Over the past three years, ABSOLUTE. has graduated from a key figure of London’s underground LGBTQ+ club scene to a DJ, producer, and live artist in the spotlight of international electronic music.
When the pandemic hit, bringing the world to a standstill and club culture along with it, ABSOLUTE. (real name Anthony McGinley) found himself stuck at his flat in East London, his creative drive diminished. “I knew it wasn’t just me – everyone had been cut short,” he says, “so I tried to turn it into a positive.” McGinley decided to take part in a creativity workshop overseen by house producer Mike Monday. Every day, he would force himself to write music and commit to finishing it, regardless of whether the tracks would see the light of day or not. Knowing there were no clubs to play at, McGinley found that his musical palate had suddenly opened up, and new ideas flowed out. After two weeks, he had recorded over one hundred new demos.
The result of this fevered burst of creativity is Wonderland, ABSOLUTE.’s debut mixtape. It’s a whirlwind ride through dance music as heard through ABSOLUTE.’s ears: emotive house, hard edged techno, divine disco, and euphoric rave bring the party, while more cerebral downtempo and textural ambient tracks wind things down. It’s party music for a time without parties, all shot through with McGinley’s message of hope and equality for all.
Wonderland takes its title from the Wonderland Arena, an East London nightclub that welcomed the likes of Frankie Knuckles, the Prodigy, and Carl Cox through its doors in the 1990s. While the club has long since closed, the venue was later converted into the building that McGinley currently lives in. It was a strange bit of synchronicity: while he was locked down in his flat
making music inspired by memories of raves, he learned that he was occupying the same space where those memories would have first been made years earlier.
ABSOLUTE.’s rave obsession dates back to his youngest years. As far back as primary school, he would listen to rave cassette compilations and listen to club music from the DJs at the local roller disco. As a teenager, he developed a love for crossover acts like the Prodigy and Daft Punk – artists who made mainstream dance hits without losing sight of their underground roots. When he was 14, long before he could even step foot in a club, he saved up to buy decks – although at first, he could only afford one. He learned to mix by spinning vinyl on one deck while beatmatching to tracks on Pete Tong’s Radio 1 show.
Once he was old enough to go out, McGinley hit up his hometown of Torquay, Devon, which was home to clubs Monastery, a converted church on the riviera that played hard house, techno, trance, and hardcore. He began promoting his own nights around town too, before moving to London and putting on queer parties in the capital. His first, Super Electric Party Machine, was established with nightlife icon Larry Tee, and ran every week at the since shuttered East Bloc venue. “It became a hotspot for club kids and drag queens, a really colourful East London crowd,” McGinley says. “When you’re there every single week, you meet so many people. And you learn from playing to a crowd all the time. It definitely upped my DJ skills.”
His next night proved even more influential. After Larry Tee moved to Berlin, McGinley started WUT?CLUB, a monthly party held at the famed Dalston Superstore every month. As well as bringing guest artists through its doors (whether DJs like Horse Meat Disco and Krankbrother, or nightlife stars like Amanda Lepore and Aquaria), WUT?CLUB was also invited to take over XOYO, host London’s official Pride party, and host a stage at Milkshake Festival, the world’s biggest LGBTQ+ festival.
WUT?CLUB also offered McGinley the opportunity to road test the music that he had been tentatively producing alongside his DJing. One night, while playing at XOYO, he played the track that would become “Fairground”, his first ever release, and the crowd went ballistic. “It was one of the biggest points of the night,” McGinley says. “That made me think that maybe I’m done something right.” Eventually, McGinley decided to stop promoting clubnights and immerse himself totally in his own work. His chosen artist name, ABSOLUTE., reflects this commitment and resolve: “It came from the determination to say, ‘This is absolutely gonna happen.’”
From there, McGinley released two EPs for his hero Tiga’s Twin Turbo label, both of which hit the top of the Beatport charts. He also established his own label, Family Planning – its name an homage to the chosen families that so many LGBTQ+ people first meet on the dancefloor – where he put out “My Love” and “String Theory” releases.
Both of those tracks appear in abridged form on Wonderland, alongside a collection of brand new tracks, colourful interludes and collaborations with Regal Jason, Hard Ton, and Bklava. “Can U Still Feel It?” is a heads down burner with classic deep house flourishes, “Piano Theory” is a festival slammer with ecstatic piano chords and gurning breakbeat cut-ups, while on “Sage Comme Une Image”, Lio’s jubilant French-language pop song gets chopped into sample house ecstasy. Although it’s all club music, there’s a pop sensibility at play throughout it, too, with punchy song structures and a keen ear for melody. McGinley chalks this up partly to producing it during lockdown, without the necessity of writing with a dancefloor in mind, and partly down to his own queer clubbing history, listening to alternative pop music at some gay clubs and underground dance music at others.
Wonderland opens with words of liberation from activist Ravyn Wngz, spoken at a Black Lives Matter demonstration in Toronto: “We need to create a humanity where everyone and everything is allowed to exist, because we already do.” It’s a sentiment that McGinley carries throughout the mixtape, spotlighting guest vocalists from the LGBTQ+ community. Regal Jason evokes a sense of longing and belonging on the garage-house track “Convalesce”, Italian artists Hard Ton appear on the powerhouse “Rave 4 Love”, and emerging South London vocalist Bklava adds a giddy rush to the hardcore cut “U4IA”.
In the lead up to the release of Wonderland, Anthony hit a pinnacle moment in his career when graced the cover of Mixmag magazine. Anthony spoke to Jaguar from BBC Radio 1’s Introducing Dance show about everything from the importance of championing diversity and inclusivity in the industry to his trademark neon hair.
Following the release of the mixtape, McGinley hopes to continue his activism around issues like climate, racial, and LGBTQ+ justice. After attending the first Extinction Rebellion action in London, McGinley wrote a track, “Rave Against the Machine”, that sampled a speech by Greta Thunberg. XR later invited him to programme the music line-up of their International Rebellion at Trafalgar Square, while at Glastonbury, he played at Greenpeace’s Rave Tree. He’d originally planned an event series with LWE and Boomtown under the Rave Against the Machine banner prior to lockdown setting in.
After years behind the decks, there are also plans to launch an ABSOLUTE. live show once clubs reopen, with his debut show locked for June 19th in partnership with Percolate. Before the pandemic, McGinley was set to tour with dance music legends 808 State, and over the summer performed a live set for Radio 1’s virtual Ibiza weekend. “As a DJ, I’m very energetic, and I want my live show to bring that energy,” he says. “My live set is a way for me to still enjoy the moment and bring the energy that I’m so used to bringing, and that people are used to seeing, but in a way I can still perform music.”