Minus artist Ambivalent makes his mark for the first time this Saturday on Room Two alongside Camea, the first person to see vision in his music releasing his debut 12 in 2006 and Alexi Delano who he frequently collaborates with in the studio.
We’re currently bracing ourselves for the trio's detailed party atmosphere of tripped out techno grooves and soundscape structures but before then Kevin McHugh talks us through his incredible musical journey from Washington DC to Berlin, meeting Richie Hawtin, his role in one of electronic music's most revered projects Plastikman and his reputation for losing it on the dancefloor. We also get an exclusive, unreleased download of his ‘Immediacy’ track, curiously inspired by the painter Francis Bacon to soundtrack this stellar story.
What was it like growing up in Washington DC? How did you get sucked in by the electronic music scene early on?
I was a teenager in the early 90s, so I feel really lucky to have witnessed a lot of key moments in music, but through the prism of DC’s weird scene. In 1992, my friend started DJing in the EBM and industrial rooms at clubs like Fifth Column and Tracks. Along with all the amazing punk music coming out of DC at that time, we were really into Nitzer Ebb, Skinny Puppy, Front 242, things like that. While my friend spun in the EBM rooms, I’d wander into the “main” rooms and get exposed to house and techno. When I moved to Baltimore in 93, there was already a great rave scene there, and I kind of just segued into that. I didn’t really follow international DJs as much as locals. But I was listening to Plastikman and a bunch of more experimental electronic stuff. When I moved to NY in 96, I started helping a public art organization put on events, and that’s where I started promoting parties.
How did you start working on your own productions? Can you define your music philosophy for us?
Well, I never really focused on productions until much later. I was perpetually living hand to mouth, so money for gear was impossible. It was around 2002 that I got a laptop and some software. I kind of went nuts after that, because I’d never really imagined myself as a producer. Once I got absorbed in it, I kind of found a whole new language. If I had to define a musical philosophy, it’d probably be the name I’ve chosen: Ambivalent. I am pathological about seeing all sides of something, good and bad. I like to think that way I can see the truth about what I’m doing, and that lets me decide what to do next. I don’t really believe in categories limits in music, because I’m old enough to see how the lines people draw are just sandcastles. They won’t matter in a year, so why obey them?
How did you first meet with Richie Hawtin and become a member of the minus community?
When I was organizing the events for Creative Time, the public art organization, I programmed their concert series under the Brooklyn Bridge. I harassed Rich multiple times, and eventually we started talking. We had a lot of common interests, and by 2001 we became friends. A few years later, he asked me to help him produce the Plastikman Live show he was working on for Mutek. I moved to Berlin in 2004 to work on it. I’d occasionally give him music, and within a few years he wanted to put some of it out.
Tell us about how you enjoy experimenting between an array of art forms in your performance? Why is it an important function to you?
I think maybe you’re asking about incorporating technology into my DJ sets. It definitely keeps me on my toes. I did live sets for a while but it was confining to only be able to use my own music. Like making a movie with only one shot. I find with all the amazing tools out there, I can tell a more dynamic story and keep myself engaged in new ways. Of course I love to spin vinyl and I buy tons of it. I’m sure there will be a point when I reach back towards that, because it’s a part of me. But for now, it’s been an evolution from my live set to a complex technical DJ setup. The next step is a bit of an open question.
Can you tell us about the mix CD _ground which you released this summer on Minus12, a new sub-label of Minus. What was it like doing your first mix CD compared to the album making process?
It was definitely one of the hardest things I’ve done. Mostly because I had never done anything like it before. I was juggling demos, and trying to find the proper balance of representing the artists included in the best way, and also programming it as a cohesive story. Asking the artists to give me their best material while I sorted out what fit was a tough thing, but in the end I’m happy with what I got.
How are you looking forward to your debut at fabric next to Camea and Alexi Delano? What’s your relationship like we these guys? What can revellers looking to come down to the club expect from Room Two?
They are two of my very closest friends. Camea was the first to ever release my music (before Minus) and Alexi is someone I’ve looked up to for a long time, and finally got the chance to collaborate. We made a record together last year. Because we all know each other so well, when we play together it’s always a really fun, chill vibe. No one takes themselves too seriously. It’s always a party.
Can you tell us about the download you’ve so kindly given to us?
It’s a very strange track that was inspired by an interview with Francis Bacon. The audio is buried in the track in places. In it, he’s talking about how his approach to painting straddles the boundaries of “violence” and “immediacy.” I kind of used that as springboard to make a series of “violent” synth stabs, in a way that most dance music doesn’t do. For it to feel immediate, I couldn’t follow a consistent pattern. So the track ends up being very unsettling and contorted. A lot like Bacon’s paintings, hopefully.
When was the last time you let yourself go on the dancefloor? Who was the DJ , what was the night and who were you with?
Apparently I’ve developed a reputation for doing this quite often. I like to hang out and listen to other DJs, so I might struggle to remember a specific time. This summer I’ve played at a few of the ENTER shows in Ibiza, and I can say that I really let go and had a blast listening to Maya Jane Coles, and hanging out with Marcel Dettmann another night. I think it’s been about 8 or 9 years since I was last at fabric, but at the time I was watching Matthew Dear and also really got absorbed in the music. I can’t wait to get into the same mode at fabric on this visit.