It’s raining Chicago trip-hop projects! Just a little while ago I was a lonely trip-hop soul in Windy City, and then all of a sudden Scarlet Monk appeared with her album, I was finally able to make contact with Atomica Project (them and Scarlet Monk are playing a show in January and I’m definitely going to be there!), and now another Chi-Town duo emerged on the trippin’ the rift horizon. Please welcome Tensei, presenting yet another fresh and exciting dimension in what turns out to be a rich world of Chicago electronic music scene.
tipkin – Who are Tensei? How and when did it all start?
Tensei – Meaning ‘heaven star’ in Japanese, Tensei consists of producers Simple X and Midas Wells, kindred spirits of sorts, one might say. Midas from the Chicago suburbs and Simple X from the Chicago south side, the two first met circa 1998 at the dorms of Southern Illinois University during a cypher. Soon, the two were banging out tunes on whatever their limited student resources could afford. However, Tensei’s journey has certainly been anything but linear: post-graduation saw a “regular” job for X and a momentary complete departure from music for Midas.
Then came the serendipitous run in at a mutual friend’s gig a few years ago and Tensei was born. Both committed to their crafts, Tensei does not heavily rely on samples and in fact play many musical parts themselves. Any gaps that need to be filled are done by session musicians and vocalists. An incredible amalgam of soul, house, jazz, electronic, and eastern sounds comes alive.
t. – While Chicago is known for its dance music tradition, it’s not the first (or even second) city that comes to mind when talking about downtempo electronica/trip-hop. Are you hoping to break this stereotype?
T. – While we love our upbeat music, yes we are hoping to break this stereotype by working with LA based super indie label Plug Research.
t. – What are some of your main influences/sources of inspiration?
T. – It’s really hard to list off all of them. But we both started off as golden era hip-hop heads. Digging for samples over the years we both started to get deep into other music such as jazz, soul, library, afrobeat, brazilian funk, and such. We both have extensive record collections that influence us. I would say in the modern era our influences could be seen in The Roots, DJ Shadow, Flying Lotus, Sa Ra Creative Partners, and Pete Rock.
t. – Would you consider yourselves “a trip-hop project”? What’s your take on trip-hop and its current state?
T. – Yes and No. Yes, because we do use many trip-hop-ish music influences by blending hip-hop with other genres. No, because we are not exclusively a trip-hop artist. I would say the state of trip-hop has turned into future beats, i.e. Brainfeeder Crew (LA), Hoya Hoya (UK), a lot of records Alpha Pup dropped. I would say that trip-hop has mutated into such music.
t. – Your music is a combination of samples and instrumentation. What are the most difficult (and most fun) aspects of creating your works?
T. – The most difficult part about making our music is finding vocalists who get what we are trying to do. A lot of times we end up getting vocals that are really heavy in RnB which is not what we are looking for. MC-wise it’s pretty much we want smart dope raps and none of this watered down coonery.
The funnest part is making the music, we literally jam out in our studio and tracks pop out of the blue.
t. – You’ve done a decent amount of remixing. How do you choose songs that you want to remix?
T. – A lot of remixes came about in one of two ways – a trade with an artist or a contest. If someone is paying us, we will remix anything (as long as the OG is NOT terrible), but the contests we choose based on how much exposure we think it will result in. This strategy worked pretty well for us as the Bilal – “Robots” remix leaded to us getting signed by Plug Research.
t. – Let’s talk about your upcoming LP. What’s the concept, what kind of listener do you think will appreciate the album?
T. – Our upcoming album is going to be an experience through life. There is not going to be one genre this fits into, there is a good blend of jazz, funk, soul, electro, and hip-hop in these tunes. We think the trip-hopper will dig it, people who like genuine music will dig it, and also other artists. This one is prolly going to end up as an “artists artist” type of album.
t. – Do you do any live gigs? Where can people find your music?
T. – Midas from the team DJ’s, we are prepping our new live set at the moment. We will let you know when it’s ready to go…
Please do, I like the way Tensei blends those styles into a new vibrant sound. Crazy, but tasteful. Not all of it is downtempo, but does it have to be to be liked by trippin’ the rift? You know the answer!
Check out Tensei‘s music on Soundcloud and Bandcamp and stay tuned for the updates, cuz I’m sure am intending to keep in touch with them.