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© Helicon Magazine 2019

University of Bristol

 

Ross Mcgregor - mcgregor

An Interview
By Euan Dawtrey

ROSS MCGREGOR- MCGREGOR
by Euan Dawtrey

 

Ross Mcgregor, under the music alias McGregor, has been rooting his fine-tuned, ambient productions in the perennially fertile Bristol music scene. He has frequented some of the most reputable venues in Britain, remaining honest to what he defines as ‘danceability with an artistic direction’. After three years with Bristol based MoreThan, Ross has pealed away and began a solo venture called Haar and with his first event coming up I sit down with him to find out what constitutes Ross’s artistic direction and what we can expect from Haar and McGregor.

 

 

Talk to me about McGregor, what sounds have grown with the DJ name?

So it started off when I was 15 when I did music course in London that just taught me the basics of how to string a mix together, how to DJ and from there I sort of fell in love with DJing. My first alias was RMC, so that was the name I would DJ under house-parties and school events and I carried that on with me coming to university and when started to release tracks. I played a couple of times at basement 45 and random things throughout university and then in second year I had a breakthrough because I thought the RMC alias wasn’t reflective, it wasn’t who I was as a person or representative of the music I wanted to make. It was very fake. So I changed my name and started a new project called McGregor with the idea that it was for me, it was only for me, it was a very selfish decision, obviously it was beneficial for me, so I started calling myself McGregor, releasing tracks under McGregor and I’ve not really looked back since really.

 

What artists have inspired you?

Nihls Frahm is a big one. His music is very himself, it’s very emotionally charged.

 

Nihls Frahm seems to slightly subvert what’s expected from an electronic artist, his music is so ambient, and so very beautiful, and almost evokes the same feeling that classical music does, which makes me re-think what electronic music does and can do. Is that something you want to replicate?

I think for sure, one of the main things is that challenge, like what is electronic music, what is it supposed to do? Does it have to be those over-produced things that you hear in most clubs, or can it be something like Nihls Frahm. I think it can.

 

The change from RMC to McGregor seemed very symbolic, what specificities in sound were you trying to go for with McGregor that differed from RMC?

Back in the day, the type of music I was into, was very EDM. It was quite poppy and over-produced, it didn’t have much melodic content, it was very hollow, and I didn’t really like how it had no emotional content, it was very like ‘I am going to make a banger, and I’m not going to think about it'. I would think that a song was good because it had a sick  drop, or how intense it was, so I would try and replicate that under RMC, but I was always making these more melodic tracks on the side, I don’t know why I didn’t do it earlier but there was a point in my productions when it clicked, when I thought ‘why am I following a music genre that I don’t love?’. There was no motivation behind the change, it was just a moment when I realised I needed to be honest with myself if I wanted to get enjoyment out of music. The music I have now has more of an emotional weight, it’s more personal to me, less about copying other people.

 

What separates you from other DJ’s then; how has McGregor been realised?

One of the main differences between a lot of DJs is artistic direction within a set, one of the most important parts of being a good DJ is being able to string tunes together that reflect an emotional quality behind the whole mix. It’s the application of my artistic process to DJing. When I DJ I want to make people feel things. Part of the process is making people dance, but that’s so basic, it’s what everyone is doing, one thing that sets good DJs apart from mediocre DJs is the ability to apply artistic direction to mixes that they make. But I guess, when it comes to why that makes me McGregor, it’s very much a personal thing for me, I put a lot of my personal, emotional context into DJing, which is one of the main things that draws it apart. I don’t think ‘I am going to go to a party and make people dance’, I’m not doing this just for you, but for me as well.

 

That leads us on quite well to Haar, your first event, tell me about Haar?

So it’s funny, the name Haar came from a conversation with my parents. I was struggling to think of a concept, I knew I wanted it to involve emotionality, no just a party but something that makes people think about their night, and what a night is and think about what they are doing. I want them to connect with the music more as an experience. So they suggested the name Haar which is a sea-fog on the coast of Scotland. When you’re in Haar it’s really thick, one of the things that happens is you can’t see anything, but you can hear everything, your attention is more focused on what you can feel and hear, how you’re operating is not based on your sight, and you lose your sense of sight. This idea of sensory deprivation forces your attention on the music and yourself, instead of the distractions of other people, and lights, and people watching you dance and you watching people dance, and getting anxious about what you look like in relation to other people. Going to a club can be a super anxiety inducing affair, just because of the social aspect, the lighting aspect, the music can be intense I think it’s the amalgam of everything that creates tension. What’s so good about Haar is that when you take away that you aren’t worried about anything else, hopefully, it’s an experiment, but I guess the idea is an immersion into music and the escape from all these things and be able to dance how you like.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So this is the first event you’ve done solo, and you were part of MoreThan for three years, talk me through what that was like and how it influenced your solo career.

Well yeah, MoreThan was a massive part of my life, it was a huge learning experience and I am so grateful to have done that, being there and listening to Jonny’s ideas and watching and helping him formulate them. Me, Luma, Jonny and Oli growing the brand and growing what we believed in. It was so rewarding to watch that happen. It was the main thing I took, that feeling of growing something to be what it is now. There are loads of different things; the way Jonny has this ability to visualise what MoreThan could be, he would visualise it in such specific detail and realise it and that’s what I found so inspiring, the ability to properly visualise, to realistically visualise it from the perspective of the promoter and the perspective of the dancer in the club, and that’s what I have been trying to be doing with Haar. I think about it purely from the perspective of the person who is going to be there listening, and how their experience will be better.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What is the link between McGregor and Haar?

With McGregor and Haar we thought that the production style is very emotional, I try and link it to a feeling I have or a feeling I want to convey, the whole basis of my music is this emotionality, this mixture between emotionality and danceability which I find very interesting.

 

You’ve got Haar’s second night in the books, tell me about that?

We’ve got one in the island in March with Imogen who’s doing absolute things these days, she’s coming up, her rise has been meteoric, her style is so unique and I want to see how that fits. I think her style would fit very well in the setting of Haar, it’s one room, the whole idea is very simplistic in the sense they don’t fuss about with lights and anything unnecessary. I guess the main problem was it was an arm and a leg to get, but I am very excited for it.

 

What do you want people to take from Haar, what do you want there your reaction to be and how to you want people to view Haar as a part of the Bristol night-life scene?

I want people to come away and say ‘aw that’s what that could be’. I want people to change their perspective of nightlife. It’s quite ambitious that, to change people’s perceptions.

 

Then surely the music you play at Haar is very important, you need to be really fastidious with the type of people you are booking so you maintain the ethos of Haar was created.

 

There are two different types of DJs, those who value it is an artform and those who value it as something to dance to.

 

And you want to be both?

Yeah and that’s the whole point, especially that combination is what I think gets people so well, because you’ve got that dance ability, that really primal evocative nature of techno, it’s made to make you dance, it’s made to make you have this urge to dance, there’s no emotional backing to the design, it’s base level. But when you add this melodic element to it you’re listening because it’s getting to the core of you and you’re dancing to it but you also get this emotional bit and you get so much more involved, and you’re getting into it in two difference ways, you’re being moved by it physically and emotionally, body and mind.

 

In terms of what awaits Haar and McGregor, your brand and your night, what does the future hold ?

To be fair, for me, I want to push this idea of emotionality within the dance music scene in the Uk, the idea of combining the physicality that comes with going to a club and the emotional aspect. Like listening to Joni Mitchell, having the same evocative feeling of being so moved by a piece of music but in a club setting. The way I like to describe it, it’s in the club, dancing with your eyes closed and crying but in a nice way. Sounds kind of funky.

When have you had that, tell me when you’ve had that in the last few years?

That’s a hard one. Probably Farr fest.

 

Who was playing?

It might have been Or:La, was it Or:La?  There was another one though, there was a really, I can’t really remember. I don’t remember the specific artist, I just remember that feeling, it was a key feeling.

 

In light of the recent examples of gentrifications adverse effects on the music industry, especially in Bristol, what you think the biggest problem facing people like yourself?

That is a struggle, because there is going to be so many changes in the next few years due to the council buying tones of venues and making them into flats. That’s going to be a struggle. But what I think that’s going to do is it’s going to force people to get creative with their projects. Something good could come out of it. In the late 80s there was such a passion against dance music, underground culture came out of that.

 

If what you want to create with Haar is slightly re-orientating the dance music scene, this then might a good time to do it according to what you’ve said about Haar. So if your whole mantra is subverting the standard perceptions of what dance music could do, and should do, then you can relate that with what you said about people having to get more creative and re-think their approaches to nightlife. That idea seems to go quite hand-in-hand with what you’ve described Haar to be right?

Yeah you can see it happening already, places double-as clubs. Like Loco Club, the Boxing Club, the swingers club near temple meads. People are re-contextualising spaces that aren’t club spaces.

So if Haar is about that, the reorientation of how people see a night out, then that idea that you are purporting with Haar is really similar to the idea that people are going to have to get more creative due to external factors like gentrification and privatisation, so there’s an interesting little convergence between your ideas of Haar and the idea people are being forced to re-think what they can do with spaces to help the music scene thrive in a harsh economic climate. The climate could make things slightly more interesting and exciting for you and people like yourself, the new, young artists wanting to do something different.

 

It is exciting, it makes things more difficult, but more rewarding. There will be less space for you to do things, you will have to go out and find new ways of doing things. I think it could be beneficial for the ideas behind nights, although logistically it will be very difficult.

 

Last question. What do you want people to go listen to now, one track?

One of my tracks