“Music should paint pictures in your mind.”
Edinburgh United Kingdom
Colin McNeil is an electronic musician, born in Glasgow, Scotland, in 1973. His appreciation and love for electronic music began at an early age while listening to the “other worldly” sounds of the likes of Jean Michel Jarre and Kraftwerk.“I can always remember getting really vivid pictures in my mind when listening to these artists,and I guess this set the bar for what I wanted to experience through music”. He learned to play on various simple home keyboards that were bought for him as Christmas and birthday presents as a child.“I’d lie on the floor, put on some Kraftwerk or JMJ on a cassette recorder and play along with my keyboard until I knew the songs inside out.”He finally got his first synthesizer at 12 years old and that’s when he first started to compose and experiment with sound. Even though they were a few years older than himself, Colin started hanging out with guys involved in the Commodore 64 computer demo scene. It was during this time that he wrote his first compositions using the C64 and where his music played as a soundtrack to computer graphics from the same machine.During his teenage years he joined a few bands – indie, rock, funk but never really felt at home in these bands.“I guess I felt that was a little restricted creatively. I mean it was fun and a super cool thing to be in a band, but there wasn’t really the same room for exploration as doing it on my own. So I left the bands.”After writing music on his own for a couple of years, he began to feel confident enough to start playing live at a few venues around Scotland. At that time, the dance music scene was beginning to become mainstream. It was also a lot less formatted back then and a lot more of an “anything goes (how long as it’s electronic)” approach was taken on by event organizers.Some people “got” his music, and some “didn’t” but it didn’t really matter much to him. At this point in his life, he didn’t really consider anything like having this as a lifelong pursuit. Not that it wasn’t – he just never thought about it.During one Saturday night gig, he began to feel like he “wasn’t connecting” with his audience.“I think that I was being a bit too weird and out there. Right after I came off stage, the DJ started playing rave music and everyone got up and started dancing. It really annoyed me that they (the audience) preferred this to me exposing my heart and soul to them. So to prove a point to myself, I packed up, went home and wrote a rave tune, even though I wasn’t particularly into this style of electronic music.”On the Monday after that gig, he decided to send an audio cassette of his “rave” track away to a local record company. And by the end of that week, the label owner had called him and asked him to sign a deal.
“I seriously did not expect a reaction like that. I think it may have been the most flippant thing I’d ever done in my life. I didn’t even care about that track! I just thought it might be interesting to get some feedback.”However, the meeting with the label boss didn’t go well, and the contract “just didn’t feel right” to Colin. He decided not to sign. A few weeks later, he got another phone call. This time from the front man of one of Scotland’s biggest acts, The Time Frequency, and within a few weeks he became a band member.1993 – 94 was a busy time for Colin. The band he had just joined had 4 UK top 40 hits and a string of Scottish number 1 singles and they toured the UK extensively including playing live on BBC Radio 1 at several of their roadshows.“It was fun but also kind of surreal. I’d hear our music on the radio, I’d see posters of us on billboards and if I’m honest, I began to feel a little uncomfortable about it. Not because I was beginning to get a little bit famous, but because I found myself in a band again playing music that didn’t float my boat entirely.”Feeling unfulfilled, Colin left The Time Frequency late in 1994 in order to find his own way musically. For the next 6 years he worked on several projects, including being part of a synth duo called New Frontier, and also “ghostwriting” for other “artists”.“New Frontier was kind of a rebound from playing in TTF. The music was faster and harder and the audience were still ravers, but I know now that I was basically still searching for a style or styles that I could be myself with. There were a lot of people with opinions on what I should be writing, and what I should be pursuing musically. I knew that they didn’t understand what Iwanted to write – because I didn’t even understand! The ghostwriting came about from me earning a reputation as a dance music producer, and at the time I thought that it was the idea of fame that I didn’t like, so I agreed to write and produce tracks for a couple of well-known radio DJs here in Scotland. One of their (my) tracks got to number 12 in the UK charts in 1998 but that’s all I can say about that. The shadowy world of the ghostwriter!”A new chapter started in 1999 for Colin. He was headhunted by Redemption Records to work full time there as their in-house producer and to be on their artist rosta. Yet again, another dance label but he was assured as part of a deal breaker that he would have a lot more creative license.“You see, just before I was approached by Redemption I had come out of a dark period of mylife. Let’s just say that I partied a little too hard and was feeling pretty burned out. Like chronically burned out. But at the same time I began to remember what I originally loved about electronic music – that it should paint pictures in your mind, and that gave me a new lease of life.So before accepting Redemption’s offer, I wanted them to allow more freedom to break away from the formulas that seemed to dictate to the dance genres. I wanted to get a little more experimental.” He wrote Cloud science in 1999 as his first single on Redemption which received a lot of attention and pleasing reviews in the music magazines at the time and by the end of that year he had moved to Birmingham, England where Redemption were based. Here he was permitted to set up 2 sub-labels of Redemption – Ritual UK and Neptune Express.“Ritual was a home for a series of musical ideas that were based around an imaginary nightclub on some planet in a far off galaxy. A bit like Jabba’s Palace from Return of the Jedi only bigger,and with more aliens and disco lights! Ritual allowed me to go deep and dark, flashy and bright,and sometimes just weird. Neptune Express was a little more refined but again it was based on a concept. It was (secretly) the name of an imaginary interplanetary cruise liner I had thought up. Here was where the sophisticated people mingled, drank cocktails, and partied while the cruise liner swept down into low orbits of the outer planets of the solar system. The music was a bit more ‘loungey’ and what I imagined these people would dance to.”Releases on both Ritual UK and Neptune Express were always received well by the dance music press. One release on Neptune Express (The Alpha ep) even seemed to cross genres in that it featured in Blues & Soul magazine, a publication not known for its connection with dance music.The success of the 2 labels did present a problem though – Colin was kept being reminded by the label owner that he was still required to write “more mainstream” music for Redemption. And because of the success and the excitement generated by the 2 sub-labels, Colin felt that going back to the mainstream approach was taking a step back. Relationships at Redemption began to sour and get in the way of constructive creativity.“It’s a shame because it all started with good intentions. I was getting all this positive feedback from the public regarding my Neptune and Ritual stuff and I felt that it gave Redemption a broader exposure. But at the same time, I was beginning to feel like I was being reeled in to focus on stuff that didn’t excite me anymore. I guess I have a pretty big button on people telling me what I should be writing!”Colin left Redemption in 2002 to set up his own music production company Kaboom! Music Ltd. He built his own studio from scratch in Romford, England but instead of writing music for general release, he targeted media companies.“I was disillusioned with the dance music scene. It seemed that every time I was beginning to get success, label owners and managers just wanted to restrict me. I wanted to do something different so I started writing music for documentaries, short films and adverts. Ironically, once Ihad turned my back on dance music, my Everything ep on Ritual got voted as one of International DJ magazine’s top records of 2003. It still wasn’t enough to keep me interested though, but I do remember thinking that I would never completely turn my back on dance music,after all, in the 12 years of writing with that genre in mind, never once did I receive anything less than great reviews and amazing feedback from clubs, public and music press. So I stuck with Kaboom! for a few years.”It was an interesting time for Colin at Kaboom! Whereas in the past he didn’t like people telling him what to write, he found himself frequently working from briefs sent by directors.“It was different though on account of 2 things, I was working with images and scenes in mind,and I was sticking to my own style of doing things. I remember writing for a documentary on rock climbing and was asked to compose for a scene where the climbers visited a massive cave. The closest thing I had to caves in Romford was the London Underground! So I went on a late night/early morning adventure through The Central Line for inspiration. I had recently got into field recording so I recorded sounds from my adventure and used them in the track. I loved that kind of creativity. The Cave is still my favourite track from that time at Kaboom! The director loved it also but I never told him that it was essentially a track about the London Underground!”He moved back to Glasgow in 2006 and continued with his music but “life” began to “get in the way”.“2006 to around 2012 was quite chaotic and hectic. My father died, I got married to Sharon, we moved house about 4 or 5 times, and we had our first child. Other commitments forced me into taking a much lower key with the music. I still wrote but I was much less prolific than I had been.I still had releases on labels (Deep Magenta Stars on Bio Records, and The K-15 project on Disciple of Groove Records), I still got in work from directors for adverts, and I remixed a few tracks for Scottish singer Plum.”During that time he also forged new friendships with artists, producers, Djs and label owners from the Netherlands and ended up with plans to release on their labels.“It was really cool how these friendships formed. My Deep Magenta Stars track became quite popular in Europe. It was different – 13 minutes long, half ambient soundscape, half melodic techno, but it went down well particularly in The Netherlands. I began to gravitate towards that scene and became friends with quite a few people over there. There was a lot of mutual appreciation with regards to the stuff they were writing and the stuff that I was writing – when I had time to write that is.”In 2013, amongst the chaos and excitement of yet another home move and the birth of his second son, he signed to Dutch label Eevonext who released 5 tracks of his including the Perceptions Ep.
“Eevonext was a great label. Although essentially a dance label, the music generally was more melodic, deeper, and a lot more free. I always found that the other artist’s releases could paint those pictures in my mind, and it kind of felt more like a community. I got a bit of remix work from them as well, and off the back of that I got a few more releases on Espai Records and remix work for Mirabilis Records.”In 2015, after meeting up with singer and musician, Rob Meister in Florida, the two agreed that it would be good to work on a collaboration together and wrote Electric Flow.“This was a bit different again for me. Rob came from a guitar playing, regular band kind of background so we were curious with what we’d come up with. I came up with the music, and he added his magic to it. Admittedly it took a while to finish. We were both busy in other areas of our lives but the end result was great. I think the track was completed in 2017! I think that it was the longest I’ve ever worked on a track.”
By this time, Colin had found another passion in his life – he was also working as a tour guide. It involved driving tourists around the highlands of Scotland which meant less studio time but he didn’t seem to mind.“I love the tour guide thing as much as I love writing music so I’m pretty happy away from recording now. I actually find the two really complimentary. I come back from touring thehighlands with my head bursting with ideas. It’s the space and sheer aesthetics there. As a result, ideas come faster to me so I don’t sit around pondering when I’m in the studio. My musical style has changed once more also and I feel that I’ve finally found the kind of music I want to write. I wrote a more ambient piece for a chill out compilation on Mango Alley Records in2017 and ever since then my music has been generally a lot mellower but I think that it paints better pictures. I use a lot of field recordings again which I love to use. I record them from my adventures around Scotland. I feel that I’m a lot more comfortable with myself and that’s reflected in the music. Going forward, 2020 looks great for me musically. My entire back catalogue from my Neptune and Ritual days is getting re-released later in the year, and I’m currently working on a project that I’ve always wanted to do – an electronic/cinematic album with a story behind it. There’s also talk just now of collaborating with one of my favourite artists. So it’s exciting times again.”
“I have been writing music for most of my life. From composing on a C64 as a kid to playing in indie,rock and rave bands in my teens and early twenties, through to writing music for documentaries and working on individual projects.
I love interesting, aesthetic music. Good music is good music – regardless of genres, styles and production techniques.
I’m influenced by many artists (too many to mention here) however, the physical universe is my true inspiration. You only have to listen to the world around you! Sound, for me, is as inspiring as the music itself.”