Geoff Kirkwood, most popularly known as Man Power, is an artist from Wallsend, England which was once recognized as a world-renowned shipbuilder, before the collapse of the local industry in the early 1990s. As a child, Kirkwood gravitated towards the sounds of the early Acid House movement. These were tunes his young mother played for him growing up – which introduced musical elements that can be heard in his productions to this very day. These early experiences eventually lead Kirkwood to formalize his own identity in electronic music as an alternative to the sometimes hard realities of growing up in a postindustrial working-class town in the UK.
Kirkwood has gone on to establish himself as being grounded in experimentation more so than any particular convention. After making his debut in 2014 with his self-titled EP on Correspondent, Man Power later launched his own imprint Me Me Me a few years later and has released works by the likes of Juan MacLean, Austin Ato, and Shit Robot.
In our latest edition of Mixed By, we were fortunate enough to catch up with Kirkwood ahead of the Me Me Me’s 5-Year Anniversary party, which is set to take place at Newcastle’s The World Headquarters on February 26th. Follow this link for more details.
Can you describe to our readers what it was like being raised in the North East?
It was great. I think childhoods aren’t really so much dictated by geography as they are environment. My area was quite deprived when I was a kid, but I had lots of friends and a happy home life. My daughter has a lot more stuff than I ever did but I don’t think she’s more or less happy than I was, nor do I think I was anymore or less happy than my grandparents. I’ve seen some real deprivation on my travels that makes my upbringing pale in significance too, so it’s all a question of perspective regarding your own situation really.
What bands and artists did you grow up listening to during that time? Which songs were the most influential to you as an artist?
I listened to what my parents listened to in the car initially. Dire straits and Bowie with my dad. Acid House and Reggae with my mam. I was raised by 2 sets of grandparents too. One set loved Opera and Jazz and the other were very much into popular music through the decades ranging from Sinatra through to the Beatles. I was very fortunate to be exposed to a lot of different people’s tastes very early on. I think it’s always been a cumulative effect when it comes to my own output.
There does not appear to be much written about you before your debut in 2014. Could you describe your musical journey before your big break?
I played instruments at school, but the music was a bit frowned upon where I was from. I never took it that seriously although I guess it gave me a good grounding in theory and meant I wasn’t afraid of making noises. I left school and loved music but just wasn’t connected to any scene. It was all a bit hard to find for me initially. Eventually, I kind of hit a bit of a breaking point in my early 20s and just dropped out of everything. My serious relationship, my job, my social circle.
I went out and lost myself for a lot of years. Sang in some bands, went to a lot of gigs, a lot of clubs, a lot of parties. At the end of it, when I came around, I was making most of my income from DJing in Bars and clubs. I started throwing my own parties too. Had a few club residencies and then had my first taste of releasing music with 2 friends under the name Last Waltz. I think I must have had the seven-year itch again in around 2012 as I left another serious relationship and dropped out of everything to go train to be a school teacher. I also got hit by a car and badly hurt for a while (that wasn’t deliberate though). That recent period of change led to the Man Power project. Some rapid growth and a lot of exciting things happening all at once.
What impact has the internet and social media had on your career? What has been the good and the bad?
I used to be grateful for a fact that I was an internet-born phenomenon. After years at a grassroots level, the internet allowed me to find an international audience and lots of like-minded individuals all at once. The only thing that catches you is that things are always changing. The rules I used and the way I connected with Social Media have all changed in nearly a decade. The person who I am doesn’t have the interest in taking part to the same degree or the energy to learn how to.
When I started the internet provided a platform to show what you focussed on in real life. Now I think the internet is what you focus on and real-life exists in many ways just as an environment to create that content. That’s not really for me at this stage in my life, but it’s not something I can get mad at either. I’m 42 so it would be pretty fucked up if I was 100% down with the Kidz. I think now I’m happy just doing what I do and letting those who like me find me. That’s better than having my behavior be influenced by what would ensure me the biggest audience.
I hear that you are now based in Newcastle, after living in Mexico on and off for nearly 5 years. What took you to Mexico and what brought you back to the UK?
Love brought me to Mexico, and love brought me back to the UK (with a family).
In just a couple weeks, you are set to come out with your Closing the Loop EP on Throne of Blood Records. For your fans out there, please describe the intention behind the record and what we can expect from it?
The record itself doesn’t really have a concept beyond being a bunch of banging tracks that channel some influences of mine from 90s Deep House to some nearly Proggy Vibes and a bit of Electro Disco. The reason I chose to release it though is that I wanted the chance to work with James and Max from Throne of Blood again. They were two of the first international friends I made as Man Power, and beyond releasing some of my early music, they provided help and friendship for me from the start. As I find myself getting to a different phase in my career I’m seeking out meaningful connections and rekindling relationships with people who matter to me. I think that’s what I mean by “Closing The Loop”
For many, 2020 was a year the world stood still; especially for DJs and producers who rely on nightlife to make a living. It couldn’t have been easy living through such a period of uncertainty, but you seem to be hitting your stride in spite of it.
I believe that year you created a new alias called Bed Wetter, while also launching a subscription-based ‘label’ titled VALUE. You even launched a new party series called “Us & Them” upon arriving in Newcastle.
How have you been able to adapt to this ‘new normal’ so effortlessly? Are there any lessons in life that you feel prepared you for this moment?
My own normal was affected in some dire ways in the last 2 years. It all happened to such a degree that in many ways I didn’t really register Covid at all. A lot of the time it was just something vague in the background of more personal life events. Above all else, I was isolated from my family for about 80% of this period. I took to keeping myself busy as a form of escapism, and also as a way of maintaining some structure. I think I’ve had left everything as a formless void I wouldn’t have lived through this period. It was my equivalent of the guy on death row doing press-ups all day.
I must point out that things have come full circle. Not only do I have everything I want or need in my personal life, but career-wise, I’m being enriched more than ever before by these new creative and professional outlets. Not every story requires a moral, but if there’s one for my own then it’s this: all things come to pass and the while that crushes you under its spokes will always raise you up again. You shouldn’t treat either state as permanent.
As someone who is at the forefront of creating new sounds and even genres, we are curious to know what pieces of gear you utilize most often?
My ears, my fingers, and my imagination.
Anyone who follows you on Instagram knows that you are fairly close pals with Juan MacLean and Gerd Janson. They are even headlining your homecoming event along with you. Can you tell our readers how you guys met and why the bromance is so strong?
Gerd is everybody’s friend, I don’t claim to know him more than most but he’s just so lovely wherever you meet him that you feel like you’ve known him for years. KiNK and Paul Woolford are 2 other people like that too. Just great folks who prove you don’t have to be a complete asshole to get by.
Juan has become one of my closest friends over the years though. I think an Irish Catholic Bostonian upbringing has many of the same ups and downs as a working-class northeastern upbringing. We also share many of the same outlooks (and maybe got fucked up in similar ways too). The big thing is we seemed to develop a kind of musical telepathy very quickly. I’m incredibly fast at making music and it normally slows me down working with other people, however with Juan we both seem to plug into the same thing and it happens even faster. He’s also incredibly fun to DJ with. Back to backs are often one DJ facilitating the other, so when you find someone who can really work in synch with you then it’s always a joy.
In a previous interview with XLR8R, you layout ways artists can keep a level-head and foster a healthy relationship with their music and the industry as a whole. One of the recommendations you gave was to have passions that are not related to music. What are some of the passions that help you stay sane?
Family. Running (that’s a recent one). Regional History (this increases as I get older and more boring). I’ve also found myself getting a healthy interest in social issues, which makes me possibly sound a bit “worthy” or like I’m virtue signaling. I think it’s also something that you take on board more as you get older, and perhaps more when you have your own dependents. I do find a strong compulsion to work with the people making the North East a better community though, and it definitely provides me with some perspective about the other elements in my life.
Who are your top 5 producers to watch for in 2022? Go!
Man Power ‘Closing the Loop’ on Throne of Blood Records is available to pre-order here: https://lnk.to/TOBD012