Tim Penner is the kind of DJ /producer we all wish we could be. Whether its house, techno or progressive, Tim has the kind of skills many of us dream about to seamlessly blend and mutate sounds to his will. He started making music in his early 20s and now some 13 years later he has a string of high profile tracks and remixes on a number of top quality labels, plus his own label Konstruct Music. Konstruct is different to many labels these days, in so much as both Tim and label partner DNYO run it with an old school mentality of quality over quantity. To that end, the tracks being released are of an amazing standard and act as a staging post for what a small indie label should be aiming for to become respected in this industry. We caught up with Tim recently to ask him about his life, his goals and his aspirations.
Hi Tim, thanks for finding the time to chat. So lets get right to it! I understand you have a day job, so how do you balance that with the demands of a flourishing music career and a busy record label?
Work/Life balance is one of the hardest things for anyone when they’re being pulled in multiple directions, especially when passion is in the mix. I’ve struggled for many years to try to find the perfect blend of both worlds and it’s not an easy task when there are only so many hours in a day. Prioritizing and time-management has become a big factor in delivering music I’m satisfied with. Creative people generally don’t work well in an orderly environment, but I think it’s necessary to be successful. It’s so easy after a long, tiring day to come home and ignore the other responsibilities that are screaming at you to be done. For me, I’d rather dive into new music than watch something on TV.
Foremost I know of your work as a producer. Whats your favourite piece of hard ware? What makes it so good and how did you come to own it?
I came across two rack mount Waldorf synths many years ago. I bought both of them for a ridiculously low price from a young producer that wanted to buy something else. At the time, I really didn’t know what I was getting into, so they sat unused in my basement for a few years collecting dust. Once I became more familiar with my DAW, MIDI, and general production techniques, I decided to pull them out and start to use them. Wow… when I pressed the first key, I knew I had been missing out. My studio filled with one of the warmest pads I’d ever heard. There really isn’t anything like the sound you get with real hardware!
What are your thoughts on DAWs. Is there one that’s better than the others? Do you use more than one for your productions?
I wouldn’t say one is better than another. I think everyone’s brain works differently and can be paired with one piece of software or another. For me, I had tried a few different DAWs, but the first time I started using Ableton, it just felt natural. Everything seemed to make sense a bit more to me and I haven’t really used anything else since.
Remembering back to when you started producing, what was the one thing you learned making music which improved your workflow the most?
The single most important lesson I learned was how to create space for the sound to do its thing. Every single note, effect, and percussive hit should have a purpose. If it doesn’t add to the natural flow and groove of the track, get rid of it. Seemingly complex music is quite simple at the heart if you can focus your attention on the right sounds rather than more sounds.
You’re renowned for your sound design. What tools do you use to create your soundscapes and where does your ideas come from?
Well thanks! That’s cool to hear. I enjoy making them and they’ve always seemed to come naturally to me. Even before I knew how to make decent percussion or a proper bass line atmospheric sounds seemed to flow quite easily. Layering and reprocessing sounds through simple compressors, reverb, and effects has taken my sound design to another level in the last couple years. Some of the craziest sounds may be the result of 6-10 layers being cut, resampled, and rendered into something new. It can be tedious and painstaking, but the end justifies the means. It doesn’t really take any fancy plug-ins to create mind-blowing sounds. Just using a bit of ingenuity and creativity will help you to destroy sound and recreate it as something new.
You’ve collaborated in projects with a number of people, but its your vocal projects I’d like to focus on. Namely ‘Forgive Me’ with Amber Long. Firstly how did you guys meet and secondly, what’s your process for recording and treating vocals?
How I met Amber is a pretty interesting story. I received a tweet from her a couple years back stating that we had never met or spoken before but she felt compelled to look me up and contact me. Turns out we lived in the same city! Once I had heard her vocals, the rest is history. ‘Forgive Me’ was a turning point for both of us in our would-be careers and marked a new chapter for me in how I approached music production from the ground up.
Most of the vocals I use in my music are very highly processed and twisted with effects. But with Amber’s voice, I’m able to really leave them clean and pure. She has this… “thing”… this “sound” in her voice that needs to be left untouched. Its natural and pure. I can’t explain it, but it cuts right to the bone in such a unique way. Besides that, she’s such an incredible person and one of the hardest working people I know.
Do you remember your first gig outside your home town? Where was it and what happened?
I was booked to play at one of Toronto’s biggest clubs many years ago. I had the amazing opportunity to open for Cosmic Gate at a club called Viva. What an incredible experience! I’m pretty sure I had an Eminem/8 Mile moment back stage before I came out. I stood in front of about 1600 people with my hands shaking so much I couldn’t even align the needle to the record I was trying to play. Once I had finally found the play button and the music played out over the massive sound system, the shakes immediately went away. It was amazing to see so many people dancing to what I was playing. Once the gig was over, I was asked to come into the main office where I was asked to be a weekly resident DJ. I was later hired on as the lead event coordinator and promoter for the club.
What are your aspirations outside of music?
I think just about all of my aspirations revolve around music in one way or the other. Besides the electronic music industry, I would love to be in the film and video game industry creating soundtracks and scores.
Drugs are a large part of the music industry, whether you’re a rock star or a neon headband wearing club kid, they are ever present. Do you think a zero tolerance policy is effective or should an alternative be sought?
I believe people will do what people want to do. Drugs (including alcohol) will always be a part of the industry, but rather than fighting against it, we should be trying to educate people so that whatever decisions they make are based on their knowledge of the real facts.
Sample loops I understand are an irritation of yours. Surely they are a good starting block for a new producer eager to cut his teeth?
I believe the best starting block for a new producer is learning how to use and manipulate sounds in an effective way to strengthen their productions. Sample loops (especially percussion) can very easily become a crutch to so many people that they eventually lose sight of why they got into the industry to begin with. These days it seems to be more about the race to get tracks out on labels and less about creating beautiful and moving music. I say if you’re serious about making it in the music industry, take the time to learn the science and art to push the boundaries, rather than finding ways to skip the line with someone else’s work. With that said, there are many people out there that can take these same loops, destroy them, recut, reprocess, recreate and reinvent them in a completely unique way… and THAT is an amazing principle that our industry was founded on.
Classic Trance was the starting point for many of us on our dance music journeys. I understand for you that defining track was the excellent Ferry Corsten remix of Art of Trance – Madagascar. What was it about the track which flicked a switch in your head and if you can remember, where were you the first time you heard it?
Yeah absolutely! That song holds a special place in my heart. The first time I heard that track was when I saw Art of Trance and the entire Platypus Sound system play live at my first rave in ’98 (which I believe was Destiny 31). The event was held in a secret underground parking garage in Toronto and I really had no idea what I was witnessing. Picture the guys from the label playing on drum machines and synths before our eyes. I know I couldn’t appreciate what they were doing, but I do know that when the break down of Madagascar rang out over the crowd into my little virgin trance ears, I heard something truly amazing. I heard electronic music for the first time and I knew I had found where I needed to be.
Is it a track you would ever want to re-edit/remix? What do you think about the phenomena of re-editing famous tracks?
I’ve certainly thought about it. But to me remixing or editing a legendary classic is kinda like a vocalist trying to do a Whitney Houston cover of ‘I Will Always Love You’. If you’re gonna do it, it’d better be f’ing incredible… otherwise it’s simply an insult to the original work.
Finally, can you tell us about whats in the pipeline for 2014?
Ah so much cool stuff is coming up in 2014! I just signed an original piece with Hernan Cattaneo’s label Sudbeat for their upcoming compilation. Also, I recently finished a remix for Oliver Lieb’s track ‘Dark Energy’. And yesterday I sent off my second EP for Proton called ‘The Tunnel’. You will also see a couple more remixes coming out on some great up and coming labels. Between projects, I’ll be focusing a lot of energy into Konstrukt. We are focusing on a much darker, more techno side this year and are excited to showcase some incredible work from some amazing artists. You should see the label picking up some speed in the coming weeks and months. It’s been an exciting year so far and I can’t see where it all leads by 2015 and beyond!
01// Joeski – Psychadelic Music (Original Mix)
02// Enrico Sangiuliano – Old Spirals (Original Mix)
03// Andre Winter – Congrats
04// Lo Hype – Route 303 (Bonus Beats)
05// Andrei Morant – Density (Original Mix)
06// Roberto Clementi – When You (Original Mix)
07// Benjamin Damage – 010x (Truncate Remix)
08// Psyk – Eclipse
09// Genius Spark – Forever (Tim Penner Remix)
10// Spektre – Skuz (Original Club Mix)
11// Alan Fitzpatrick – The Tetra (Original Mix)
12// Noze – Dring Dring Ft Riva Starr (Thomas Schumacher Remix)
13// Paride Sarceni – Do The Move (Original Mix)
14// Locomatica – Pomegranate (Original Mix)
15// Matt Sassari – Eisenheim (Whyt Noyz Remix)
16// Leghau – Rain (Mark Broom Remix)
17// Tommy Four Seven – Surma
18// Oliver Huntemann – Rikarda (Original Mix)
19// Joseph Capriati – Basic Elements
20// Adrian Hour – Black Space (Gabriel D’Or & Bordoy Remix)
21// Enrico Sangiuliano – Alleanza Capernoited (Jewel Kid Rework)
22// Filterheadz – We Can Take It Anywhere (Original Mix)
23// Gabriel D’Or & Bordoy – Har 21 (Original Mix)
24// David Granha – The Weird Bass (Tim Penner Remix)
25// Dousk – Jit Jit (Tim Penner Remix)
26// Tim Penner – Strange (Original Mix)
27// Tim Penner – Exit Me (Original Mix)