At this point, it’s probably fair to say that Mano Le Tough is living the dream. Heaving left Dublin for Berlin almost six years ago, the man known to his mother as Niall Mannion has carved out a distinct identity for himself and has seen his DJ sets and productions becoming ever more popular. Remixes for the likes of Roisín Murphy, Aloe Blac and Tyson established him as a producer but it was ‘Baby Let’s Love’, a single from 2010, that really got people excited. His way with melody was obvious and a love for disco and classic house added an undeniable funk to tunes that worked as well at small house parties as they did at Panorama Bar.
He’s since knuckled down and worked on putting together a cohesive album. The result, after two years of work, is his debut full-length release, Changing Days, which shows Mannion moving towards a more song-driven aesthetic. Rather than go all out with a series of bangers, Mannion’s album blends traditional song structures with the infinite beats of his more club-ready tracks, bringing to mind his Permanent Vacation label-mate John Talabot’s fantastic fin from last year. Nursing a cold he picked up on his first day back in Berlin after a ten-day trip to Mexico, he says the move was natural to him.
“I’ve always been big into albums but there aren’t that many really great dance albums, I think,” he says. “So I kind of approached it from the way of doing a classical kind of album. Just because I make dance music doesn’t mean that I approached it from that kind of way. I just wanted to make an album that was good on its own, a good album regardless of what the genre is. The concept of the album for me definitely comes from growing up listening to great albums from the 70s or even older jazz albums or whatever.”
Despite the relatively long gestation time, Mannion’s clear idea of what he was trying to achieve meant he stuck pretty closely to his initial path.
“What you think of it does change over time,” he says, “but from when I started I knew in some way what I wanted which was to do a proper album rather than just do some dance tracks. I wanted to make something cohesive, that was my main goal. Something quite personal I guess.”
One way he kept things personal was through the use of his own voice on many of the tracks. With a history of playing in bands behind him, the move was not as difficult for him as it might be for many of his producer peers.
“The album is ten tracks and half of it there’s singing on and half of it is instrumental,” he says. “It was a challenge but it’s also quite comfortable for me because I came from writing songs when I was younger. I definitely came from a different background so it was pretty natural actually to be honest. I think it’s definitely one of the most important things about the record. I just wanted it to be personal. I think in dance music especially if the music is for a club or whatever, it’s not really personal. It might be functional, people might appreciate it for how it sounds or how it works but I just wanted to do a record that was definitely personal. For me it was coming from a reflection of my life or how things were happening in my life. That’s what I tried to achieve anyway.”
Mannion’s appreciation for the album format is clear and it’s no surprise that he hopes people will appreciate the album as a whole rather than taking a few tracks out of context. Still, he knows that the way people listen to music now is not the same as it used to be.
“Obviously now you can pick and choose,” he says. “If you’re buying music online, if you just have your favourite tracks from a record maybe you just get them. For me though, the album is still the best way to express yourself as an artist. If you can do an hour of music, that’s a truer representation of you rather than doing an EP or whatever. I definitely know that the way people consume music has changed hugely and what they put on to their iPod might be just their three favourite tracks from the album. But I still hope that people just want to listen to an album through. I know I do, if it’s something I really like, if I’m travelling or something, I’ll stick it on and listen to it in the headphones. Things have changed a lot in that you used to have to put on a CD or whatever but I still think it was important to do something that was a cohesive piece of music.”
As a city, Berlin is as good a place as there is to do what Mannion is doing. Surrounded by artists, DJs, musicians and great clubs, inspiration is everywhere and the low cost of living made it easier to do music full time. Almost six years after moving there, he can’t but acknowledge the influence the German capital has had on him.
“I just started producing music when I moved here so I learned my trade over here and DJing as well,” he says. “Over here the opening hours are a lot longer and there are a lot more clubs so you have a lot more opportunities to learn your trade and get experience. A few years ago, about three years ago, I used to play here pretty much every week and that was definitely a really formative experience in terms of DJing just because I had the chance to put in all those hours and play in different situations. That was definitely the most important learning experience for me as a DJ. And as a producer I just have a lot of time here because it’s cheaper to live here than Dublin. That gave me time to spend time making music. I guess I could have done that in Dublin too but Berlin seemed like a good option so I moved here. It’s been really good.”
An important part of his life in Berlin has been Passion Beat, the monthly night he started at Kleine Reise three years ago. The club itself, run by three fellow Irish ex-pats, has since moved to Loftus Hall but the party continues unabated.
“Kliene Reise and then Loftus Hall, they’re my friends Darragh, Peter, Paud,” he says. “I started doing my party there like three years ago in Kliene Reise and then Loftus Hall when they opened there. So that’s been every month for like three years and that’s definitely one of the most important things I’ve done over here. It’s been really good experience and the lads are great. They’ve done great things, Kliene Reise was really fun and Loftus Hall is great too so it’s a really positive thing.”
While the Irish contigent is particularly strong at Loftus Hall, Berghain’s more international Panorama Bar, probably the most famous house club in the world at this stage, holds a special place in Mannion’s heart.
“Panorama Bar is the best place I’ve played, ever,” he says. “I played there five times last year and I have my album release party there. And the best thing about there is that, obviously it’s an amazing club, but also a lot of my friends are there. A lot of Irish friends are usually there and which just makes it, it’s the best thing about it. When you tour around the world it’s amazing because you meet so many new people and people who are into your music but nothing beats playing for your friends, you know? In Panorama Bar especially because everyone is just having a good time and it’s a really good vibe.”
While Dublin doesn’t offer quite the same buzz as Berlin, Mannion still gets back fairly often, with a Stephens’ Day set at the Twisted Pepper marking his last visit. In recent years however, the spectre of mass emigration has changed the city for him as much as anyone else.
“There are a lot of things that annoy me about Dublin but I still really like it there,” he says. “Ideally I’d like to move back sometime but it definitely has changed for me. I’m travelling all the time now but I still get back to Ireland quite a lot, a few times a year. A lot of my friends live in London now and I live abroad, so that’s the biggest thing that has changed for me. When I go home, less of my friends are there. That definitely makes it different because you’re out of touch then in some ways with whatever is going on there.”