Interview: Kevin McKay

Kevin-McKay-for-webKevin McKay’s name may be one not too many are familiar with but he’s played an important role in bringing the dance music underground to a wider audience. 

His track record for mining some of the genre’s more colourful beat makers is a good one. As co-founder of Breastfed records, he exposed the musical talents of Mylo to the wider populace, an artist who became one of the brightest lights to shine from electronic music’s underground in the noughties.

Kevin had a hand in mixing and co-produced Mylo’s Destroy Rock & Roll as well as programming and producing all the Linus Loves material on the label. He went on to establish the Heartbeats imprint as a vehicle for the colourful electronic funk of Scottish producer Grum.

When Kevin’s not digging through dance music’s underbelly to tap into new talent, he’s also a much respected DJ and producer in his own right, having released a string of well received 12 inches under the moniker of Muzique Tropique and his own name.

Glasgow Underground, his other label, lay dormant while he was helping Mylo become a global dance star but has now relaunched with a new focus and a string of upcoming releases up its sleeve. Perhaps most excitingly, he’s currently busying himself with a project to re-issue the work of Romanthony, the house vocalist and Daft Punk collaborator who sadly passed away earlier this year.

M caught up with Kevin to ask him about the project and the revival of Glasgow Underground…

How did you first get into electronic music?

My dad’s a minister and my mum is a teacher and there wasn’t much music in the house. So I wasn’t interested until I discovered Jean Michel Jarre. Then I just tried to explore different records via my local library and Britannia Music Club.

When I went to university in Glasgow, the Sub Club was just round the corner from where I lived. It was cheap to go and the guys from Slam were always playing house and techno.

That’s when I really got into it. I never used to hear what I liked in the charts and I had no real idea how to explore dance music at the time. It was really difficult as a 15 year old to walk into a record shop and say; ‘I like Jean Michel Jarre. Can you recommend me something similar?’

You’ve been involved in numerous labels over the years – is it trickier to run a label in the current climate than before?

It’s easier to get your music to market but much harder to get your music heard. Everyone who wants to be a DJ is a DJ, everyone who wants a label has one. The competition to get your music heard is far greater. Ten years ago you just needed more money and the balls to do it.

When I started there wasn’t a large amount of people making dance music 12 inches. So if your music was of a certain standard, then it stood out. Now it’s almost impossible to do that because music is everywhere. Even someone like myself who knows many people in the industry, I still find it difficult to get people to listen to my music.

If I sign a new artist from Glasgow, only people who really trust my taste will be interested. If I send something out with a famous name as a remixer, say Romanthony, then people will be falling over themselves to check it out.

How do you find new artists for your label?

If you’ve done the research on a label you want to be part of, then there’s nothing wrong with an email that shows that. They need to know about me, about what I like and a bit about the label’s history. Something like that is far more likely to get my attention than ‘hey label owner – check out my new shit’. And then ten links. That blanket approach doesn’t work. You need to make it personal and make it connect.

Do you think artists are business savvy in terms of what they need to do to generate income?

I’m not sure they’re that aware. I struggled to get Mylo to complete his PRS for Music forms when he was playing T in the Park. DJs are too interested in having a good time! But doing these jobs is as important as picking up your DJing fee. But some people don’t see it and don’t realise just how much money there can be from filling in set lists.

Unless you’re a pop star, then the general mentality is that collecting societies don’t give you an awful lot of money. I don’t think enough people are aware of their responsibilities.

Why have you decided to restart the Glasgow Underground label?

I’d stopped working with Mylo and was really into what was happening with house music again. So it seemed like a good thing to do.

I emailed some DJ friends and got some amazing feedback saying that would be a great. The feedback inspired me to go back to the label and do a modern version of what we did in the 90s and noughties.

How did you end up working with Mylo?

He literally sent a demo in and was working with a friend of mine who sent a demo to many labels in Glasgow. I picked up on it. The first CD he sent had Destroy Rock & Roll on it, got to know him and started hanging out playing football together. He’d start bringing demo CDs to the five aside. At one point, he made In my arms. I just thought this guy had it going on. So we worked out a way of setting up Breastfed and starting the whole Mylo thing.

He’d been a musician all his life having been in bands and had just discovered electronic music while at uni. He had left a degree in California and come back to make dance music. It was the right time.

Is the Romanthony project still ongoing?

We’re just about to put out an anthology of his greatest works. It’s something we’ve been planning for a while and is still going ahead despite what happened to him. He’s got three kids so there’s still a reason to have his records come out. Any money will go to his estate. There’s still a lot of his music which isn’t available so there’s good reason to getting his songs out there. The response  after his death was incredible. So amazingly positive about him, his history and his work. I want to continue promoting his music for the benefit of his family.

Which side of the business do you get the biggest kick out of?

It’s the variety. If I had to make tracks day in day out like a standard DJ and producer, I’d get bored. I love it all and get bored easily so it’s good to have the variation. I like doing everything – working with artists and being part of the creative process. It’s all good.

www.kevinmckay.co.uk