Name: Geoff Kirkwood
Occupation: Producer, DJ
Current Release: Multi Periodic Oscillations EP on Love Attack
Recommendations: I'd recommend George Herriman's Krazy Kat as a book (or strictly speaking several books collecting an old funny paper). It predates surrealism and modernism but has more in common with those movements than it does Dada, which is more contemporaneous. It was first created in 1914 and is a strong reminder that everything happens a long time before it gets a cool bit of branding or presented as a movement. People just "do stuff" and then people name it later.
I'd also like to recommend the track "The Story of OJ" by Jay Z. It talks about art and music in terms of being a force for social mobility and the artist's role in fighting for their equality, which I think is easy to overlook if you don't come from a place where access is limited. I think some people overlook that the main connection between hip hop and drug dealing is the fact that both are the only two viable options for some people to escape financial and systemic inequality.
If you enjoyed this interview with Geoff Kirkwood aka Man Power and would like to find out more about his work, visit his website or facebook page for more information and music.
When did you start writing/producing music - and what or who were your early passions and influences? What what is about music and/or sound that drew you to it?
I got taught a few instruments as a kid. I'm not from what you'd call a musical family, other than a great grandfather who could play anything (I've just inherited his 100 + years old squeezebox actually) nobody else pursued music in my family, and it was rare in the working-class community I grew up in too.
Music was one of those things we were told we could have fun with for a short while before we had to get involved in real life so I left school at 16 and did a bunch of shit jobs instead of pursuing any dreams to be a musician. I tried playing the guitar for a while in my late teens. I suck at that too.
I tried to live in Australia for a couple of years and came back when I was 24 and joined a band with some friends, as a singer. I wrote the top lines and the melodies and the band worked together writing songs. I felt worldly after my stint abroad (despite experiencing next to no cultural differences during my time in another country) and I think this gave me the confidence to give being a frontman a try. We were nothing revolutionary, but we weren't terrible either. It was just weird as everybody else I encountered in music seemed to have been doing that kind of thing since they were kids, but to me, at 24 it was a whole new world.
The band thing coincided with me having a weird moment where I dropped out of everyday society and started exploring new things. I'd always enjoyed clubbing, but I found myself getting deeper into the house scene and alternative things in general. That period lasted for about 4 years, give or take. I don't have too crystal a recollection of it all, but I know that during this hazy period I spent most of my time in clubs or at parties and lived on peoples couches and in their spare rooms. By the time it was all coming back in to focus I was DJing regularly and making a living out of clubs and nightlife, and other fringe activities related to them.
I never wanted to be a music producer, but someone gave me a cracked copy of Ableton so I went about figuring it out. It took me ages as I didn't have any guidance and the thought of online tutorials never occurred to me. I'd like to say they didn't exist, but I probably just didn't know about them. This was around 2006.
Initially I never really pushed my music on to people. I just enjoyed making it. I wasn't part of any producer scene. I didn't know anybody else who made music really at the time either. It feels now that everybody who DJs makes music and vice versa and they all share it amongst each other, but this really wasn't the case 15 years ago. I just nerded out alone in a room because I enjoyed the self-expression. I didn't have any plans that it would take me anywhere. There didn't seem to be a trajectory in general for people doing what I was doing to get anywhere big.
A lot of the early music I made was more of an act of reverse engineering than me trying to create things for other people to hear. I'd spend time working out why something had a disco feel, or why something seemed like it was techno and more than anything else I just occupied myself finding sounds that appealed to me and figuring out why I liked them. My major influence was probably the Sci-Fi film soundtracks that were everywhere in the 80s. I've always liked a lot more music than just house and techno. I kind of fell into that world, but I think I spent most of my time in that scene trying to diffuse my other tastes through a dance music lens.
For most artists, originality is first preceded by a phase of learning and, often, emulating others. What was this like for you? How would you describe your own development as an artist and the transition towards your own voice? What is the relationship between copying, learning and your own creativity?
My initial learning stage was basically how I outlined it above. My ongoing learning is something that feels like it will never end. I'd dispute that originality usually comes after originality though, as I feel that route is the opposite of my own experience.
When I first started making my own music I was limited by the techniques I could employ. This meant that I had no route to consciously approximate anything that I would like to emulate, and instead I had to rely on my responses the results of to whatever experiments I was doing with each track. In some cases, sounds would appeal to me because of the way they created a touchstone that reminded me of specific genres or musical vibes, but it was very much a case of capturing any of these moments when I stumbled upon them and employing them because they fit with my tastes, not because they lead to something sounding like something else that I was actively seeking to replicate.
In that way, it held a familiar essence to DJing, in as much as I was stringing together isolated moments in a way that recontextualised their combined whole as something that was representative of me and my personalised taste and approach. The combination of enthusiasm, naivety, and a lack of understanding regarding the rules that people perceived about making genre music, all lead to me making music that still feels very original for me. In many ways, it feels more original than what I make now.
With a few exceptions, I think the methods I employ to create tracks, as well as the tropes I observe, are far from being my exclusive creativity property. However, when I listen to old creations of mine I'm aware that most of the results were reached through me misusing the tools I had to hand, and in a way, I could never recreate now even though I'm objectively a more accomplished producer. Originality got harder for me as I got more successful, not easier.
Dance music is a weird thing that has a call to action in its title. It's objective-driven music, and while I concede that "Chill Out" music is a thing, you don't have 'stay still music', or 'listen music'. Dance music can carry such a weight of expectation, and the thought of success can drive you crazy. It has a bunch of new metrics such as the size of the crowd you play for, the fee you get, the positioning of your name in billing, the number of people who buy your music, the number of plays it gets in streams, or on video, or the number of people who validate it on social media.
After a while, I felt the pressure to make something that would have a bigger appeal and get me in front of more people to allow me to keep climbing the ladder and continue on the trajectory I was on of getting bigger and bigger. You end up looking around yourself and drawing comparisons and emulating the behaviour of the people whose success you crave. It took me a while to overcome that thinking. I realise now that it's impossible to enjoy anything creative gained through something that isn't a true representation of myself.
I'm writing this during the 2020 lockdown though when I've had a lot of time for self-reflection, so it has to be said its a lot easier to be pious about originality and good creative behaviours when you're not faced with the existential dread around the consequences of dropping off the face of the earth and losing all popularity in the field which you rely on to feed you and your family, and which has become the thing you use to feel as though you're some kind of valuable entity.
I realise now that having my voice is the only real thing that gives me any value though. I think a lot of artists, myself too for so long, find themselves trying to create some kind of public mass awareness with regards to their output. However, rather than do something the same way as everyone else to connect with a lot of people who maybe think it's good, the challenge is to be unique and connect with however few people there are out there who it truly resonates with, and who think its amazing.
What were your main compositional- and production-challenges in the beginning and how have they changed over time?
I'm not a very technically adept music maker. I'm completely self-taught and very reluctant to take much in-depth instruction still as I feel that every time I find the "right" way to do things then I just close myself off to a whole host way more exciting or original "wrong" ways. As a result, I've become increasingly more reliant on my friend Suade who I use to polish my mixes.
This was situational for a long time though, as I've been travelling and have been without a fixed studio for approaching 5 years now.
Now I'm based in the UK permanently I'm getting into the deeper elements of the sonics of my music again, but still from an experimental angle which means that I'm a lot slower and a lot more reliant on trial and error. I enjoy that though.
I'm not great at envisioning something and then creating it. My music has always come from me taming experiments and editing down whatever wild noises I can make after I've made them. There's a strength in that in some ways as it takes me into new territory, but it does reduce my capability to work as a utility for other musicians. I'm very keen to get into working with film, as well as the work I'm currently doing for orchestra. I think it's fair to say that I'll never be the type of writer who a filmmaker could come to and ask "make me something that sounds like this ...". I can, however, be a writer who can fulfil a request of "make me something that feels like this ..." instead. I don't think I'd ever want to work in a way where I didn't have control of how I chose to express the things required of me, so I'm ok with not being a master of everything.
When I make mistakes in music I often pass them off as creative decisions. I guess that applies to me and my technical limitations too. They make me what I am, and I'm happy with that, and only want to work with people who feel the same way …