It’s a sunny November afternoon, and Tom McGuinness and Jimmy Mac have nabbed the prime spot at the front of K’ Road establishment Coco’s Cantina. This is the first time they’ve met, but at the start of February they’ll both be making debut performances at St Jerome’s Laneway Festival. There’s plenty to cover.
Tom McGuinness is a long-serving DJ and advocate for the underground. Performing as Rein, one-third of Auckland’s Haven, he creates machine-driven lo-fi electronic music that draws on house, techno, acid, jungle, ambient, and noise.
Jimmy Mac creates music in his bedroom under the moniker SCUBA DIVA. He’s also toured the world as keys player for Lorde and he got hitched in Vegas.
Tom: So I only know a little bit about your musical background . . .
Jimmy: Well, I’m just trying to put together a band at the moment. I’ve got two synth players. I think I’m going to play drums and sing. And then a percussionist and a guitarist and a bass player. So it’s kind of a big band.
And is this for the show at Laneway?
Oh, that’s cool.
I have to start from scratch. I haven’t played any of the stuff live yet. Luckily I’ve been in Auckland long enough to know enough dudes who I can pluck from bands I’ve seen play a bunch of times and who are friends already. So I hope it should be easy.
The stuff you’ve done already, have you just recorded everything and put it together or . . .?
Yeah, mostly. I’ve only released one song that was recorded by me mostly and then Kody Nielson [of Mint Chicks fame] did pre-recorded vocals and percussion and a couple of underlying keys parts. But, yeah, it was just done at home.
Sweet. That’s the best way to do it, I reckon.
I think so. I tried recording it in a studio and it just didn’t . . . every studio I go to is trying to achieve the same kind of sound or something. And I know a room like in my house is the worst technically, but I like those gross frequencies. It gives it an element of difference to every studio recording, you know?
Yeah. A lot of the stuff that I do, I have zero muscial training at all. If you gave me a guitar, I wouldn’t know what to do. I literally wouldn’t have any idea. I guess, especially with electronic stuff – like the pure house music and techno – it’s all obviously made on computers and a lot of the production levels are really high. It’s just something that didn’t really appeal to me. I enjoy the lo-fi-ness of slapping it together with some drum machines and old synths. And that’s pretty much it – just press record and see what happens. I enjoy what happens when you make mistakes, rather than sitting there clicking with a mouse.
Cool. So you haven’t played live yet either?
No. I’ve played live in my house with everything kind of MIDI [beat clock] synced up. But no. I’m traditionally a DJ – I’ve been a DJ for coming up ten years now – and the whole live aspect of electronic stuff is a little bit daunting. I’m still unsure as to how I’m going to do it.
It’s kind of good having something like Laneway coming, because it makes you do something. I’m definitely not ready to play. It makes me be ready.
I guess the beauty of Laneway is that it’s almost like you don’t have to go in there with this perfect, polished performance, because that’s – not saying you want to go in there and it’s going to be shit! – but I think the idea of Laneway is that it’s more open to being a bit more experimental and emerging.
It’s cool, it feels like they took a few risks with this year’s line-up. I think people are psyched about the local line-up just as much [as the international acts]. There’s some cool stuff.
Yeah, everyone I’ve spoken to is obviously hyped on the international acts, but it seems a common theme that the locals are pretty on point this year. Guys like [Wellington three-piece electronic act] Groeni are playing, and bands like Silicon [Kody Nielson’s new project] as well, which is cool. Full disclosure: the first Laneway I ever went to was the one just gone. Which is really bad, because [Laneway director] Mark Kneebone’s a good friend [laughs]. [English producer and musician] Jon Hopkins at the one just gone was a pretty special moment.
I wish I saw that.
Oh, dude, it was next level. A lot of people at that wharf stage. It would’ve been really cool to see if it was at night-time. A big part of his show is the visuals, but he made it work even without that and it was pretty killer. I think whoever was on after him was one of the more mainstream acts and a lot of people came halfway through, as happens at those festivals, to make sure they got a good spot – like, there was still heaps of people for Jon Hopkins, but he was just playing crazy techno. Real druggy techno. It was funny looking around at these people who either didn’t like the music or had never experienced it and were just like, ‘What is going on?’ And then you watch them get into it. That’s really awesome.
I remember seeing [US band] Deerhunter play. I think it was maybe the first or the second Laneway. I hadn’t really listened to them much before but I remember being blown away. There was this one jam bit that was just bass and drums for ages, and I got about five minutes deep and I was like, ‘All right . . .’
But then all of a sudden everyone got in on this groove that it was on and realised what was happening, and the repetitiveness went into boring and then came out of it. It was the simplest groove but it was so good.
The Seasonal: I always remember the food at Laneway.
Hungarian bread? That stuff’s the shit.
Yeah, my girlfriend’s really into that. We had
a friend who took his food product to
Laneway last year for the first time, so that
was pretty much all I ate – Bangerritos.
They’re pretty good.
TS: It’s like a sausage mixed with a burrito.
I always end up eating really shitty hot dogs on a stick or something, because it’s the only one that doesn’t have a line and I’ve got a schedule to keep [laughs].
TS: I know this is a question people always get asked but did you have inspirations in creating your current work?
Yeah, definitely, but it’s hard to pinpoint what it was. I started making music because, like, after playing for Ella [Yelich-O’Connor, aka Lorde] and being a drummer in bands and stuff, your whole identity is in someone else’s thing. Not that it’s a bad thing, and not that I’m not into that, but you kind of want something as your own, to create something – not just to push the right buttons at the right time. So I think that’s why I started. Musically I was into heaps of seventies African stuff, like William Onyeabor and Dorothy Ashby, which is why the tracks have a lot of percussion in them – I feel like that adds a bunch of energy or groove that music doesn’t really have any more. I think you’re just influenced by everything you hear, even if you don’t think you are.
Yeah, I’ll hear something that I don’t even like most of, and I’m like, ‘How did they do that, or get that effect?’ But as far as inspiration for what I’m doing – everything I listen to, I guess. There was a bunch of record labels that started doing more lo-fi and the genre’s called ‘outsider house’. It’s not produced, it’s literally guys in bedrooms making stuff that wouldn’t be super dance-floor friendly but it’s still house and techno. Some of it’s just distorted chaos, but when I started hearing stuff like that – because I’d been messing around with music and not that confident in what I’d made – I thought, ‘Hey, I can get into that.’ So it just developed from there and I started putting it up on Soundcloud.
Is that how you put stuff up? Because I feel like the kind of music you make is released really differently to pop. Do you just put it on Soundcloud?
I created a whole new Soundcloud. I’d had one for years that had DJ mixes on it under my own name, and I just created a random [new] one and put the stuff up anonymously – as cheesy as that sounds. It ended up getting passed on to a few different labels that said, ‘Hey, this is cool, we’d like to put it out.’
I feel that with that kind of music it’s a much more specific crowd right? It’s not like you’re going to release that to just your average punter.
No. Especially in an EP format, which is what most electronic stuff is. It’s pretty rare to get a really good house and techno album from an artist, but then you do get guys like [UK DJ and producer] Floating Points who put out a record that’s actually like an album. But, yeah, if you’re just releasing tracks for DJs, you’re not trying to get charts on itunes or charts on the radio station.
TS: Jimmy, you’re used to playing some pretty big crowds with Ella, do you think you’ll be nervous at Laneway?
I can’t even imagine playing to the sort
of crowds [you played with Ella]. It
It is terrifying [laughs]. Especially when it’s someone else’s project so if you fuck it up you’re fucking it up for someone else. I mostly get nervous about gear going down. One song in, when I know everything’s working, then I know everything is. Often backstage you’re like, ‘Everyone’s going to kill me when I get on to that stage.’ And then when you get out and people like it you get surprised.
Have you ever found on those big [stages] that you’re so far away from the audience that – this is silly – but you don’t even really notice that they’re there?
Yeah, it’s like past the sound desk it’s nothing. No one’s catered for past the sound desk really – it just looks like people are milling around. So if you look to the sound desk, it doesn’t seem that big.
The most I’ve played to is a thousand people at Rhythm & Vines.
Do you get nervous about that?
Yeah, and that was just DJing. Clubs generally have much better set-ups than festivals, I find, especially for DJing. [At a festival] the set-up just gets put in there for the day or two and then it gets taken down, whereas a club has a system that’s generally tuned for the room. Maybe it’s the style of clubs that I’ve played that’s run with [my] style of music. I much prefer being on the same level as everyone I’m playing to.
It’s kind of nerve-wracking when you can see individual faces and everyone’s reactions. And you can see if someone’s whispering to their mate.
Like, ‘It sucks, bro.’ [Laughs.]
But when it’s a sea of heads, as bad as it sounds, if you do it every night you start thinking crazy shit. Things like, ‘I could walk off now and it wouldn’t be a show.’ You start thinking of mental things like that, or your laundry, or ‘The catering was good tonight’. Stuff like that. You just kind of zone out when there’s that many faces.
Yeah, if I’m DJing I get nervous five minutes before I have to play, every time. No matter what it is. Even a club I’ve played a hundred times, I still get nervous. I don’t know why. Maybe it’s being in front of people and, basically you don’t want to fuck up someone’s night.
It’s because you care about it. I got told you get nervous because you take pride in what you’re doing, you know?
It’s 2am and some dude’s having the best night of his life, and then you get on and you ruin it. You’re like, ‘Damn, I feel really bad for doing that. Sorry, man.’
The best way I’ve learned to deal with it is to turn those nerves into excitement. That this is a good thing that you’re doing this. Or even, not in an arrogant way, but saying that you’re doing it because you’re good. I always felt that with Ella’s stuff we got big really fast – that we were always trying to catch up with what the next thing was. Maybe it’s like a New Zealand mentality to talk yourself down, whereas Americans are like, ‘I’m the fucking best.’
One thing I’ve always been told is that you’re always your biggest critic. Like, I listen to stuff I make and send it to friends and they’ll be like, ‘This is really cool, I love the idea!’ and I’m like,
‘No, I’m bored with it.’
Do you find that the stuff they like is the stuff you hate?
Not the stuff that I hate, but I’ll do something I like and send it to a mate and he’ll be like, ‘Oh yeah, it’s cool, but this one’s better.’ And I’m like, ‘Man, I don’t feel like that’s as developed or as cool.’ Is that the same thing?
Yeah it’s the same thing. So annoying.
OK. It’s good to know other people have the same experiences. [Laughs.]
This is a condensed and edited version of Tom and Jimmy’s original conversation that originally appeared in The Seasonal #02 SUMMER 2015 issue.