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Life works in mysterious ways. Exactly today two years ago I was sitting in the same Zaan Inn Hotel across the table form the ‘Queen of dark techno’, Nicole Moudaber, and now I’m facing Scottisch techno hero Harvey McKay. She played at the Hembrugterrein in Zaandam during techno event Compound, Harvey performs in the same huge area but this time it’s the Dockyard Warehouse Festival. The parallels don’t stop here. Similar to the encounter with Nicole, an animated and passionate conversation about our shared love for techno evolves.
Only two hours of sleep. That’s what Harvey got before he arrived in Zaandam. Not that this is noticeable in any way. He seems bright and shiny and talks and gesticulates with the same energy as the tracks he produces and the sets he plays. Because, let’s be real, that’s his signature sound: energetic, pretty up-tempo techno with a driving force.
Born and raised in Glasgow, he finds himself in the exquisite company of ‘homies’ Gary Beck and Orde Meikle. Together with Stuart MacMillan, the latter is part of the renowned duo Slam. “We grew up in different neighborhoods. I met Gary through the music, now we are mates.” Another colleague with whom he hits it off and ‘laughs my balls off’, is Marc Dosem. “Such a great guy.”
Playing in a youth club, he got acquainted with the techno scene. He was nineteen. Music is in his pores since his birth though. “My father was an amazing drummer. If he wasn’t behind his drums, he always and everywhere tapped his fingers. On the table or any surface that was available. It used to drive my mother mad.”
Eventually his parents divorced and a few years ago Harvey’s father passed away. After his death, his dad’s best friend told Harvey: ‘Your parents have always supported you. Often, when you were up in your room, we heard the constant extremely loud boom-boom-boom through the ceiling, but they always let you do your thing’. Harvey is still grateful for that. Therefore, one of his most recent releases, The Mad Drummer, is a tribute to his creator.
When he entered the rave scene, Harvey wasn’t shy of a good party nor did he refrain from certain goodies. Nowadays, his life is so busy that he rarely drinks alcohol or uses otherwise. “Only on special occasions. Otherwise, it would be impossible to hold on to this kind of life.” Harvey laughs: “I suffer from permanent sleep deprivation as it is.”
Because most of Harvey’s (international) gigs are on weekends, he tries to live healthy during the week, when he’s home with his border collie Beau. Jokingly: “That dog is my substitute child.” Is it a joke though? “Sometimes I feel guilty when I leave again. I’m exhilerated that I was able to find a good dog sitter with a spacious house. Beau loves it there.” When the question arises about missing a family of his own, he reacts firm and sincere: “No, I’m quite satisfied with the present situation. I live such an amazing and fabulous life! I have a great apartment, I love my music, I’m completely independent and can go and do as I please. I’m really happy with the way things are going. I utterly enjoy life!”
Besides energetic, his sound is often described as dark with a groove. Harvey like to plays with new gear and turn the buttons until he understands what they’re meant for. No wonder. He’s self-taught since he got his first turntable as a Christmas present in 1990. It took until Christmas 1991 until he became the lucky owner of a second one. Meanwhile, he had saved up for a mixer.
Harvey is the long-time owner of a home with a well-equipped studio. Often he’s there on his own, but his friends like to hang out in the studio as well. “In the beginning we were all getting high while I was producing. That went on for years.” One of Harvey’s friends, Steven, still jokes that he as well should get credits for some tracks. It’s a continuous running gag in between the friends. Due to life evolving, which included Harvey’s busy existence and Steven’s changing situation, they don’t have opportunity to hang out as much as they used to. Yet: “When we’re together, it always feels like yesterday.”
The recent currents events touch him deeply. “There’s a lot of scary stuff going on. I had a gig in Paris about three months after the attacks. In which club I was, I will leave in the middle. Suddenly, during my set, there was a gigantic bang. Instantly, panic hit the room. Yes, of course, I was scared for a moment as well, but I managed to stay calm. Until this day, I’m not sure what caused that bang, but the evening turned out okay. Later, I told Gary (Beck) about the event. He told me that seven weeks before the attack he had played in the Bataclan theater in Paris.”
Different level of cool
In terms of music, on a regular basis Harvey cooperates with other producers , e.g. Jay Lumen. Usually this happens from separate studios. Physically with another artist producing in the same studio is rare. Slam has been of great influence for his personal musical development. “These guys are the ones responsible for creating this amazing techno scene in Glasgow. They literally built it up from scratch. The first time I saw them play, I immediately thought: Wow, this is a whole different level of cool. This is what I want to do too!” The memory makes him smile. “Standing next to t hem to see how they handled the decks, feels like another lifetime. It’s amazing that these days we’re friends and that I have their support.” Why, does he think, Glasgow is the cradle of so many talented techno-producers? “It must be the beer and the whiskey”, he winks. With that in mind, it’s not surprising that under the alias Skiver Harvey’s 23-year old brother Ryan is active in techno these days as well. Just like his brother, Ryan releases music, among other labels, at Drumcode.
Dockyard Warehouse Festival
Less than two hours after our interview, Harvey starts his set in a pitch-black area at the Dockyard Warehouse Festival in Zaandam. People are steadily arriving. It’s only 1.00 PM at that point. An hour and a half later, toward the end of Harvey’s set, the area is completely full. The comfortable spring sun outside was no match for his energetic signature sound. Harvey is happy but also a little disappointed. He just found out that Egbert won’t be able to make it to the festival due to a flu. Harvey would have loved to have played at his spot, later on the line-up.
“The past years were like a ride on a rollercoaster”, Harvey concludes. “The first year and a half were a whirlwind. Everything went extremely fast. Suddenly, the success and recognition arrived full speed. Now I’m just as busy as then, but I’m comfortably in the swing of things. It’s mentally less hectic. I adapted to this lifestyle.” The result is clearly present in his latest track, The Chase.
This interview is originally published on DJMag.nl in April 2016.