stylistberlin Interview: Mr G (Phoenix G / Rekids / Bass Culture)
“My mum used to say: Follow fashion monkeys can’t boil good soup.”
by E. Morin
Bald with a pharaonic beard, and a humble, hardware enthusiast, Colin McBean is in a way a relic of the electronic music scene, albeit today still very active in production. Now living in a quiet part of the English countryside, he remains far from the city and the fame.
Whether it be on Rekids, Bass Culture or his own label, Phoenix G, the sage always comes forward, although in the past he didn’t always get what he deserved.
After “Still Here” (2010), Mr G comes back on Rekid”, the label that put him front and center, with his 2nd album “State of Flux”.
Thus, the release of this double LP seems to be the right time to circumnavigate his twenty year career as a producer. He accepted the chance to get a fix on his career and philosophically answered stylistberlin’s questions.
Hi Colin, nice to meet you! Instead of asking you to present yourself explicitly, I will start in the following way: in 2006, Rekids launched your carrier. But you actually started 20 years ago…
Yeah! Years ago, I wanted to know about studios and making music. I met Keith, who was running a studio. He was part of “Bang The Party”. He had worked at this time with Cisco. So we became “KCC”, Keith Colin Cisco.
We went on to make records. We produced the second release on “Shelter USA” and that become one of the biggest sounds at the Notting Hill Carnival!
Then, Cisco and I became “The Advent”, but that’s a whole other story…
You said that producers like yourself and Robert Hood “don’t always get what they deserve”. What is, or rather what was, the reason?
I think because we don’t shout so loud! Our music does the talking, but that doesn’t help in this media driven age. We’ve been also around a good while. Therefore we become easy to forget… But like I said, our music always shouts loud.
How many times do you hear that bell kick used in digital tracks…?
Some journalists supposed that your level of popularity was due to your always having used an all-analogue, MPC-based approach to production. With the democratisation of software like Ableton, do you think you’ve achieved your current popularity because many producers are getting back into analogue machines?
Not at all! It’s just about what works for you. I remember that many great producers learnt their craft on next to nothing: a few beats of hardware and a vision of music. That was good enough for them! Why not for me?
Folk are finally looking to be more individual and I think that analogue alone makes your sound different from the rest.
How many times do you hear that bell kick used in digital tracks…?
Nowadays, which artists that you respect would you say are not getting what they deserve?
There are many! But you know, I’m not in position to say it because my view and likes are not going to be the same as others. I just respect those making good music.
They embody a big part of what I am and how I want to be: humble!
Apropos deserving, you obviously had a great experience when you played in Japan, especially with a view to the sound systems, which were perfect for your music, right?
Oh yeah! What do I live for? To go back to Japan! I really feel at home there! I love their energy and willingness to do things right on every level, as well as the underlying passion. It gets me every time! They embody a big part of what I am and how I want to be: humble!
Concerning the Japanese artists, don’t you think that, while all the people are speaking exclusively about the Romanians, the Japanese scene has been a bit neglected in the press as well as on the web?
You know, good stuff will always come to the fore. They just have to wait for the right time, when the focus changes. And then, they will have their time. Not that they need it. It’s a current, the same as it’s always been. Just because you don’t read about it doesn’t mean it ain’t out there! Shout outs to the holics massive.
It’s about roundness and breadbasket bass…
Why are you such a hardware fan? Why have you never been attracted by software like Ableton?
Like I said before, it’s what works for me! It’s about roundness and breadbasket bass, which I get from my hardware. Moreover I like to learn my kit inside out. I don’t skip to something new that makes it easier to produce. I like the challenges and pitfalls of hardware! It’s all part of the process.
Like I said before, it’s what works for me!
You have to remember how much you had to pay to get in the game.
Suppose that we make two categories: hardware/vinyl vs. software/mp3. Do you share the opinion of Alexkid when he says: “If there were just vinyl, we would probably hear less shit” (Trax Magazin – May).
Ohh! That is so true with digital! There is no quality control. You have both sides: the good one and the other one… But you have to remember how much you had to pay to get in the game. Now you just enter and that’s much better for some.
In an interview for Resident Advisor you did on July 14, 2010, you said that when you heard “Rej” by Âme, you told yourself “Why are you still making music, Colin? You’re never going to make something like that.” Have you overcome this frustration? How?
Nope! Never! Believe it or not but I’m striving for that super clean sound. In my heart I know that I’ll only ever get dirty and nasty. However I’ve come to realize that is my sound, which many don’t have. It’s important to have a recognizable sound.
I just wanted an avenue for whatever I produced and not have to go through a judging process.
In 1999 you started Phoenix G! Why? Was it because you were finding it tough to place your music at this time or rather because it was the best way for you to get notoriety and release the music you love without waiting for offers?
No! I just wanted an avenue for whatever I produced and not have to go through a judging process. If I like it, it comes out as soon as possible.
You signed two other artists to Phoenix G: G Flame and Ariel, can you tell us a little about them?
I didn’t sign either! The original name was G Flame and Mr G, Cisco being G Flame and I Mr G. So, as I left the adventure, Cisco wanted his half of the name. So we both did the early stuff.
Concerning Ariel, he’s a friend. He played me the track that he’d sat on for a while and I just asked if I could have it to release. He was cool with that.
If I came across anything I really love and it were available at this time, I would put it out. It’s as simple as that.
Rekids is now somehow your adoptive label. Moreover, you said that when you start a track in your studio, it’s all about getting a rude bassline. Is this therefore a good reason to say that Bass Cultures is your new family?
Family? Not yet! Home maybe. It took a while with Matt and James at Rekids to be family, as it will with Bass Culture! Time and places shared make family and we’ve not done that so much yet! But who knows…
I don’t give just anyone my beats.
Today, you’ve become a Bass Culture regular producer. How did you enter into contact with D’Julz?
D’Julz has been a fan from day one. He always wanted to make contact. It was just about finding the right moment to do things. I also loved the way he did his thing: with humility. He cares and that’s important for my soul! I don’t give just anyone my beats.
How would you describe the difference between your productions on BCR, Rekids and Phoenix G?
Wow! That’s a hard question! I would say that the beats on my own label Phoenix G are quite personal. Either you get it or you don’t but it’s out there.
With regards to Rekids, I make a more electronic sound. That’s how I see the label. Then Bass Culture is a mix of both. Nevertheless I can take a few risks, as D’Julz has. It’s a mix of both: techno and house.
I stay loyal to them both in different ways.
Nowadays, how do you see your relations with Bass Culture – in contrast to Rekids – concerning your upcoming releases?
Same as ever! I stay loyal to them both in different ways. Once I’m with you, I got your back till the bitter end.
Are the 20 years of experience of D’Julz the key to the current success of Bass Culture?
For sure! He’s got great ears! On the top of that he chooses well. He’s old school as well as eclectic and I love that!
The Internet seems to feed the hits they want to sell to folk.
Back to your interview for RA: you said you stopped DJing as it had become “competitive instead of eclectic”. You’ve in fact a very critical point of view on the modern scene, the Top 10 and most chart tracks?
Yeah! The Internet seems to feed the hits they want to sell to folk. For instance I go record shopping every week while others go online. Nowadays it becomes much harder to find new stuff if you don’t know where and how to look. A lot of people are just going to the same place and become lazy. They go for what is deemed: the “Top Ten”.
Concerning Berlin and Hard Wax for example, the shop has carved itself a newfound niche. They are still selling although it’s, in a way, too expensive.
Could you envisage going back into DJing?
No! To my mind playing your own shit live is such a great statement of intent! I produced this and I’m performing it for you. Rather than performing and playing someone else’s music, it shows you are real. So is an artist!
Anyway many clubs no longer even have well set up and maintained decks.
In a recent interview for fazemag.de, Ricardo Villalobos denounces the Internet and social media like Facebook and Twitter as being responsible for the “superficiality” of our society. We could apply this to the underground scene. Do you have the same opinion? Are people more concerned with appearance over substance?
For sure! Now, your hit could be your first record and you’ll get lots of work that you may not even be ready for, as opposed to someone who’s been working for a long time up to the day they get lots of work.
Way back when, people who came through had been around working hard for their success. Now it’s new names that in some cases have just started… Strange?
You moved to a quiet place in the country because you were fed up with London. Are you still there?
Yep! It’s the best thing ever! It’s quiet and calm. It makes me a happy person. I feel blessed, but I do know it’s not for everyone! I’ve always been a homeboy.
Why have you never moved to Berlin?
It seems that everyone I meet is going to live there. My mum used to say “Follow fashion monkeys can’t boil good soup.” Work that one out!
They often do better years down the line.
Are you surprised that your first EP on BCR, “Extended Pain”, is still being played in clubs, given that it was released about two years ago?
No because the same has always happened with my music. It has a life of its own. They often do better years down the line, and that one in particular! My friend Lex, who has since sadly passed away, named it. It was an extremely poignant title for where he was.
“Extended Pain EP” offers two original soft tracks and a hard and bassy remix of “Sunday” by Kasper. We rediscover down-the-line the same recipe in your second EP “Gs Spot!” (September 2011), although this time without any remixes. Are you always looking for a balance between smooth and rude?
Smooth? Me? Never rude but not nasty! I like many types of music. So I try and cover ”that” range in what I do!
By the way, do you think that generally artists launch the trend or that the music fans decide which kind of music is going to be the trend or rather that one day, you notice that the crowd doesn’t react anymore to this or that kind of music?
The crowd will always react to good music programmed well and played with passion regardless of what’s trendy.
Moreover, you added “Sometimes, you need to go back to go forward”. Are you deeply nostalgic for “the good old days” as Wu-Tang Clan says in “Can It Be All So Simple”?
I’m always looking back and find myself shocked at what we’ve become: formulaic! Just listen to Jimmy, Steely, Philly, Tubby! I don’t get much better…
So, old school or new school?
Old school every time! Nothing better than that old pair of shoes you should throw away. You know, the ones with the hole in! They’ve been with you so long they become part of you! Each crack and tear tells a story. That’s how I see music! New school is fun, though: seeing their take on the old can be fun too.
* photo by daddy’s got sweets. All rights reserved
A great live show will educate you as well because the person’s history will shine through.
These days, you only perform live. And on the one hand people say that live performers are rarely booked because bookers are not able to pay them for one or one and a half hours of live performance. On the other it seems that the number of live shows is increasing. So are live performances the key to success (like Clio for instance, who’s certainly going to blow up)?
Yes! You write it, you make it, you head out and lay it! You show people what you’re about and where you’re from. A great live show will educate you as well because the person’s history will shine through.
You love Motor City Drum Ensemble’s basslines as well as Kyle Hall’s. Who are your favorite producers at the moment?
Theo Parish, Rod, warm sound, quite Village, Bushwacker, Bill, Quincy Jones, King Tubby, Burning Spear… The list goes on and on you never stop loving or learning: if you do then it’s time to call it a day.
You released “Still Here” on Rekids. Should we expect a forthcoming album on Bass Culture?
Not at the moment, as I don’t see D’Julz doing that just yet, but who knows in the future…?
And any releases for the upcoming months?
Yes, a new album on Rekids, “State of Flux”, and several crazy new singles on Phoenix G including the LTD as well as “Soulfood EP”. And also a new Bass Culture. I just keep making music.
How would you describe your upcoming album in three words…?
Hardfunk, cathartic and painful.
Did I forget something you want to speak about? Ask yourself a question!
Damn you wrote a lot of questions! Why did you wait so long to ask them…? (laughs)
Thanks, though. It’s been fun.
About Mr G:
- Phoenix G :
- Rekids :
- Bass Culture :