Interview: Five Minutes with Lempo

Award-winning DJ and music producer Lempo (Mike McGuiness) has released his new house single ‘Swinglasses’. Ahead of the release, we chatted with Mike about his career and new music. McGuiness is the founder of Applique Music record label, the annual Eivissa Partido event, and the Twisted Melon radio show. The ‘Twisted Melon’ show is currently broadcasting on Cafe Mambo Radio and Data Transmission. Beginning his career in 2006, Mike has performed for iconic brands like Ministry of Sound, Cream, Pacha, and The Warehouse Project and has seen support from peers like Andi Durrant, Danny Howard, and Pete Tong.

We find out more about the talented DJ below.

Set the tone for us. Why the arts? 

I see myself as a creative person, an ideas man if you like. I’ve spent my entire life making stuff, my feet are permanently planted in both the advertising realm and music industry. I’ve always been consumed by film and audio from a very young age and that has led me down this path. I like to think I produce what works commercially while staying true to what I personally want to hear, it’s a fine line – for example, a great DJ set is a response to the mood of the venue and audience, but it is constructed with what the jock has in their record box… I pride myself on finding and making the right tools for the job!

Which comes first when you’re producing – the sound or the idea? 

For me, 100% the idea. In today’s music-making world, the only rule is there are no rules – no right or wrong answers to the process. I often find the creative spark comes to me while playing music by other artists or watching films or series. I like to record voice memos on my phone to make a note of a melody or lyric that pops into my head – then I can put the idea into action once back in the studio.

Does your material feature any collaborations? 

Yes, I prefer working with others rather than flying solo, I like to work with other writers & performers whenever I can to gain new knowledge and improve my own methods. I’m always incorporating musicians on recordings, depending on the production of course. I’ve worked with many stateside featured artists which often means working remotely, the likes of Chuck Roberts, Roland Clark, Princess Superstar, Lord KCB, etc. We’ve never had the luxury of actually being in the studio together. I do prefer physically being in the studio on collabs when possible, the workflow, banter, and general vibes are much more conducive and memorable.

What’s on your current playlist? 

All sorts… I love the glam-rock, disco, and funk classics: David Bowie, Chic and Prince are ever-present in my playlists. The Defected radio show is a current favourite. I’m also enjoying the output of labels such as Nervous, Club Sweat and There Was Jack. Current producers getting love in my playlists include Fast Eddie, Javi Bora, Joeski, and Cloonee.

Tell us about the chemistry you have with your fans on stage. 

Like any performer, I try to match the energy of the crowd. I’ve been known to join them on the dance-floor during sets, I know right? What a d**k-head! I’m always a sweaty mess by the time I come off stage, I just try and live every minute of it with the audience. I always make a solid effort to engage with people, Interacting on my socials before, during, and after events.

Take us through a day in the recording studio.

My involvement in the music industry has to share its time with family life and a full-time day job in advertising. So, my studio sessions end up restricted to evenings and weekends. A typical session starts with a pot of strong coffee and a handful of Haribo, you’ve got to get the quantities just right! My projects tend to be collaborative, usually with featured artists based in the states, so there can be a fair bit of bouncing and upload time as files get thrown back and forth across the Atlantic. I try and manage my time to work on the next one while waiting to get parts back. If I ever hit a wall or get bored with a project, I just park it and either start something new or come back to it in another session with fresh ears.

Was there a specific moment in your life where you thought, “this is what I want to do”? 

Yeah, I’d always been interested in DJ’s but not tried my hand at the craft. My journey began on the opposite side of the decks when I was part of a breakdance crew, I’m well aware of how ridiculous this sounds. It was due to an injury that I rekindled my interest in DJing, so you could say it happened by default. I was still going to events while on crutches, but I would spend my time in the booth watching the DJ’s, I already knew the records but didn’t know too much about how to control the mixer or 1210’s. I fancied my chances and after mithering the DJ’s to let me have a go, eventually one of them buckled, and I got my opportunity – it turned out I was a natural at beat-matching. My parents invested in a set of decks for me… I had the bug immediately and decided to stay in the booth rather than returning to the dance-floor. I started covering some nights at Revolution on Oxford Road which led to my first residency in 2000. At this point, I was mainly playing 80’s and 90’s hip-hop with the odd classic I’d pinched from my Dad’s record collection. It was a lad’s holiday in Ibiza when I discovered house music, after seeing Fatboy Slim and Carl Cox play B2B in the main room at Space. It was amazing, the first real clubbing experience for me, I was in awe of the tracks they were playing – once I got back to the UK I went on a mission to identify some of the records and add them to my collection. It wasn’t as easy back then, no shazam, you actually had to hunt for treasure – I use to spend hours with my head in the crates at Piccadilly Records, the Vinyl Exchange and a little record shop local to me called Ken Palk.

What do you keep close by while you’re playing a set? 

Well for the majority of this year due to lockdown, it’s just been a cup of coffee and the small crowd consisting of my wife, Jenny, and our kids, Phoebe Sophia (6) and Albert Ziggy (3). They love music and it helps me to vibe when doing live streams or recording the radio shows having them close by.

Any emerging artists on your radar?

There are so many exciting up and coming talents, I’m going to be biased and say we’ve got several hot properties on my label that is destined for big things – artists such as Hey Dan, Oskar Jay, Pleasant Avenue, Label 37, iMarcus, and Rap-Scallion are all unique in their own ways and perfectly capable of becoming future stars within the house scene.

Take us through your collection of gear, tech or software that accompanies your creative expression. 

My current set up includes the AKAI MPK225, Behringer U-PHORIA (UMC1820) audio interface, Roland Dance Module (M-DC1), a pair of KRK ROKIT RP8 G4 studio monitors. Running Ableton Live 10 on an Apple G5 Power Mac. My home studio isn’t massive but it’s a vibey creative space. My favourite bit of kit is the trusted AKAI MPK225, It’s great for workflow – I can program my ideas pretty fast in the DAW through the MPK. Other software includes: Massive, Reaktor and Kontact (Native Instruments), Omnisphere and Trillian (Spectrasonics), Sylenth (Lennar Digital), and Virtual Mix Rack (Slate Digital).

Any side projects you’re working on? 

I wouldn’t say side projects, but beyond producing I also have Applique Music to keep me busy, I handle all the label management, marketing, and A&R by myself. I also do plenty of crate digging for my monthly radio show ‘Twisted Melon’ which is syndicated on Café Mambo Radio and Data Transmission, you can listen again to all the episodes on my Mixcloud page. Finally, I promote and manage my annual ‘Eivissa Partido’ party which sadly fell victim to Covid this year.

How have you refined your craft since you entered the industry? 

We’re all a work in progress and the music industry is ever-changing. I’d say I’m always improving and evolving. Since I began producing my sound has gone through many different styles, recently I’ve been approaching projects in a more relaxed manner, less emphasis on what everyone else is doing, and just enjoying myself in the studio. The biggest refinement for me was when I started taking mix-downs and mastering much more seriously – the creative process is my playground but getting the mix right and a top mastering session can really make or break a release, which is why I’ve chosen to give that responsibility to a specialist engineer with skills beyond my own.

Breakdown the news for us: what can we expect from you this year? 

It’s already been quite a busy year with single releases alongside some really talented vocalists. It kicked off in March with ‘Turnin’ Trix’ featuring Princess Superstar, then ‘Dance Without A Reason’ with Roland Clark on Strictly Rhythm and more recently ‘Open House’ with Chuck Roberts on Black Hole Recordings. In September I’ve got ‘Swinglasses’ dropping on Wolfgang Lohr’s Electro Swing Thing label, that one is jackin’ house meets vintage swing – a bit of experimental tech and groove. I’ve also just curated and mixed the ‘9AM’ compilation for Applique Music’s 9th birthday. In the pipeline, there are projects underway with Hey Dan, Lord KCB, and Oskar Jay. I also have a disco house collaboration with Ruff Diamond and Taz called ‘Lights On’ which I’m particularly excited to get finished.

Famous last words?

You’ve got to take the rough with the smooth.

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