An interview with Radioactive Man

© Photography by Khris Cowley for Here & Now (fb.com/wearehereandnow)

Longevity as an electronic artist is a brilliant thing, and Keith Tenniswood – better known as Radioactive Man – would know. It must get a bit old being called a ‘veteran’, ‘pioneer’ and the like in every interview you do, but the complimentary labels are actually warranted for this influential artist who’s in part responsible for establishing modern day electro in the UK.

Back in the 90’s Tenniswood started Two Lone Swordsmen with the legendary Andrew Weatherall. The pair engineered a wealth of self-titled “machine funk”, post punk and electronica over the course of more than a decade, creatively bridging a gap between the iconic 80s that preceded them, and the saturated UK dance music landscape that would follow.

Radioactive Man‘s solo project was born in 2001, pushing out releases on Weatherall’s Rotters Golf ClubReinhardt and his own labels Control Tower and Asking for Trouble. An experienced Sound, Vinyl Cutting and Mix Engineer by trade, Tenniswood is a producer and live performer who sets the standard for going well beyond the laptop to craft complex musical creations that conform to his own creative ideals, and no one else’s. Those gloomy synth lines so intense that they’re slightly (yet brilliantly) uncomfortable to listen to, with typically electro and breakbeat rhythmic structures and squelchy finishing touches – his heavier tracks are head turners. Then there’s more low key and somber sounds which lack none of the punch or playfulness you’d expect from this bold artist.

It’s been a year since his latest release landed, so we were glad to learn of Keith’s multiple projects in the pipeline and also take a bit of a trip down memory lane.

Firstly the predictable but necessary question that you know is coming – what got you into music?

I was always around music from an early age. Both my Mum and Dad were 60’s kids who grew up through that time and were heavily into music…I was bought my first guitar aged 9 but didn’t really get into it until was about 12.
Then early 80’s the Electro /Hip Hop /Graffiti/Breakdancing culture happened and it was impossible to ignore.

It’s fair to say that most hear ‘Radioactive Man’ and their first thought is ‘electro’. You used to describe your sound as “machine funk” back in the days of working with Andrew Weatherall. What is the difference? Should people be precious with labelling music by sub-genre?

I think the real Electro sound is the sound of the 808 drum machine. We were using other sounds but it was still a very sequenced /rigid funk groove using those types of rhythms so we decided to call it machine funk. I’m not too sure about being precious, there’s so many genres and sub genre’s now, good music is good music!

What is the craziest thing you ever experienced in the 90s?

Being on acid with 3 carload’s of us going to find a rave that didn’t happen, so we turned down a country lane and found a beautiful spot to chill out…At which point a few hours later, we saw these security guys with radio’s staring at us. Then, behind them was Michael Hesseltine, the politician, showing his friends around his garden.

A classic ‘get off my land’ situation ensued, they called the police and we scarpered .. Being on acid and barely able to communicate, we weren’t sure if that had actually just happened or not.

That was one of many…

What are the pros and cons of the state of electronic music culture now Vs back in the days of Two Lone Swordsmen?

I think now it’s all about convenience making music with software. For example, back then finding a breakbeat would entail buying breakbeat sample records and or finding really rare breaks /music passages that no one else had.. Something that Andrew was exceptionally good at. But convenience doesn’t necessarily mean a good end result. Also though, I wouldn’t really want to get into a ‘it was much better back then’ type of answer as growing up now with all this music to listen to /dance to can only be a good thing…I’m just proud to have been a part of it. The rave scene in particular as it was just off the scale madness and excitement the likes of which i doubt will ever be seen again..

How does the process of crafting a track generally go for you and has it changed a lot over time? Do live guitar or bass still play a part?

Its changed for me a bit, I generally now only use the computer as a means to record and mix. I use my MPC’s and various other hardware to build/create a track, i find it a bit more interesting than staring at a computer screen. Yes I still will use live bass and guitar, especially bass, its a great way to come up with ideas and it’s just a bit looser..

I’ve read that you used to carry 30kg of kit around with you – is that still the case? What does your live setup comprise of these days?

So i use 2x Akai MPC1000’s , 1 Elektron A4, 1 Korg Electribe ESX1, a Memory Man Delay pedal and a Korg Kaos Pad 3. – Then I’ll generally have to hire/borrow a mixing desk as its too much to carry..!

Playing live obviously opens up a whole new league of possibilities for error compared to DJing – has anything disastrous ever happened to you during a performance?

Yes, but nothing too major to be honest. I used to get really pissed off with myself if I even made the slightest mistake, but then I’ve come to realise that is what makes a live set…Otherwise you may as well press play on a cd player/file.

Are you still working as a mastering and vinyl cutting engineer and mix engineer? What do those roles entail and how have they fed into your own creative projects?

Yes my day job is still cutting records and mastering, living in London has become a joke in terms of just surviving and paying the bills/rent so having this job is a real lifesaver.. Doing something using the skills I’ve learned over the years is amazing. It’s a real buzz when I make someone happy by making their music sound good, as I know and understand how much goes into making it in the first place. It also means I have to listen to a lot of music I don’t particularly like, but hey ho, every job has its good and bad side. It’s definitely helped me with my own mixing skills in terms of knowing what works on vinyl and how to make a good premaster etc.

I’m very spoiled to be sitting in front of a pair of huge ATC monitors every day, probably the best in the world..It’s also a big buzz being able to master and cut my own records, seeing it through from idea to finished article.

No solo releases from you yet in 2018…what’s on the horizon?

So I’ve been doing a fair bit of collaborating – it’s just more fun than sitting on your own. I’ve got a 6 track mini album coming in July with an old friend of mine, Suade Bergemann. We’re called Victor Valiant and its coming out on my label.

Then I’ve been working with more old mates, (let’s face it there’s nothing better than making music with friends) on a project called The Resonance Committee.

The idea was that we all get together, but not necessarily all at the same time and hold a ‘meeting’ in the studio, get intoxicated and make tunes’.. So far it’s been with Simon Brown (Dexorcist), Phil Klein (Bass Junkie), Matt Whitehead, and Phil Bolland (Sync24). It’s great fun and we’re really happy with the results. The 1st EP is out on Phil Bolland’s Cultivated Electronics label. Then there’s a further collab with Simon Lynch (London Modular) and Johnny Oakley (Monoak) called L-R. We’ve had a 4 tracker out on Null&Void records and the next one is coming out also on my label in September time.. It’s much the same deal, getting together, maybe bringing a new toy, having fun and seeing what we come up with..

Another possible collab with dBridge might happen too.. I hope so. I’d love to put out a solo album myself like once a year or something but what I’ve come to realise is I’m not in a race, and when it happens, it happens..I do have a load of live set jams which I’m going to turn into tracks soon.

As someone whose opinion will be valued by the readers of this – within electro, breakbeat or any of the genres you associate yourself with, which modern artists are getting it right at the moment in your view?

So I recently heard a track from Junq, he’s always been putting out quality, my favourite track of the moment is a previously unreleased track by Simulant called ‘Optimal Flow’. It’s on a re-release of all the Scopex label EP’s on Tresor.

The Cultivated Electronics label is consistently putting out great stuff, but then there’s a hell of a lot of good new music coming out, it wouldn’t be fair to single out too much.. But then for me it’s also about rediscovering older bits in your collection that still sound amazing.. Especially since ‘Electro’ is great again.. hahaha!:)