has altered. “With albums I think I’ve always felt compelled to do them rather than having really wanted to. There’s a lot of things wrapped up in it. I like doing a ‘big record’, but that’s just not how people absorb music any more, myself included; now it’s clicking through tracks. I try and think of that type of listener – would I actually put this on, would I actually listen to it like this? – rather than making a record just because I want to fulfil something inside myself.”
There are so many bands that release their second album and completely screw themselves. Now, hopefully I’ve matured a lot.
So does this imagined listener change if they’re in a club or in their house, on a train, or washing the dishes? “Yeah, I try to imagine that stuff, that’s the difficulty of being an artist whose main focus is club music. I grew up listening to albums, they were the cultural currency, the touchstones. But now, the only time I really listen to albums the whole way through is on my phone when I’m travelling.”
Ideas kicking around
Despite all this, he does have a few ideas kicking around for number three. “I just feel compelled to, it’s not because I want to. In fact, after Trails, I said I’d never do another one because it didn’t go as well as I wanted it. I rushed the whole thing. I should have just stepped back and given it more time.”
Mano thinks a combination of pressure and burnout contributed to this effect. “Luckily I’ve a DJ career where it’s every week it’s new to people anyway, but with bands it’s so difficult. There are so many bands that release their second album and completely screw themselves. Now, hopefully I’ve matured a lot. I learned a lot, but it also hurt a lot because I messed it up myself.”
Mano left Berlin a few years ago, and now lives in picturesque Meilen in Zurich. It’s a place that has a pristine, toy-set kind of beauty, filled with artfully symmetrical homes looking out on to still, stately Lake Zurich. It’s the sort of setting that would be perfect for a torrid affair between two amorous statisticians. My initial hunch that he’d moved to get some peace from the maelstrom of Berlin is heartily debunked. “We left because my girlfriend moved back to Switzerland. It wasn’t about getting away to somewhere more relaxing or anything.”
So no plans to slow down any time soon? “I did more than 120 gigs last year, which can be tough, but every year you get slightly better with that kind of schedule. Last year was the first where I was actually grand by year’s end. Every previous year I genuinely felt I was going insane by December. In 2016, I made sure I had more breaks from intense periods and planned that time better.
“It can all become a distraction from the things that got you to where you are in the first place, which is making music that you believe in and delivering at every show. In the last year or so, I’ve really learned to enjoy the process and not worry about what’s around the corner so much.”
Mano Le Tough plays All Night Long at District 8 on Saturday, April 1st