I’m the last person who wants to get overexcited about a new prospect before they’ve even got their first release out, believe me. Well, too bad, because Toronto’s Kevin McPhee is worth getting exciting about. To be fair, he’s not really that new, having his first release signed just under a year ago to [nakedlunch] (only now getting released) and producing a remarkable steady trickle of tracks in the process. But what makes Kevin McPhee so special?
McPhee’s tracks have a worn, nocturnal feel somewhere in between Burial and the classic house and disco records he so cherishes; think Theo Parrish gone broken beat with a hefty dose of UK-referencing vocal sampling, something like that. Though his first release “Get In With You” on [nakedlunch] hearkens back to his early days producing dubstep -- slowly loping, spectral dubstep -- since then he’s made a wholesale move to house (displayed on another forthcoming release for Bristol’s Idle Hands), but he’s not just jumping on anyone’s deep house bandwagon. McPhee’s songs employ rickety, homemade breakbeats that crunch and clack as individual parts bash into each other, a fascinatingly fluid quality that only becomes enhanced when they’re mixed in and out of each other. He’s got a way with vocals, too, and while the way he cherry-picks R&B samples is nothing new, there’s something to be said for how the vocals ring out in his music with absolute clarity, the very warmth of their humanity setting the inhuman beats aglow.
A local Toronto DJ with growing prominence, Kevin McPhee is the consummate opener/warmup guy; though it's ostensibly partly due to his role as a local newcomer, his heavy-lidded house plays it to a tee. I asked him to do a mix for Futureproofing, and he’s delivered about the best thing I could ever ask from him: an all-vinyl mix of his own tracks -- forthcoming releases and dubs -- and some of his favourite contemporaries, his own personal vision of house. He’s got well over twenty wonderful tracks in his own right, and this mix shows off quite a few of ‘em. McPhee also makes for a fascinating study case, a true product of the internet age: only coming onto electronic dance music recently, McPhee's music processes and internalizes not only the rapidly-evolving world of bass music but also an entire history of house music as he discovers it all.
What’s your history with your own music? When did you start making music, and when (if at all) did you ‘switch’/‘turn’ to electronic dance music?
I started playing guitar when i was about 12. From there, I started playing with my brother and friends but I’d always wanted to try to do stuff on my own. Soon after I started fooling around with a demo copy of reason and once I got tired of not being able to save my project files, I ended up buying it. I don’t recall if I started using samples because Reason didn’t have the ability to record audio, or if I simply turned to samples out of interest, but soon after I was making goofy hip hop tracks. I really didn’t start to take notice of dance music until I heard a bit of drum and bass. Before then I was into musicians/groups that used electronic elements (Radiohead/Bjork) but I’d never thought about the club side of things.
You’re somewhat new to electronic music; when and what was the change and what precipitated it? How exactly did you go about ‘learning’ more?
Dubstep was the first kind of electronic dance music that I seriously got into (As I said before, I knew of some drum and bass before, but I didn’t really own much or know many artists), so I’ve had to kind of backtrack from there. I think it’s safe to say that I started focusing more on dance music when I bought my first turntable while at university. About a month later I had purchased my 2nd deck and starting obsessively buying vinyl. My journey back into the other forms of electronic music has come from checking out songs at my local record store, but mostly from being sent stuff from friends online. Now, I do most of my ‘digging’ on discogs. House and Techno are still the newest to me, as I only really took notice after hearing Actress’ “Lost” remix last year. From that song I began looking into the detroit house/techno stuff of the 90s, then, I kind of took a big leap backwards into the 70’s and have been moving my way up ever since. This isn’t to say I’m ignoring what’s going on now in the slightest, but I feel like I should try to catch up first, as I think it’ll help me understand and appreciate the new sounds even more.
As someone who is still getting into electronic music, are you still finding new discoveries in the past, and the classics? What are a few things you find particularly inspiring right now?
Looking at my record bag right now, I’m finding more and more classics in there than I had this time last year. I’m really enjoying the Virgo Four “Resurrection” LP, the Mr. Fingers “Slam Dance” EP, and a fair bit of the Italian disco stuff from the late 70s, early 80s. I’ve also begun the expensive journey into acquiring detroit house/techno 12’’s from the 90s/early 2000’s. I also try to keep a lot of the earlier DMZ records in the bag.
You usually play warm-up sets, don't you? Do you think that particular perspective informs the slow-burning, almost hushed intensity of your work?
So far I’ve been playing mostly warm-up sets. And to be honest, I think with the majority of my earlier songs work better in opening time-slots. When I first started producing at 140, I hadn’t really taken into consideration the time at which tracks are best to be played, as I’d yet to even play out at that point. I’ve only recently begun to take into consideration set times when I make tracks. This isn’t to say that I’ll sit down from the start and attempt to make a song for set time x or y, but rather, If I notice that the song I’m currently working on is shaping up to be suited for a certain time, I’ll take that into consideration for the remainder of the track.
You play vinyl out and cut your own dubplates. What’s so important to you about vinyl, and what makes dubplates worth the considerable cost for you? How often do you cut dubplates and how long have you been doing it?
I’ve been cutting dubs for about a year and a half now, I try to cut every month or so, sometimes more, sometimes less. The reason I play vinyl is really for personal enjoyment. I mean sure, at first when I started cutting dubplates I was trying to maintain “the tradition” but really, over time I realized I was just doing it for my own enjoyment.
It’s not about the “sonic superiority” for me anymore, as there a lot of other variables involved in getting the “ideal sonic experience”. Most of which aren’t really in your control, especially if you’re playing outside of your bedroom.
I play vinyl and cut dubplates for a few reasons: the first being that I simply enjoy the process of it all. I like the challenge of having a limited amount of music at my disposal as it forces me to try to be more creative with what I have on hand (this isn't to say you can’t be creative with a hard-drive! It’s just not for me!). I also cut dubplates because I feel that it’s really improved my overall mix downs. I feel like having your music pass through someone else's hands before you play it out can be really beneficial. I’d even go so far as to suggest that some people who play MP3s should look into maybe getting their tracks mastered before they play them out. That being said, I know a lot of artists who have learned to trust their ears and their studio setups in such a way that they can easily master their own tracks for club use, I’m just not one of those people.
Why is “Get In With You” a good track to make your debut with? Do you feel like the [nakedlunch] EP is representative of you or where you’re at now? Do you feel odd releasing a ‘dubstep’ EP after you’ve already mostly moved on entirely to house?
I think “Get in With You” is a good track to debut with because it’s an accurate representation of the type of music I enjoy making in the dubstep tempo range. I feel the EP as a whole is very representative of where I’m at with my music. I couldn’t be happier with the tracks that were chosen and the way the remix ended up.
You had LV remix “Get In With You,” why them, what did they do with their remix?
Micky proposed the idea of getting a remix done for the EP mid-way through last year. He mentioned approaching LV to do it, and at the time Boomslang had just become a favourite of mine, so I was really excited at the possibility of them doing something in a similar vain.
LV did a great job with the remix as they were able to make the track much more dance-floor friendly. This is something I’m aiming towards myself with my own productions, so having a remix like that on the EP will hopefully widen the range of sounds that people can expect to hear from me in the future.
Would you agree with the classification of your newer music as 'house,' and what drove the change?
I’d agree with it to some extent. I certainly would agree that when I started to take producing seriously, I relied on a lot of elements associated with dubstep, however, as I began to produce at a slower tempo, I really didn’t change much in my approach. Originally I’d began working at a house tempo in hopes of maybe learning how to manage a 4/4 beat without it becoming overpowering. I found I couldn’t do this at 130-140, so I made the drop. Now, as I begin to find my footing, I hope to be able to bounce freely between the two styles.
A lot of talk I’ve heard surrounding your stuff -- particularly the nakedlunch release -- revolves around a supposed Burial influence. Do you feel that Burial is a distinct influence on you, and if so, how is it manifested? Is it an important part of your sound?
I really wouldn’t put Burial on the shortlist of influences. I think it would be fair to say that his productions helped me kind of take note of things such as syncopation and dynamics, and in turn, maybe appreciate music I had originally dismissed, but to say that his music had a direct influence on shaping my own sound, might be a bit of a stretch for me personally. If others feel the need to note similarities in terms of mood, rhythm or vocals. I say feel free, however, I’d likely acknowledge other artists as influences before him.
Your tracks also make critical and transparent use of vocal samples. Do you feel that the vocal hooks are the focal point of your tunes, or are they just meant to grab your attention?
A bit of both, really. I mean, in most cases I think people will only grab onto the vocal hooks but I hope people will stick around long enough to see what I’m trying to do with the overall rhythm as well. I don’t think a catchy vocal hook is enough to make an interesting and more importantly, long lasting song. Sure, recognizable or catchy vocals work great as a means to pull a listener into a song, but I feel that once you’ve got them listening you have to turn to something else to keep them there. For me, I try to make my drums just as memorable as the vocal hook. I guess it would be best to picture it as a sort of balancing act; if you focus too heavily on one element, then the other aspects of the track will likely suffer.
You use mostly R&B vocals, what’s your relationship to R&B and why do you think it makes such great sample fodder? Are you an R&B fan?
I don’t really have a relationship with my vocal sample sources. This is something I feel I need to work on, simply out of respect towards the genre that’s provided such a essential element to my ‘sound’. I wouldn’t go so far as to say I don’t enjoy R&B. I mean, one of my favourite song’s is an R&B track ( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l10hdwFRuto), but when it comes to specifically Top 40 R&B, I’ve yet to take a close enough look at the music itself.
Do you feel there's anything odd about the fact that you’re a Torontonian producer getting his start on labels based in Dublin and Bristol?
I don’t think there’s anything odd about the fact that I’m not situated closely to either label. To my knowledge, neither has used their location as a theme for their output, so I don’t feel as though I’m an exception to their back catalogue in any way. I’ve never felt out of the loop of things either; I can go to the local record stores here and easily purchase records from both labels. [nakedlunch] and Idle Hands have both been in frequent contact with me so I’ve never felt as though I’ve been othered to any degree. I’m simply part of their rosters. Which, for me personally, is all I could ever ask for.
What’s the piece of yours that you’re proudest of so far?
This is a tough question to answer. I like certain tracks for different reasons. For example, the song “One52” is enjoyable to me because of how it works in a mix, yet songs like “Move On” or “It’s What She Wants” appeal to me for their continued stability outside of a mix. I wouldn’t say I have a track I’m most proud of, but “Sucre” to me exhibits a lot of the characteristics that I’m hoping to continue to tap into, regardless of tempo.
Are there any specific directions you’d like to explore in the future?
Recently I started working with on a few collaborations with XI. Collaborating on music is something I’d like to do more of in the future as it allows for some interesting results and kind of takes me out of my comfort zone. I’d also like to start doing some remixes.
What’s coming up in the near, more concrete future?
Aside from my nakedlunch release in April and my Idle Hands record after that, I don’t have anything lined up with absolute confirmation. With school wrapping up soon, I’m hoping to start to play more shows. Other than that, I’m really just going to keep making music and see where I end up.
What inspired this mix, how did you mix it, and what kind of material is represented? Is it at all representative of your DJ sets?
This mix has been under construction for a long time. I had a few ideas for how to approach it, but I ultimately settled on trying to showcase not only some of my more recent productions, but also some really great tracks from fellow artists. I started the mix off quite slow, maybe around 115ish and then made my way past 130 by the end. I’d say it’s pretty representative of my DJ sets as I try to cover the same range at shows. I’ve used all dubplates/vinyl, and there are a few muck ups along the way!
I’ve tried to make this mix a bit more dance-floor friendly -- at least in the middle. This is where you’ll notice a lot more tracks by other artists rather than my own. That being said, I included 4 tracks (2 of which are collaborations with XI) that I feel are very much suited for the dance-floor. I hope everyone enjoys the mix!
KEVIN McPHEE'S FUTUREPROOFING MIX: APRIL 2011
Kevin McPhee - Coach (Dub)
Kevin McPhee - Hang my Head (Dub)
Kevin McPhee - House 44 (Forthcoming Idle Hands)
Kevin McPhee - Who Loves You (Dub)
Kevin McPhee - Try (Dub)
Kowton - Never Liked Dancing (Forthcoming Idle Hands)
Kevin McPhee - Bridges ([nakedlunch])
Kevin McPhee - It’s What She Wants (Dub)
Szare - Action 5 (Forthcoming Idle Hands)
Alex Coulton - Representations (Forthcoming All Caps)
Gerry Read - Untitled (Forthcoming Fourth Wave)
Kevin McPhee - One52 (Dub)
XI & Kevin McPhee - Collab 1 (Dub)
Alex Coulton - Bounce (Dub)
XI & Kevin McPhee - Collab 2 (Dub)
Kevin McPhee - Words Not Chosen (Dub)
Clouds - Untitled (Dub)
Andy Mac - Everytime (Forthcoming Punch Drunk)
Gerry Read - Some Day (Dub)
Kevin McPhee - Get in With You ([nakedlunch])
Kevin McPhee - Move On (Dub)
McPhee's debut EP "Get In With You" / "Bridges" / "Get In With You (LV Remix)" is out on [nakedlunch] in April, followed by the "House 44" / "Sleep" single on Idle Hands. Don't sleep.