Often recognised for his diverse style, ranging from techno to metal. We talk to 'Me Me Me' label owner, Man Power about how his musical tastes, experiences at Newcastle club, NICE and "being an obnoxious working-class Geordie" helped shape his own sound and identity.
Ibiza Voice - What's the biggest lesson you've learned in realising your sound as a producer and how did you learn it?
Man Power - I think pleasing yourself becomes pretty essential. I came to people’s attention by pleasing myself initially. That’s very easy when you’re coming from nowhere, but it becomes increasingly difficult to do once you’ve built some kind of reputation that you want to protect. I’m sure I’m not alone in finding myself in a position where I felt forced to either try and match or confound people’s expectations of me.
Getting that caught up in your head doesn’t only send you a bit crazy, I think it kind of leads to shitty music too. When I’m at what I think is my best, it’s because I’m not considering anybody else’s reaction to my music but my own. It feels a bit disingenuous to be making music to please people other than yourself. I think it’s more artful to be true to what moves you, and if that finds an audience then great, and if not then who cares?
Some artists struggle with their identity their entire careers, some just have an innate knowledge of what they're about from the off, where you on this spectrum?
I think it’s everybody else who struggles with my identity. I know what I like musically, so it doesn’t really affect me, but some people struggle to categorise me or have me pinned down as something I’m not. I like a lot of varied music, and it’s hard to paint that picture for people via the one or two releases they may be aware of by me.
I know that when people have come to hear me play they’ve been surprised positively by the breadth of what I may play, but I also know other people who have me pigeonholed in their mind as one thing, may have also been disappointed when I’ve gone places that may not chime with their musical image of me. Again though, I guess you just have to stay true to what you’re in to. Trying to squeeze yourself in to somebody else’s limited view of you may be lucrative in a commercial sense, but I don’t think it’s a healthy thing to do for your own sense of self.
Can you pinpoint one dancefloor experience (as a fan, not an artist) that shaped your vision of what dance music should be about? Can you set the scene and be as descriptive about this moment as possible? what were you doing with your life at the time? why did it mean so much to you?
In my late teens and early 20s I was never solely in to the House / Techno scene, so you’d just as likely find me in a metal club, or some kind of shitty mainstream meat market, as you would find me at the good clubs in Newcastle at the time, like Shindig etc.
I think the big change for me was when I started going to NICE, which was the more alternative end of the house music scene in Newcastle and didn’t rely on big names for DJs, favouring local residents instead. The thing that changed it for me wasn’t so much the music, as it was the sense of community and scene that you got from that place. Clubbing changed from being a case of moving from new face to new face and instead was about seeing the same big family every week.
NICE had an anything-goes back room, which is often the norm now, but was pretty revolutionary back then (and done so much better imho). Pretty early on I heard the DJ play the theme music from the 80s comedy drama “Minder” and I finally realised you could play anything you fucking wanted in a club, and suddenly the thought of DJ'ing appealed to me.
Have you ever had a mentor or a key influencer? if so, what did they bring to your sound? what advice did they give you?
I eventually became a resident at NICE after a lot of years playing all over Newcastle. That was when I really started getting in to playing house and techno sounds. I used to get partnered with 2 of the other residents, Foss and Mick Rolfe. They used to fucking berate me for my shit mixing and odd choices. They were like 2 twatful older brothers.
Over time we ended up forming Last Waltz and putting on the Dada parties in Newcastle which still feel really special to me. They’re definitely the 2 people who shaped my sound the most. 50% of that was with me picking up on their advice, and 50% of it was me sticking to what I was doing just to piss them off. Both approaches were invaluable in shaping how I play now.
Tell us a track (or tracks) by another artist that has been pivotal in influencing and shaping the artist that you've become? pls tell us the story of how you discovered it and what it means to you.
There’s a story that I think is attributed to the author EM Forster (although I’ve heard it told about Bob Dylan too), about the fact that he’d sneak in to classes where they’d discuss his work, and he’d sit there in disguise at the back of the room listening to people discussing the hidden meanings in his work, and he’d be just thinking “wow! is that what I meant?”.
I think that you don’t implicitly always know the message or meaning or influence in your work till after the fact, and sometimes it takes someone to point it out to you. There are a lot of tracks I can hear in my own stuff, but I’ve never gone out to emulate them as far as I can tell, and I don't hear the influences till after they're finished. For instance, my first release “Kiloton” reminds me of Westbam and Howie B when I listen to it now, but I had neither in my head while making it.
Pinpoint a track of yours that you look upon as a turning point in your career and describe your relationship with it? how do you look back on it? how did it come to be? And how did it change things for you?
My first release on Correspondant was the turning point for me. I’d done a few remixes with this project, but I could actually feel an interest in me for my debut release as Man Power, which I’d never felt in any of the music I’d released in previous guises. The palpable engagement by people in advance of it coming out just filled me with enough confidence to really think “Fuck it, I’m gonna make a go of it this time”.
Is there one piece of equipment above all others that has been crucial for helping you develop your sound? what is it? how did you find it or what lead you to working with it? how have you evolved using this instrument and why?
My Macbook. I got told early on “treat your computer like a musical instrument” and it’s game changing advice. It’s the only thing I know I’ll have with me wherever I go, so I’ve got really good at abusing it in all sorts of delicious ways. I really love the challenge of composing without the tyranny of methodical choice.
What were your key musical transitions or influences growing up that have shaped you as an artist? I.e.. did you spend some time into one particular genre or another? how did these combine to make you who you are today?
I’ve said this in the past, but growing up between 2 sets of grandparents, as well as my own separated parents, really helped me realise from an early age that you’re ok to like whatever music you like, and it doesn’t matter who thinks it’s cool. I’ve never ever subscribed to being part of any single scene. Other people are free to identify me as being part of whatever they want, but I never do.
What's the hardest thing you've had to struggle with in developing your own identity?
Being an obnoxious working-class Geordie doesn’t always chime well with other people’s perceptions of what a global DJ should think and say, as well as how they should act (especially with other DJs to be honest!). I’m very open, fairly opinionated, and my actions aren't necessarily always in line with what’s currently considered cool DJ behaviour.
Being straight up, I could play the game much better and let management handle my Instagram and social accounts to create a perception that I’m also living the same cookie cutter superstar DJ life, which would likely yield some additional commercial success. Alternatively, I could be arch and turn my nose up at all of the trappings of modern commercial success and yield myself more underground kudos within a certain realm of the serious diggers and artists.
Neither of those really represents me though, I’m just someone who loves music and who enjoys his job, but I also enjoy other things in life, so I just try to be as truthful as I can be online. It may be hindering me in certain areas, but in the spirit of being totally truthful I couldn’t give a fuck as I still need to be able to look at myself in the mirror every morning, and I’d rather recognise the person looking back at me.
To get to where you are today as a producer, what did you have to do? what sacrifices did you have to make? i.e. did you go to a music school? did you lock yourself away from social life to concentrate? did you endure lean times in pursuit of music? did this transition take decades or a matter of years? how did you build your knowledge?
I played a bunch of instruments as a kid. Organ (half decent). Cello (abysmal). Guitar (embarrassingly). Drums (so so). I sang in bands in my 20s, and I’ve always loved music in general. For a lot of years I was just DJing as a way of supporting my social life (which was my entire life).
My entire 20s were basically a “lean time”, but I’m not sure it was in pursuit of music as much as it was in pursuit of self-gratification. DJing just enabled me doing everything else I wanted to do. As those urges left me (or I guess you could say, as I grew up) the music was still there. It’s the only real constant in my life. It was never my aim to become successful in the music industry, it’s just something that happened naturally over time.
As far as how long it’s taken, well it’s taken my entire life up until now really, and I’m still developing my tastes. I don’t think you can ever say that musically you’re the finished article. If you do, you run the risk of turning in to the 43-year-old man with the Liam Gallagher hair who thinks everything made after 96 is shit.
At the moment I have a slight bit of the spotlight I guess (although I’m sharing that with a lot of people). It’s great that people enjoy what I’m doing right now, but I’ll still be doing it well after people stop liking it too, in the same way as I was doing it before they decided they liked it.
Production, for me at least, is just a form of self-expression. Technical prowess really doesn’t have anything to do with that, nor does any sense of perceived curatorial expertise. An artist isn’t better because of the depth of their crate, or their skill at a console. All that really should matter is that they can communicate an idea or feeling that comes from an honest place.
Again, if they find people to receive what they’re saying, then that’s a massive bonus (especially for paying the rent), but the important thing is that it’s getting said, not that people are listening.
Podcast time. Have a listen or don't: