Kevin McHugh, better known as Ambivalent, is an artist currently at a crest of one of the many waves in his career. His new EP, ‘Keep It Gone’ is yet another example of the work of an artist who is constantly progressing and evolving, not out of necessity, but because that’s what comes naturally.
Recorded under his new alias Amber, ‘Keep It Gone’ is a three-track collection of pulsating, bass driven cuts which envelop hypnotic vocal loops and beams of melodic synth to crippling effect, with the lead track acting almost as a bridge between the Ambivalent and Amber monikers. “The title track tends to be one of those pivotal moments in a set. It can be the way I turn up the energy in a room, or it can be the pivot point from house to techno, or vice versa. I’m the first to be sceptical of my own music, but this one has some kind of grip when it gets played. That’s incredibly gratifying.”
Indeed, ‘Keep It Gone’ stands out as perhaps Amber’s strongest work to date, following the ‘Waves Of Grain EP’, released on Mobilee in January. Generally the use of a pseudonym is a clear intonation of a desire to separate one body of work from another, but since leaving Hawtin’s Minus imprint two years ago Ambivalent has taken more than a step in several different directions, yet maintained the bare bones of what those more familiar with his already impressive discography have come to expect from his productions.
“These were part of a large group of tracks I made last summer when I was feeling a whole different creative direction. All those tracks came up in very quick succession, and grew into something I looked at and realized they were quite different from my other music. That was when I thought maybe I’d put them under an alias, and Amber had been something I’d always intended to dust off and share again. It just sort of flowed naturally from making the tracks.”
And the response?
“It’s funny, some people really seem to gravitate to it, and go out of their way to tell me that they’re feeling it, and some people just come up and say ‘who’s Amber and why are you making music with her?’ I also get emails from colleagues and friends saying ‘I was playing these tracks by Amber and had no idea it was you!’ That’s super nice as well.”
“I think the stuff I’ve made in the past 2 years since I left Minus has been much more honest about a broader range of influences and inspiration than I was able to express before. Minus was a great platform for a while, but ultimately it limited my output to things that fit the label’s goals. Having a blank canvas to work from lately has been really much more inspiring.”
Unsurprisingly, there are ample outputs for McHugh’s new work; in the last two years he has released a number of EPs and remixes for Ovum, Octopus, Tronic and Mobilee – is he enjoying being a free agent again?
“For sure. I do think it’s getting to be time for me to settle in and create my own home for my music [though], because it’s a bit schizoid working with all these different places. At the same time, it’s refreshing to be introduced to a bunch of different audiences that might not have been listening otherwise.”
At one point, that home was Minus, and it should be pointed out that Kevin is not the only one to have left Hawtin’s (pool) party; Troy Pierce, Magda and Marc Houle made the first move in 2011 – and as a result of no longer being tied by the constraints of the brand’s aesthetic goals, each artist has, in their own right, pursued different creative avenues.
“I don’t regret leaving at all, but I also have zero regrets about my time with the group. Many of those people are some of my favourite people on earth, and favourite artists as well. Being on Minus gave me a wonderful chance to reach a massive audience, and for a long time, it was the ideal match for the music I wanted to make.”
And to creative liberty?
“Without a doubt – yes. It remains to be seen whether audiences notice the changes, because I think so much of how people receive music lately comes via marketing and branding. Minus was a powerhouse in that department, so it’s unlikely I can match that. But I try to focus on being an artist, that means pursuing creative questions and leaving the marketing questions to someone else.”
These changes are palpable, however – just compare 2010’s ‘Rumours’ or even Ambivalent’s last Minus release ‘Snowblind’ to more recent outings such as the ‘Shimmer EP’, released last year on Josh Wink’s Ovum Records. A collaboration with the Scottish, London based producer Michael Penman, Shimmer glistens with hypnotic monochrome grooves and enrapturing percussion, held together by a solid structural framework of no holds barred bass punches and impeccable production. It’s a three-track statement of intent, which traverses genres with nods to the past, present and future. Individually, all three track stands out in their own right – jostling for position, each track is unique in its approach and ambitions. And one thing’s for sure, it would never have came out on Minus.
Taken as a whole it may sometimes feel like all hope is lost for electronic music, when purchasing festival tickets involves a prerequisite to watch an anti-drugs advert, or two of the world’s most terrifying axis of evil musicians joining forces (here’s looking at you, Coldplay and Avicii), but below the surface, where artists can flourish without being tied to major brands and work at their own pace, good things can happen.
“I think there’s a place for spectacle and entertainment that is also complex and engrossing. I don’t really think anyone’s intelligence is insulted by reading about dragons if the writing is good. I make techno music, which is, to some people, as unrefined as music gets. So I have to believe that things can be accessible and artful at the same time.”
The ‘Keep It Gone EP’ is available now.