Photo: Lars Borges (Ambivalent)
Kevin McHugh doesn’t seem to rest. After releasing numerous releases on M_nus, Clink, Plus 8, Ovum and others as Ambivalent, he briefly devoted some time to his Amber project for Germany’s Mobilee on the side and since 2013 is also active as LA-4A. As if that wasn’t enough, the US-American producer who is currently living in Berlin has also started not one, but two different labels: Matrixxman and JPLS belong to the roster of McHugh’s Delft imprint, while the fairly new Valence is home to the Belgian producer goldFFinch, amongst others. With two new Ambivalent releases and his debut LP as LA-4A, it was high time to catch up with the prolific producer. Listen to his mix for our Groove podcast below our interview with Ambivalent!
This year, you have released your debut album as La-4a and two EPs under your Ambivalent moniker. What are the main differences between those projects and what are your goals with the latter, especially?
There are a lot of minor distinctions in my head about what becomes an LA-4A record and what becomes Ambivalent, but the big ones are more clear. The Ambivalent material is more focused on heavier, louder techno lately, and I give myself a wider set of choices when it comes to the way it’s made. LA-4A tracks are a bit more specific in taking inspirations from earlier days and a more purist approach to the production process. It’s interesting that each alias has begun to get heard by separate audiences. I like the idea that the aesthetics or the audiences can occasionally merge but still remain in their own worlds. The fact that techno has this much space to move around is quite encouraging.
As Ambivalent you however have debuted both on Cocoon and on Kompakt. What is your relationship with the respective labels, both as a music fan and an artist?
They’re both labels I’ve watched for nearly as long as they’ve been around. In my early days as a promoter and DJ in New York, they were both labels that represented the best of German techno, along with Perlon, Klang and Force Inc. I have a bunch of records and CDs from these labels going way back, as I was a huge fan, and naturally also a huge fan of the artists who were running the labels. Knowing that I’ve been listening for almost 15 years to these labels only makes it sweeter to realize that my name is somewhere among a list of really great musicians I admire.
Besides being busy as a producer, you also run the label Delft and have just recently also started another one called Valence. You have mentioned elsewhere that you left Richie Hawtin’s M_nus in order to open the door for other labels. Did you start Delft and Valence out of a similar spirit, in order to be more independent in your choices?
Yes, that’s fair to say, but I wouldn’t say it was so strategic – more of a natural evolution. I started Delft as a way to release my LA-4A productions, and I was also lucky to have a lot of great music from friends like Matrixxman and JPLS to release. It developed in a really natural way to have an outlet that supported other things I felt needed to be released. At the same time, I also wanted something separate from Delft to release Ambivalent material. Valence became that channel. Now I have the luck, and the challenge, of running two labels, and a mountain of great music to release.
The next release on Valence will bring together a collaboration between you and Matrixxman, Physical Therapy, Avalon Emerson and Toms Due. How did you chose them as contributors?
Some of them are friends, some are people I pursued out of admiration for their music and became friends. Matrixxman and I have spent a lot of time in the studio together. We share a really similar language in the studio, and it makes for a really relaxed collaboration. Physical Therapy is also a friend, he has a record coming on Delft, and we’ve also been working together in the studio. Avalon Emerson is someone whose productions I’ve admired for a few years, and I was lucky enough that she found a track we both felt happy to include here. Toms Due are doing really great stuff, and when they sent me this single track, I fell in love with it.
Just recently, you have also released a rather suprising 12″ through Valence: two tracks by the sound artist and 12k label founder Taylor Deupree. How did that come about?
I’ve been a fan of Deupree’s work for many years. Prototype 909 had a nearly legendary status in the US techno scene. I have long loved Taylor’s releases on Audio NL, his really elegant minimalist compositions and his label 12k, so I kept following his work for a long time. The tracks from the Valence reissue came from a record of his I cherished for years. I played the A1 track at Berghain, and it felt like jumping off a cliff. No kick drum for most of the track, shifting patterns, cold repeating tones. Before I played it, I felt like it could be either a perfect fit or a perfect disaster, but I took the risk and it was magical. More people came to the booth to ask about it than anything else I played. So after this I asked my friend Richard Chartier to connect me with Taylor. I was less interested in just a direct repress, I wanted something that contextualized these tracks from 1997 into today’s techno, so adding remixes seemed the best idea. This record has a lot in common with things being made today, but it’s also bolder, it takes more risks. When I reached out to Taylor he was open to the idea, and said that the rights to the tracks were his and we could work directly together. It took him a while to find the DATs, and when he found them, I knew exactly who I wanted to ask for remixes. I’m really happy with the results of the entire release. It’s current and relevant, and also retrospective and unique. It fits in todays techno without being held to any trends. Ultimately I would like to be able to say that about all my releases.
Speaking of which, what’s your most unlikely favourite record and why?
This is a really hard question. The word “favorite” is daunting, and the word “unlikely” makes it even more complex. Maybe I’ll escape those words and tell a story about one that I love. A record I’ve had for almost 20 years is “Entropical Paradise” by Douglas Leedy. It’s an experimental record from 1968 made on Moog and Buchla modulars, a triple-vinyl on Seraphim (a sub-label of the classical music giant Angel). I bought it in 1997 on a sidewalk in Brooklyn. A guy was sitting outside his apartment building selling a bunch of really old electronic music, Musik von Harmonia, Morton Subotnick, Neuronium, Tangerine Dream… all kinds of great stuff. I spent every dollar in my pocket and wished I had more. When I moved back to Berlin in 2008, I brought only one crate of records, and this was one I couldn’t live without.
Did you have a specific idea in mind when you recorded your mix?
I wanted something that felt smoother than a club mix, and maybe a bit more melodic or at least harmonic. The most recent Ambivalent releases have been a bit more colorful in comparison to other things that are coming, so I wanted to find a middle-ground in between. I also try to balance new releases, some unheard gems and some old favorites. I have my turntables and CDJs at home so I recorded it there, did it twice and I preferred the second take. That’s what is here.
Last but not least: Where can we see you behind the decks in the next weeks? And what’s to expect from you as a producer and label owner in 2016?
I’ll be DJing in Italy a few times in the coming weeks, as well as Berlin, Munich, Ibiza, Glasgow, Paris and Hungary. Plenty more productions coming, LA-4A will be on Unknown to the Unknown next month, and remixes on Hotflush and Vin Sol’s Club Lonely after that. Ambivalent will have EPs on Ovum and Dustin Zahn’s Enemy, and remixes on Born Electric, all before the end of 2016. And of course there is more coming from Delft and Valence – the Multivalence compilation, as well as a BLAZING 12 inch from Physical Therapy on Delft. Maybe something else from me on one of the labels if I can finish it soon!
Stream: Ambivalent – Groove Podcast 66
Unfortunately, the download is currently only possible via Soundcloud with a registered account.
01. Konrad Wehrmeister – Search (DUR)
02. Taylor Deupree – Untitled (Marco Shuttle Rework) (Valence)
03. Radio Slave – Vision (Marcel Dettmann Remix) (Rekids)
04. Benales – Element #10 (Sino)
05. Peter Van Hoesen – Quadra (Dekmantel UFO)
06. Ambivalent – Whyou (Kompakt)
07. Question – Untitled (Question)
08. Truncate – Wave (Truncate)
09. DJ Bone – Black Pattern (Beats) (Subject Detroit)
10. DJ Phlowgod – Downtown (Echovolt)
11. LA-4A – Transmitter (Delft)
12. Tafkamp – I Laf You (Paling Trax)
13. Marcel Fengler – Kyu (Index Marcel Fengler)
14. M-Core – Be Gene (ifach)
15. Truncate – 7_1 (Ambivalent Remix) (Truncate)
16. Collage – Horseshoe (Cabinet)
17. Tom Dicicco – Extracting the Error (Delsin)