Taking The Acid Test Issue 103 with Hugo McCann.
“Hugo McCann” is one of Dublin’s long-standing quality DJs with an uncompressible wealth of music experience within House music & its related domains.
He was one of the original residents for many years at “U2”s club “The Kitchen” and has featured amongst many clubbing events and venues within Ireland and beyond.
Continuing his music obsession he currently host’s his “Best Sets” radio show weekly on “Phever FM” Dublin as well as outputting the “Best Sets On the Net” related youtube channel.
This is a Youtube channel which features world class DJ mix sessions from DJs across the globe and has recently expanded to releasing feature compilation albums.
His music style is one which is quite varied but with a common ground in the modern world and sculpture of Tech House / Techno.
1: You were a resident at U2’s club “The Kitchen” for many years. What was that like? Did Bono ever turn up pissed singing “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m looking For”? And actually what really got cooked up in the Kitchen?
The kitchen was a landmark club in Dublin in the 90’s and due to the prestige of the clubs owner’s there was always a healthy parade of ‘Stars’ from A to Z list, the place was like a second home to us and as with any home it had many a story to tell.
Bono and the boys rarely turned up and when they did people were usually given the boot from the back bar (VIP Area lol) this is where most of the shenanigans took place. From Spice Girls being kissed to Bono lying on his back and singing ‘Sunday Bloody Sunday’ (sporting his trademark Armani rimless lunettes which not only make him look like a deranged insect from Blade Runner, they also distanced himself from everything and everybody around him) whilst trying to broker peace in the Middle-East!
The place was renowned for it’s security policy and I remember playing in there one night and going to the bathroom and there were some cheeky chaps ‘Powdering their Nose’ and one of the Bouncers kicked everybody out the back door! I had to run around the block to the front entrance and get back on the decks before the record ended…..I made it just in time and managed to salvage a rudimentary mix out of it too heh For those who experienced it The Kitchen was a mecca with great music and great people (and the odd celeb too) everything served up was ‘Food for the Soul’
2: Dublin is renowned as a fun city but seems to be obsessed with Old Skool in a modern the era. What are your thoughts on that? And please be brutal.
Yes Dublin is a great city to party in whatever you may be looking for musically with loads of forward thinking clubs and promoters, with the guys at ‘District8’ and ‘Melodic’ leading the way and many others not far behind. But if I were to describe the scene in Dublin in-terms of a TV show it would be ‘One Foot in the Grave’.
Now don’t get me wrong, Old-Skool has a huge part to play in the history of Dublin dance music culture and indeed is (obviously) one of the reasons we have a healthy and vibrant scene in the city today. That being said (in my view) there is altogether way to many Old-Skool nights going on in this town.
What troubles me most about that is the fact that there is just SOOO much good dance music around today (and we are talking magnitudes in volume here) than there ever was back in say the 90’s. The representation of this new sound is lob-sided when it comes to gigs and one-off events. The cynic in me would say that during times of austerity the cost of an Old-Skool act versus the fee for a mainstage artist is a huge contributing factor to the deluge of retro gigs we see.
This is quite sad because it propagates the idea that this type of retro music is still relevant in the age of global communication and Soundcloud/Mixcloud/Resident Advisor etc. There are loads of artists that have stood the test of time and were pivotal back in the 90’s the likes of ‘Carl Cox, John Digweed and Sasha, all still going strong today playing modern underground dance music.
However New-School are here with Wehbba, Berem, Dosem, Anna, Metodi Hristov, Pan-Pot and too many more to mention. There will always be a place in my heart, and indeed the hearts of most clubbers, for the amazing music that emanated out of that time period and there are those who do it very well (Celebration of Red, Flashback, Shaft).
There are also a lot of bandwagons on the scene that don’t have the credentials (there ‘back in the day’ pulling faces with the rest of us) and do it just for the sake of a quick buck. There comes a time when one must look forward and embrace the future and embrace, what is in my opinion, the most prolific and creative time in the history of dance music production………..and we can all live in peace and harmony together!
3: You seem to be quite thoughtful and purposeful about music, is there anything that is currently annoying you about it in the modern era or close to home?
I don’t want to sound like too much of a ‘Crank’ here but there are a couple of niggly things that irk me in this modern era, yes. Top of the list would be Set-Building and Tune Selection, what I mean by this is a DJ who adheres to strict genres as defined by the likes of ‘Beatport’ and regularly just downloads the ‘Top 100’ in say Tech-House or Techno.
There is literally no chance a DJ can define their own sound or personality by ploughing through music in this fashion. This leads many DJ’s to end up playing the same tunes all over the place and whilst there is, in itself, nothing wrong with this, it kind of pollutes. Back in the vinyl days a DJ needed a lot more dedication to go hunting (and that’s exactly what it was – a Hunt) through literally thousands of records across multiple stores to find those killer tunes.
With the price of the vinyl back in those days it forced you to really define your ear and hone in on what sounds made you move. You just didn’t have the sheets to be splashing out on tunes you would never play! I used to have a pile of what I called ‘sympathy tunes’ solely purchased because I had made the guy behind the counter jump through hoops and take every piece of vinyl off the wall and every new promo out of the box and still not finding anything I liked bought the least crap out of the pile heh.
Anyway the point I am making is that this whole process, this journey of discovery, meant you had to be 100% sure before you actually bought a record – that it was going to be something you would definitely play. At the same time, by doing this, it helped you understand what ‘YOUR OWN’ sound was going to be as you went from warm-up gigs to headlining festivals or whatever. You cannot do this if you just download the ‘Beatport’ top 100 every couple of weeks….you will have no context or personal ‘sound’ to guide you.
Finding your own sound/groove takes (In my experience) many years, I would even say that 20 years at this game and I am still refining my own sound, It’s a rich and ever evolving tapestry. The second thing is ‘Track-lists’. Anybody who knows me will attest to the fact that I have no problem providing track-lists for my shows or indeed any mix I have access to through syndication or the channel or wherever, absolutely no problem sharing the tunes at all – I mean that’s the whole point?!?! But what I don’t have time for is people demanding track-lists where there are None!
This may sound a bit counter-intuitive in light of my previous statement but when I post a mix to you-tube of a promo or live-set often there is no track-list available (If there was I would have posted it). And I get inundated with screams of TRACK-LIST !!! Half the reason I started ‘Best Sets’ was so that people would get excited about brand spanking new tunage and then start hunting for it themselves (Journey of Discovery as afore mentioned)……so when I send you the list what do you do then?
This journey could expose you to all these new labels and music and see what resonates with you….. following the breadcrumbs leyed down in the mix will lead you to discover soooo much more in terms of new music/labels/artists/genres you name it and it’s this process of discovery that will make you a better DJ.
So to sum up – I will always provide a track-list where I can and for all my mixes (otherwise I would just be a stingy bollix- and that’s not what it’s all about anyway), but where there are none – take that leap and go on that journey of discovery you never know where it may lead you. And you will certainly not know that sweet pleasure if everything is spoon-fed to you all the time 😉
4: Can you please share a couple of your crazy experiences from being involved in the Dublin scene for so long?
Sure, people who know me will be sick of hearing about this one but it’s a solid heh. At one point in my career (if you can call it that) I had an agent who also looked after Sasha, albeit for his Irish bookings only. Anyway we had been out at Sasha’s gig that night in a notorious club called ‘System’ in Dublin and we were back in the flat (Dorset St – Those who experienced it will KNOW) basically just chilling.
The doorbell goes at about 3.30am and when we look down its a motorcade of cars and a whole lot of revelers looking to party! Being the nice guys we are we let them all in and cranked up the decks and got stuck in! I have to at this point mention one of the finest and most under-rated DJ’s in Dublin a guy called Derek Murphy or Derek-M as he was known around this city.
He was one of my mentors on the 1210’s and to many DJ’s on the scene at the time he was the No1 Party DJ, and it was due in large part (if not entirely) that we were all back in Dorset St partying like lunatics in the first place. Anyway we got to partying and had no clue who was on the decks, we were all a little ‘worse for wear’ at that stage of the morning. But we gradually began to realize that something incredible was happening!
The music we were hearing was out of this world we had absolutely no clue that it was actually Sasha himself doing a back to back with Pete Bones (aka The Shaker) live from Derek-M’s bedroom! Sasha was at the height of his fame at this point and Pete was not far behind so to have these two legends mixing it up in the gaff was mind-blowing.
By the time we realized what was going on they were half-way through the set but we managed to scramble enough wits together to get a cassette in the tape-deck (showing my age here lol) and recorded the second half of the set (which was amazing anyway). We dined out on that party for a long time let me tell you, still are I guess hah.
The crux of this is that we had one of the hottest mix-tapes on the scene at the time ‘Sasha & The Shaker’ live in Dorset St’, which we then set about copying for friends and so on, that was until we got a very nasty ‘Cease and Desist’ letter from the good folk at ‘Virgin Records’ who I think Sasha was signed to at the time.
Sasha and Pete didn’t give a shit about what we did with It, which made the whole thing even more pointless! This might not sound like a ‘Crazy’ story but believe me this was a CRAZY party and at the time to have Sasha and Bonesy rocking a dingy flat in Dublin this was a very rare occurrence.
For the love of me I cannot find any copy of that mix today so if anybody reading this has it get in touch ! 😉 Just one from the vaults there too many others to mention and for legal reasons I wont go any further
5: You are the host of a very popular youtube channel, can please tell us more about it?
‘The Best Sets on the Net’ was an idea I had for a long time before I actually did anything about it. The whole idea behind it stemmed from my passion in exposing people to all the other GREAT Music, DJ’s and mixes that were not getting too much, if any, exposure to folk here in Ireland.
I would be talking music with people and mentioning the likes of Umek, Paco Osuna, Uto Karem, Wehbba Mark Farina, Stacy Pullen and so on, and people would be like ‘Who is Umek ?’ (Bear in mind this was almost 4 years ago so these guys are not so ‘Unknown’ now lol) also even when I explained to them who say Umek was (1605 Label Boss and Superstar DJ) the reply was often ‘Yeah I’ll find it online sometime and have a listen’. But would they? Did they ever? NO.
So I kinda of got browned off with this after a while and just decided to start a channel dedicated to (and this is important to point out here) what I thought was proper underground music. This is why you will find no EDM Time-Wasting nonsense cheesy handbag on my channel.
So it kinda got started from there and has been snowballing ever since. There have been challenges along the way of course, not everybody wants to be part of the whole thing, but it’s coming to a point now that I am getting syndications, Promo mixes, Label Collaborations and Mix-sets sent to me all the time and that’s a really good place to be.
6: In line with our interview title, there is a little paper tab in front of you, If you take it you can transport yourself to any previous decade or era.. Which would you choose and why?
Good question…..For me it would have to be the 70’s. I was born in 76 so I was there in the most insignificant way imaginable.
My love of music stretches deep into the 70’s and I grew up on a diet of rock, soul, blues and even pop from that era. I mean you had Led Zepplin, Ramones, Pink Floyd, Fleetwood Mac, David Bowie, ELO, Deep Purple, Queen, The Doors, Bob Dylan, The Who, James Brown, The Beachboys, AC/DC, Al Green, The Clash…I mean u get the idea!
All this great music and they were all in their PRIME ! They just do not have bands like that these days and so to be around (In my Prime) in the 70’s would have been a great thing!
7: You have been a resident at Phever TV / FM Radio for some time. How did that come about and what’s the focus of your shows?
As you have probably gathered at this point I like to blather on a bit so I won’t disappoint with this answer – I will put some context around it first lol.
A long time ago the Tax Man caught me. He claimed that I owed him a rather tasty sum of money due to ‘Undeclared Earnings’. I was DJ’ing a lot about the place and when I say that for me two/three gigs a week was a lot.
This was anywhere between £300 & £500 a week and great money at the time. Back in the day as we all know we got cash in hand on the night (Maybe not everybody’s experience but certainly mine). This was great as you could skip off into the sunset and spend your sweet profit any way you pleased!
This was at a time in Ireland where if you went down to the tax office to declare yourself as an ‘Artist’ , they asked you what do you play, if you replied ‘I’m a DJ, playing records’ they would literally laugh you out of the building.
SO long story short I was handed a large Tax bill that they knew I could not pay. They gave me a choice to pay back the money (Yeah Right) or to go on a ‘FAS’ course (Training schemes for the unemployed – as DJ’ing was not a recognized profession lol). This was a no-brainer and I took the course, I think it was an ECDL or something, all the time thinking in my head ‘Yeah get this done and out of the way and back to DJ’ing as normal’.
Well that’s not exactly how it all panned out and one course led to another and again another after that and then a work placement after that, and so on and so on until down the line the DJ’ing has gone almost completely out the window and your doing a 9 – 5 like everybody else !! YAY !
Also while all of this was going on technology was changing the DJ world dramatically with breakthroughs in CDJ’s and mixers and eventually MP3 decks etc. By the time I was getting back into DJ’ing the landscape was completely alien to me and I will to this day be a Vinyl and 1210 specialist.
It was around this time I decided to get the channel going so was beginning to hear all the UNBELIEVABLY good music that I was missing and it kinda stocked the fire in me to get back into the scene in whatever way I could. THIS is when a friend introduced me to Dean Sherry and I got involved with Phever and the radio crew.
It has taken me a couple of years to find my feet as a radio presenter and I still tend to let the music do most of the talking for me. I wanted to translate some of the flavor of what I was doing with the channel on to the Airwaves and saw this as a great opportunity to spread the music and vibes as far as I could!
So I have a 2 hour show every Saturday from 6-8pm and I will play an hour of my own music whatever gems or bits and pieces tickle my fancy and I will always play an hour of a guest mix be it syndication (Kling Klong/Se-Lek/Transmissions) or a promo mix from the channel – All growing the name and getting world class mixes and music out there to people who may have never heard of it before
8: What’s the plan for 2017?
I strongly believe that ‘The Best Sets’ has more to offer in terms of being a platform for DJ Mixes and on the back of the channel the radio show ‘Best Sets’ has been a big success and led to a series of compilation albums through Se-Lek-Shun records.
We have 2 volumes of ‘Best Sets – Expeditions’ available right now through ‘Beatport’ and the like & there are another 4 in the pipeline for 2017.
Also at some point you are going to see a ‘Best Sets Presents’ party night along with a host of collaborations with Phever and Se-Lek amongst others ! Lots of big plans for the future so watch this space
(Also, lest we forget – The beautiful journey of discovery we talked about earlier ha)