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The Sound Of: Me Me Me

Though a clear reflection of his taste in music, Newcastle’s Me Me Me label isn’t all about its founder, Man Power. Alongside a mix from its hard-to-define and easy-to-love catalogue, the DJ and producer tells Kristan J Caryl about the imprint’s focus on bringing artists together

“There’s nothing quite like the collapse of society to make you contemplate how self-interested you may have been,” says Man Power in the first week of 2022. “Which is kind of ironic given the name of the label we’re discussing.”

Of course, this Geordie is far from an egomaniac. He is a typical down-to-earth Northerner, but he did recently announce that his New Year’s resolution was to “try and talk like a fucking normal person online, instead of some kind of ‘self facilitating media node’.” It’s an easy trap to fall into when your peers do the same and everyone is hustling hard to stand out, especially if you are a self-described “middle-aged family man”. Fortunately, as it heads into its fifth anniversary year, Man Power can at least leave trust in the success of his label, Me Me Me.

A hard-to-define, easy-to-love outlet for everything from spannered disco to silky dub techno and throwback piano house, amongst its catalogue are tunes that could erupt a festival main stage in high summer and others that can keep a demanding Berlin basement happy in deepest winter. It started in 2016, a couple of years after Geoff Kirkwood started to gain traction for his own music as Man Power. He says that back then, when his profile began to grow, he was encountering “a whole bunch of people accusing me, rightly or wrongly, of becoming an egomaniac”. Calling his label Me Me Me was a tongue-in-cheek response to that.

A few things led him to start the label, despite the fact it was something “everybody who I worked with told me I shouldn’t do”. Not only did Geoff “bullishly believe” some of his music that other labels were knocking back needed to be heard, he also had music from friends and one of his own collaborative projects as Last Waltz that he wanted to get out there. Those three projects did eventually make for the label’s first three EPs.

Looking back now, Geoff admits that early on he just wanted to release music that sounded similar to stuff he liked. “Kind of a reflection of my record bag,” he says. It was a time when genre boundaries were blurring, and people were open to more expansive DJ sets. “I think it’s kind of snapped back fairly rigidly now,” he continues. “DJs rely on being perceived as one easy-to-recognise thing, even if that thing is ‘the eclectic DJ’.”

Geoff and his label are certainly eclectic. Though it’s always harder to sell a product, brand, artist or label that doesn’t fit into an easy box, that never puts him off. The varied output comes naturally because the label’s musical identity has always been, quite simply, a reflection of Geoff’s own tastes. Often a label’s sound or artists are united by geography, by sub-genre or even a specific club, but Me Me Me artists come from all over the world. 

“That kind of happened by necessity due to me being on constant tour and living between Europe and Mexico up until 2020,” he says. “You’re just trying to find people who feel things the same way as you, but that can often be your only shared characteristic.”

Some of the music on Me Me Me is by people Geoff has met on his travels; some of it is by people who grew up on the same Newcastle estate he did. There are no rules or requirements beyond the enjoyment of the music itself. “But,” he explains, “after all these years, we’ve realised that above all else we’re just striving for honesty and sincerity, so reduced marketability is a small price to pay.”

ME ME ME Man Power

The label’s visual identity was initially conceived by designer Josh Horrocks and was inspired by Geoff’s love of “early typeset zines and photostatted independent record releases". After the pandemic, Marske came on board with a rethink that is more graphic, vibrant and makes a bolder impact. “I think, to me at least, it’s possibly too important to have an identity now, as that’s the only way to cut through on social media, which sometimes seems to be the only way to cut through in general,” says Geoff. “But I don’t worry about it much. I like things that look cool but don’t want to overthink it beyond that.”

The visual change is not the label’s only evolution. Me Me Me started off as a one-man-band, but Geoff quickly realised he needed help. He invited his friend and Ape-X promoter Gabriel Day on board as co-owner to help with all the behind-the-scenes stuff. At that point, the decision was made to try and turn Me Me Me into a platform for other artists to use as a springboard. As it transpired, that didn’t work out. Geoff painfully admits to a couple of situations where he fell out with artists who were friends because of overblown expectations of what the label could and should do for their careers.

“What made it worse is I recognised my own behaviour as having been the same with some of the labels I’d worked with early on as Man Power. Ultimately, I felt that with my label it was also my fault for helping to create that expectation. Now I have a big speech with any new artists where I explain that the label purely exists for people who like each other to do cool stuff together. Sometimes that cool stuff will get really big and lots of people will talk about it. Sometimes it’ll get overlooked. But my ethos is it doesn’t matter as long as the process has been enjoyable and the output is something we’re proud of.”

It should come as no surprise that like many electronic music labels, Me Me Me doesn’t bring huge financial rewards. “The label itself has made almost no profit in the time it’s been running. That’s not to say there aren’t benefits in doing it — it’s provided some huge benefits for the careers of many of our artists — but it’s been genuinely heartbreaking when we’ve worked with anyone who just saw us as a provider, after putting so much of ourselves into trying to help them become well-known, often at our own financial loss.”

By day, Geoff works with Newcastle’s legendary World Headquarters club on creating an organisation that helps underprivileged and underrepresented people within the North-East of England. As such, thoughts of how best to represent these and other marginalised communities on Me Me Me are often on his mind. So far, the label’s output has “come together organically, but one thing we always come back to is tokenism versus actual organisational representation. What we’re working towards is making sure that representation is something that’s built into the very fabric of the label, and not just something we have on display for good ‘optics’.”

While Geoff is happy for Me Me Me to be a place for artists to “hang out with us” for as many or as few releases as they want, he is quietly very proud of Club Tularosa and Vyvyan, who have been with the label since their first releases. “[Club Tularosa] are currently getting so much love, as is Vyvyan, who’ll be releasing his debut album with us this year. That feels fucking great, to be honest.”

In Geoff’s words, the best way to define Me Me Me is “doing cool shit with people I love.” More of that will come this year in the form of label parties around the world and a birthday back home in Newcastle in February. “One of the benefits of it just being about what I’m into is that it makes the label highly resistant to going wholesale into trends,” says Geoff. “We may not crest a wave, but we’ll still hopefully be paddling in the sea having fun long after a lot of other people have been and gone.”

Listen to Man Power's The Sound Of: Me Me Me mix below 

Tracklist:

DIY 1990 ‘Apolo’
Forriner ‘Goodnight (Shit Robot Disco Dub)’
Edmonson ‘PSG’
Raj Pannu ‘FSOP’
Bryan Kessler ‘All Drums In’
Amarcord ‘When It's Gone’
Juan Maclean ‘Can't Explain’
Christophe ‘Rok The Hall (Johnny Aux Remix)’
Artist Deleted ‘Track Deleted (Discodromo Remix)’
Austin Ato ‘Maelstrom’
Deo Jorge ‘Do Androids Dream’
Club Tularosa ‘Kenji’ 

Want more? Check out The Sound Of Bristol's Bokeh Versions label, who mesh dancehall, dub, techno and industrial into an inventive, experimental catalogue

Kristan J Caryl is a freelance journalist. You can follow him on Twitter @kristanjcaryl