INTERVIEW: Man Power | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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This Saturday 15th October, Cobalt Studios hosts the second anniversary of local hero Man Power’s Me Me Me record label. If a birthday party and a homecoming wasn’t reason enough to celebrate, 100% of the proceeds will be donated to charity Help Refugees.

It’s not always easy to square the circle of going out clubbing while doing something for a good cause, but nights like this do a lot to redress the balance. It’s everything positive about electronic music in microcosm; an excellent venue in the heart of the Ouseburn, a fine selection of selectors and a reasonable ticket price funding a wonderful charity. Plus Wylam Brewery have kindly offered to lay on a free bar for the opening hour. There’s an awful lot to recommend it; Man Power tells us what the label, the charity and the city means to him.

 How did the idea to throw a party come about, and what does the cause of Help Refugees mean to you?

The party came about pretty naturally. Despite living in Mexico these days, Newcastle will always be home to me. It’s also where I developed into who I am as a DJ and music maker, so when it came to doing something to mark the label’s second birthday, it was the only place I wanted to do it.

Initially the idea was going to be to do a whole bunch of Me Me Me parties all over the world for the birthday, but the combination of that being a bit of a pain in the arse, as well as the fact I had a bunch of offers to play for other people, just meant that it made more sense to scale things down and do one thing. When it was scaled down to one party, then there was no other choice for me than Newcastle. I’ve always been pretty low key about my own birthday, so it felt a bit false to make a bigger fuss over the label’s birthday than what I’m doing. This way I get to hang out with a bunch of people who I’ve partied with for years, back in the Dada days and even prior to that, as well meeting a whole bunch more new people who now represent the scene in my hometown.

When I play in Newcastle I usually get to see my friends a little bit before the gig, but then I play to a big crowd and while it’s amazing it sometimes lacks the personal element I used to associate with playing in town. This setting is a lot more of a friends and family affair, and I get to listen to my best friends DJ too while I hang out in the crowd like a punter for a lot of the night.

The starting point for the Help Refugee connection is a hard one to place exactly. I knew I wanted to do something to pay back the good fortune I’ve been receiving in the last five or so years, so I did a bit of research for who I could work with on a charity record (which came out in May as “We We We”). I’m really loath to say why this cause is a better or worse cause than any other, and I don’t think it does any good to compare people’s need or their misery, but what I can say is the people at Help Refugees impressed me so much with their honest dedication and integrity that I felt compelled to help them. They’re volunteer run, and they really provide a service unlike any other organisation that I’ve encountered, plugging the gaps in service that the big charities all inevitably have. I’m really proud to be working with them, and I’m in awe of their commitment to helping people.

 You’re celebrating two years of Me Me Me. What have been the highlights from this period, and what can we expect in the future?

Picking out some highlights, the fact the label even got past one record is an obvious for me. The first record, Tachyon, was something that no other label wanted to sign and the people I worked with for press and management at the time told me it was financial and career suicide to start a label. Being a stubborn prat, I went and did it anyway.

It’s easily the most successful Man Power record to date, and I’m talking about the label two years later (as opposed to trying to redact the decision from my personal history). It was a nice reminder in the benefits of trusting yourself, and the worth of artistic endeavour over financial strategy.

Since then, there hasn’t been a single record that hasn’t been received well critically, which is a testament to everyone who has released with us. It takes a lot of trust to give your music to somebody else, especially if they’re not established. I’m kind of inundated with demo submissions, but until recently it was a real leap of faith for all of the artists and remixers who worked with us, and I truly hope they felt like it paid off for them in some way.

Another real highlight for me now is seeing people who’ve used us as a spring board for some level of sustained success. People like Forriner and DSC  have gone on to make their own labels since releasing with us. Vyvyan is now fielding offers like crazy for remixes and releases, and I’m seeing Frank Butters name appearing on more and more festival line-ups.

While I’m in no way taking the credit for these things, it gives me immense pride to feel like our label has contributed to them happening in any small degree whatsoever, and it’s amazing to see how far the support from the people playing the records has spread. Watching some huge name DJ who you’d never expect to be in to the label, playing music you’ve released to tens of thousands of people, is a strange and wonderful thing that proves that the label is growing out of being solely the property of me and the artists who have released on it.

Bringing it back to the charity element, a truly beautiful thing was the fact that I could find over 25 likeminded individuals to do the We We We record. That really made me proud of my friends, and our corner of the music scene.

As a proud Geordie yourself, what does the local scene mean for you, and are there any local talents to look out for?

The Newcastle scene is everything to me still. It’s in my blood (which isn’t necessarily always for the best I think). I have an unhealthy obsession with what’s happening back home, despite the fact that from a career point of view it’s not really essential for me to care about it (or even be involved in it).

Musically, I think Newcastle is the best it’s ever been for electronic stuff, and I’m jealous of the kids who get to go out at the moment. Clubs wise, there’s a nice level of choice. Promoters wise its seems to be in the hands of a few people, but you know what, that doesn’t bother me.

For one, I think the balance of people wanting to put on parties to the amount of people wanting to go out to parties, is a bit top heavy anyway, and in any case if you want to do something different to the norm then I suggest you find somewhere new, surround yourself with friends and go from there, rather than book the same club and the same big names to fill your party. That’s what we did with Dada, and we certainly weren’t the first to have that idea in the city.

Newcastle is still hands down my favourite place to play too. I’m a Geordie, so of course I like playing to Geordies (and adopted Geordies) the most. My association with Gabe and Luke at Ape-X means I get to play great parties regularly without relying on only being booked as a headliner (like most of the other big guys from Newcastle), and I still get to do things closer to my clubbing roots, like this Birthday Party, so I really have it both ways.

Talent wise, there’s actually too many to mention, but I’d draw some special attention to Ben Caldwell, and also to Force Majeure. Ben’s not had a release out yet other than a remix for Elliot Adamson (who used to be his house mate). Hopefully Ben won’t be offended when I say this, but he’s a kind of a muckle radgie from the West End. As a result, he completely (like completely!) blew my mind when he sent me his music to consider for the label. It’s so incredibly delicate and cerebral, with this deft balance of beauty and melody, weighted against a real hypnotic drive and energy. It’s really special, and it also gave me a timely reminder about judging a book by its cover (which is something I feel is done against me too often as well).

Force Majuere is my old friend Sweeney. He’s really found his voice musically as of late, and I can see that he’s just hitting the point where his confidence has grown in his own capabilities enough to blow the lid off what he’s capable of. Everything he sends me is more amazing than the last thing, which is an exciting place for someone to be artistically. I really think you’re going to see amazing things coming from him.

Past these two, you just need to look at all my musical nearest and dearest. Forriner, James Hadfield, Edmondson, Bird of Paradise, Ess O Ess, Last Waltz (if we still exist?) Dharma, Elliot Adamson, Machete Savane, Steve Legget, Suade, Mark Hand, Schuttle, Ian Blevins are all friends or acquaintances with unique musical voices that were spawned in the North East.

That’s the thing about all the artists I know from the region. We’re all doing our own thing. Sonically there’s no cohesive sound coming from the region, but conceptually there’s an approach to pushing boundaries which is a much more exciting link to have between us than some simple music fad that you could apply a buzzword to for the next year or two.

What can you tell us about the other acts on the bill?

OK, big admission here. The last time I played Cobalt was as an illegal party about eight years ago, when it was simply an art studio. With that in mind, it makes it feel special to be doing something there due to my historic connection with it, but I’ve also been reliably informed by a whole host of people like the Bodytalk guys that it’s a great rough and ready space. The kind that the city has been screaming out for about 10 years to be honest.

The line-up are the same people I’ve been playing with for years for the most part, and all people I’ve mentioned above. I feel I’m lucky enough to be able to say without fear of changing my mind, that DJ wise I rate these friends as highly as any of the people I’ve played alongside internationally, from Panorama Bar to Glastonbury.

Like I say, Newcastle is astounding for music right now, and this line-up represents a healthy cross section of some of the more left field house, techno and disco DJs in the city right now.

It’s very exciting for me to be able to see that the talent from my home town is on a par with what I see around the world.

Do you think music has a responsibility to champion the causes of minorities? How can the industry improve, and what do you make of the countries attitudes to refugees more generally?

It’s not so much a case that music has a responsibility to champion the causes of minorities, as much as it’s a case of people everywhere have that responsibility. I personally feel that it’s everybody’s duty to look out for their fellow human beings.

There’s a big movement towards a more conscious dance music industry, and while the cynic in me thinks that a handful of people may have hitched their stars to that for some self-serving reasons, ultimately I’m a results driven person and if the outcome is a more tolerant and caring society then I don’t really give a fuck what’s motivated people to get involved with that, whether it’s virtue signalling or through a genuine care for humanity, and I’m not going to try and pull any of it apart for the sake of analysing peoples motivations when that action could quite likely sabotage any of the good that’s coming from all of this.

However, to my mind there’s a real danger in leaving it in the hands of a small amount of people to ‘champion’ these causes, as that small group can potentially set the consensus on what’s deemed right and wrong, which leads to a lack of discussion, that in turn leads in to a lack of growth in understanding, which ends up seeing people becoming entrenched in opposing adversarial views, rather than collectively finding the humanitarian solution.

So yeah, to me it’s dance music’s responsibility for sure, but only in as much as it’s brick laying’s responsibility too, as well as being bus driving’s responsibility, hat making’s responsibility…every-other-role-you-can-think-of’s responsibility .

When we look to a specific section of people to lead us, we almost abrogate our own responsibility to be leaders ourselves. Everyone should be leading the way on this by pushing for discussion and change on a day to day basis.

As far as the attitude in the UK towards refugees, I actually don’t know what that is!

I know what my friends say their attitude is, and sometimes I get to see the attitude of the Daily Mail or Katie Hopkins online, and occasionally I’ll even meet someone who’s attitude is different to mine regarding refugees, which often feels sad is it usually seems their opinions are predicated by reading what I believe to be lies.

At the moment though, the most important attitude is our governments, which I feel could be better. That’s in our hands to control to some extent, although it won’t change overnight, so what I would say (which is probably a nice note to finish on too) is that events such as the one at Cobalt on Saturday, or even straight donations to charities like Help Refugees (or better still volunteering to help if you’re at all capable) are a great way to make your attitude towards refugees count. Long term I think all likeminded people want to see attitudes improve in the general public, in the media, and most importantly in government, but while we’re chipping away doing what we can to change attitudes, and policies, and to make the world a better place in the long term, there’s still a lot of things we can do in our day to day lives that will ease some immediate suffering, if we’re fortunate enough to be capable of sparing some time or money.

No matter how little you have spare of either, it can and will make a difference.

 

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