Throw genres to the wind, Tim Penner is an artist that prides himself on creativity, originality, and experimentation with both music production and performances. Without fear, Tim seamlessly blends sounds that touch on Techno, House, Progressive, and Trance. “Art can never be properly classified,“ he says. “We’re in an era beyond simply making songs. We’re venturing into a brand new world of true audio manipulation. Music is made of layers of frequencies that create the soundtrack to our lives. If you can harness this concept through technology, you can innovate rather than imitate.” And, indeed, innovate is what he does best! With his newest music productions catapulting to some of the biggest charts in the world, he is unleashing a sound of his own, which some say is “from another world”. In an industry diluted with mediocrity, Tim looks to bridge the gap between ‘what people know’ and ‘what people should know’. “It seems people are ready for something new… and I want to bring it to them,” says Tim.
The Canadian producer’s dynamic sound is certainly one of the most unique and refreshing things to come along in quite some time. With no two productions sounding alike and a real flair for creativity we feel Tim is one of the best up and coming producers in North America. With his newest single entitled ‘Get Me High’ out this week we had a chance to catch up with Tim just prior to the release, a transcription of the interview is below and we hope you enjoy it.
1. How old are you and how long have you been producing / DJing?
Tim: I’m 33 years old and it’s been about 13 years now since I first started making music. But, back then I wouldn’t really call it “producing”. It was more like experimenting with sound in a DOS based program called Impulse Tracker. Pretty basic stuff, but it helped me to develop some basic principles in sound design. It wasn’t too long after that I bought my first pair of turntables and started to DJ.
2. What are your earliest memories of music, what did you listen to growing up? How did you get involved in electronic music and what made you decide to pursue it seriously? And where do your roots in electronic music lie?
Tim: I suppose I naturally grew up around music in my household. It was always playing in the background no matter what we did. My mom was a music teacher, my sister was an opera singer, and my brother was the first person I ever saw using a DAW back in the late 80s. Also, my dad was an audio engineer, so I remember watching him edit albums on his reel-to-reel on the kitchen table; cutting tape with a razor blade and splicing it all back together. It blows his mind these days when I show him what’s possible with technology.
I grew up mainly listening to alternative and rock. I was into bands like U2, Peal Jam, and Nirvana. It wasn’t until the mid-90’s that I discovered incredible new genres and songs by artists like Underworld, Scooter, and Chemical Brothers. That was a game changer for me! In ’98 I was able to experience my first rave. It was a beautiful thing! A couple friends and I went to an underground parking garage in Toronto where Platipus Sound System played live for the whole night. Art of Trance, Union Jack, Terra Ferma, Dave the Drummer… all pounding away on drum machines and synths to create one of the most memorable nights of my life. Being relatively new to things, I had no real idea what these guys were doing on the equipment and I’d give just about anything to go back to that night so I could truly appreciate the magic I was witnessing. It was because of that night that I fell deeply into trance music. After all, these were some of the purest days of electronic music. We were heading into a whole new world back then…
A few years later, once I’d really learned what it meant to be a ‘DJ’, I started playing out at various clubs in the area. Where I lived there weren’t many clubs that hosted Trance nights, so a few of us developed a production company to enable us to host our own events at various bars and clubs. One thing lead to another and we were playing a few times a night and developing a tight community of like-minded people. Those were amazing times with some amazing people. One night a promoter from the area stumbled in on what we were doing and ended up inviting me to play at one of Toronto’s biggest Trance clubs. After my first night there (opening for Cosmic Gate), they asked if I would be one of their residents. This was by far one of the best experiences of my life as I was able to play along-side some of the worlds biggest and best artists. I was also able to learn a lot about the inner workings of the industry. If I’m completely honest, once I saw how things REALLY worked behind the scene, I realized quickly that I was a small fish in a huge ocean… I had much to learn if I wanted to succeed in the business. So, I suppose this is when I knew I wanted to work in the club industry.
3. Did you have any formal music training growing up? in regards to composing or engineering / sound design etc.? and if not did anyone help you out along the way?
Tim: I started out playing the cello when I was five years old. After that came the piano, violin, guitar… you name it, I probably played it. But none of these instruments really seemed to stick. Maybe it was the pressure to practice from my parents. Maybe it was that my brain didn’t attach itself to the standard theories of music. I’m not sure. What I do know is that once I was able to relate to the music visually on a computer screen with sine waves, dots and mouse-clicks, my whole world changed.
For many years I struggled on my own to learn software and the principles of music production and sound design. To be honest… I sucked. Keep in mind at that time the internet wasn’t what it is today. You certainly couldn’t Google ‘How-To’ videos on YouTube or find other artists on Facebook to talk to. Regardless, I dove into this world of music free to create whatever my brain could come up with. Looking back, I do wish I’d had someone to show me the ropes in terms of making technically sound music, but I ventured on learning what I could mainly by trial and error. Besides, I wasn’t too serious about it at that point and just simply loved making unique sound in the comfort of my bedroom.
In 2003 I met Daniel Oliveira through a friend online. We clicked immediately, but his production quality was far beyond my own. As we grew closer over the years, we began sharing more and more of our own trade secrets. Truth is, there is no one I’ve learned more from about music production, current music, and future trends than Daniel. In fact, in the last three years, I’ve learned more from him than I did in the ten years prior. So really, it wasn’t until fairly recently that I realized it was time to take it seriously and try to take things to the next level. I have a different head on my shoulders these days. I approach the technology differently and can stand back and see the industry in a new light. Really, I wasn’t ready back then. Now, I know how to control the sound. I bend it and break it and see how far I can twist the technology and that’s what it should be about.
4. Talk a bit about electronic music in Canada, do you think there is a healthy scene there? How do you think it compares to the rest of the world?
Tim: Canada, eh? I suppose it’s been a bittersweet ride here. In the earlier days, I knew the industry in Europe was years ahead of us in terms of popularity and acceptance. I watched in envy as hundreds of thousands of people would flock to events like Love Parade and Sensation. It was unheard of to have events like that in Canada. In North America I believe we suffered greatly when the blooming ‘rave scene’ crashed and was banished by media and law. I think we lost an entire generation in the early 2000’s to these skewed truths about electronic music. The rest of the world continued to propel forward with Trance and Techno while we were left waiting for something to change. Many people turned to other styles of music like Rap and Hip-Hop (the rise of Eminem and DMX). Us purists had to wait until the club industry opened their arms to us and let the records spin again. These were weird times in my opinion. There was a merge of styles as ravers and clubbers were forced into the same nightclubs. There was definitely a clash of musical tastes and opinions during these times and I think it held us back as an industry by years.
These days, we have a very healthy scene here. We have massive events and festivals, which rival those from around the world. We even have Sensation here now! Go figure! Now, I don’t want to take anything away from pioneers like Richie Hawtin or Max Graham, but in all honesty, I have to give a lot of credit to Deadmau5. He’s managed to bring a very bright spotlight onto our country in a very short amount of time. He was the first to fill the Rogers Centre here with tens of thousands of people. It was the first of its kind here in Toronto. Since his explosion, things here are much different and we have many rising Canadian artists. We’ve recaptured a new generation of people and the scene has never been bigger. It’s unfortunate that it took so long, but we’ve finally arrived. All we can hope is that people will see past the glitter and sparkles of the new bubble-gum EDM and discover the sub genres that really drive the innovation of the industry.
5. You currently reside in Kitchener which is a smaller city about an hour from Toronto. Do you get a chance to DJ at all in your home city and what is the club scene like there?
Tim: I’ve played here for years at a club called ‘Revolution Nightclub’. It’s been my stomping ground to experiment and try new things. It’s where I developed my musical tastes, mixing techniques and the ability to read people. I don’t play there much anymore, but will always return when they invite me to play. I’ve met some of my best friends there and it’ll always be an important part in my DJ career.
Recently, we’ve seen an influx of popularity in the music scene as new clubs like ‘Beta Nightclub’ have opened up to make way for a new generation of electronic music lovers. It’s great to see a newfound interest here. I’d love to say that I helped pave the path over the years, but I believe it has more to do with my earlier statements rather than my humble performances at ‘The Rev’ and other small clubs here.
6. Many people have commented on your incredible sound design, the Tim Penner sound is extremely unique, how would you describe your music?
Tim: Well those are certainly some flattering words! I’m really honoured that people have gravitated to my particular styles. I really have a hard time defining my music. Genres really irritate me. I suppose all I’m trying to do is experiment and push the boundaries of technology and I think people are just eager to hear something different. The truth is, when I sit down to work, I have no idea what will blossom. Every day is different. All I try to do is express my mood, my influences, and most importantly, my feelings in music. When I go back and listen to the different tracks I’ve made over the past few years, I’m instantly taken back to how I felt at those particular times. I do hope others can feel some of the emotion I’m trying to portray, but in the end, the process of making music is more self-gratifying than anything else.
I think the idea of simply making music is so important for young artists to realize. We get caught up in what we “should” do and forget that we’re really meant to just make music in its purest form. Without that emotional attachment to sound, we’ll ultimately just blend in with the thousands of other artists that are doing the exact same thing. If you’re afraid to push the limits and be BOLD with your sound, there’s nothing to separate you from the rest.
7. Yourself and DNYO started Konstrukt Music in 2012, what was it that made you guys want to start your own imprint and do you guys have different roles in the label or do you just work on things collectively?
Tim: I suppose we started Konstrukt for the same reason many artists start their own label. We wanted a platform to not only display our talents, but to bring something new to people. That sounds a bit cliché, but it’s true. We’re a bit old school in the way we believe that there’s a lack of quality control in the industry and it’s really destroyed the magic of the music. There used to be a time when people could appreciate the entire concept of what it meant to release an album. There was more pride in the artistic approach to releasing music. This includes everything from the track selection to the artwork to the marketing. There’s very little personal engagement with people these days as we’re bombarded with Facebook invites and posts reading “Available on Beatport!” and “Check out my new release with so-and-so!” People seem to be a bit numb.
Our approach is simple; If it’s not quality music with the most thorough attention to detail, we’re not interested. Konstrukt is different. We’re interested in creating forward-thinking music to help evolve the industry. Our roles at Konstrukt certainly differ from release to release, so I’d say it’s a collective effort. We each have a hand in different things with each project; however, Daniel has an incredible eye for detail and a keen instinct in terms of company direction. We’re generally on the same page, we know how to keep each other in check and we trust each other implicitly. I think a partnership like that is crucial for success. We each bring different industry experience to the table and have certainly expanded our horizons since Konstrukt’s birth.
8. Your new Konstrukt single entitled ‘Get Me HIgh’ has just been released with remixes from DNYO, David Granha, Nick Stoynoff and Sonic Union. It’s quite a unique sounding track and the whole package is quite different with some very diverse sounding remixes. Talk a bit about the inspiration for that track, is there anything special you can tell us about it?
Tim: I’m really proud of this EP! We’re so privileged to have some of the most talented up and coming artists on this release! Each of them brought a truly unique style to their remix, which makes this one of the most diverse sounding packs I’ve ever heard! I’m very honoured to have these guys on board and I can’t wait to work with them all again.
‘Get Me High’ is the perfect example of what I described earlier. I had no idea what type of track would come out of that studio session. All I knew is that I wanted something with a bit of soul with a nice chuggy house feel. As the track progressed, I picked up the mic and started singing. That was a new experience for me, as I’ve never sung in my own productions before. Seems a bit strange now when I hear my voice in all the different interpretations, but I really did enjoy adding my own vocals into the mix and I’m sure you’ll hear some more in other upcoming productions in the near future. Regardless, I’m very happy with the result and hope everyone enjoys it as much as I enjoyed making it.
9. Many of our readers are probably curious about your current studio setup, what does it look like right now?
Tim: I love my studio. I completely renovated last year and had the ability to design this room exactly as I wanted. My old workspace was small and not suitable for proper sound design. Now, I have lots of space to let the sound do its thing. I outfitted it with several acoustic panels and some KRK VXT8s. As for hardware, I love my Waldorf synths (Wave II and microQ). There’s just noting like pure analog sound from a hardware synth! As for software, I use Ableton Live with some choice plugins for Reaktor and Kontakt. This being said, I have a motto I live by; “One should be able to accomplish any job with a coat hanger and a shoestring.” What this means is that fancy tools are nice and convenient, but sometimes it’s easy to overlook that pure ingenuity and creativity can be the most powerful weapons in your arsenal. A producer should be able to take something simple and turn it into something complex without all these fancy effects and plugins. I think often it’s a matter of one being a bit lazy rather than taking a few extra minutes (or hours) to really dig into a particular sound to make it into something amazing. It’s the simple details that can take your music to the next level.
10. What are you working on right now? anything you can tell us about?
Tim: Currently I’m finishing up some more tracks for Proton, Lowbit, and FutureForm. They should be available over the next couple months. On top of those, there are some rather lofty projects in the works for Konstrukt. These will have to remain a bit of a secret at this point, but Daniel and I have been working hard on something very new and experimental. We’re very excited about some new opportunities, but will have to keep tight lips for a little while longer!
11. What in the electronic music industry irritates you the most?
Tim: Well, I know many people have different opinions about these things, but here goes… In a world where it’s never been easier to produce and release innovative music, why the #@&* are people so content to use SAMPLE LOOPS?!? Seriously, people, it’s like flipping open a Connect-The-Dots book and calling it a Picasso! Nothing irritates me more than hearing the *click* in someone’s so-called song as a loop repeats itself and the sine waves fail to connect correctly. These are the same people that finish a song by piling in loops and wonder why it sounds so muddy.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that people want to be a music producer, but don’t want to produce music. They want the spotlight, but they don’t want to put in the work to deserve it. I might be stepping on some toes here, but let’s just say it… The only people that benefit from sample loops are the people selling them to you.
12. Thoughts on the DJ Mag top 100 poll?
Tim: Last year I was told by a brand new producer, “There’s a mathematical formula to the business and I almost figured it out.” Guess who ranked within the Top 100 this year?
I’ll say this, DJ Mag used to be more relevant than what it’s become. I don’t really want to use the “popularity contest” excuse because that really is what it’s always been. However, it’s never been easier than it is today to drastically impact results. Do I believe that new producers debuting in the Top 100 that have only been producing for 2 years are really the most talented people in the world? No. But, I believe the rest of the world can generally see through these twisted outcomes and will simply just love the music that makes them passionate regardless of how these artists rank at DJ Mag.
Don’t get me wrong; it’s hard work to be popular. But I’d rather work hard towards making ground-breaking music instead.
13. What artist or track would you love to remix?
Tim: I suppose the easy answer would be Sasha. Besides being a legend, he’s managed to continually innovate and re-invent himself. I think even after all these years I can still look up to him and be inspired by the sounds he creates. It would just simply be an honour to legitimately remix some of his work.
14. Where do you get studio inspiration from? What producers consistently inspire you? Who are some of your favourites?
Tim: Oh man, that’s a loaded question. Inspiration could come from recent music I’ve listened to either at a club or on my phone and that could range from Charlie May to Maceo Plex to Andrew Bayer to Richie Hawtin to Above & Beyond to Nicole Moudaber to Cid Inc. I love Trance, Techno and House all the same depending on the day, which is why you can always hear elements of each in my productions. You just have to go and let it flow. Once you learn to do this you can let the inspiration pour through you rather than trying to force it.
15. What do you like to do for fun outside of the music? and do you have a regular job? What is a typical day like for Tim Penner?
Tim: I have a job at a local retailer selling audio equipment at TVs. It pays the bills and I essentially get to play with cool toys all day long. Other than that, I’ll honestly spend the rest of my time in the studio working on new remixes or originals. For me, it’s the best form of entertainment and stress relief I could ask for. When I do need some downtime, I’ll go unleash on some kids by playing some Call of Duty.
Outside of my little studio dungeon, I love spending time with my nieces and nephews, my dogs, watching movies, or getting out to a club for the night. I love long walks on the beach at sunset, holding hands and cuddling on the cou—OOPS! Sorry, wrong interview.
16. Apart from electronic music what other genres do you listen to and who are your favourite artists outside of electronic? How big of an influence are other styles of music when it comes to composing your own tracks? Could you give any examples?
Tim: Well, when I need some “exterior inspiration”, some of my favourites are Apparat, M83, and James Blake. I love each of them for their unique styles and sometimes they know just what I need to clear my head to approach a blank page in Ableton. I don’t mean I’ll imitate their styles, but sometimes they act a bit like a sorbet pallet cleanser in the middle of a 5-course meal.
Some of my go-to favourites are ‘Blackwater’ by Apparat, ‘Wait’ by M83, or ‘Sun In Your Eyes’ by Above & Beyond. In fact, these are generally the songs I wake up to every single day.
17. Tim Penner Current Favourites (you can list more than one per category if you like)
Food: Lasagna, for sure.
Drink: Coffee or beer.
TV Show: Game of Thrones right now.. WOW what a show!
Movie: Life of Pi was incredible. But my favourites might be The Matrix or Fight Club.
Video Game: Call of Duty… do they make other video games??
Album: Sasha’s Involv3r really grew on me.
Track / Song: Even months later, ‘Poison Pro & Miusha – Alien (Kobana Darkside Dub)’
Producer / Band: Too many to name these days!
Record Label: Really enjoying most of what comes from microCastle these days.
Nightclub: Love the underground vibe at Toika in Toronto these days. Footwork is also pretty nice.
DJ: Really appreciate what guys like Liebing, Hawtin and Dubfire are doing in terms of performance.
18. If the final DJ set of your career was next week what would be your last record be?
Tim: If I was going to play my final set, I would have to play one of the songs that started this entire journey many years ago at that little unground rave… Art of Trance – Madagascar (Ferry Corsten Remix).
19. What can we expect to see in 2013 from Tim Penner and Konstrukt?
Tim: I’ve been looking to cut back on the remix jobs and simply focusing on original music and expanding on the ideas I touched on earlier with Daniel and Konstrukt. Also, I’ll be travelling a bit more outside of Canada for some gigs. You can expect to see me in the US and further down south to Mexico and beyond. I’m also working on getting across the pond into Europe later in the year.
I’m a firm believer that we’ll never really know what the future holds and life has a funny way of throwing us a curve ball sometimes. What I do know for sure is that I love making music and playing it for people. I have some big ideas and only time will tell where things end up on this crazy journey.
Release Promo would like to thank Tim for taking the time to do this interview.
Tim’s ‘Get Me High’ is out now with remixes from: David Granha, DNYO, Nick Stoynoff and Sonic Union, you can purchase the release: here