London-based artist Anthony McGinley – also known as ABSOLUTE. – has escalated from party promoter and event organizer to internationally-touring DJ and producer over the short span of five years.
The mastermind behind the LGBTQ+ club nights Super Electric Party Machine and WUT?CLUB, McGinley has galvanized a vibrant queer nightlife movement in London, and has slowly shifted his affinity for activism towards climate justice and club events in support of the global environmental group Extinction Rebellion. Much of the music featured at these parties is jubilant and rave-ready, an aesthetic that McGinley has championed in his output and credited with the feeling of freedom and queer communion that sustained him through the last year of lockdowns.
McGinley recently joined Native Instruments in our kickoff stream for TRAKTOR PRO’s integration with Beatport and Beatsource LINK. We sat down with the artist to discuss some of his humanitarian initiatives, his recent creative renaissance, and how he used original stems with Beatport LINK for his recent live stream.
You’re collaborating with Native Instruments on the new Beatport and Beatsource LINK initiative. Can you tell me a little bit about how you’re using the feature and how you’ll use it on the kickoff stream?
I’ve only just started having a go at it, but I’m really keen to try and actually put some of my own music into stems and create new, on-the-fly live versions and perhaps to build a hybrid live-DJ set. I’m working on manipulating each part of the stem and coming up with something that is just completely fresh.
In general, it seems like you’ve been pretty productive during the pandemic; you just had an album called Wonderland come out and what seems like quite a few mixes, tracks, and EPs. Would you say that the pandemic helped catalyze your creativity?
At the start of the first lockdown, things were just about to take off for me. One of my tracks, “String Theory,” was Pete Tong’s Essential New Tune on BBC Radio 1. Annie Mac was playing it most weeks at the time. I did a Mixmag lab, and I was about to leave on a tour with 808 State the weekend everything shut down. So I was really deflated after that happened.
To get myself back into the groove, I ended up doing an Ideas Generation course with this guy called Mike Monday. Basically, you kind of take out any thought about where your tracks and the music might end up, and you just write and get into a creative flow. You’ll record five different instruments and then just fill in the parts, basically. It just really ignited my creative force, and I ended up writing 100 track formulas in less than two weeks, which is just an insane amount, and the most I’ve ever written. And then that kind of became the starting point for my next step, which were the seeds of Wonderland.
I only ended up using one of those tracks in the end for the actual album, but the whole process just furthered my creativity and had me writing for the whole lockdown. In a way, it was great to have a pause in London, because it’s just such a growing city. Especially when you’re doing something creative and trying to break through, things can feel non-stop. There have been a lot of positives that have come with this pause. I’ve been able to experiment with this music course and expand my creative output.
Can you describe your production process? What is your current setup like?
I produce on Ableton and I use Native Instruments’ Kontakt plugin a lot. Ableton Push is then kind of my central hub. I have a Roland Jupiter X synth, and I have two Xone K2 controllers which I play different stems through. That’s my hardware setup. I have a few other synths and I have another keyboard. But since I’m doing everything in my room at the moment, I can’t actually fit everything! It’s kind of a rotating chaos.
Your music in general seems to be fairly upbeat, and in your recent interview for Mixmag you said that rave music has been an “antidote” for the difficulties that have accompanied the last couple of years. Have you always felt this way about music?
I was always obsessed with music as a kid. I remember listening to rave cassettes when I was in primary school, so I definitely had an affinity for it. And then I think when I was about 13, my dad gave me some money to buy school clothes, and instead I realized that with a bit of haggling I could buy one record deck. My dad was livid, but it just fuelled my passion.
During this lockdown I kind of rediscovered my love of rave. I was really drawn to it. I wanted to listen to music that just feels free, especially when you’re so desperate to feel a part of something and to not feel trapped.
There was a really funny coincidence that happened during this time I was writing a lot of rave and hardcore. I discovered that the building I was writing music in was home to this legendary rave space called Wonderland Arena where Carl Cox and Frankie Knuckles would play. This room that I was trapped in had so much history. It was like their energy was seeping through the walls, and the universe was telling me that I’m going in the right direction.
It seems like rave history, and especially queer rave culture, has also played a prominent role in your musical narrative.
Yeah, for sure. That was definitely the vibe, just to give some escapism. I found some audio parts recorded from outside Studio 54 and queer rave spaces in New York and integrated them into Wonderland. I wanted to just provide a little bit of the feeling of going for a night out.
I just felt so inspired that people were not only talking about this, but it actually felt like something was happening.
I know the UK is starting to open up again. Have you actually been able to go out and be in nightlife?
You can go out, but everything is seated. So you can hear loud music and see people, but it’s also kind of frustrating that you can’t really stand up. I actually got kicked out of one of these clubs because I kept dancing and I was physically taken off the floor!
I want to switch gears a little bit and talk about how you’ve married music and activism, especially in the arenas of LGBTQ+ rights and environmental justice. How did that start?
It all started when I went down to a London action hosted by Extinction Rebellion. They blocked off the roads. I just felt so inspired that people were not only talking about this, but it actually felt like something was happening. It was at the same time that Greta [Thunberg] was coming through, and David Attenborough had just done a documentary on the BBC, so it felt like there were these big, positive changes happening that were bringing these issues to the front of our minds.
I went home after that and immediately wrote a track that sampled Greta. I called it “Rave Against The Machine.” That led to me working with Extinction Rebellion. I was like, “What can I do? What are my biggest strengths?” At the time I was running club nights. I’d created a really big network of creators and crowds and other artists. I pulled in other artists and promoters and used the tools I had that were bigger than me to create more of an impact.
Can you describe the work you’ve done with Extinction Rebellion? Do you have anything planned with them now or in the coming months?
Originally we had planned to start a club night that would raise funds and awareness about the climate crisis. LWE in London were on board, as well as Boomtown, who are throwing festivals and club nights in Bristol. We were going to create a series of events with big artists, but we had to pull the plug on that because of COVID. Once everything opens back up I’m going to really push things forward again.
You also played on Greenpeace’s Rave Tree stage at Glastonbury. Did you feel like having a platform for environmental activism at a nightlife event made a difference in the way that people engage with environmentalism, or start a conversation about environmentalism at the event?
Yeah, I think it definitely was a huge benefit. I think the Green Peace Rave Tree got a lot of people signing up who were interested but who might not have come across it in another way. I also think it’s a great idea to use big artists to draw people in. I think it definitely has a positive impact in terms of the number of people who sign up to get involved.
What do you see as the assets of tying music to activism? Do you think one can help uplift or amplify the other?
I just want to create positive change, so I’m just going to use the tools I have available to do that. And for me, that happens to be music and nightlife.
What are the primary causes you’re interested in within the realm of equality and justice issues? What are some specific issues you hope to see change?
I think the most important thing we can do is to be more conscious, use less waste, aim to eat more plant based foods and look at how we can act in ways that benefit everyone instead of our lives being dictated by corporate greed. In terms of specific causes, I’ve just been doing what I can to help with issues that are within reach.
Are you working on anything right now? Do you have any projects lined up or goals for the future?
Yeah. I’ve just put together a guest mix for The Blessed Madonna’s BBC 6 Music show, and a mini mix for Annie Mac, and I’m curating a Pride playlist for Spotify and have just recorded a stream for Mixmag from a boat as part of the summer solstice celebrations. I just had my debut sold out live show at Islington Assembly, which had the most incredible reaction; there was so much love and energy in the room. So I’m very thankful for that. It was a daunting task. I know I can just go and slam a DJ set, but the live show is a whole new, exciting, and scary territory.
Check out the entire TRAKTOR x Beatport LINK live stream event here.