Kevin McHugh aka Ambivalent: Grounded

Kevin McHugh, aka Ambivalent, returns to Glasgow to talk all things M_nus, his latest mix, and his recent tour of India

Feature by Calum Sutherland | 30 Jun 2012

Ambivalent, less well known as Kevin McHugh, returns to Bigfoot’s Riverside party this month. A key figure in Ritchie Hawtin’s M_nus imprint, the past few years have seen him drop some of the most affecting and intriguing tracks on the seminal label, as well as helping to expedite Hawtin’s new Plastikman setup. He has recently completed a tour of India, and created the first mix album of his already illustrious career in the form of _ground. We caught up with him ahead of his Glasgow reunion.

 What are you most looking forward to about coming back to Glasgow? 

The Glasgow crowds have been some of the most demonstrative and outgoing I’ve ever played to. The people have such a warm and raucous energy, they’re so unrestrained and expressive. I remember dropping an Octave One track in my first set in Glasgow and people went nuts like I’d played Billie Jean. That shows you so much about the kind of people you can look forward to engaging in Glasgow.

How was the India tour? Do you have any particular highlights? 

It might be hard to define a highlight of my India trip, because the trip itself was a highlight of my year and maybe my time as a DJ so far. The energy of that country is so enigmatically contagious, and it has the same level of charm that you find in Indian people. I’ve felt warmly welcomed to almost every place I’ve visited but this was a kind of genuine openness that I don’t have a comparison for. I think the culture there has gone through so many shapes and phases that it’s a learning experience just going a half a mile down any street. I feel lucky that I went, and I’m desperate to go back.

What is the most intriguing record you own?

One of my favourite parts of my collection is all the old 60s synthesizer records — when synths were so new and edgy that you could just put out a recording of experiments with the instrument, and not even worry about composition, just to let people hear the sounds. My favourite among these is Entropical Paradise by Douglas Leedy, a 6-sided vinyl box set made at UCLA on the legendary Buchla 200 synth system by Don Buchla. It’s just plain weird at times, gurgling bleeping and whining with no discernible musical structure, and other times serenely beautiful. What I love about the record is that it was released by Angel, the arch-historical classical label.

You have a new release coming out on Minus12 soon, can you tell me a little about the process of making _ground - the inspiration, the production of the mix and how you feel now that it is finished? 

Well, I’ve been talking to Rich [Hawtin] for a long time about artists I like, and I’ve been trying to find ways to work with them. We batted this idea back and forth for over two years of doing a mix of unsigned tracks similar to what he did with Sound from Can Elles and later with New Horizons. It was an enormous challenge for me to figure out which tracks worked together, which ones were available, what best represented the artists I was selecting, what best represented how I’m playing in my sets. Then when Rich decided to do New Horizons and use it to christen Minus 12 it made sense to build on that so in the end I settled on 21 tracks by 13 different artists, selected and mixed by me and released individually on Minus 12. The mix will be published on a CD that comes out with DJ Mag in Germany. Apparently there are over 25,000 copies of it being printed, which is way more than anything I’ve ever put my name on.

What is your most thrilling musical experience? 

Music constantly thrills me. When I saw Terry Riley perform last year I was so incredibly inspired I was completely speechless for hours afterwards. When I heard Plastic Dreams by JayDee in 1994 I was totally thrilled. When I played in front of 6000 people before the Plastikman live show in Ibiza I was buzzing with excitement. But honestly, the pursuit of music is always the pursuit of the next big thrill, isn’t it? We’re all chasing the high we got from a record that warped our brains, or we’re all looking to perform that perfect set in the ideal moment. So in a way, the biggest thrill is the one you’re anticipating next. Because you always want to believe that there’s another big dream moment coming just around the corner.


Ambivalent plays Bigfoot’s Riverside on Sat 21 July. Tickets are available through Resident Advisor and TicketScotland.