In Depth
The Zenker Brothers Discuss The Natural Flow Of Ilian Tape

Over the last 8 years the brother Marco and Dario Zenker have incubated and nurtured their particular vision of techno through their prolific Ilian Tape label. With a sound that reels off echoes of old school jungle bass work, fuzzy '90s electronica and immersive ambience, the German duo have earned themselves a lot of influential fans over their run of 30 or so releases. They've also displayed a real knack for supporting new talent - both in terms of the label’s physical output and their offshoot booking agency – building themselves a true family of artists and associates along the way. And that shows. There's a distinct impression that the unifying thread of what they do comes completely naturally, as a flow of friendship rather than the forcing of a sonic aesthetic.

We've been long-time, vocal fans of Ilian Tape here at the fabric HQ so it's about time that we brought them here to EC1 so that they can demonstrate their distinct outlook in the belly of our Room Two so we jumped on the hotline to find out more about an imprint that we've been following closely for so long...

Guys, I have to get this out the way, we’re huge fans of the label here in the office. We just wanted to ask you about the genesis of the Ilian Tape idea? Like what initially prompted you to start the label?

Dario Zenker: I started to DJ 16 years ago and then started producing at 18 so the label was just the next logical step. We both dedicated everything to music so it was just really natural. Although Marco was the opposite; he started playing live and then started DJing.

Marco Zenker: It was a big motivation for me because it made me think that one day I could release something on the label - it was a big aim to accomplish that. I gradually got more and more involved with the whole thing until at one point I just said it would be really nice to join in on the whole organisational part of it and share the work so it happened quite naturally.

Jonas Kopp is going to be playing as well when you come to fabric. Can you tell us what is it that you both like about his work that made you want to sign him?

Dario: First of all, we've been friends for years. He always had this really straight approach which was very dancefloor focussed but on the other side he also makes ambient music without or with broken beats which we’re really into. We like artists that have a wide range and are experimental, who are open to different genres like we are.

Marco: The first proper record we did with him was two ambient tracks that we both really loved. We still like his other stuff still - he’s contributed music from earlier on that was really nice too.

"We like artists that have a wide range and are experimental, who are open to different genres like we are." – Dario Zenker

Just to go in on something you touched on there - in terms of the ambient stuff - it feels like the overarching sound of the label has a lot of influence from IDM and Aphex. And it feels like there are a lot of jungle kind of sounds coming in too, lots of UK originated sound palettes... Do you feel like that kind of music has been influential to you guys?

Dario: We’re influenced by many genres and styles but the UK has always played a very important role in dance music in general. The UK is always a step ahead.

Marco: Yes definitely and I think that if you’re a passionate producer and you enjoy making music and putting a lot of emotions and feelings into it then it’s quite natural that you try to do different things and not just stick to one style.

Definitely. Also, I know you guys are producers first but I thought it was quite interesting that you have a booking agency… Like you've actually got a lot of things to put your time into and I know a lot of artists prefer not to get involved with any of that. Do you enjoy having these other roles?

Dario: We aren't actually booking agents ourselves, but our agent Alex runs the agency and we've been working with him for many years…

Marco: When it comes to work, we do prefer to focus on the music. The label… we do all ourselves; we don’t have anybody helping us with that. We do everything.

I noticed as well your site is really well set up to support your artists and the booking agency…

Marco: Yeah and we really pushed for that. We talked to our booker and were like ‘come on let’s do this’. We have a great opportunity because we have a core group of 6 or 7 artists on the agency. They are really focussed on the label and we also focus on them to give them space to express themselves. We’re really into what they do. We’re also friends, so for us it’s been really nice to build a small agency to push them so that we can play together more. It just developed out of our good relationship with our agent.

Dario: It works well too because it’s very specific sound wise and we can be more sure that the people who book us through the agency know what they want and that they’re into the music. We’re super lucky we have an agent that supports that.

I guess when you’re putting so much time and effort into it that you've got to have a very real and personal connection with the artists as well as the music. But you've also been busy this year as producers. Your album was out at the beginning of the year and you toured a lot but what have the last few months for you been like? Have you been writing a new album? What's been your focus in the studio?

Marco: It’s been hard to find time in the studio recently. We've just been working on remixes because we’re touring a lot and also, like we were saying before, we do the label ourselves and that’s taken up the majority of our time.

Dario: We’re actually moving into a new studio soon because it’s just at my place now and I'm moving out. We've been buying a lot of gear this year but we've never found the time to use it. It’s great to travel and play - it’s what we want to do - but we also need to find a balance and time for the studio because the weekends are pretty exhausting.

Marco: Yeah, at the moment it feels a little bit like we’re done there. We want to build a new set up and make a new studio. We’re just waiting for that room and when we have it we’ll find more time again to make some new music.

Dario: Our studio feels abandoned!

That sounds tragic!

Dario: It does feel like that though. Because knowing we have to move out is like when you have to leave a hotel room or flat at the end of a holiday; the room starts to feel like it’s losing its vibe somehow and that’s how the studio feels right now.

"A good party is not made by a DJ alone, but by the crowd and the DJ together." – Dario Zenker

So I guess it's the real double edged sword - like it's fantastic to be busy and touring but it does take a lot out of your week and your general energy. There was something that I really liked that I saw in both your biographies that I wanted to touch on too. You both talked about the importance of actually dancing...

Marco: Oh, absolutely. We both experienced our first raves as dancers so it’s always been really important for us. What really infected me when I went to my first rave was the whole atmosphere and that the music is the focal point and that you can dance however you want and people have to accept and respect it. I feel that if you dance for more than an hour then you get into a kind of meditative state and we still really love that.

Dario: I think it's very important. Maybe not every DJ does but I think you have to know what’s going on on the dancefloor – and not just from watching it but feeling what’s going on and what it’s like to dance. A good party is not made by a DJ alone, but by the crowd and the DJ together. Before we started to DJ we were dancing. It was the music that made us move and then inspired us to want to DJ and explore that feeling.

So what've you got coming up on the label? Have you got a lot planned in already for next year?

Marco: We've got a new record from Andres Zacco that’s out now on ITX with a remix from Rupcy. Then we have another solo release from Dario coming in November and that’ll be it for the year. Next year we’ll start with an album from Skee Mask, then a record by a new artist on the label and a few solo records from our core artists.

Can you just clarify the distinction between ITX and the main Ilian Tape label?

Dario: We have the second label simply because we don’t want to put out too much stuff. Last year we did 8 records, this year we did 6 and that’s how we want to keep it because every record needs time to breathe and grow. It’s not good for the label or the artist if you release too much stuff so with ITX its stuff we’d really love to release but feel that it isn't quite fitting right now with what we’re doing on Ilian Tape. I mean, it’s essentially the same label but it’s a bit more freaky and has a bit of a different approach - like with this ambient record from Jonas Kopp, which is totally beat less, then there’s the Skee Mask records which are very architectural and just a little bit more experimental...

Cool. Thanks. That makes sense. So, I have to ask, do you guys have a personal favourite release?

Dario: That’s a hard question because everything we release we love and are 100% satisfied with - even with the old stuff from 2007 which was another time when were pretty young and into different music. We always believed in it so it’s a hard question [to answer] because we just put out stuff that we really feel. I think running a label is a lifelong process much like making music or DJing, you never reach that point where you think it’s perfect.

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