Man Power is a true electronic virtuoso who has proven he can do searing acid, raw techno and expressive disco with equal elan. As well as running his own Me Me Me labels, he has appeared on top outlets like ESP Institute and Correspondent and now impresses once again with the help of Berlin’s Private Agenda.
As an artist, producer and promoter there is little that he hasn’t achieved so ahead of his upcoming debut release on Skint Records we enjoyed a deep and revealing conversation about life behind the headphones.
You have been busy throwing your ME ME ME events all over Newcastle recently. As a city, Newcastle is sometimes overlooked when discussing UK electronic music. Can you tell us about the current state of Newcastle’s electronic scene and how it compares to other dance music cities?
I love Newcastle. I mean I know I’m biased because I’m from there, but sometimes its easier to have a downer on where you come from and look outwardly for the thing you admire too. I think I’ve really grown to appreciate the region for what it is a lot more since moving away around 7 years ago. Despite being based for a period in Berlin, and more recently Mexico. As well as the fact I’m on semi-permanent tour, I’ve been coming back to the region more and more. Often for longer periods of time and will be moving back permanently soon.
I’ve been doing the Me Me Me things as a focus for the last couple of years, but before that, I’ve been throwing some kind of party in the city for the last 15 or so years. Most notably the Dada events we used to do, which took place all over the city. This year would have been Dada’s 10th birthday. The reason I mention it is when we started out we really felt as though we were doing something that was very different for the city. We were playing everything from Techno, to disco, to afro, to psychedelic rock, to house and everything else in between.
We had a whole bunch of friends who did this (and some of them had been pushing this agenda before us, albeit in a bit of a smaller scale and without really caring about attracting new people as much as we did at the time) but for the vast population of clubbers in the city it appeared what we did was quite alien and exciting. It all felt very special at the time, but if we did that now I don’t think we’d stand out at all.
In the last ten years, the internet and new technology has made everybody so worldly in a musical sense. From watching videos of some of the broadest and breadth-y selectors. To having algorithms pick your playlist on music and video sites. There is a basic need to be able to stand out in a new world where everybody is a DJ. Everybody has the same access to the same music, the decade we’ve gone through has changed the scope of club music as much as any before it, and Newcastle’s scene has been changed as much as any other anywhere else.
The type of guests we booked at the time seemed revolutionarily underground at the time. People like I-F, Chida, Tiago, Felix Dickinson, Joy O etc etc etc would just be accepted and applauded now. It kind of puts us older DJs in a bit of a scary position, as all of a sudden our extra years DJing and digging are starting to count for less. Personally, I just love it that more people these days like what I think is great music. I just have to trust that I know my craft well enough, and put enough of myself into how I play, that I’m not going to be replaceable (whether it’s being replaced by a young DJ, or even by an algorithm).
I’m obviously inclined to look at Newcastle’s underground, but it would be disingenuous of me to overlook mentioning that Newcastle and the North East has also birthed some of the biggest DJs from the UK right now.
Patrick Topping, Richy Ahmed and Christoph are all huge right now, and the scene is small enough for me to say that we all knew each other before any of us got big. The city also has talents breaking through like Elliot Adamson, Jacky, Bird Of Paradise, Ian Blevins, Rees, wAFF, there’s loads more to say, but I don’t want to turn this into just series of lists.
The big thing people overlook though, in my opinion, is that Newcastle has this huge weight of talent breaking out, and a such a huge amount of great parties going on, that it rivals some of the biggest cities in the country…. but we’re only the 19th biggest city in the UK! When you look at it from that perspective, Newcastle is pretty fucking special. All the time I was growing up there’d frequently be articles putting Newcastle’s nightlife as the best in the world, from magazines all around the world. That party spirit remains here, it is just evolved and is no longer about the notorious Bigg Market and other old school spots.
People in the North East have always been bad at shouting about their regional successes though. If someone like Trevor Horn, or Bryan Ferry, or Neil Tennant from the Pet Shop boys was from the North West, their faces would be all over bus stops throughout Manchester, and there’d be production companies making movies of their early years in the region.
We have a habit of keeping quiet about this kind of stuff, and just getting on with enjoying ourselves instead. I don’t think we’ve ever needed anybody else approval or attention to know that we’ve got a good thing going on.
The real resident DJ seems to be a thing of times gone by. The likes of Danny Tenaglia or Sven Vath playing all-night-long sets are non-existent. Now line ups are stacked, set times are short and its all about your social media stats. Do you agree?
Like everything else now, since the last 13 years social media explosion, the whole thing is polarised. Sets are getting shorter on one side of the spectrum, and longer on the other, with very little thought to moderation or a middle ground because that’s a zone which isn’t newsworthy. I’ve played a whole bunch of all night long parties this year in clubs that have made a move to that format, as well as things like closing Panorama Bar for almost 12 hours. I’ve also played these mega short sets at festivals and places like Ibiza, although I have to say they’re becoming less popular at the kind of places that book me at least.
The short set thing is driven by this social media-driven phenomenon which is currently out of control. Its an arms race for clubs to see how many names they can fit on their lineups to see if they can beat the opposition. It only works because DJs have reached star status. If you think about it, if you really like a DJ then why would you want to see them play less?
The only reason you could want to see multiple DJs on the same lineup playing short sets bordering on the meaningless is to say you’ve seen them and to check them off a list. It is certainly not about wanting to join a DJ on a journey. It’s a direct product of buying into the celebrity of the DJ who’s playing. Yes, a festival with all your favourite DJs playing is a great thing, if they’re playing full-length sets. Squeezing them all into a short space of time doesn’t make sense from a musical point of view though.
It is easy to point the finger at the clubs for booking these gigs, but they’re just trying to compete and pay the bills. You can try to blame the DJs for taking the gigs, but everybody has to eat and it is just our job to go where the demand is. I don’t think you can blame the public, as people should ultimately be allowed to have whatever tastes they want to have. It is just a facet of the age we live in, and to get upset about that, in general, is futile. The counter-reaction of all-night sets is equally a part of the same process, and its also based on celebrity usually too (with some obvious notable exceptions). The only difference between the two approaches is that the latter works better musically (unless the DJ sucks, then you can find yourself longing for a shorter set ).
To continue in the same vein, we believe clubbing was born out of community. It was more than just music. It was a mindset set of unwritten rules that allow people to be whoever they want. Do you think this attitude still exists in modern club culture?
I was literally talking about this with my mother yesterday, so I’m glad you asked, although I’m going to take this on a bit of a tangent. When I got into clubbing it was definitely about community. I know a lot of what came before my time was tightly built around LBGTQ and POC communities and their struggles, but by the time I’d come into it most of those early battles had been fought. The club already existed as a safe space for people of all backgrounds and identities. It was based on music, but the real gateway to this portal, I have to admit, was ecstasy. I’m not advocating drug use, nor am I condemning it, I’m purely speaking from a personal journey, but ecstasy changed the entire trajectory of my life.
Prior to taking it, I was surrounded by the people I grew up with, on a kind of preordained trajectory that leads to the same kind of job, the same kind of relationships, the same kind of EVERYTHING that everybody I knew had accepted would mark out their journey to the grave. Finding myself suddenly opened up and vulnerable and receptive in a space with music that was either overpoweringly primal, or intensely positive, feeling a kind of ESP with my fellow dancers as though all of the walls between us had been broken down completely, that was completely transformative and is the reason I’ve been able to do everything I’ve achieved, and go all of the wonderful places I’ve been. Without the intersection of that substance, those place, that time, and especially the people I met there, I would not be the person I am today and my life would be infinitely poorer for that.
This week I was struck with the knowledge that the period I was birthed into clubbing had ended. That people don’t take the drug in the same way, and that they’re less likely to have the kind of personal metamorphosis I had. However, I’ve thought about it more and I realised that its simply because they don’t need it any more.
The world I lived in during the mid-90s. We’d just survived thatcher and the miners strikes in the northeast. My entire town was out of work after the shipyard closing. We’d had riots around the corner from where I lived where they’d burned the entire estate down, we had 0 job prospects, and what was worse was that we were all young people who had no experience of the world other than our own small towns and communities.
We weren’t even equipped to talk to each other about personal things, we were taught to distrust people who were different to us, we were led to feel that openness was a weakness. We needed ecstasy. The people you have in clubs today are predominantly the children of the first members of that ecstasy generation. The things I learned in clubs, they’ve learned at home.
The things we never got to see in our communities have been beamed on to their mobile devices, and the people we used to fear have been their online friends since soon after they learned to speak.
For those reasons I can’t compare clubbing from when I started to how it is now, in much the same way as I can’t compare what constituted community for the people who came before me, compared to my generations version of it. I think that by and large there’s a greater sense of openness and community in young people than the world has ever seen before now. As I was saying before, I think that social media/technology, and in particular capitalist concerns, have lead to a situation that breeds more alienation than ever before too, but I think that this new generation has an assumed baseline of care for one another that they’re almost born with now, and while they may not be having some kind of mass communal awakening like my generation did, they’ve shown time and time again that they can come together when needed, as happened recently at Bassiani and during the Brexit marches for instance.
The life of a DJ is not all as it sometimes appears. Long nights, lonely flights & a party lifestyle can be problematic at the best of times. How do you deal with the psychological challenges of DJing?
Being in love and having the best family in the world helps a lot.
It gets a bit crippling at time, especially at the tail end of this 3-year legal battle that’s been keeping me from my loved ones. I haven’t really mentioned that publicly before, but its nearly over I think, so I’m being a bit less guarded about it. The thing is though, I have to remind myself that I’m doing all of this for something bigger than me. Having a family puts all of the travel and discomfort into perspective.
In all honesty, the inner turmoil of being in a creative role is often harder than any of the physical rigours, but again I just have to maintain perspective. When it comes down to it, it’s amazing to have something so wonderful that you miss it when you’re not there, and something so important to you that it hurts you when it is not working well.
You need to accept that at least you’re living your life, rather than just watching it go by. When you’re being crushed under the bottom of the wheel, you know it’s just on your way to being brought back up to the top.
I’d love to say I got that analogy directly from Boethius, but I totally heard it on the film “24 Hour Party People”.
It is fair to say a lot of people envy what I have. I don’t think that doesn’t mean I can’t complain or feel bad when the going is tough, but it is something I need to consider if only to remind me of the areas where I’m lucky, which are easy to forget when thing get tough.
What has been the proudest moment in your life to date? In or outside of music.
When you have a family proud moments happen daily, as you’re all part of each others accomplishments, and they’re frequently things that happen in new realms outside of your experience or your comfort zone. A lot of the time these things come from things my daughter is involved with, or even just her conduct as she grows more and more in to the impressive young lady she’s become.
If I had to pick one moment though it would be when my wife agreed to marry me, as apart from being a stone cold babe, she’s also the most tasteful and astute person I’ve ever met, so I must be doing something right.
Finally, if you could produce a track with any producer past or present who would it be and why?
When they’re making music, everybody wraps themselves around a musical style to some extent. As far as electronic music goes, he’s never bothered with a particular style, he’s just Trevor Horn, but so many music forms have tried to wrap themselves around him.
He’s a true genius and he couldn’t give a fuck about stupid things like genre. He’s also from the North East, which is the cherry on the cake for me.