Myele Mananza

‘Now I know 
when to unleash’

Words: Tom Goldson
Photography: Stephen Langdon

The Wellington drummer (and more besides) is playing 
live techno in a band to audiences around the world

Wellington drummer and producer Myele Manzanza styles his CV like an old-fashioned business card: Drummer, producer, beatmaker, DJ, composer in Hip-Hop, Jazz, Electronic. All these skills were brought to bear when the 26-year-old scored the gig of a lifetime, joining the live band of Detroit techno DJ and producer Theo Parrish.

Manzanza took his seat at the drums behind Parrish, guitarist Duminie DePorres, who has worked with Public Enemy and George Clinton, keyboardist Amp Fiddler, who counts Clinton and Prince among former colleagues, and the much sought-after bassist, Akwasi Mensah. Manzanza has previous form as a sticksman for New Zealand bands Electric Wire Hustle, Olmecha Supreme and The Recloose Live Band, but reimagining killer cuts from Parrish’s esteemed techno and house catalogue is next-level stuff and has taken Manzanza through Europe and beyond. He spoke to The Red Bulletin about what it means to hold down the beat for a don of Detroit music techno.

THE RED BULLETIN: Before you met the man himself, what was your relationship with Theo Parrish’s music?

MYELE MANZANZA: The first time I’d heard of Theo was when I was playing with The Recloose Live Band in Japan. We did a gig in Tokyo with him; I’d never heard his music or seen him DJ, but his set flipped my mind. He was playing across the board, from super-electronic house to old-school soul and funk, and mixing records which shouldn’t be mixable. It was one of those eye-opening musical experiences.

“Playing techno live, you can’t be on autopilot. It’s unconventional in structure”

 Did you meet him that night?

Yeah, we hung out and had a group dinner. He doesn’t remember me from that time, though. My group [The Myele Manzanza Trio] did some concerts in Australia a year or so ago, and one of the tunes we played was a Theo Parrish track, Love Is War For Miles. [New Zealand producer] Mark de Clive-Lowe sent it to Theo, and Theo totally bugged out and signed it to his Wildheart label. That’s how he heard of me. When he was putting his live band together, I guess he thought, ‘OK, this guy can play the drums and he knows my music so it makes sense to bring him on.’ We had a Skype session and talked about what he wanted to do and our musical influences, and it felt right. There was instant chemistry.

What’s the brief for playing live techno?

The vibe was he wanted to do a live band reproduction of his tracks. A lot of his music is unconventional in structure, so we couldn’t afford to be on autopilot. Theo’s rhythms are very mechanical, which meant I had to do a lot of homework.

How long did the band have together before you hit the road?

We had a week of rehearsals at the Red Bull Studios London. It reminded me of summer basketball camps I used to go to, where you would work together as a team. That week with Theo was like that, nine-hour days of being drilled – and the band got super-tight, super-quickly.

How long did the band have together before you hit the road?

We had a week of rehearsals at the Red Bull Studios London. It reminded me of summer basketball camps I used to go to, where you would work together as a team. That week with Theo was like that, nine-hour days of being drilled – and the band got super-tight, super-quickly.

How was it going from being a fan of Theo to being his bandmate?

It was awesome just hanging out and talking music, to get to know his process. Instead of thinking as a drummer, I had to think as Theo Parrish the drum programmer. It was really cool for me to open my mind to another way of playing. I know that Theo’s a big deal, but I didn’t really get the scope of it until the first gig [at Dancity Festival, Foligno, Italy] and seeing the audience hyped; it was unlike anything I’ve been a part of. It was really revitalising – not that I’d lost faith in music, but it was like, ‘This is what I want to do with my life.’

Did you have any time on tour to work on your own music?

Yeah, after those rehearsals I had an opportunity to use some studio monitors at the Red Bull Studios London and mixed a bunch of stuff, and if I was bored on the road I would be on the tour bus making beats. 

Has touring with the Theo Parrish Live Band affected your own music?

Theo directed our every move. At first it felt like, ‘OK, this guy’s trying to micromanage me,’ but when we got to the end result it made perfect sense. That’s made me more aware of getting down to the simple, most effective essence of what I need to do with my own beats and not playing stuff that doesn’t need to be played. With Theo, my job is playing a supporting role instead of the star of the show; I have to be the foundation for the rest of the band. Lots of musicians talk about playing for the song as opposed to playing for yourself, and this experience has made that real for me, knowing when to hold back and when to unleash.

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01 2015 The Red Bulletin

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