Friday, October 14, 2011

Interview: Kevin McKay (Glasgow Underground)

Back in the early 90's, when untitledmusic was starting out as an ad-hok fanzine dotted around the finer record stores of the UK, it was thanks to some great people with amazing labels that UM is still alive and kicking. Sadly, all too many of them have fallen away over the years as the industry changed and the digital era made it a very different business. One such person was Kevin McKay who owned Glasgow Underground, one of many outstanding labels that believed in what we were doing and kept the promo's coming our way. Just like us, he vanished for a little while, but is back with a bang, new music, re-edits and lots more.

So, I thought, as part catch up for old times and part education to the newer groovers I'd fire a few questions at the man that introduced me to Mateo and Matos, Neon Heights, Jersey Street, LHK, DJQ, Alex Moran, Rick Preston and so many more - I have my house education to thank this guy for. So, ladies and gentlemen, I give you Kevin McKay....

What came first for you, your own music or Glasgow Underground?
I started DJing properly - playing house/club music as opposed to just playing dance/pop records at friends parties - in 1989 and soon afterwards I became fascinated with the idea of making music. I kept having these ideas about how to improve and push forward the current club sound. You know, wondering if tracks would sound better if they were done a certain way or imagining a current house record modulated with a certain style to come up with something new. At the time even basic samplers cost thousands of pounds. Combine that with my serious vinyl habit and there was no chance of me saving up for a studio setup. Then one night I was DJing at Strathclyde University Students Union when a guy from my course came up to me, handed me a tape and said, "I really love the music you play and want to make stuff that sounds like it. Here's what I do." That was in 1991. We spent the next 3 years hanging out in various Glasgow clubs and then going back to either my place or Andy's to try and create our own version of what we'd just heard on the dance-floor. The idea of turning it into a business didn't come until much later. I couldn't get anyone in Glasgow to sign our first EP so I went to the Princes' Trust and got a grant/loan of £2000 to put it out myself.

Latest tracks by Glasgow Underground

As Muzique Tropique you and Andy Carrick paved the way for some many other UK indie dance labels - was it all as glamorous as it seems?
I guess working in the music business is as pleasurable now as it was then: you still get to go to work every day doing something you love. The main difference back then was that there were more barriers to entry (studio equipment costs, manufacturing/distribution know how, no email/web marketing solutions, etc) and so it took much more initial effort to get a label off the ground. That made having that business seem more otherworldly than it does now. However the reality of being in that situation was and still is a mixture of experiences. When you are stuck in the office with your head in excel spreadsheets doing royalty statements or combing through licensing contracts the job can seem as dry as any other office work but when you're playing a track you've made on a boat sailing down the fjords outside Oslo to a bunch of loved-up Norwegians going bonkers on a sun-kissed boat party… it's bloody awesome.

You're also the man that owns Breastfed Recordings and brought us all Mylo. Was that success down to the lessons learnt on GU or just one of those things?
It's funny because at the time I discovered Mylo, house music (and deep house in particular) was considered as unfashionable as you could get by the British music media. So much so that at the start of Breastfed I took on a pseudonym (Kevin Kennedy) because my name was inextricably linked to Glasgow Underground (a deep house label - shock! horror!) and house music in general. That meant I could contact people without them automatically pigeon-holing Mylo as "deep house". I even went as far as using the same pseudonym for all my production and mixing credits on the Mylo records (heaven forbid someone that made deep house co-produced & mixed this new exciting stuff). So in some ways, Mylo had nothing to do with Glasgow Underground but in others, his success had everything to do with it. For example, Breastfed was started with very little money so we used Glasgow Underground's credit with suppliers to get our vinyl and Cd's made, we used GU's sway with distributors to get a distribution deal and we used all my experience with pluggers to pick the right team to work on the project. Without all that it would have been almost impossible for us to have achieved what we did with Mylo on our own without licensing on to a bigger label at some point. Of course we partnered up with other labels but all the releases were done under the Breastfed brand and we retained ownership of all of our copyrights.

As if all that's not enough you're behind the Heartbeats imprint too - what's the deal with that?
Grum is one of the most talented artists I've ever met. When I signed him I wanted him to have his own label so that he could develop his own style (both musically and visually) without being surrounded by other acts. He started off making "electro" but it would have been wrong for him to be on a label surrounded by other "electro" artists as his skills and range of influences were always going to mean that he would outgrow one particular sound. And Heartbeats is the perfect name for what he does too. Every time I hear a new Grum tune, it gets me right there in the middle of my chest where it counts... 

Glasgow Underground was/is one of those legendary labels from the late 90's/early 00's, what happened in 2004 to make you stop releasing music?
Our distributor went bust owing us around £40,000. We had just enough funds to cope with that kind of loss but it was going to take a significant new investment to get the label back up and running. At the time Breastfed had been going for about 18 months and I decided to commit all my time to that. As well as running the label, I mixed all the Mylo tracks that we released on Breastfed, co-produced 1/2 of the album and programmed/produced all of the Linus Loves material so there wasn't much time for Glasgow Underground. I did put out a 12" in 2006 and one in 2007 I did keep my hand in… kind of!

With so many releases under your belt (115 12"'s and 38 albums if Discogs is right?) what were the highlights of GU for you?
The Romanthony album is an obvious highlight, "Bring U Up" especially. He is one of those incredibly talented but also incredibly confusing artists. Working with him was certainly entertaining! The early releases also mean a lot to me as I was involved in the production; Muzique Tropique, Sixteen Souls, Studio Blue. And then my favourites from a DJing point of view have to be Powder Productions and Mateo and Matos.

So why after 7 years is now the time to bring the label back?
I think there's a real appetite again for house music and that has inspired me to do it. I didn't see the point in just making the catalogue available digitally so we're planning a series of compilations that showcase what we did in the 90s/00s and how it is relevant to people that like labels such as Crosstown Rebels, Rejected, Hot Natured or Visionquest today.

With the likes of Paper, Classic Music Company, Shaboom, Toko and UTC soon to make their comebacks I'm interested to know whether it's an artistic decision or a financial one for you?
It's definitely an artistic decision. When I was working on Mylo records or Linus Loves records, I was really into that sound and Breastfed was the perfect label for them. I took some time out after that to produce a band because that was what I wanted to do then and now I'm really excited by house music again and what better platform to express that than on Glasgow Underground. Asking my favourite producers from around the world to remix the back catalogue and compiling exciting compilations out of it is just an added bonus!

Will their be any new vinyl releases for GU to add to those precious collections around the world?
Vinyl is still a very important part of being a dance label so we're going to still do it. I'm just still working out the best way for us to do it given that the market for it is so much smaller than it used to be.

How do you think the current marketplace, with digital technologies and social networks have changed the record label business?
It has made it much easier to have a record label and therefore it has made becoming noticed as one harder. That seems to mean that it takes a little longer for the really strong stuff to rise to the top, which is not necessarily a bad thing...
Latest tracks by Kevin McKay

What other labels and artists have you been enjoying of late or tipping for big things in the near future?
Rob Etherson from Glasgow is a producer people should look out for. He makes tech-house as one half of Ovr Kill and has a release forthcoming on Kling Klong, he makes bass/house as one half of Mia Dora and has just turned the new Roots Manuva single into a slice of Julio Bashmore-meets-Eats Everything deepness and, as Rob Etherson, his mix of Mash's "Somebody's Property" was one of Pleasurekraft's bombs of last year.

What can we expect to hear from you personally and the label over the coming months?
The first new signing to GU is a producer from LA called Small Pyramids. His debut ep "Another Way To Feel" was released free on the net last year. It was blogged by the likes of Disco Delicious, Nightdrive & Too Many Sebastians and its stand-out track "I Want Blood" found its way into the playlists of Bxentric and Radio 1's Jaymo. We've just promo'd some cool remixes of "I Want Blood" by Cosmic Kids and Goldroom and they're getting great reactions from the deeper djs. He's working on an album for the label just now.

As for me, I've just done a track for the debut release on Moscow's Propaganda label (named after the club of the same name) which will be out as part of a compilation with other favourite djs/producers of the club such as Yapacc, Touane, John Tejada, Peter Kruder, Maya Jane Coles & Clara Moto. That's out in October/November, as will my remix of the Grum track "Power" and there'll be a new ep on GU before the end of the year and possibly an album next year.

GU Discogs
GU Soundcloud
Kevin McKay Soundcloud

1 comment:

  1. glasgow underground was the era - here in russia, moscow we listened to this label with a very special feeling and mood - i still remember those days and nights. GU is a legend lasting forever. thank you, kevin!