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Delving into Harvey McKay's techno bubble

Glasgow-born McKay on the ONYX crew, the art of beat-matching and Ibiza

Harvey McKay, one of the blazing techno wardens hailing from Glasgow, has promised that next time I see him he'll give me a demo of his party trick – playing tunes with his teeth. He's now made two trips to the White Isle this summer with Mikaela's ONYX crew at Space and buffered its mission to administer high-octane, Berlin-inspired techno, and with just one more left on the roster for him, I'm holding him to that promise with a set of a plyers in my left palm.

By his admission, McKay lives in his “own wee techno bubble” and I got just 15 minutes to penetrate that bubble backstage at Space before his second date of the season. I wanted more, of course, because in typical Scottish fashion, the rampant banter that leads the show easily distracts from drilling down to the nitty gritty. His most recently released EP on Carl Cox and Jon Rundell's label, Intec, had not long been fired into my email inbox and had me on an aural buzz, so it was this techno beauty that led our short and sweet blether. The two tracker EP, titled Dropout, which landed in the first week of July, had already been given a hammering during his sets to put the feelers out and gone down an absolute storm. By his description 'terma' is a mix of techno and house, and title track, 'Dropout', is a “next level smasher”.

Smashers with mighty muscle are what he's been pumping into the underground sonic stream since his first official release in 2007 on Perc Trax with the Powder From The Gods EP. McKay's career is beaming with releases on a broad range of underground record labels, including Soma Quality Recordings, Perc Trax, Bedrock Records, Cocoon Recordings, Drumcode, Suara and 8 Sided Dice Recordings, among more. He's also scored three Beatport Techno No. 1s to date and nine top 10 releases, and that of course gives him plenty of homemade ammo to hammer into the gigs he has dotted across the world in the best underground clubs and festivals.

As two Scots in conversation, it's necessary to talk about Glasgow and the Scottish city's comparability to the home of techno, Detroit. This is referenced time and time again and the party scene has been and continues to be a Glaswegian trait, with the infamous Sub Club heading Scotland's clubbing movement in 1987 and the likes of techno originator, Juan Atkins, having been a regular visitor for the past three decades. It's rough-edge environment has been a breeding ground for underground visionaries with the likes of prolific duo, Slam, solidifying the city's techno roots since the late '80s. McKay jokingly didn't want to give his age away, but his first exposure to techno was at the age of nine or 10 in 1989 when he was at a summer club – you do the maths and I'll take the hit. “There were guys that were 14, 15, 16, and I was about nine or 10 and all the guys my age were running about throwing bricks at each other. They were just idiots, and these older guys seemed to enjoy what they did and didn't get in trouble and I thought, I'm quite interested in that.” It was a source of interest that he became “instantly hooked” by and he described his infatuation as being “to the point of next level.” He remembered the concept of DJing coming in when it was just two turntables and a bag of records to fuel the fire. “To be able to go on a wee journey with them seemed fucking mind-blowing, like mind-blowing. And at this point DJing was not cool.”

His schoolmates fired in with the smartarse impressionist mockery and we laughed about those guys now being at his shows with 20,000 ravers - a sure fire middle finger to the past. I might be due the finger myself for this next entry after a wee light-hearted warning that he didn't know if it should go in because it “sounds quite wanky,” but I reckon it deserves a place to highlight the early years of McKay's progression. The story in question is the pinnacle point when the beat-matching penny dropped, when none of his mates had a handle on the skill. “I remember one day I was playing about with the tunes and it was just like a light bulb going on in my head. I just suddenly got the beat-matching thing.” His mates were out with the box of jokes again, while he was in with the bag of skills as mastering it became “an absolute fucking obsession” that had him occupied every day. By the time he was 17, his skillset had bagged him his first residency in Glasgow and from there, he was off into the city's underground layer.

It's been nearly three decades since he gave brick throwing the swerve in favour of the relentless beat at summer club and the unrelenting fascination with dance music is for him, in the advancement of technology and sound. “Things are always evolving in every way possible and that keeps you on your toes. I think that's why [techno] has lasted so long and keeps going strong.” Being on your toes pushes an artist's creativity and art is challenging, but for McKay the skill is in completion no matter what obstacle rears its head to close the curtain prematurely. “I've said this quite a lot before - one of the biggest things people do is write loads of tracks and they never finish them. Even if the tune's shite, if they make the effort to finish it, they'll finish a technique or some new wee trick or tip to get to the end. If they just go, 'oh that's alright' and move on, they're not learning.” Using house construction as a framework of analogy, he added in that it's comparable to having a conservatory half built, hitting a block at installing the windows, sacking it off and starting over and over again. “You really have to write as much music as physically possible,” is his advice.

By now, it was 10 minutes until he was in that Space booth, the clock's giving me the eagle eye and we're now chatting at more beats per minute than a gabba track, so it was time to talk Ibiza. ONYX secured McKay for the opening and by his account alone, it was a brilliant entry from Mikaela with her second techno venture on the island. Taking ONYX out the equation, he first came to Ibiza as a punter in 2010 and his first gig was in 2014 at the Space closing. A big number of DJs consider an Ibiza trip a necessity on an annual basis as a clubber and if they got the gigs, as a DJ too. So McKay's first visit just six years ago, could be considered rather late in the game. “It didn't not appeal to me - I just didn't realise what Ibiza had to offer.” That first gig at the Space opening in 2014 had him saying “fantastic” a hilarious number of times which was caught on camera post booth performance – cue more generously delved mockery from mates. “I watched it back and it was anything but fantastic. To be honest though it was a good video and came out, they put me against the board and you just saw me – the happiest bunny in the world. How was it? Fantastic.”

A head pops in the door offering the Jägermeister and a hint that we're in wrap-it-up mode. "I just get told where to go. Someone goes, 'there's your flights,there's your hotel - go play music, try not to drink too much and don't miss any flights'." I tell him perhaps he might need a tour manager, to which he replied he's more in need of a guru. And at that, my time's done. But, the minutes on the clubbing watch were just about to get started and I got myself right in the Terraza for a Harvey McKay rave roast. Packed with driving groove and mega breakdowns, his set pounded in the belters with his Green Velvet collab, 'Magnetize' and one I've been gagging to hear on a dance floor – Josh Wink's 'How's Your Evening So Far'. Fantastic interviewee and even more fantastic in that booth. Just fantastic.

You can catch Harvey McKay at ONYX on Monday 5 September. Elsewhere he's set to visit Europe, North and South America, Australia and for the first time, Japan.


WORDS | Aimee Lawrence

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