ART:CAST #53 & INTERVIEW Tunnelvisions

Neither Raynor de Groot nor Emiel van den Dungen grew up in the Netherlands listening to Brazilian samba or Afro-jazz, but one did love percussion and the other infatuated with synths, and somehow, all this naivety and curiosity navigated the course of a ‘Midnight Voyage’ through a new form of ‘world music.’ Fate may have its wonders, but often diverted and distracted by daily interactions, social tides and cultural currents, it is rare for two individuals to envision an alternate world and believe so much to eventually coexist within it. ‘Tunnelvisions‘ distinct sound is structured based on the complex relationships built by the vibrant characters that live in both Raynor’s and Emiel’s imaginative worlds. Call these purlieus entirely inventive, but when two people feel it so much to believe in it, enough to synchronically weave beautifully layered soundscapes, and emotionally-driven narratives that suture a state of trance so convincing and empathetic to the senses, does it even matter what is ‘real’? Over the years, DJ/producer duo ‘Tunnelvisions’ have successfully infiltrated loudspeakers far and wide with hypnotic beats, well-balanced rhythms and deeply rooted melodies. But the road less traveled is often a bumpy one, and both the ‘space-y’ guy and the default ‘Hookman’ can share obstacles and triumphs which come with choosing that. Torture the Artist chats with ‘Tunnelvisions’ on a sunny day in the Netherlands, right after a bite of Herring and baked fish and a productive studio session – the prime time for the artistic types to feel most nostalgic.

Torture the Artist: Good day Raynor and Emiel, where would we find both of you today? What were the last words you exchanged and when do you plan to get together next?

Tunnelvisions: We’re both currently sitting in Emiel’s studio in Den Bosch, and had quite a nice start. We made a new edit of an old African track and we’ve eaten Dutch herring and baked fish for lunch. Oh and the sun was shining which is quite unique in the Netherlands during the winter. So today was a good day. <smile>Not sure exactly when, but we do try to see each other at least threetimes a week, so we’ll see each other again soo soon enough.

Torture the Artist: How long have you known each other and when did the idea of teaming up as ‘Tunnelvisions’ come about? Name a track that best describes your first encounter and another which sets the vibe of that one day when you decided once for all, no more second guessing, to go on with the project.

Tunnelvisions: We both met each other years ago. It happened because a mutual friend (Tiko s/o) showed Raynor Emiel’s Soundcloud. Ray decided to send a message to Emiel. Emiel just so happened to be moving back from Berlin to The Netherlands, to the same city where Raynor lives in, Tilburg, and upon realizing this, excitedly wrote Emiel back: ‘Hey man! I might know someone with a room. Come move to Tilburg and let’s hang.’

The first time Emiel came to Raynor’s studio was quite funny. We never knew each other personally at the time, so it was our first meeting ever. After 15 minutes and a short coffee break, we started making music without exchanging much words. In less than 30 minutes, we already made a beat together. And at this point Raynor felt safe to ask Emiel ‘Hey man, I bought two joints to celebrate this new friendship, do you smoke?’ Then, the rest was history. Within three hours the first track off of our album ‘Midnight Voyage’ was done. We knew we had a very strong connection from the get-go. But we think ‘Bayuda’ was probably the real start of it all.

It was like falling in love, creatively – you meet someone who you resonate with deeply and everything in you says ‘Fuck, I gotta make the most out of this.’

Torture the Artist: As a duo, do you spend plenty of time together? Do you often produce in the studio together or fall into the habit of cyber-dribbling tracks until both are in accordance nand a ‘byproduct’ is made? Which track of yours took the shortest and longest to complete?

Raynor: When we first met, we were both living in Tilburg, which meant it was a bit easier to work long nights together since nobody had to catch a train or whatever. While working on our first album, we spent almost every day together making music for a couple of months. It was crazy. It was like falling in love, creatively – you meet someone who you resonate with deeply and everything in you says ‘Fuck, I gotta make the most out of this.’ This was the reason why we were so driven to complete an entire album as our first release. We just couldn’t stop. Guava was made in three hours (after we recorded the vocals).

The second album materialized just about the same way, only this time Emiel had moved to the city he currently lives in which meant we were sort of forced to send each other Ableton projects to keep working together in the same rate. Hence about 75% of the album production was done together physically, but 25% we had to do remotely. We did start to notice that sometimes working apart doesn’t really work well. We both shine our best when we’re together in one room, but we didn’t know that at the time. So there were trials and errors with this. One started working more, and the other found out that it’s just more fun together, then co-producing tracks remotely began to take extremely long to finish. There was a version of Ottokar’s Sky that said V40 behind it. It became much more clear that when working apart, we couldn’t decide where to go to, and that we really did need each other’s presence in the process.

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In the end we learned a lot about this dynamic which inspired a second album. In two years time you start to learn how each person functions, respect and work with that. Working together as a whole is very much like a psychological process. In a duo you may start off with a healthy competition between two people who tend to try to beat each other, prove how good they are or show off how sick they can be in music. And if both don’t sit in one room, this can grow unhealthy. One might get insecure when someone comes up with something good, and the other way around. After album two we recognized the toxic elements that can get in the way of a collaboration. At some point we started working more apart than with each other, until the music showed that it was not the same. ‘Tunnelvisions’ more than anything else is us, in one room, together laughing and being ourselves.

Torture the Artist: Your productions are not just artistically stratified but culturally rich and emotionally dense as well. Where does this rapture come from? Would you consider yourselves as wanderlusts, and your art a reflection of a desire to understand the world?

Raynor: Thanks! I think it comes from both Emiel and I wanting to escape our current situations. When we started working we didn’t really have a lot going on. We both had no money, no real steady job, but a big passion for the music. Our missions were to escape our relatively bleak conditions by making happy music and traveling the world through our imaginative minds. We started listening to the music of places where we wanted to go to, and doing research into different culture and moods. But in the end we’re two guys living in a country where dance music is the #1 sound. So we started to blend what we learned with what we knew. Combined with our emotional past as two outsider kids, this eventually formed out signature Tunnelvisions sound.

Torture the Artist: There are plenty of characters building sound and stories throughout all of Tunnelvisions’ narratives – Imaja (Imaja’s drum), Ottokar (Ottokar’s Sky), Xoji (Xoji’s Mask), Kudja (Kudja’s sacrifice) just to name a few, the list goes on. Who do you resonate most with and who represents the character you always dreamed to be?

Tunnelvisions: We both resonate the most with ‘Umai’. ‘Umai’ is a sort of mysterious track that builds up to a huge explosion of emotion. It’s a freeing feeling, a bomb of euphoria. Entrancing but still strong.

Torture the Artist: How do you build up these characters and themes? An individual artist can create his own dimension, and develop characters from his own imagination. How do you present these ideas to one another, fully understand each construction and eventually co-parent and subsist their very essences into full musical productions

Tunnelvisions: It begins with someone having an idea, a concept. We can still remember the time when we made a certain groove in the studio, which you can actually hear in ‘Umai’. This groove, and the feeling behind it, became a musical backbone for us and our productions. Combined with knowing what we wanted to represent emotionally it became easy to make 10 tracks stemming from this raw concept. It’s all a bit abstract when describing it now, but we think that if you actually produce music, you would know what we mean by this.

We want to build worlds.

Torture the Artist: Living in the Netherlands, is it hard to find that special ‘place’ where you feel most creative. How do you, as individuals or together, get there. Do you feel the need to ‘teleport’ to a particular city to which you’ve never been where most of your tracks’ narratives would make the most sense in.

Tunnelvisions: We have a really hard time making music without a story, or at least some sort of world, that it can live in. Before we begin producing, we usually start talking about a world we want to visit. What lives in this world? What sound and visuals do we see living in this world? Is it happy, sad, both, or whatever difficult mood we want to describe? If we don’t do this, we end up making something that the other one doesn’t feel, then it becomes too much of an ego project. We want to build worlds.

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Torture the Artist: Does the term ‘tunnel vision’ often reoccur in your life? Did owning up to the moniker, together, further inspire you to drift away from the road less traveled, and instead pursue your own ‘end goal’ with unobstructed focus on the ‘center’?

Tunnelvisions: Yes, very much so. We are extremely ‘tunnelvision-y’ when it comes to making tracks. If we’re in the middle of an artistic process, we both end up not being able to sleep because we keep thinking of every detail all night long. It’s such a crazy sick obsession. Nothing else seems to matter. This can be very good, but mentally it’s draining. So we try to do this in sprints. We always sketch and build on ideas but we only spend one or two months to really focus and go hard into it before just letting it flow. The process can take you to extremes. The music can become incredibly good, even as an original, but it can ruin friendships and relationships. <laugh> So use the ‘Tunnelvisions’ mindset only sparingly, if you want a happy life!

If you don’t form your own identity, you’re not doing it right.

Torture the Artist: Is there a particular track which you worked on together that deepened your understanding of one another? How about a track you were never able to release because the other guy ‘just doesn’t get it’?

Tunnelvisions: ‘Sanaga’ was super nice to make. We were both at a club at the same night and had been drinking a lot. We linked up and at around 5, we just wanted to chill and make music. We went to Emiel’s place. Someone fired up the synths, then revved up the Ableton. Two hours later we had ‘Sanaga, which is one of our most emotional tracks. So it’s safe to say that it was the best bonding session ever haha.

There are many tracks which we have not released because we both don’t really feel it. You don’t want to see our project folders, man. It’s a mess. There are so many ideas we didn’t finish because the other wasn’t really inspired or whatever. But there are also a lot of ideas that did get finished but we decided not to use because it didn’t feel like us. Sometimes you unintentionally copy other people, which we think is fine. But if you don’t form your own identity, you’re not doing it right.

After producing together for a couple of years now, we have made some pretty good tracks that one may feel connected with, but not the other. In the future, who knows, we might end up releasing these tracks individually at some point. We never felt that we’re sitting on top of great records which we can’t release just because we’re a duo. We still give each other space for individual development, and we believe, this makes us a very good team.

Torture the Artist: Raynor, which of your productions remind you most of Emiel. And Emiel, vice versa?

Raynor: ‘Sanaga’, or ‘Nyiri’, both remind me a lot about Emiel. I call Emiel the ‘space-guy’ of Tunnelvisions. I’m more rhythmically focussed. He likes to dream away in tracks, I tend to wake him up with my additions. Both tracks are rather dreamy, and I love them.

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Emiel: I think Raynor really represents ‘Imaja’, and ‘Kahana’. ‘Imaja’, because of his great voice and its rhythms, ‘Kahana’, because of the hook lines. I call him ‘Mr. Hookman’ – I probably learned everything I know about hooks because of him.

Torture the Artist: Growing up in your hometown, who were among of your greatest artistic inspirations? Did these artists continue to nourish your drive to find your own voice as artists, or did it ever come a to a point in which their fate complicated and eventually made you reinvent your dreams?

Tunnelvisions: Growing up, we didn’t really have anyone around us doing what we did or wanted to do. We both kept to ourselves and just as we didn’t have many conflicts with others, no one really influenced us either. Later on, we eventually ended up in groups of friends who also made music. But although we learned from them, we still think that Raynor learned the most from Emiel and Emiel from Raynor (it’s kind of a stupid answer when we come to think of it, but we’ve spent so many hours together in the studio that it’s mostly true).

If I had listened to the trends and followed the lead of my peers, a track like ‘Guava’ would’ve never been made.

Torture the Artist: The Netherlands’ electronic music scene is quite dingy – lush, dark, beefy and raw. When and where did you find the opportunity to digress a little bit and seek proficiency in more refreshing organic, high-tempered sound?

Raynor: Mostly because everybody in the scene was doing the same, I can remember so many times when people said they hated vocals on dance tunes. I didn’t get that, man. Growing up listening to LCD Soundsystem and similar bands made me fall in love with steady beats and emotive lyrics. The Netherlands is super focused on the harder styles – techno, hardstyle, hardcore. If I had listened to the trends and followed the lead of my peers, a track like ‘Guava’ would’ve never been made.

Emiel: In the past, I actually produced dubstep music, even drum and bass. But I also started making progressive tracks since day one. We try not to get too caught up with what everybody else around us is doing. Focusing on t doesn’t make you stand out.

We still don’t know if it’s just pure luck or actually, our general skill!

Torture the Artist: How long have you been producing music? When did you come to realize that the future of ‘Tunnelvisions’ is no longer just mere luck or a good time, but is also commitment to each’s own and each other’s ingenuity and potential.

Tunnelvisions: We still don’t know if it’s just pure luck or actually, our general skill! In the end, we make something that we feel and think will strike a chord with our audience (those who will understand and resonate with the ‘worlds’ we are building through our music). When it does work, it still surprises us, always. But with the emergence of each track, we do get the feeling that we’re onto something and this inspiration makes us more confident in our abilities. We both have been producing music for about 5-8 years. It took us a while to get to this point but it feels like second nature now.

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Torture the Artist: The exotic elements, deep-rooted sound structures and emotive rhythms in your production, make Tunnelvisions stand out, especially in the European electronic music terrain. How did you, as producers’ get so well acquainted to this particular style and how uncomfortable did producing feel at the very start?

Tunnelvisions: This is going to sound really weird, but we both had no experience, or at least not a lot of it, with listening to music from different cultures. We know it’s super cool to say something like: yeah I grew up in a house that played Astrud Gilberto non stop and had Fela Kuti on repeat, but for us it wasn’t the case. Ray’s parents had only 6 CD’s in his collection and Emiel’s dad only listened to European rock music.

For us it was purely, following our gut feeling and a bit of luck. We remember that one day, Ray had bought a boxset of percussion elements for about 30 euros and invited Emiel who was into synths, to his studio. We played around with a little bit of both, tried out slower tempos just like the hiphop music we used to listen to, and bam, we ended up with a collaboration that felt different and ‘new’ (at least for us).

From then on, we grew curious about learning rhythms from different cultures, and same with the keys. Music theory became a fascination for us – learning which modes were used in various cultures, exploring different intervals we don’t hear around us all the time. By three years time we got quite proficient in making stuff that are considered exotic and deeply layered, but we had to learn this along the way.

Torture the Artist: By which track/year did you start to feel that you are actually in the right track, that there was no need to conform to what is hip, trendy or critically-acclaimed?

Tunnelvisions: ‘Guava’, definitely! It’s our most poppy track. It’s even short enough to work as a Spotify track. It has vocals, it’s happy and a lot of people started playing it despite its length. As we heard DJs who we look up to play it across the globe, we then knew that we just had to do our thing.

Torture the Artist: As a duo, how do you balance off your dual roles as DJ/producers. Is one more well-versed in a particular aspect of your collaboration. Has that changed over the years?

Tunnelvisions: When we started off, Emiel had more DJ experience and Ray was working as a producer full time. Having experience in both ends, we really wanted to learn from each other and grow together. Emiel taught Ray how to DJ with a feeling for flow, not breaking the mood but building it, setting a narrative through sound. In return, Emiel learned to make catchy shit in his melodies. Now we’re almost equally proficient in both aspects, so we continuously challenge each other on both levels.

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Torture the Artist: Your tracks have made it to some of the most carefully selected and meticulously curated playlists. You can certainly get used to the euphoric sensation felt once your sequence rolls out in loudspeakers, but yes, they don’t quite get old. Where were you when you first heard your track blasting through professional soundsystems, who was playing and how did you savor the moment?

Tunnelvisions: There are two particular situations that made a lasting impression on us – one was digital and one was in real life. The digital one was when we were on YouTube searching for videos from Burning Man. We had never been and was quite curious what the festival was like. Then, bam! We came across a footage of Goldcap playing ‘Guava, during sunrise. Holy shit! We saw that and started jumping and screaming Dutch swear words and laughed. That was an awesome moment!

The other time was a couple years ago, during ADE at the Keinemusik party. We were standing right by the stage then unexpectedly, Adam Port started playing ‘Uele’. At the time we were so green – <laugh> We were just two Dutch guys who had made their first tracks, checking out ADE, and all of a sudden we hear our very own production right out of the speakers, played by a DJ who we admire. It was amazing! And at that moment we realized: It’s ‘Go Time, man. Now’s the chance to go for it! No holding back.

We’ve sometimes felt we may have went in too fast, and too hard.

Torture the Artist: Over the past 10 years, was there a major decision in your life – career, relationships, etc – that you wish you could’ve taken back? Overall do you feel as though you made the right decisions in your musical career.

Tunnelvisions: We’ve sometimes felt we may have went in too fast, and too hard, during the first years. Making two albums was a crazy fun experience, but how the hell are you going to top that. We’re not saying these albums are perfect, far from it, but it’s as if you have a limited amount of creativity you can spend before you need to refill. After album two, we grew anxious: ‘okay, shit. We’ve done that, what’s next? We’re fed up with this sound, we want to do something different.’ So we did. We made italo, disco, rock, everything. There was even a point where we thought, we’ve completely lost ourselves. But now, after a while, we’ve found it was part of the process. We were just figuring out and discovering the next steps of further developing our own sound. This takes time, it can’t be rushed – it is constantly evolving. There are like 15 new Tunnelvisions tracks in the pipeline right now. There’s a big possibility these are stuff we will eventually release, but also a chance they are not, and that’s fine. But through moments filled with momentum, and some lulls, we’ve come full circle again, and it has been a great decision let it flow like this.

Torture the Artist: Name a track of yours you love but feel could use a revamp? Who do you think would make the best reinterpretation?

Tunnelvisions:In 5 years we’re going to do a Guava EP with remixes by David Guetta, Martin Garrix, Tiesto and Armin van Buuren. Just kidding (or not! Maybe we are). <smile>

Torture the Artist: What were the last five tracks on your soundcloud history?

Tunnelvisions: The new Keinemusik EP and a new track of ours. <laugh>

Interview by Marie J. Floro