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. Having released String Theory, the most played independent dance release of the first quarter of the year on BBC Radio
One, and having held his final rehearsal for an impending live tour of the UK, it’s no surprise the hard stop of Covid took its toll. “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 influential producer Mike Monday.
Every day, he would force himself to write music, 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 warehouse that welcomed the likes of Frankie Knuckles, The Prodigy, and Carl Cox through its
doors at the turn of 1990s. While the venue has long since closed, the building was later converted into apartments 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 formed years earlier during more hedonistic times.
ABSOLUTE.’s rave obsession dates back to his youngest years. As far back as primary school, he would listen to rave cassettes 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 onlyafford one. He learned to mix by spinning vinyl on one deck while beatmatching to tracks on Pete Tong’s influential Radio 1 show.
Once he was old enough to go out, McGinley hit up his hometown of Torquay, Devon, which was home to clubs such as Monastery, a converted church on the riviera that played techno, hard house, 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, drag queens and a colourful East London fashion crowd,” McGinley says. “When you’re there every single week, you meet so many people. And you learn from playing all set times to a regular crowd. It definitely evolved my DJ skills.”
His next night proved even more influential. After Larry Tee moved to Berlin, McGinley started WUT?CLUB, a monthly party born at the famed Dalston Superstore. As well as bringing guest artists through its doors in Dalston (whether DJs like Horse Meat Disco and Krankbrother, or nightlife stars like Amanda Lepore), 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 in Amsterdam. It also became a hotbed of ideas and experiments that often ended up photographed for London’s fashion magazines. 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 doing something right.” Eventually, McGinley decided to stop promoting club nights 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 label, both of which hit the top of the Beatport charts and the die was cast. 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 to a surge of support where Annie Mac championed the latter relentlessly at Radio One.
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. “Logical” 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 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”.
Following the release of Wonderland, McGinley hopes to continue his activismaround 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 respected UK promoters LWE and Boomtown under the Rave Against the Machine banner but Covid has put a pause on that for now.
After years behind the decks, the Mixtape project marks the launch of the first ABSOLUTE. headline live show at Islington Assembly. Before the pandemic, McGinley was set to tour live with dance music legends 808 State, and over the summer performed a set for Radio 1’s virtual Ibiza weekend as his first actual live gig. “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 together and bring the energy that I’m so used to bringing, and that people are used to seeing, but in a way that I can perform just my own music, as that’s what I’m most excited to share.”