Geoff Kirkwood alias Man Power speaks when others remain silent – with words and through his music. But stating your opinion is one thing whilst taking actions another. Though Geoff is the kind of person who manages to combine both: talking and actions. A compilation for ‘Help Refugees‘ was released on his label Me Me Me earlier this year and ‘the money generated just felt like a bit of a gift to be honest, and it would have been wrong to have just kept it for myself’. With his ‘Souvenirs’ EP on Correspondant the label-honcho continues his extraordinaire output of electronic following a more techno-ish approach with his latest EP. Aside from having an intense chat with the artist, Torture the Artist streams his track ‘Hubris’ as a souvenir.
Torture the Artist:Hello Geoff, tell us something about your day.
Man Power: I’ve just woke up after arriving home to Monterrey late last night from LA. It was Father’s Day yesterday, but I have the suspicion that my wife and step daughter have planned some kind of ‘Step Father’s Day’ treat for me for when she comes home. It’s the most excited I’ve been about something in ages to tell the truth.
It snowed here in Monterrey for the first time in about 100 years recently, and I’m taking full credit for that.
Torture the Artist: You are originally from Newcastle, lived in Berlin for some time and now you are located in Mexico. Was it the urge for experiencing something new, or the bad weather in England and Germany that made you move to Mexico?
Man Power: The bad weather follows me everywhere anyway, so that’s never been a consideration to be honest. It snowed here in Monterrey for the first time in about 100 years recently, and I’m taking full credit for that. As saccharine as this sounds, I moved to Mexico out of love. I met my now wife here the first time I visited the country, and now I have a beautiful family here. We’re trying to move to Europe soon though, there are just a few logistical things we’re figuring out.
The most challenging thing is my absolutely shameful failure to learn Spanish.
Torture the Artist: How much of an adventurer are you and what’s been the most challenging situation you’ve experienced in Mexico?
Man Power: I’m less of an adventurer than I was.I used to have no reason to return home between gigs, so would often spend extended periods in the countries I was visiting and have a good look around. These days I’d sooner get back to the girls as quickly as I can manage.
Mexico in general isn’t a challenging place. It has its fair share of problematic things, but no more so than anywhere else I’ve visited. The most challenging thing is my absolutely shameful failure to learn Spanish if I’m honest. I seem to have no gift for languages whatsoever, and I’m frequently making a tit out of myself trying to order the simplest of things in restaurants.
Torture the Artist: Before we speak a little about your upcoming release, ‘Souvenirs’ on Correspondent, let’s focus on your recently released charity compilation for ‘Help Refugees’ on your label ‘Me Me Me’. As the refugee topic is and probably will always be present in our world, what incident made you compile a compilation?
Man Power: I think it was just one of those things where the stars aligned. I was getting sent a load of music I loved but that wasn’t quite right for a single release, I really wanted to do something which gave a broader snap shot of the label’s remit (or lack of), and I really wanted to start using Bandcamp and exploring the possibilities afforded by the platform.
With regards to the charity element, once I realized I wasn’t shackled by any kind of limitations for track list via the format, the money generated just felt like a bit of a gift to be honest, and it would have been wrong to have just kept it for myself, and potentially not very meaningful for any of the artists when divided amongst them. The idea was just to find a meaningful use for it. The idea of giving it to refugees came quite naturally once I’d decided to find a worthwhile cause, and it didn’t take too much digging to identify that the charity ‘Help Refugees’ was about as worthy a recipient and custodian of these donations as I’d ever find.
Torture the Artist: What do you wish to achieve with the compilation, and what projects are being supported with the donations?
Man Power: ‘Help Refugees’ is a small volunteer ran charity without the attendant red tape of a big NGO. Their projects are incredibly varied, but in essence they fill in the gaps in the services provided by the big guys and provide assistance on the ground where it’s needed.
Torture the Artist: Are there any other projects you either support or would like to draw the public’s attention to?
Man Power: There are innumerable amazing charities out there, as well as a lot of artists and labels stepping up to assist them such as the annual Craigie Knowes compilation for Warchild, the Beating Heart Africa project and the new Needs – Not For Profit label.
The internet, and in particular social media, has had quite a frightening polarizing effect on society as a whole.
Torture the Artist: In the past the electronic music scene hadn’t been known for speaking up on political or societal issues until some events like fabric or Bassiani. Would you say that the former ‘youth culture’ has grown up and artists as well as its supporters take on responsibility where the main culture keeps silent?
Man Power: I’m not sure on where it’s come from. I think that the internet has definitely led to a slight change in consciousness with regards to these type of things, and I think that the underground scene by and large has always been a good yardstick of where a certain element of society are heading to.
It’s a scene that has heavy roots in gay clubbing and what could be called ‘black music’ and definitely played a part in the breaking down cultural barriers in that respect, so I think in that sense championing other causes pertaining to identity or persecution is quite a natural progression.
The internet, and in particular social media, has had quite a frightening polarizing effect on society as a whole. Most conversations in general are moving in to a binary place. You’re either left or right. You’re either for or against something. Brexit is probably the best example of this that I can think of right now. Yes or no on a subject that is far more complex than that simple question.
I think to a degree that’s bleeding through in to dance music in many ways too. You have a growing commercially orientated side to electronic music, and its rise is being matched by a growth in musically orientated people. The commercial side seems to be interested in nothing but generating cash on the biggest scale possible, and the other side is interested in the idea of community and inclusion and identity, as well as being the side that is pushing to help all these many causes.
I think elements of both sides have always been around the scene in varying degrees for a lot of years, but the polarization means they’re both much more evident on either side now as there’s really no ambiguous middle any more to lose it all in.
Torture the Artist: What’s a current topic/issue – societal, political or regarding the electronic music scene – that heads into a direction, you strongly disagree with and how much man power would you invest to make a change?
We’re living in an adversarial time at the moment, with people unwilling to listen to anything that doesn’t chime with their social echo chamber.
Man Power: Again, with the polarization I just mentioned you run the risk of either biting the hand that feeds you, or becoming an ethical pariah if you dare to raise any level of dissent or discussion about a lot of the current hot topics.
If I could change anything then it would be to usher in some sense of nuance and open discussion about all topics, but that’s not reserved for just the music scene, that’s in regards to life in general.
The ultimate upshot of polarization would appear to be extremism, and that goes just as much for leftwing extremism as it does right. Life is never simply a case of yes or no. Things should be dealt with in shades and most issues, if not all of them, benefit from a case by case approach. We’re living in an adversarial time at the moment, with people unwilling to listen to anything that doesn’t chime with their social echo chamber, and in my opinion nothing good can come of that.
Torture the Artist: Your newest EP, ‘Souvenirs’, includes the track ‘The Zen of Xen Part 1 & 2’, as the track title derives from Buddhism and Zen/Xen ‘is a branch that believes strongly in the need to reach enlightenment from searching from within’, has the track a personal reference or what is the story behind it?
Man Power: I wish I could say something more cerebral, but it just sounded like a cool name for a track with the artists Xen.
Xen (aka Chan Steinberg) is one of the first people I met when I started travelling as Man Power. She’s immensely talented, and comes from such an artistically unique place that I’ve wanted to work with her forever. I don’t normally labor very long over my music, and it usually comes quite easily, but it took me about a year to get the approach for how to best compliment her amazing vocal. I’m very proud of the track, and I’m incredibly happy to have had the opportunity to work with someone I admire so much.
Torture the Artist: ‘Hubris’, the second track of the EP, describes ‘a personality quality of extreme or foolish pride or dangerous overconfidence, often in combination with (or synonymous with) arrogance.’ Shall the track express and depict the aforementioned or how did you come up with the track title?
Man Power: It’s probably in reference to myself. I’m from a working class background in the North East of England, so any level of achievement often comes with a big internalized slice of ‘Who do you think you are?’.
What people choose to sign doesn’t always provide an accurate picture of the music that I’m making at the time.
Torture the Artist:Would you say that your ‘Souvenir EP’ is the most Techno-ish EP you have produced?
Man Power: It’s certainly the most Techno-Ish EP I’ve released. I make a lot of harder stuff than this too to be honest, but what people choose to sign doesn’t always provide an accurate picture of the music that I’m making at the time.
Torture the Artist:You mainly grew up with your grandparents, how would you describe your music to them?
Man Power: My gran already has her description of it. ‘Washing Machine Music’. They’re very proud of me, which feels amazing, and they show off to their friends about me these days too. They hate my music though.
Torture the Artist:What’s a sound from you childhood that you would like to use in one of your tracks?
Man Power: I’ve done an experimental album about growing up in Newcastle and the history of the region in general. I’ve used a lot of found sounds, from my deceased auntie Joan reminiscing about my great Grandmother working as a fish wife, to the sounds of the Swan Hunters Ship Yards, my grandparents Big Band music collection, and archive interviews with regional figures. That’s been very cathartic to do, as has been making music without even considering its commercial application.
I was like a living exhibition from a 2ndWorld War museum.
Torture the Artist: What’s the worst outfit your parents/ grandparents made you wear as a child?
Man Power: Christ, I was being dressed by my grandparents all the way through first school. I was like a living exhibition from a 2ndWorld War museum. Long stockings, weird buckled sandals, all sorts of heinous threads.
Torture the Artist: Aside from DJing and producing you also manage your label ‘Me Me Me’. How much idealistic potential do you have to have these days to run a label?
Man Power: Unless you’re one of the very few labels that are fortunate to be super big, then there’s a labor of love element when you consider the fact that it’s a shit load of time and money to most likely not even break even on sales.
Torture the Artist: To what extent has your vision of running a label changed since 2016 when you started? Would you do something differently in a retrospective?
Man Power: I just make less stupid mistakes these days. In retrospect I would have liked to have made no stupid mistakes instead.
The label is doing amazing really though, it’s kind of just taken on a life of its own and gathered a really loyal following without having to be manipulated in any particular way. Good things always happen organically I reckon.
Torture the Artist: Where do you ultimately want to take the label and what have you planned for the future of it?
Man Power: I’m very keen to narrow the focus and provide a bigger platform to help raise the profiles of some of our key artist family like Vyvyan, Edmondson, Elliot Adamson and Frank Butters. The label is doing amazing, and I really want to see it benefit everybody who has contributed as much as it can.
I’ve worked with labels in the past where it’s been more of a vehicle to elevate the label itself rather than the artists, and I’m super conscious of not doing the same.
We’re starting to see some fantastic interest for label parties, and it’s nearly our second anniversary, so hopefully you’ll see us moving more in that direction where we offer the whole experience of what we’re about with parties featuring our closest label fan and the bigger artists who match with what we’re about.
Torture the Artist: Is ‘Me Me Me’ a way to express how much you love yourself?
Man Power: Kind of. Again, I’m particularly sensitive to any accusations of narcism due to that being probably the biggest perceived character flaw for anybody back where I come from. The other thing about where I come from is that we’ve developed a real sense of self mockery as a way of deflecting negative criticism, so that was a very real reason for coming up with the name. It also works in describing the label remit though, and is an overall comment on music labels as they stand today. In the past people used to divide music up in to genre, but that’s becoming increasingly more meaningless as more worldly and varied DJs are getting bigger. In the past you may have described something as being ‘House’ or ‘Disco’ or ‘Techno’ or any of their varied sub genres, but now as music is getting more tricky to pin down, you’re more likely to just describe it as ‘something Talabot would play’ or ‘Weatherall would play’ or ‘Ben UFO’ or whoever.
DJs are becoming the ultimate expression of their own personalized genres now, so Me Me Me is basically my own genre… i.e. shit I like and would play.
I feel that sums it up more succinctly than subjecting it to the tyranny of further classification.
Torture the Artist: Name some tracks that changed the course of your life, and how.
Man Power: 808 State – Pacific State
It was the first house record I ever heard, so obviously strikes a chord from that point of view.
LCD Soundsystem – Losing My Edge
It was just this great big affirmation that you were allowed to be in a club without being a club kid, and that there were all these other people out there with the same tastes as you dancing in the same clubs as you, and that you could do whatever you fucking wanted really.
Torture the Artist: What’s the best excuse you have ever used to not finishing a track?
Man Power: That’s never been a problem for me to be honest. I make more music than I know what to do with, so no excuses needed.
Torture the Artist: For every decade of your life, list the song that mattered to you most, and why?
Man Power: 80s – Dire Straits – Walk Of Life
My dad hammered the album in the car, and this was just such a big happy track that I was obsessed with as a kid.
90s – Nirvana – Territorial Pissings
I was a teenager for most of the 90s. I formed my musical tastes then really, so there’s a lot to choose from, but Nirvana were everything to me, and this track really sums up the whole angry young man vibe of that period in my life.
00s – I’ll go with ‘House of Jealous Lovers‘ by the Rapture as it was fairly rule breaking in the sense that it was a return to it being permissible to play music with guitars in dance music clubs again.
This decade I’ve yet to hear the track to define it yet (a small part of me hopes I’m the one to make it).
Torture the Artist: If someone were to remix one of your tracks, who would you give the blessing to and which track of yours would you most prefer to get a reinterpretation of?
Man Power: I’ve been lucky enough to have a whole bunch of my idols working on my stuff, but the one who’s coming up that I’m most excited about is Roman Flügel. I think he’s a musical god (as well as being an absolute sweetheart in person).
The only downside is I can see him improving on the original that I provide him, which is always a bitter pill.
Torture the Artist: Can you suggest a few emerging artists who have impressed you recently?
Man Power: Vyvyan, Edmondson, Ben Caldwell, Austin Ato, Christophe, Club Tularosa, Force Majeure.
All f*cking AMAZING!
Torture the Artist: What’s a super power you wish you had and what would you do?
Man Power: Omnipotence would be pretty good I reckon. I’d probably not do much different than the current powers that be. Maybe a bit more landscaping in some areas, and I’d probably rethink the policy on male nipples, but not much else.
Interview by Holger Breuer