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"It’s time for nightlife’s rebirth": ABSOLUTE. is causing a scene

Jaguar speaks to ABSOLUTE., whose euphoric debut mixtape 'Wonderland' is the ‘necessary antidote’ to a locked down world

  • Words: Jaguar Bingham | Photographer: Sam Neill | Art Director: Vassilis Skandalis | Styling: Lewis Munro | Lighting Designer: Sam Tozer | Lighting Supplier: Colour Sound | Hair: Lyndell Mansfield | MUA: Ciara McDonald
  • 22 March 2021

For most DJs, the last 12 months have been the most testing times of their lives… but despite a myriad of obstacles, ABSOLUTE. has ascended to the next plane of his career. The neon-haired DJ is a twirling tornado behind the decks and a prolific producer in the studio. As an artist and performer, he’s loved for his infectious zest for life, which is as inspiring as it is endearing. He greets me with the bounding energy of a puppy, all smiles and excitement, as we begin our socially distanced walk through Hackney Marshes. ABSOLUTE.’s journey has been a long, hard relentless ride. Dance music drums through his veins and his affectionate nature extends to his love of community and compassion. Known for his pummelling basslines and jerky rhythms of nu-skool rave, breaks, techno and ‘high-drama’ house, ABSOLUTE.’s dynamism is an undeniable force of nature matched only by his musical peaks.

We meet on a cold Saturday afternoon, just a few weeks before the release of ABSOLUTE.’s debut mixtape, 'Wonderland'. It’s coming up to a year since he tore up the Mixmag Lab LDN, which was his final gig before lockdown. It was also when his track ‘String Theory’ was elevated by BBC Radio 1, where you’d just as likely hear the pummelling ‘classical’ techno belter on Annie Mac as you would on the Breakfast show. “We’d spoken to a radio plugger about it, and they didn’t think it would work,” he remembers. “But we put it out anyway as a club track, and it just took on this life of its own. There was no way I could have imagined how it was received. Then, as it was popping off, the clubs shut. And I was about to go on tour playing live supporting 808 State - I never even played it out! All these things were just starting to happen, and then everything shut and that was a hard pill to swallow.”

A year on, as the UK prepares for life post lockdown three, ABSOLUTE. is feeling buoyant. “I just wanna go to everything! I wanna fucking cause a scene, and go wild and have fun with my mates, and be free. Rave has been part of my journey - that’s the music I first listened to. I’ve been so drawn to making it during lockdown, completely organically. It’s like a necessary antidote to hard times.”

Patrick Church Shire and Window 00 Trousers from Verv London; Shoes by Dr Martens

Born Anthony McGinley, in Devon seaside town Torquay, he was a skater boy, proudly decked out with a Slammin’ Vinyl record bag, and utterly obsessed with dance music. “I would be skating every single day and go to roller discos where they’d play 90s house like Atlantic Ocean's ‘Waterfall’ and ‘Theme from S'Express’, one of my favourite tracks when I was younger. I ended up meeting Mark Moore later on in the gay scene, and fan-boyed. He was lovely.”

That fan-boy vigour sparked ABSOLUTE.’s childhood, where aged 10 he’d be locked into rave cassettes, with Liquid’s ‘Sweet Harmony’, ‘Ebeneezer Goode’ by The Shamen and Opus III's ‘It's A Fine Day’ soundtracking his Primary School years. The Prodigy, The Chemical Brothers and Daft Punk were also on repeat: “'Homework' was a defining album of my youth, alongside Madonna ‘Vogue’ and the whole of ‘The Immaculate Collection',” he laughs. “I’ve always been drawn to Daft Punk and early Thomas Bangalter because they never compromised their integrity. Through my childhood, Daft Punk had a genuine impact on my life. I like the idea of always pushing forward as an artist, and I guess the bigger the opportunities that come, you kinda grow into them.”

The infatuation didn’t stop there. He spent money from his dad given to him for buying school clothes on a record deck, which led him to learn how to beat match while listening to Pete Tong’s Radio 1 show. Has he told Pete that? “Pete called me at the start of lockdown, out of the blue, about a project… and yeah I did tell him - he just laughed!” He’s also keen to credit the support of Tiga to his career. “Tiga’s one of my musical heroes, he signed me to Turbo and when we first played together he told me I was part of the family. That was another big moment for me, that additional validation was the final boost in confidence to immerse in music production full time.”

It’s pinch me moments like that which mean so much to ABSOLUTE. It’s not long before he’s reminiscing about early clubbing days in Torquay, where he’d listen to hard house, techno, trance and hardcore at The Monastery, a converted church, with the DJ booth replacing the altar. “They played Zombie Nation ‘Kernkraft 400’, all the girls had furry boots and leg warmers on, the boys had white gloves on, you’d have neon dots over your eyes, and spiky hair with neon tips… My mind was blown!”

It was also the club’s accepting atmosphere that drew ABSOLUTE. to the dancefloor. “One night, my friend thought Kylie was there, I was like, ‘There’s no way Kylie’s here, in Torquay, in a converted monastery’, so we went over and talked to her and met my now best friend Ellie, who has been my best friend ever since. Especially in the smaller areas, like minded people gravitate to each other through these dancefloors.”

After becoming a regular raver, ABSOLUTE. was scouted as a dancer - a precursor to his trademark pirouettes behind the booth. “I thought I was the authority on dance!” he chuckles.I got to don the white gloves, get on the podium and tornado the shit out of the club. It was part-vogueing, part-ravey dance, very handsy, all the glow sticks… I used to be quite a little mover!”

AW18 Prada shirt from stylist Archive; Pearl and porcelain necklace by K.tt; Trousers by Jordan Luca

ABSOLUTE.’s mission was cementing. He started hanging out with Steve Thomas, a resident at legendary London queer parties Trade, and DTPM at fabric, where he first heard people cheering to music. “[It was] the most incredible feeling, like you’re all part of something, this insane energy in the room. One of the moments that still gives me goosebumps was hearing Kid Creme’s ‘Hypnotising’ for the first time. It was just a rush of uplifting euphoria - a joyful moment.” Little did he know, years later, he’d feature the same vocal sample (Raw Silk’s ‘Do It To The Music’) on his debut mixtape.

Early DJ gigs came from hanging out at Torquay record store, Soundz, and his debut, at Claire’s where you’d have “faux boujie girls with cokey white wine breath in one room and then ravers with neon spiky hair, in the other,” he recalls. He was paid £50 for the gig, playing trance and techno, then later won a national Bacardi DJ competition, which “felt like I’d won the Olympics! And it gave me a boost of confidence.”

Shirt and trousers from Homme Plissé Issey Miyake

Production came next, favouring early versions of Dance eJay's music production programme and observing friends in the studio. However, it wasn’t initially clear that music would become a career for ABSOLUTE., until he hit a ceiling and moved to London aged 25 to pursue his dream. He became a DJ agent, secretly hoping to be signed to the roster. Instead, he ended up representing Larry Tee, famed for launching Michael Alig's infamous Disco 2000 party in New York, writing Ru Paul’s ‘Supermodel (You'd Better Work)’, and coining the term ‘electroclash’, in the height of the club kids era. Together they started up colourful, fashiony, weekly soiree, Super Electro Party Machine at East Bloc. The night was a huge success, leading them to release an album with Sharon Needles and Princess Superstar. It was here that ABSOLUTE. also cut his teeth as a resident DJ in a queer setting, playing every slot over the four years, with everyone from Dan Beaumont, Hannah Holland, and Horse Meat Disco’s Severino to Brooke Candy and Charli XCX gracing the stage.

The pair eventually started another party, but Larry ended up moving to Berlin, so it all fell in ABSOLUTE.’s hands and WUT? Club was born. It soon picked up popularity - for its curated music, and crazy colourful productions - attracting creative creatures to Dalston Superstore’s dancefloor. He reaches out his phone, flicking through photos from WUT? Club’s heyday. The sense of community is clear, everyone coming together, to celebrate freedom and LGBTQIA creative culture. WUT? Club’s popularity soared from the intimate realms of Dalston Superstore, to becoming London Pride’s official after-party, to hosting a stage at Milkshake Festival, the biggest queer festival in Europe. Although ABSOLUTE. speaks with fondness, he admits that his focus soon shifted to producing. After the events came to a halt, musical hero Tiga signed his Beatport chart-topping ‘Harmony’ EP to Turbo, fuelling his confidence as a producer. But queer culture will always be ingrained in him.

Jacket by Jordan Luca; Hoodie by Studio Second Best

“Growing up in a small town, not having any peers who were openly queer, that was definitely a tough time. It was when I was in East London that I found my queer family. When I was at school I fell out with one of my best friends and felt like the whole school turned on me, it was also when people realised I was gay as well, and I ended up moving schools, I became isolated and my confidence knocked, music was my escape from that. There’s so many closures of queer spaces, even before lockdown. Now more than ever we’ve got to be taking charge of these vital spaces, where people feel free, liberated, safe and secure, and loved. It’s more than just going somewhere to get pissed. It’s imperative we keep scenes alive.”

ABSOLUTE.’s luminous locks catch the light, our conversation turns to his hair. “The green is from those glow sticks back when I used to be a club dancer - it’s glow stick juice, I do a shot every morning…” he jests, before offering the real answer: “It’s a reminder to be yourself and not to dim your light for anyone, and to always be memorable!”

ABSOLUTE.’s oscillating 'Wonderland' captures that bursting parallel of nostalgia and joy, like a whirling roller coaster looping through euphoric rave, disco, piano house, industrial techno and jungle. It’s a slice of the artist’s playful mind, that zips away from conforming to any one genre. ABSOLUTE. was inexplicably compelled to produce hard, fast rave music throughout lockdown around 155bpm. “Normally l love making a lot of different styles, but I literally couldn’t stop making this stuff, to the point where my manager called me and was like, ‘Is this you now?’ I was so drawn to it!”

Then he realised that at the very building where he was writing this music, was the ancient site of the legendary ‘Wonderland Arena’, a weekly late ‘80’s acid house and rave venue where the revered Frankie Knuckles, The Prodigy and Carl Cox would play until it shut in 1992. “It was like I’d been channelling this era of this music that I had no idea about, from a time when the UK rave scene was exploding, and now I’m playing it forward to a new generation. It was a sign from the universe. A weird coincidence telling me I’m on the right path.

“Making 'Wonderland' was like I was writing myself a prescription to get through this global pandemic, it’s hard to explain, but it felt more than just writing a collection of tracks, as physically and emotionally, it gave me what I desperately needed to feel at the time. That was so powerful. It’s a body of work you can put on and escape to, and come out the other side genuinely feeling happier and more hopeful.” Carefully plucked interludes weave throughout 'Wonderland', transporting you back through nightlife’s joyful history. Opening words from trans activist Ravyn Wngz and field recordings from illegal 90’s raves, NYC’s queer undergound and Studio 54 signpost the inclusive freedom its writer seeks.

As we stroll through the chilly March air, it dawns on me how important an artist ABSOLUTE. is becoming. “It’s not that I want to be the biggest artist, but I want to create an impact. And the bigger my voice gets, the more I want to be doing something positive with it.”

Ever protective of the underdog, ABSOLUTE.’s devotion to raise others up flares through his personality. He spent much of the 12 months prior to lockdown working with Extinction Rebellion, programming and DJing at shows, as a passionate environmentalist. “Injustices rile me up! During the first action in London, I went down and thought, ‘This is amazing!’ People were actually starting to listen to this crisis that we have to pay attention to. I was really inspired - they’re actually creating a dialogue through disruption, because every other option had been tried. It felt like a really hopeful moment, with them, with Greta [Thunberg] and with David Attenborough. This triple moment happened and it was making people take notice. It was a really inspiring time, and I went home and wrote ‘Rave Against The Machine’ which samples Greta saying, ‘I want you to act as if the house was on fire’.”

With future plans to hold eco-conscious fundraising events for climate emergency, ABSOLUTE.’s journey lies beyond just creating music, where he plans to evolve his artistry into songwriting and using his vocals. “We’ve just gone through a pandemic. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity to rewrite the scene in a way that’s more inclusive and open and one that represents everyone. It’s time for nightlife’s rebirth with a new set of rules for a new generation. I find that deeply exciting.”

'Wonderland is out on May 7, pre-order it here

Jaguar is the presenter of BBC Radio 1's Introducing Dance show and a freelance writer, follow her on Twitter

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