FINE FEATURES: KRIS MENACE
German producer Kris Menace — famed for his huge, filtered and electro-funkin' house — has collaborated with a string of singers for his latest album 'Features'. DJ Mag finds out more…
Picture this. It’s dark. You’re in the club. The part-time ravers left ages ago. You haven’t seen your friends for at least an hour, but you know they’re still here. You’re on your own, surrounded by friendly strangers; their faces periodically illuminated by scatter-flashes from the disco lights. Then you hear a track coming in. A deep, pneumatic, silky electro-tinged bass-throb gives way to the sexy, Chicago tones of Chelonis R Jones. “I play this song when I want to scare them all, call the cops, you dial, and I’m running y’all,” he sings. “Beauty is the beginning of terror.”
You close your eyes, feel yourself lifted by the heat, the beats and the vocals. Then melody locks you in and you’re lost. It’s a perfect moment.
“I’ve always loved Chelonis’ voice,” says Kris Menace, aka 32-year-old Christoph Hoeffel, and the person who produced ‘Voodoo Dilate’, the tune Chelonis sings on.
“He’s from Chicago but he lives here in Germany. And when we recorded that track in my studio I have to admit I did get that feeling, the one I used to get when I was in a club and first heard a tune that really gripped me.”
As you might already know, the remix of ‘Voodoo Dilate’ to get your mitts on is the Spirit Catcher version. And, if you like that, you really should check out the rest of Kris’ ‘Features’ album, the long-player that includes an original version of ‘Voodoo Dilate’.
“When I made ‘Features’ I had it in mind to make a poppier-sounding album, but set within the parameters of electronic dance music,” says Kris. “And I wanted to use vocalists from within the dance music scene.” Miss Kittin, Simon Lord (of Black Ghosts fame) and Romanthony all sing on Kris’s new album, his third, out now on his own Compuphonic Records.
“It’s my homage to 1990s dance music,” says Kris. “I’ve always really loved that early dancefloor sound. That kind of European almost dance-trash vibe.”
Kris has previously made disco house under his collaborative Stars On 33 moniker. He’s released on DFA and Permanent Vacation as Black Van, put out tunes from house and techno producers from around the world on his labels Compuphonic and Work It Baby, and his own productions are played by everyone from Boys Noize to Pete Tong and Tiësto.
Kris went to his first club aged nine (his older sister was supposed to babysit, but wanted to go out, so took him too), and saw Front 242 playing live. He was producing music — for labels such as Low Spirit — and DJing by the time he turned 13. He’s ghostwritten chart-topping, No.1 hits for some of Germany’s biggest pop stars. And, back in the 1990s, Kris organized and promoted some of the biggest raves ever to take place in Germany. Around that time too, he DJed at Love Parade.
GONE PETE TONG
By 1999, aged just 20, Kris had reached what many might consider a career pinnacle. He was promoting a series of parties called Meditation, where he’d fly big British d&b DJs like Roni Size, Grooverider and DJ Rap in to play to 20,000-strong audiences. He was making money, working hard and doing what he’d always dreamed of doing. Then, just when it all seemed too-good-to-be-true, it all started going wrong.
“It all got too much,” says Kris. “I was too young. In business, you need to be tough. There was a lot of money involved, and I wasn’t as tough as I thought I was. I ended up getting ill.” Just a week before a huge rave he’d been organizing was due to happen, Kris had to go into hospital. “I wasn’t there, so I had no control of what was going on,” says Kris. “Lots of money ended up going missing.”
When Kris got out of hospital, things got worse. “I used to drive a friend of mine around to places and one day, we were driving around, and the police stopped us,” says Kris. “They found drugs on this guy — marijuana — and I got arrested for drug dealing.”
Kris was arrested in Mannheim, the small town on the French borders set within the famed Alsace wine district, where he still lives.
“Marijuana, back then, was considered as serious as heroin,” says Kris.
He was put in jail, just before his 21st birthday. His date for trial wasn’t set and, in the end, he spent 12 months in prison — on remand — until he was finally cleared of his charges. While he was in prison, his promotions business went bust.
“I lost everything,” he remembers. “It was a really bad time.”
When Kris got out of prison he had to start again. To earn money, he started ghostwriting tunes for German artists. Around that time, he started his Work It Baby record label, putting out house tunes from local artists. Then, in 2005, he co-produced a disco house tune (with Lifelike) called ‘Discopolis’, that he released on Alan Braxe’s Vulture Music.
It was the first tune Kris had put out under his own name and, a year after its release, ‘Discopolis’ became an Ibiza anthem, that later got picked up by Defected and re-released with a string of hot mixes.
In the aftermath of ‘Discopolis’, Kris started getting DJ gigs all over the world. He quite often DJed with Alan Braxe (one half of Stardust, alongside Thomas Bangalter), and together they produced disco house number ‘Lumberjack’, that came out in 2007.
“The thing is, that now, with this album ‘Features’, I feel like I’ve finally really got my sound to where I want it to be,” says Kris. “I’ve always made instrumental tracks and never put vocals that I really wanted to have on a tune in place. This is the first time I’ve done that. And for me it feels like the most complete project I’ve worked on so far.” Production-wise, things couldn’t be better. But, in terms of DJing, Kris hasn’t played in a club for over a year.
“The thing is, I don’t DJ in clubs any more,” he admits. “I decided to stop about a year ago because I got disillusioned with the whole concept of being a DJ.”
When he used to DJ, Kris says, he’d spend hours and hours planning his sets. Pretty much every tune he played would be re-edited or reworked. In the past 20 years, he says, he must have done about 2000 re-edits at least, most often just for his DJ sets. But then he stopped playing out.
“DJing started cool, in the Bronx, with the hip-hop guys, it turned into electronic music and then the whole club thing started, but it’s come so far to the other side since then,” he explains.
“Don’t get me wrong, I love listening to a cool techno DJ, in a club, but if you go and see Swedish House Mafia DJ, for example, there’s no artistry involved. They are just getting behind the decks, with a finished CD, and pressing play then putting their hands in the air. This is something that is so wrong, because they get paid so much money for that.”
He might not have road-tested the tunes from ‘Features’ in a club, but that hasn’t stopped Kris playing them “club level loud” in his studio at home. He might DJ in a club again sometime in the future, he says, but next on his agenda is another kind of live performance.
“I’m working on a band with Simon Lord,” says Kris. “It’s my next thing and it’s a totally indie project. I can’t wait to start playing out live. I’m hoping that will be just as exciting as playing records in a dark, underground club.”
IF HE WERE TO DJ…
This is the current list of tunes Kris would drop ‘cos they’re hot...
(200 Records/ Kompakt)
. Pachanga Boys
vhs or beta
‘I Found A Reason’
. Kris Menace feat Julian Hamilton (The Presets)
‘Higher Love (Andi Muller Remix)’
‘Nighttime (Crazy P Remix)'
(Wolf + Lamb Music)
‘Inside (Oliver Remix) (Re-Edit)'
'Seven League Boots (Unknown Number VGM Remix)'
Kris Menace feat Chelonis R Jones
‘Voodoo Dilate (Spirit Catcher Remix)'
Copyright Thrust Publishing Ltd. Permission to use quotations from this article is granted subject to appropriate credit being given to www.djmag.com as the source.