An interview with Man Power

The true identity of the elusive artist Man Power only came to the fore relatively recently. Before the release of his self-titled debut album on Jennifer Cardini’s Correspondant last May, Man Power, real name Geoff Kirkwood, was a musical enigma. His work has often been ascribed to the likes of John Talabot, Tim Sweeney and Andrew Weatherall.

But Geoff’s personal identity isn’t the only part of him where boundaries have been blurred; since trying to label his music also poses a challenge for his listeners. His influences are spread far and wide which is strikingly evident in his full-length; an emotive collection of unconventional downtempo house and techno (if you have to put a label on it), best listened to in a single continuous sitting. New listeners can expect some gentle spacey sounds in tracks like Hunting Swan and TEN, while the more up-tempo Forget to Remember and Tofu Ist Der Teufel generate dancefloor-ready momentum. Electric guitar, synth, trumpet and piano sounds all make an appearance on the album, building rich textures which come together to create a truly immersive listening experience.

Now based in Mexico after recently moving from Berlin, he also boasts releases on Hivern Discs, Throne of Blood and Not An Animal Records, as well as appearances at fabric, Glastonbury and Burning Man. In addition, he produces and presents a monthly radio show, Oddcast, on Leeds’ very own KMAH Radio and has recently founded his own booking agency, Orchid Artist Management.

It seems there’s no stopping him right now, but Geoff took the time to speak to us about his musical journey so far.

 

Let’s start off with the early days growing up in Newcastle. What were your first serious musical influences?

I see a lot of people in interviews name checking really cool left-field music as being an early influence on them, but the shit I listened to as a kid was mainly dictated by what was playing in my parents’ cars. Queen and Dire Straits were the two biggest mainstays from my father when I was a kid, and my mother was a lot younger and a participant in the nascent acid house scene, so she frequently played dance music that was very cutting edge for the time. I think I started developing my own taste (which was suspiciously identical to nearly every other kid of my age) around 12, with Nirvana, The Prodigy, and a CD copy of Rave 92 (which inexplicably had House of Pain’s “Jump Around” on it).

I tend to look at everything I hear, see, or feel, as being some kind of influence though. Both the stuff I like, and even the things I have a negative reaction to. My upbringing was equally split between two sets of parents and two sets of grandparents, and each unit had VERY different tastes, which I think has gone some way to making me very receptive to a wide range of sounds

Which venues in the city did you frequent and how much did they influence your work? Do you feel your music has a connection with Tyneside?

Shindig at Foundation was definitely my introduction to the House Scene, and I used to attend fairly religiously in my early 20s. Prior to that, clubs were mainly just somewhere to get drunk and either find a girl, or find a fight, but once it became apparent that not only was I was allowed to dance in clubs, but it was actually encouraged, then I kind of forsake any other style of going out. Rockshots, a now legendary club, was somewhere I only visited a handful of times, but I can always remember finding the open minded attitude they had being something really refreshing. Eventually the main night from Rockshots, Nice, found a new home at a really old gentleman’s club in China Town called the Stage Door, and I started going there every week, before ultimately becoming a resident DJ for the party when the club had an overhaul and was renamed “The Cosmic Ballroom”. While Nice was ostensibly a house music club, albeit with a bit more of an open-minded and left field remit, it was the back room that it was most famous for, which allowed the DJ to play absolutely anything. That amount of freedom was an amazing lesson in finding the extremes of what could work on a floor, and the other DJs I played with there will always remain amongst the best I’ve ever heard. Some classic tracks from that backroom that I remember are Funky Green Dogs – Fired Up, Lucky Number – Lene Lovich, and the theme song from the Eighties TV show “Minder”.

What was the reasoning behind remaining an anonymous musical enigma? Is there anything you miss about the elusiveness now you’ve let the cat out of the bag and told everyone who you are?

The anonymity was just a necessity to prevent any negative outcomes for my other project, Last Waltz. There are three of us in Last Waltz, and if the two projects had ended up being viewed as one and the same thing (which, musically, they’re so far apart from being), then my experience of promoters is that they’re much more inclined to try and book the project that only involves one flight and one hotel, rather than three times that, which would have screwed things for the other guys. Obviously, once I’d started with the anonymity, then a whole load more advantages became apparent, but so did a whole bunch of problems too. I miss people not knowing as much about me, as it gave me a lot more room to move when free of any expectations, but that wasn’t something that I could have kept going for ever, and there’s nothing to stop me creating any other aliases as and when I feel like it.

If people used to regularly mistake you for different DJs in the game, do you have any funny stories or awkward experiences you can share? Did your personality ever split into two different people?

A lot of people have been surprised when I’ve turned out to be English (or more specifically, Geordie). Quite a few promoters have been surprised to find out I’m straight too. It became an interesting exercise in identifying people’s preconceptions sometimes. Man Power was a role I was playing for a long time, but as it went on I started to realise that it actually represented a lot of parts of my personality that I may have sometimes repressed due to my background and environment. For a while it was hard to tell which version was the real me, but since changing my surroundings by moving to Berlin (and since then Mexico), and by removing the division between the two personalities and dropping the mystery, I think I’m starting to reconcile which parts of either version of me are real, and which are just constructs. I’ve never had any real awkward experiences other than being introduced to someone early on in my career and them buying me drinks all day before finally introducing me to their friend as Jef K.

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What was it about Correspondant and Hivern Discs that made you want to connect with Jennifer Cardini and John Talabot respectively?

It was just the music to start with. I was making slow and weird stuff just to please myself, and both labels seemed like they got that sound. What’s been a lovely revelation is that if you find a kindred spirit musically, then it usually follows that your commonality will run deeper than that. I found that there were a lot of parallels with John Talabot’s background to mine for instance, as well as Marc Pinol’s too. Both had laboured for a lot of years as residents, really honing their DJing and musical tastes. Jennifer on the other hand has a very similar temperament to mine. She can come across as incredibly tough, but she has an inner sensitivity which I can really relate to, and she’s also as driven as I am, but equally prone to almost crippling introspection, which while being a thing that sometimes feels like a burden is also the quality that gives the humanity to your performance or your creativity. There’s very little bullshit with the people I’ve been fortunate enough to ally myself with. They’re all in it for the music, with everything else surrounding it just being a means to keep creating and experiencing that.

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How would you describe your debut LP to new listeners? Can you pick a favourite track?

Personal is the best way I can describe it. Naive also fits. I find it hard to pick a favourite track though, as I laboured so hard to make it work as one singular cohesive piece. I’d suggest treating the album as one track and listening in one sitting.

What have been your most memorable performances of the last twelve months?

Burning man was insane. Nothing prepares you for it. It’s entirely unlike anything you will ever experience anywhere. Glastonbury was a big deal for me because I’m a Brit, and it was the first time I’d ever been there. I had amazing fun playing to something like 70 people in a tiny room in Gothenburg for Trunkfunk Records, as it was intimate enough to get really deep and you felt like you were really connecting with every person in the room. I also really enjoyed playing La Santanera in Playa Del Carmen in December too, as it just felt like I was completely at my best.

What were the motivations for setting up your booking agency Orchid Artist Management and what can you tell us about the artists involved?

I’m one of those awkward people who just feels like if I can’t find what I want, then I should make it myself. I’ve been dissatisfied with every booking set-up I’ve ever had for one reason or another (that’s not to say I’ve been dissatisfied with my bookers, who I must hasten to add have always been fantastic people, and great at their jobs!), so I felt I had no other option to try and do it myself. The current set up is myself, who can bring in an artist’s perspective, and two fantastic booking agents as partners, who know the industry inside out.

The idea is that with the influences we have, we can create something that satisfies everybody involved in the process of booking a DJ. After all, we’re all supposed to be in this for the same reason, which is to throw amazing parties. We have two more agents joining us, each with great rosters, in February so we’re already becoming pretty big, but we’re determined not to lose that personal touch which we feel is essential to keeping “this thing” going. A great deal of the artists on the roster are friends of mine, which is always nice, and while we certainly represent a lot of established and respected artists, a big thing that I’m committed to is providing a platform for emerging talent, which is something that has been working really well from the day that we launched.

For anyone who hasn’t tuned in, can you tell us about your KMAH Radio Show? How do you go about producing that?

By necessity, the KMAH show is pre-recorded before it airs, as I’m constantly on the move. Up to now it’s been nothing short of an excuse for me to play music to people which I otherwise wouldn’t get the chance to. Kind of like the experience of my hogging YouTube at an after-party. In 2016 I’ll be changing the format somewhat though, and regularly inviting musical friends to come and share, and chat, about music that’s significant to them.

Is it true that you’re planning a trip to Mexico to record a second LP with a full band set-up? Any other clues you can give about the next release in the pipeline?

That used to be true, but that plan kind of developed and I found myself moving to Mexico as my full time base in October. The plans for the second album are still fairly fluid with the execution, but I’m definitely going for a broader scope than my debut, and I’m definitely trying to agenda it for some kind of live performance using traditional instruments. Influences-wise I’ve been looking at a lot of what I believe to be solid pop music, before that term became a dirty word. So expect nods (obvious or otherwise) to David Sylvain’s Japan, Peter Gabriel, Kate Bush, Station to Station era David Bowie, Malcolm Mclaren, Portishead, Massive attack and a lot of other things that I find artistically credible that have still managed to make a dent on mainstream consciousness.

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