The Sherp recently caught up with Techno daddy Ambivalent a.k.a Kevin McHugh to talk about his music, his love for India and what makes him the artist he is.
Thanks to the good people at Submerge, Ambivalent is in India this week on his second Indian tour. For those of you who don’t already know, over the past 10 years Kevin’s been travelling back and forth between Berlin and New York in an attempt to contribute as much to the minimal techno scene as he can.
Born in Washinton D.C, he had a front row seat to some of the best acid house, go-go punk and was quite active in the electronic scene. He always concentrated on fusing house and techno with experimental multimedia and urban installations and was quick to notice the patterns between the two. This was when he met Richie Hawtin and the two of them produced the hugely successful Plastikman Show at Mutek in 2004.
Subsequently, feeling inspired after and ‘intense’ house party Kevin began to work on something new with his studio mic – a tongue in cheek warped one sided conversation which is now the intensely popular minimal techno track R U OK.
Until recently, he was a member of the Hawtin’s Minus Community but has now been signed to Elite Music Management whose roster includes Josh Wink, Darren Emerson, Eagles for Hands and Dimitri Veimar among a few.
Now in India, McHugh hasn’t been shy to express his ardent love for our country, “It’s almost too good to be true! I’m so excited to come back to India, I can’t explain how much I love it there. I am anxious to jump straight off the plane and visit three new cities I’ve never seen before: Bangalore, Guwahati and Pune. Thanks to submerge.in for bringing me and making this possible. SO PUMPED!!!”
Sherp: Welcome back to India! We are so thrilled to have you back here. How does it feel?
Kevin: I love it here so so much. I have a hard time describing it in words that don’t seem naive or sappy, but the energy of the people and the cities is unlike anything else I’ve seen in the world. I do feel more at home in India than any other country where I don’t actually live.
Sherp: This time around, what do you have in store for your Indian fans? And while you’re here do you plan on doing any traveling (apart from the cities your performing in)?
Kevin: I have a much more intense musical direction lately. The music I’m playing is far more energetic and varied. I think it’s a great new direction, and I can’t wait to share it with Indian audiences. My trip is a bit tighter this year, so I won’t have a chance to see as much outside of my gigs. Luckily my gigs are in cities I’ve never seen before, so if I’m lucky, I’ll have some time to hang out in those places and get a taste of Bangalore, Guwahati and Pune.
Sherp: Growing up in Washington, what and who were your musical influences? Did you start off producing techno?
Kevin: I grew up in Washington, and during the early 90s, when I was a teenager, there was a really broad surge in all kinds of underground music. Punk, HipHop, Techno, House, Industrial were all having big moments, and so I was absorbing all of that. I think that diversity helped me take a much broader view of music, but I think it always remained as a taste for underground and fresh sounds.
Sherp: You’ve been to India before, do you think there is potential for growth with regard to the techno and minimal scene in India?
Kevin: I see more potential for growth in the electronic music scene than almost any other region in the world. This country is as diverse and explosive as the whole of South America, and I feel like the scene here is primed for a huge jump forward. I haven’t seen anything like it anywhere else but South America, which is growing by leaps and bounds every year.
Sherp: For the past few years you’ve been shuffling back and forth between Berlin and New York – Has that influenced your method and style of music?
Kevin: Yes, absolutely. Berlin is a bit like the Vatican for techno. It’s so important and such a high point for the music that naturally there becomes this type of orthodoxy. That can get stifling, so it’s great to spend time in other cities with less rigid focus on the details that become sacrosanct in Berlin.
Sherp: Could you tell us how you came up with the name Ambivalent? We’re curious.
Kevin: I’m a bit of an over-thinker. So I’ll often see all sides of a particular issue. I can see the pros and cons of anything. When I get caught that way, it’s normal that I can embrace conflicting opinions of something. I feel that way about my music especially. So I chose the name to indicate to people “Hey, I like this, but I also see its flaws. You’re welcome to feel either way about it, and I’ll agree.” I like the idea that the music stays open in that way. It’s all a work in progress.
Sherp: Are there any Indian artists you’ve heard of and would like to collaborate with?
Kevin: Of course. I am very close with Ash Roy and Ashvin Mani Sharma (Calm Chor) of Soup Herb. We’ve spent some time together in the studio and I hope something cool will come out of it.
Sherp: If you weren’t a DJ or producer, what would you be?
Kevin: I saw a documentary recently about people training to become sommeliers. I kept thinking what a fascinating comparison it is to being a DJ. You spent years studying all the subtle differentiations and producers and ingredients with relentless passion, and in the end, it’s all geared towards making people’s evening more enjoyable. I love that. It wouldn’t be too different to discuss a 1994 Orlando Voorn record vs. a 2011 Ostgut Ton release as it would to compare a 2009 Bordeaux against a 2004 Brunello. That might sound super pretentious, but anyone who is outside of either field probably thinks it’s all the same anyway.
Sherp: What do you do when you’re not travelling or producing?
Kevin: What does a fish do when it’s not swimming?
Sherp: Out of the tracks you’ve produced, which is your favorite?
Kevin: My favorite track is always the one I haven’t made yet. Ideally, as soon as I’ve finished something, I’ve moved on to the next one. There’s no point in dwelling on something you’ve made. That’s for the record labels and the audiences to decide. Not me. That’s why I call myself Ambivalent.
Sherp: Lastly, do you have any message for your Indian fans?
Kevin: My message is that I hope you believe in this country as much as I do. It has given me so much hope and inspiration and passion. I can bring my music here and share it with you, but India has given me so much more than I can ever give back.
1. Best festival experience?
Kevin: Tomorrowland 2011, that’s how I met my friends from India.
2. Weirdest festival experience?
Kevin: Dream Festival in Ajusco Forest, Mexico June 2013. We drove 2 hours into the middle of Mexico, and the van was shaking around and twisting back and forth so much I got carsick. So I laid down for an hour before my set. So I got up, and we’re in the forest in these hills, the sun was rising and I got on stage and there was an amazing crowd of thousands of people. It was so cool, I’ll never forget it.
3. Festivals you’d like to play at and why?
Kevin: I’ve always heard great stories about Fusion festival, and never been able to play.
4. At what age did you attend your first music festival?
Kevin: In 1992 I was 16 and went to Lollapalooza.
5. Craziest fan you’ve encountered?
Kevin: All of them. If they’re not crazy, they’re probably not fans of mine.