"It's Been A Journey!" The Rise Of Tunnelvisions
For the Dutch duo of Raynor De Groot and Emiel Van Den Dungen – also known under their solo monikers as Coloray and Milio – that make up Tunnelvisions, life was never quite the same after meeting each other.
With the success of their debut album ‘Midnight Voyage’ in 2017 a rapid ascent quickly followed through the ranks of the music industry, transporting them onto stages they had never envisioned possible. At the core of all this was a sound that took inspiration from places their hearts desired to visit, but sadly couldn’t, instead using their music as a metaphorical holiday.
The release of their latest EP ‘Gold Teeth’ last month sees the duo delve into synth-pop, whilst keeping the dancefloor close to mind. It’s new territory for Tunnelvisions, but it stays true to its roots, we catch up with them below to get a better idea of how this all happened so quickly.
As two young creatives at the time, the Tunnelvisions project stemmed from a burning passion for music. The trajectory the careers of Emiel and Raynor have since undertaken was back then a far distant dream. “I was living in Berlin at the time. Raynor sent me a message on Soundcloud, saying he really liked my music, we should do a studio session together.”
Emiel states, “I came back to the Netherlands to play somewhere and we met. He told me how he knew somewhere for me to live in Tilburg as I wanted to move back to the country.”
Raynor adds, “He had this huge creative energy with him coming from Berlin. During the days I’d work and then every evening we’d be in the studio making music together. It was a very creative time; I’d make music 9-6 for clients and then he’d walk through the door and we’d be making music until 11. It was really the school we needed at the time to grow as a duo but also as individuals.”
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For the duo, the chemistry felt instantaneous which quickly led to the creation of their first album 'Midnight Voyage'. A collection of songs inspired by the sounds of South America, which laid the foundations for their synonymous, exotic sound. “Within the first week Emiel was back in the Netherlands we were in the studio.” Raynor says, “The first track on our debut album was recorded during our first session. Afterwards he reached out to me and said how good the vibes were between us and asked whether I wanted to make a production duo. He’d already thought of the name, we’d met only once… I thought it was pretty fast. But I didn’t have anything to do at the time and I was still working at a design firm. So, I thought let’s just do it. Within six months we had our first album done.”
With that chemistry came an irrepressible workflow. Thanks to this they unearthed a sound which came from their own dreams and desires. “When Tunnelvisions started we were really young, I was 24, Emiel was 21. We didn’t have any money to go on a holiday so we’d look into music from different countries that we’d love to travel to one day and incorporate that music and that style into our own music, so we could go on a holiday via our own music.” Raynor comments, “Once we started travelling to these places we’d stumble upon more influences. We were looking for ways to challenge ourselves and make a mark in this music world. It was a nice moment, but I don’t think I’d ever have the energy to do it again.”
Those dreams quickly became a reality for the duo and once they worked on this idea, it became the staple of their future work. With their debut album ‘Midnight Voyage’ also came the hit single ‘Guava’, a song that gained huge popularity across the world for its alternative take on dance music. It’s global outreach propelled Tunnelvisions’ profile tenfold and quickly they became sought after for some of the biggest stages.
“At the time we were building this whole dance, electronic style combined with South American rhythms. At the end of the whole album process we still had some vocals of this choir we recorded in a city close by, we knew we had to do something with them. It was like an extra, but we always knew it would a standout on the album, we just didn’t know it would be that big. It really jump started our careers. To have that one song that cements you as an act and builds your profile is just a blessing. Everyone’s competing so much in this industry, that one track really a difference. People love playing Guava, but we have so much more to offer.”
The effect of ‘Guava’ was paramount to Tunnelvisions’ future success. However, it also served as a wake-up call, although it opened many doors, the duo realised they couldn’t rely on this song forever, and something new had to emerge. “All of a sudden, we got blasted to these huge stages which made us realise maybe we can’t just play 'Guava' on this stage, maybe we should have something new. I don’t know where our sound is going next, but it’s always a balance between some tropical elements, pop and experimentation. Our taste has developed. It’s been a journey.”
Now, with a signature style that makes them unique, the duo are determined to avoid becoming predictable. With their latest EP ‘Gold Teeth’ - released via Disco Halal – drawing heavily on the sounds of synth pop, we see a new sonic direction for the artists, whilst retaining its worldly inspiration. “I wrote a rap vocal over some sort of instrumental. My studio complex is 90% hip hop artists. On Friday evenings everyone gathers around and grabs a mic, being a songwriter, I try and rap in that situation.”
Raynor states, “The rhythmic structure stuck and when we were writing ‘Gold Teeth’ it had an influence. We took a lot of inspiration from afrobeat rhythms, from DJs and producers like Axel Boman. We realised we had something really catchy, so we tried cutting it down and playing with the arrangements. We did about twenty versions before we found the right one. We knew we wanted some French filter house influence, with a sample that keeps looping.”
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With the lead single ‘Gold Teeth’ being a ludicrously catchy and joyful production, the rest of the EP returns to an area more focussed on the dancefloor. “‘Heatwave’ was inspired by samba music. I had a new drum synth that formed the bass structure, it’s sort of samba, dance music, I don’t know how to describe it, but it works.” Emiel describes, “‘Hyperfocus’ is quite synth pop influenced. Although, we always start the process by making dance music first, then we begin adding those song writing elements.”
This EP in many ways sees Tunnelvisions return to those early roots of ‘Midnight Voyage’. It’s exotic in its design and see’s the duo move away from some of their most recent productions. “It’s a new chapter,” Raynor states. “The picture series we did with DIYnamic was pop influenced but more geared towards the German synth, dancey sound we were into at the time. Here we were trying to merge that with the sounds from our first album and bring back those tropical sounds, trying to make something new in the process.”
The alternative style of ‘Gold Teeth’, along with its vast inspiration, fits right at home on Disco Halal. Looking back through Tunnelvisions’ back catalogue, it always felt like they would naturally release on Moscoman’s label eventually. “At the beginning of Tunnelvisions we had a number of influences: John Talabot, Axel Boman and Moscoman.” The duo proclaim: “these artists that sit between indie music and dance. If someone knows how to cross those genres, it’s Mosco. We were big fans of the music the label releases, so we sent him a couple of demos and within a day we got a reply wanting to work together, that’s was already a year and a half ago.” For the label, ‘Gold Teeth’ marks their first vinyl release since the start of the pandemic, an inclination to its success.
As for 2020, the landscape has shifted in the music industry. Gone are live events, along with the opportunity to test future releases on crowds. In regard to making music, the duo can’t think of a more creative time. “Artists live in this huge industry, particularly within dance, where your weighed down by expectation of a certain sound.”
The duo comment: “once that isn’t relevant anymore you get this huge creative freedom, of being able to do whatever you want, there’s nobody telling you ‘nobody will listen to that style.’ For us, it’s always been about experimentation. This has been a creative time, we’ve both worked on solo albums, plus an album together. Three albums within a year, we wouldn’t have had that time usually.”
But alongside this creativity comes more free time, something they’ve relished. “That quality time was something we’d been missing. Tunnelvisions exploded pretty quickly. Within a year of existing as a duo and knowing each other, we were put on stages. At one point you start missing the people around you. I see this situation as a test, if you’re still able to be creative in this time then you’ve found an honest place for the music to come from.”
The duo are hoping to see a shift in the dance industry as a whole once this pandemic ends. An industry that had gone rogue in recent years. “The dance industry was reaching its peak. DJ fees were going up to enormous amounts. People getting billed slots for 30 minutes, are we even talking about the idea of dance music?” Raynor states. “Hopefully this can be some sort of reset button. Hopefully there’s space again for new, good artists. Everyone has the time now to think what’s next after coronavirus. I think it’ll bring a lot of positive things and more quality parties.”
A level of greed that plays an indirect role in ‘Gold Teeth’, “the lyrics are about wanting more and more, even though you have everything you want, gold teeth up in your mouth. The message of the song is to reflect and stay happy with what you have.” A masterpiece in its design, we can only hope the message transcends in 2021.
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'Gold Teeth' is out now.
Words: Jake Wright
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