Label of the Month: Me Me Me
Label of the Month: Me Me MeMay 3, 2022
Chatting amicably with us over Zoom, sat in front of his record shelves, Geoff Kirkwood, better known as UK producer/DJ Man Power and Me Me Me label boss, tells us, “It’s a bit of a cliche, but I really don’t subscribe to the idea of genre… If you go out there just sitting within a particular genre, then you’ve made a commercially-led rather than creatively-led decision. You’re not doing it for the furtherance of your art.”
Me Me Me is a label defined by its indefinability, with its various releases finding their way into a wide range of Beatport’s genres including peaktime techno, bass/club, nu-disco, electronica and indie dance. The label’s DJ fans are some of the most respected names in the business and Me Me Me’s releases are famously varied and uncompromising. Kirkwood’s Man Power productions have been released on Hivern Discs, DFA, Skint, Correspondant and Optimo Trax and as a producer he’s rarely kept to one style so it’s unsurprising that his label has a similar approach to genre, putting out tunes as varied as last year’s anthemic piano stormer “Don’t Be Sad…” from Armacord, detailed, intricate house from Roman Flügel, raw basement 4/4 from The Juan Maclean, moody Balearica from the likes of Prins Thomas and siren-laden, peak-time munitions like Ben Caldwell’s “Sixteen.”
In conversation, Kirkwood is animated, thoughtful, direct, funny and engaging, giving long, articulate answers to our questions, often taking in a few interesting diversions on the way. He first established Me Me Me in 2016 when the Man Power project was really taking off, and it was his third attempt at running a label. Since launching, it’s gone through a few changes in terms of working methods and overall concept. “I had management at the time,” he tells us, “and I said to them ‘Look, I have an idea for a record label. Should I do it?’ And they were like, ‘No, you’re an idiot! Have you not learned that they don’t work? And it’s a stupid time to create a record label etc.!’ And unfortunately, I’m very pigheaded and one of those people that sees ‘no’ as a challenge rather than a definitive answer. I think I probably would have worked well as a door-to-door salesman.” Perhaps inevitably, the character of a label boss informs and defines a record label’s ethos, and this intransigence would go on to be reflected in Me Me Me’s broad musical scope and alternative vision of what a dance music label could be.
Although Kirkwood’s Man Power career-star continued to rise throughout the 2010s, he sometimes found that his music wasn’t always immediately snapped up the way it had been during his initial rush of industry success. This led him to an important conclusion, which would also help shape the character of Me Me Me.
“I thought there are two options here,” Kirkwood says, “either this music isn’t very good, or everybody else is wrong and I’m right… The first thing I released on Me Me Me was a track of mine that was over ten minutes long, which is already a tough sell, and it contained a sample from a TED talk about the nature of time so it’s not exactly this year’s dance floor smasher — but it turned into the most successful record I’d ever released at that point, and was something that nobody initially wanted to touch. So because I knew I was being quite pigheaded the idea of calling it Me Me Me seemed very amusing to me.”
There was also a more conceptual element to the label name. Through the mid-2010s Kirkwood observed what he describes as “a move away from genres towards charismatic individuals and what they would play. So instead of ‘I like a house vibe’, people would be like ‘I like the range of music that Andrew Weatherall plays or Jennifer Cardini plays etc. So if genre is now individual-specific, rather than outside definition-specific, then this is my personal genre. It’s just music that I like: it’s all about me, me, me. And that’s all that guides the label, there’s nothing else beyond that.”
But you could say that about countless labels, that they’re just putting out music they like. Push Kirkwood a little more and you get a more accurate description of exactly what it is that every single release on Me Me Me has in common, regardless of its musical style. “I feel something either has to be completely on the nose, or completely subversive to something,” he tells us. “So if it’s a track that sounds like disco, it has to either be out-and-out DISCO, there-is-no-way-that-this-is-not-disco, or if it perverts disco then it has to be like, ‘Wow, it’s turned it completely inside out.’ I think any grey area is boring. I don’t like things with a foot in two camps.”
So if there is something that unites tracks as different from each other as the streamlined, glossy “Goodnight” from Forriner, Vyvyan’s gnarly, eight-bit basement groover “Source Rocks,” or the half dark/half euphoric Italo arpeggios of Club Tularosa’s “Pyramids”, it’s that each is a distillation of a particular musical idea, an exemplar of a micro-genre: that’s the musical ethos behind Me Me Me.
Kirkwood launched his label while on honeymoon (“Just my knack of doing everything at the most difficult possible time!”), initially as a vehicle to release music from friends and colleagues, putting them together with more well-known artists. This commitment to developing new talent has also been an ongoing important part of the Me Me Me vision that has endeared the label to its artists. As Ray Barragan of LA production duo Club Tularosa says, “It feels good to be a part of a community that not only values the music but gives back to the artists involved, while remaining forward-thinking in sound.”
Me Me Me started out strong with an initial run of very well-received releases. The first was Kirkwood’s own sleek, restrained “Tachyon”, backed up with a DJ Tennis remix which refined the original down to a hyper-efficient, spacious, dance floor destroyer. This was followed by Last Waltz’s Tunnel Snakes EP, which included a Red Axes & Naduve remix, a twisted piece of electrudge made up of an assortment of sounds that really shouldn’t have worked so well together as they did. The James Hadfield Soak EP with an elegiac Axel Boman remix came next and Kirkwood says that by this stage he “could feel the momentum was really creeping up.” 2017 and the labels’ first big ‘hit’ came with the futurist, machine-groove of Mike Simonetti’s Pale Blue project complete with a Pional remix, all of which contrasted wonderfully with the next release, Frank Butters’ brooding EBM-ish Make It Right which came with a chunky Weatherall remix.
That first year or so of Me Me Me for Kirkwood was, he tells us, “just a running list of every single person I wanted to work with. You could feel it creeping and creeping up, gradually getting more and more popular.” Me Me Me was demonstrating that a dance music label could happily release a broad range of styles successfully. However, once the initial rush of success began to slow, Kirkwood began to reflect on where he wanted to take the label, deciding to try a digital-only, rapid-fire release strategy. “And it was great,” he says, “we created a lot of opportunities for people because even if we’re a somewhat niche label, we’re very well respected by the bigger DJs we work with. So in the short period of doing digital music, we managed to get a lot of artists out there… but it also to a degree kind of made it feel a little bit less special.”
The arrival of lockdown the following year gave Kirkwood a chance to re-evaluate what he wanted for the label. The vision for Me Me Me was as “an incubator for artists,” Kirkwood continues, “whereby we would find new artists and we would build them up and then kind of release them out into the wild. And I think that’s a really lovely, lofty ambition to have but it also proved very difficult to do. I realised that if I wasn’t capable of doing it completely, and we didn’t have the resources to turn into an academy sort of setup, then I had to refine it.” Eventually, Kirkwood reached the conclusion that shaped the third and current incarnation of Me Me Me. From now on, the entire endeavour of making, signing and releasing music would be driven by a very simple set of criteria.
“Now the label ethos is,” says Kirkwood, “‘Do I think you’re cool? Do you think I’m cool? Do we think this project will be fun, and are we prepared to be happy with whatever the outcome is?’ Because in some cases, the outcome is that you sell lots of units, end up in Billboard magazine and have your career spring-boarded — but in other cases, it’s not.”
His attitude to the Me Me Me label is now almost Zen-like; there’s a sense that he has, to a degree, let go of earthly desires – for fame, fortune, sales, social media numbers – and instead, Me Me Me now simply is. And when you decide to make and release music with no other goal beyond enjoyment and the creation of a quality catalogue, with no thought to its commercial impact, something perhaps not magical but certainly special begins to happen. As is often the case, once Me Me Me stopped chasing success, then quite quickly things just seemed to fall into place. “So we hit the stage of not chasing after anything and then in this fifth year” Kirkwood continues, “all of a sudden we’re at fabric, we’ve just been in DJ Mag, we’ve done parties at The Cause, all when we’ve decided not to push it. There’s a nice lesson in there: when you force things, it’s insincere. And people can smell it a million miles off.”
For the rest of 2022 Kirkwood will be concentrating on parties and events. “We just did LA,” he says, “Me Me Me is also doing a couple of events at Pikes Ibiza this summer, we hope to return to fabric, we’re doing things at Gottwood festival, trying to involve as many label artists in appearing live… and we’re looking at doing a midweek tour, whereby I’ll take a really low fee on the understanding that they also book an unknown DJ — which seems like a nice and more cogent way of developing artists and getting their names out there.” And then there’s the label who’ll be putting out the debut album from Vyvyan and music and remixes from Zillas On Acid, Warehouse Preservation Society, Boys’ Shorts, Club Tularosa, Lord of the Isles, Juan Maclean, Daniele Baldelli, Dharma, Amarcord, Kiaki, Tony T Not, Budino and Ivan Berko.
Ultimately, the driving force behind Me Me Me can be traced back to several years before Geoff became Man Power. “The reason I got into dance music was because of parties,” he tells us. “And the reason I got into parties was because I had found a place where I, an outsider, was surrounded by other outsiders who were all outsiders for completely different reasons. But we had that in common. There was always just a certain quality to these people, they were just a little bit off the centre of things. And there’s a sincerity to that – and I think that’s what I’m looking for in the stuff I release, some form of compelling sincerity that can speak to me.”
Harold Heath is a freelance journalist and DJ living in Brighton. His book, Long Relationships: My Incredible Journey From Unknown DJ to Smalltime DJ, is available from Velocity Press and all good booksellers. Follow him on Twitter.